[Photography by Halcyon D]
With her trademark voice and soul-searching lyrics, Ellie Goulding is killing it on both sides of the Atlantic.
Ellie Goulding is the breakout female star of British singer-songwriters in recent years. With two No.1 albums in the UK as well as her single ‘Lights’ grabbing the No.1 spot on the US Billboard Charts, her career trajectory has been meteoric since she first broke out in 2010 winning the British Sound Of… Poll and the Critics’ Choice Award at the Brits. And she’s coming to Hong Kong thanks to YourMum this August.
If you check out her Instagram feed, you’ll see that she’s been incredibly busy this past year, going on a worldwide tour across America, South America, Australia and New Zealand. In fact, she only has 15 minutes to chat to BOOM as she races off to rehearsals. “I just got back from Australia and New Zealand, stopping off in Singapore, and I’m relieved that tour went by pretty quickly. Honestly, I’m scarred from being away for so long on the American tour,” she laughs, “It was such a long time to be away for, it was two and a bit months, and you know, we had so much time on our hands that we ended up missing home quite a bit more.”
Goulding is well-known for her closeness to her fans, going on runs with them in cities around the world (she tries to run six miles every day), making sure they’re updated on what she’s up to. “I always sense that my fans in the UK are really happy when I’m coming home. But the great thing is that I’m meeting new fans around the world every day.” Despite going out with high-profile names such as Skrillex and Ed Sheeran, she’s remarkably grounded, something she attributes to her modest upbringing.
“I grew up in a council house and there was never any money to do anything. And then when I got to university it was even worse. It was a different kind of poor. Now, I genuinely feel like I’ve seen both sides of it. I never take it for granted that I have money or that I have a job that I love. I mean it’s impossible, like there’s a block, for me to take it for granted.”
Studying drama, politics and English at the University of Kent has also informed her views. She got her spotted before her final year and not completing university is something that she regrets. “I’d love to go back and try to finish it at some point,” she muses. Despite that, she admits it was tough. “They were the poorest years of my life. There wasn’t a single day when there wasn’t an issue to do with money. I was the first person in my family to go to uni, so no-one could really relate to it or tell me what to expect. I didn’t have any financial support either. I mean I got by with jobs in the theatre and in a clothes shop, but I was concentrating on my music and trying to scrape together the money to go down to London every now and then to play gigs, so I wasn’t doing as well at uni as I could have been.” Those hard-earned trips to London paid off, though, where she was spotted by Jamie Lillywhite of Turn First Artists at a talent contest.
From that, she got signed to Polydor records in 2009 and the years since then have been pretty exciting, culminating in her personal highlight – playing a private concert for Prince William and Kate Middleton at their wedding. “When I first started playing at the age of 15, I didn’t necessarily expect it to be a career that I’d make money from. When I was younger, I wanted to be a journalist like my grandfather, or maybe go into acting. And when I was moving towards signing a record deal, that was a very surreal time. But when I released my first song, it felt like it was natural.”
While her vocal talents have gained her plenty of admirers, it’s the soul-searching lyrics she’s written that speak to her fans. Her songs are crafted from the raw pain of breaking up (‘Anything Could Happen’) to her difficult relationship with her estranged father (‘I Know You Care’). “I find that [writing songs] is just how I deal with stuff. By getting it out, it helps me to remedy everything. I don’t find it to be an issue. When I’m writing songs, I don’t sit there and worry about whether I really want to be singing about my private stuff to an audience.”
The darkness of her earlier lyrics she ascribes partly to being a voracious reader. “I used to read a lot of dark books like Murakami, basically whatever I could find that was really dark.” There are rumours, though, that future songs won’t be plumbing the same emotional rawness. “Right now, I’m reading a lot about science, about the sea and the ocean, how we began in space and the beginnings of the earth. That might come into [my next album] a little bit.” She admits she’s also just started watching Game of Thrones. Let’s hope that doesn’t give her any ideas for songs.
But for now, she’s enjoying her life. “I’m at an ideal situation where I haven’t reached this insane level of fame, so it’s quite easy to deal with. I’m always getting to do fun stuff, like busking for The Big Issue and I was just in Cannes for a corporate gig for Spotify. The most important thing is that you’re surrounded by genuine people and genuine friends. You are who you’re friends with basically. I’ve got so many amazing friends who are so down-to-earth and so clever and don’t take anything too seriously. And they have a brilliant attitude towards life and I pick up on that. The people that surround me genuinely keep me uplifted and happy, they keep me sensible and all that stuff.”