Ed Sheeran is sitting in his dressing room in Melbourne Cricket Ground. In the background, Tom Jones can be heard soundchecking.
“We’re singing the Prince song, Kiss, together,” says Sheeran, “but we’ve already rehearsed that.”
The night before, Sheeran and his new pal Jones - who performed together in Australia last week - went out for a few glasses of wine, and 74-year-old Jones regaled 23-year-old Sheeran with stories of hanging out with Elvis Presley in Las Vegas back in the day.
This is the world in which Sheeran now lives, where rather than him seeking out the biggest names in music to learn from, they request an audience with him.
Elton John asked to perform with Sheeran at the Grammy Awards in 2013, and Paul McCartney, after the special concert earlier this year, marking the 50th anniversary of The Beatles landing in America, invited him to his trailer for a margarita.
“I wasn’t expecting that one. I was with my parents and ready to go home for the night, and the next minute, that happened,” he says, like it was no big deal.
He counts Taylor Swift and Harry Styles among his closest showbiz friends, and while recording his second album x last year, Friends star Courteney Cox let him stay in her Malibu home.
Sheeran had been performing in LA when Spin City and Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence, and his actor wife Christa Miller, asked if their daughter could have her photo taken with him after the show. “The next night, I was having dinner in Malibu and Bill and Christa were in the same restaurant. They came over to thank me for being nice to their daughter and then invited me to a house party. I thought, ‘Why not?’ It turned out to be Courteney’s house party. It was miles from anywhere, and I’d sent my driver home so I had to stay over, and that’s when we became friends,” the singer explains.
He’s a long way from Framlingham, the Suffolk village where he grew up, but spend any amount of time with Sheeran and it’s not hard to understand why so many A-listers want to hang out with him; he’s impeccably mannered for a start, and down to earth in a way most multi-million-selling artists just aren’t.
He admits he’s changed a bit, though, since his first album was released and worldwide fame followed. He’s a bit more paranoid, and wary around new people, he says, but he’s generally much happier with his lot than he was.
“I was quite well known among people my age, from the mix-tapes and YouTube videos that were doing the rounds, so I would get stopped and asked for photos and things,” he says. “That still happens, although back four years ago, I was broke, so there wasn’t the upside. Now I’m financially comfortable, and I’ve made my family financially comfortable, so I can see the rewards.”
Despite the success of his first bona fide pop song, he still doesn’t see himself as a pop singer, however much he’d like to be.
“I really want to be in that world, among those big pop singers,” he says, referring to the likes of his friends Taylor Swift and Pharrell Williams. So far, x is the fastest-selling album in the UK this year, having sold 180,000 copies during its first week, beating Coldplay’s Ghost Stories, which had previously held the record, by around 15,000 copies.
“Yeah, but,” counters Sheeran, “that Coldplay album is the only one they’ve not really promoted, so they could still beat me if they wanted.”
His grasp of the way records sell is second to none, and some might accuse him of careerism. It’s simply not the done thing for an artist to admit they’re so acutely aware of how their music is selling, or how many tickets have sold for a forthcoming tour. Of course, Sheeran’s not really an exception here - almost every artist is just as aware of this stuff as he is, he just talks about it in interviews, while they feign ignorance.
After the UK leg of his tour, he’s off around the world again, due to finish up next August, when he plans to take a break and write some more songs.
lEd Sheeran is touring the UK and Ireland throughout October. For details, visit www.edsheeran.com/live