Ed Sheeran Confesses: Tears, Trauma, and Those Bad Habits

In case there’s any doubt, Ed Sheeran is well aware of the fact that he’s … Ed Sheeran.

“I’m not an idiot,” he says, early in our acquaintance. “When you say in your office, ‘I’m gonna go and interview Ed Sheeran,’ you must get sneers. I’ve always been that guy.”

The state of being that guy, at the least the public version of him, is a paradoxical one. Sheeran is, on the one hand, unquestionably among the 21st century’s very biggest global pop superstars. That’s why he’s 11,000 miles from home right now, in the fenced-off, tree-lined backyard of a rented bungalow in Auckland, New Zealand, lounging in the shade his complexion demands (“I live in the shade”), under blue-gray skies. Later this week, he’ll play to some 100,000 people over two shows here. His last tour was the highest-grossing of all time, until his mentor, Elton John, surpassed it; this one, somehow slated to last five full years, may well reclaim the title. He’s one of the top five most-streamed artists ever on Spotify, a statistic that doesn’t even include his “hobby,” all the hits he’s written for other artists, from Justin Bieber to BTS. He’s the first dance at weddings, the last dance at prom, the voice you hear as you drag your suitcase off a plane.

But Sheeran is convinced that, in certain quarters, his achievements and talents — his elastic voice, his endless trove of hooks, his freaky, human-playlist capacity for cross-genre metamorphosis, lately extended to Afropop, EDM, and reggaeton — don’t seem to register. In those eyes, he’s a ginger-haired interloper, a vaguely hobbit-y mortal who ascended into the realm of pop godhood via some kind of cosmic error, and then refused to leave. “I was the butt of jokes before this,” he says, “and I’m the butt of jokes now, and it’s not necessarily just my music.”

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It’s a mid-February afternoon, late summer in this hemisphere. Sheeran’s wife of four years, Cherry Seaborn, and their two daughters — Lyra, who’s two, and Jupiter, eight months old — are hanging out inside. The house is a sleek open-plan renovation of a hundred-year-old frame, square in the middle of an upscale suburban block, with blond local-wood floors, everything painted paper-white, and a $12,000 monthly mortgage payment for whoever owns it. Sheeran and Seaborn have transplanted their family life to the far side of the world for a couple of months while he commutes to his stadium shows, and there’s an eerie normality to his offstage existence here, as if he’s swapped lives with a prosperous Kiwi dentist. “Yesterday,” Sheeran says, “we cooked, we watched an episode of The Simpsons, went to bed.”