Ellie Goulding may look sweet but she doesn’t always play it safe, by Amy Dawson…
I meet Ellie Goulding – the clean-living superstar with two No.1 albums, two Brit Awards and 20million record sales under her belt – in an incongruously dank, underground bar. Flexing her famously lean muscles to open a bottle of sparkling water, she deadpans: ‘I’ve already had a Diet Coke today, that’s unlike me.’
Such comments, plus the fact she has sung in a John Lewis advert and at Wills and Kate’s wedding, have led to the Hereford-born singer-songwriter being dubbed ‘the least controversial pop star ever’, while her tremulous, ethereal voice divides opinion like Marmite.
However, Goulding has spoken openly about a relatively tough upbringing, a father who walked out, and her struggles with anxiety and panic attacks. She has never nominated herself for the saintly Head Girl role – she still drinks, for example, but she’s a vegetarian gym bunny at the same time. ‘I’ve always been thought of as sensible,’ she says, ‘but people don’t know that much about me. They don’t need to! I think it’s quite hard to be in this job and be sensible all the time. I have a safe amount of insanity.’
It’s this feeling that permeates her third album, aptly named Delirium. Written with the help of Swedish pop maestro Max Martin, OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder and Disclosure’s Guy Lawrence, it sees Goulding nailing a bigger, bolder and more electronic sound. ‘It’s my most adventurous venture into pop music so far,’ she says. ‘A bit more of the sun coming out and getting everyone dancing.’
The record also sees Goulding collaborating on her lyrical content for the first time. Public interest was piqued by recent single On My Mind – some thought the lyric ‘You wanted my heart but I just liked your tattoos’ was a response to Ed Sheeran’s cheat-burning track Don’t (sometimes surmised, though without any evidence, to be about Goulding). But she’s not having any of it.
‘I’m so bored of that,’ she says flatly. ‘I can write whatever I want, I’m an artist. And I don’t like the fact that straight away everybody jumped on the fact it was about someone specific.
I truly do not believe a man would be questioned in the same way. I’m telling you this from absolute experience.’ Goulding thinks the situation exemplifies endemic music industry sexism. ‘It’s changing though,’ she says. ‘I expected a lot more questioning. It shows there are positive changes.’
After her anxious youth, Goulding now seems to be tapping into a new sense of self-worth. ‘I’m at a point now where I need to start accepting what I’ve achieved,’ she says. ‘Because I’m still apologetic about certain things – I’ve never won a Grammy, there’s things like that I beat myself up about. Now I’ve got to the stage where I want to embrace the album I’ve just made. I want to have a confidence that matches the confidence in the songs.’
It’s this mixture of assurance and vulnerability that makes Goulding something of a different, more ‘reachable’ kind of role model to other pop stars. ‘I think I’m strong because I admit when I’m weak and I’m open about it,’ she agrees. ‘I feel like a lot of people follow my Instagram because of things like fitness and food but then they see that I also still drink and have
fun. I think that I represent something a bit more realistic.’
So Goulding, who’s loved up with McBusted’s Dougie Poynter, seems pretty much on top of the world. But when I ask her the best thing about her job, it turns out to be the simplest thing. ‘Just being able to sing, just to sing. I love singing!’ She laughs. ‘It would be a bit s*** if I didn’t, wouldn’t it?’