Ellie Goulding: ‘Can people stop thinking I’m boring, please?’

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Amid rumours of plans to quit the music industry following her split from McFlys Dougie Poynter, the 29-year-old talks about why David Cameron is avoiding her and reveals that Noel Gallagher is a secret fan of her music

Reports of Ellie Gouldings modest rider demands just a kettle and a scented candle, according to one recent story would appear to tell only half the story about life on the road with a pop star. She tours with her own upright flight case containing an assortment of booze and mixers, and its at this portable bar that she stands in her dressing room an hour before shes due on stage at Birminghams Barclaycard Arena.

Do you fancy a drink? she enquires, sloshing vodka into a pair of plastic glasses, keeping one for herself. Might as well!

This is surprisingly chipper behaviour, considering two weeks ago the headline Ellie Goulding shock: Ive split up with Dougie and Im quitting music was whizzing across the worlds timelines. Her split from McFly bassist Dougie Poynter is fact, but its rather dramatic to suggest shes jettisoning a pop career that began quietly in 2009 and, two multiplatinum albums later, finds the 29-year-old singer-songwriter on an 80-date world tour. All this does, however, mean that shes going to spend the next seven months performing songs from an album largely about the joy of being in love with the man from whom she has just split.

Ellie
There are occasional moments when I feel like what Ive achieved is pretty phenomenal: on stage at the Barclaycard Arena, Birmingham. Photograph: Sam Frost for the Guardian

Im fine, she shrugs when I suggest that the scenario is not exactly ideal. Im not fantastic, but Im fine. I mean, I broke up with my boyfriend, that was shit. But, if Im really honest with myself, I do feel surprisingly OK.

Beyond dealing with the public collapse of a relationship, Goulding is also negotiating a path through the relentless physical demands placed on the modern popstar. Last year, she enjoyed the biggest No 1 of her career with Love Me Like You Do, the improbably superb theme song to Fifty Shades of Grey, but before Christmas she talked of suffering from exhaustion. There also seems to be a mystery ailment (I wasnt well for a while I dont really want to say why, but Im OK now) as well as irregular sleep that she refuses to temper with sleeping tablets. Earlier this year, she was forced to pull out of shooting a video, and her excellent electro-pop single Something in the Way You Move was eventually promoted by a video consisting of cobbled-together live footage, rather than a specially commissioned clip.

If Id done the video, I dont even know if Id be well enough to be on this tour, she says. Its no joke I was very poorly. I dont think Im going to quit. I just feel I need to go away for a bit. It does seem, I suggest, that shes striking a very fragile balance between being all right and not all right, if a single video shoot could jeopardise an entire world tour. I know, she sighs. Im so un-rocknroll.

Goulding is deeply aware of how she has been regarded in some circles since her credible, electro-inspired and inventive earliest releases were eclipsed by her version of Elton Johns Your Song, which featured in a John Lewis Christmas ad, became her first major hit and led to her performing the song at a royal wedding. In short, boring.

Ellie
Goulding has questioned everything from her vocal ability to her appearance, but says she is calm and happy. Photograph: Sam Frost for the Guardian

Nevertheless, the furthest reaches of her Halcyon and Delirium albums, plus collaborations with the likes of Major Lazer, have showcased a compelling and inventive pop artist who seems to exist in parallel with the Windsor-approved department-store balladeer many of tonights audience members are here to see. But her persona never quite recovered from being defined as the new queen of beige. Sometimes, it seems Goulding toys with that image, and with perceptions of her. On stage tonight, after one ballad, she declares: We need to get warmed up! The crowd goes berserk. Not right now, she adds, before launching into a song the tempo of which hovers defiantly around mid, but Ill bear that in mind.

Can people stop thinking Im boring, please? she laughs after the show. Were back in the dressing room, that vodka bottle now looking a little empty. Im not boring. I mean, I care a lot about things like the environment and homelessness, but I cant pretend to be someone Im not just to make certain people think Im interesting.

It would be snide to question the popular enthusiasm for celebrities interest in environmental issues or social injustice, but cultural commentator and sometime musician Noel Gallagher had few qualms about this last year. Does anybody give a fuck about what any of these current pop stars are up to? he said in one interview. Who gives a shit what Ellie Goulding is up to? Really? It blows my fucking mind.

You know, she says, smiling, Noel Gallagher said to me at the Brits a couple of years ago: I really fuckin love your music, but dont fuckin tell anyone. So hes lying. He does like my music. He told me himself. I might seem boring to some people, but first of all I can fight really well I mean, I could probably take you right now and if the epitome of supposed rocknroll is playing guitar, then I do play guitar. And I play guitar very fucking well. So there.

Behind the bravado, though, theres an artist who has previously spoken about having questioned everything from her vocal ability to her appearance, even after her early ripples of blog-based success were converted into a major-label deal, a Brits critics choice award and millions of sales.

Ellie
Doing a meet-and-greet before the gig at the Barclaycard Arena show. Photograph: Sam Frost for the Guardian

We talk about imposter syndrome. She says that, at some shows, I feel like I could change the world. But sometimes the response I get makes me think: Oh theyve figured it out. Theyve figured out that Im nothing special. I sometimes feel like Im going to get found out like Im just a normal girl. I have people thinking Im fucking amazing and then other people thinking Im shit, and its really hard to believe youre good when that keeps happening. But there are occasional moments when I feel like what Ive achieved is pretty phenomenal, considering my background.

Her background may be a surprise given her posh speaking voice: it involves her father walking out when she was five, leaving her mum to raise four kids on a Herefordshire council estate. Shes described herself as an unhappy teenager; her aversion to drugs, she explains, is rooted in how she saw her schoolfriends struggle during their teens.

A lot of my early childhood was based on survival, so it seemed like Id be taking the piss if I fucked up, she says. I just couldnt afford to fuck up. My best friend is in a well, I guess its an asylum. He did a lot of acid. It changed his brain. I saw firsthand what it would have been like if Id taken another route and my childhood really was perfect for that route. I still feel like part of me is that girl, that I could easily go back into that world of wanting to be out of myself.

Many of Gouldings chart contemporaries have succeeded via privileged upbringings, TV talent shows, Brit school support or guest spots on other artists records, but she was first spotted performing at a university talent night, and the earliest part of her career wasnt easy. There were so many awkward, horrible situations, she recalls. Like playing to five people in pubs when people had said there would be 100. It was embarrassing. I didnt know it was going to get better I thought thats how it would always be.

Billions of streams later, things have picked up. On Twitter, 6.2 million fans follow Gouldings mix of selfies, chitchat and thoughts on the world, but she doesnt comment about politics as much as I suspect she would like. Theres nothing worse than a preachy popstar, she says. But when people say, Stick to the singing, love, its like, well, actually, no, I wont. Her followers are occasionally offered thoughts on, for example, Donald Trump, which she fleshes out tonight. You dont need any knowledge of politics to know Trump shouldnt be president, she states. I hate him. I really do. People like him dont understand the majority of people who live on this planet. Hes not a good person. And, also, hes just an absolute twat.

She seems peeved that David Cameron deliberately avoided eye contact at a recent event because, she reckons, she had recently asked him to meet her to discuss the Marylebone Project womens shelter, of which she recently became a patron. He saw me, but looked away, she says.

Ellie
Backstage with her grandmother at the Birmingham show. Photograph: Sam Frost for the Guardian

At this point, Goulding produces her phone and shows me a private Instagram account where her more personal thoughts are shared. Ten million people follow her main account; this secret profile is accessible to just 61. In the era of oversharing, this is her space to be discreet. While Im holding her phone, it strikes me that Im five seconds away from being able to contact Taylor Swift, whose Bad Blood video featured Goulding wielding a bazooka. Sadly, a lengthy attempt to convince her to text the word HIYA to Swift results in a stern: We are not. Sending Taylor Swift. A text message.

Just as infuriatingly, when she lets slip that she and Calvin Harris have recorded a new song (their previous singles were both worldwide hits), she wont divulge its title; it requires a back-and-forth session totalling 14 questions to glean the news that it also features a male singer who isnt Justin Bieber. Thats all youre getting, she says, and thats that.

Its not all hard work. I want to talk for ages, she decides, long after our interview was supposed to end. I mean, you probably dont. But I like talking. The arena is now empty, and Goulding has turned out to be surprisingly fun company. We chat about her attempts to learn Norwegian; about the Glasgow gig she had to stop while police investigated one girl stamping on anothers head; and about MailOnlines recent story entitled: Ellie GELDING: Horse is a dead ringer for pop star Goulding (it was a pretty horse, lets be fair). We also discuss how unbearably noisy building work near her home in central London has forced her to endure a Partridge-like, hotel-based existence even when shes not on tour.

At one point, she talks about touring being lonely. Regarding friends from home, she says: Everyone has got kids and is married except me. Its not a demand for sympathy, but it makes it feel natural to raise a question too rarely asked of those at the epicentre of multimillion-pound pop enterprises. Are you really all right?

Im not unhappy, she smiles. Im constantly kept grounded by things out of my control, but I think thats good for me. Nothing is terrible in my life. Im genuinely calm and happy. Id tell you if I wasnt.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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