Goulden girl: Ellie Goulding
Goulden Brit nominee Ellie Goulding has been tipped as the next big thing, but she's not scared of the competition -- this clean-living, fitness-loving star has got her head firmly screwed on, discovers Ed Power
Ellie Goulding makes overnight stardom sound like the best fun ever. "I was talking to Pixie last night... Pixie Lott," offers pop's hottest new sensation. "She was lovely, a very sweet girl. I've met [La Roux's] Elly Jackson several times too. She's great. Florence, as well. All the girls, really. There's no rivalry. Everyone is terribly supportive. I know that sounds a bit cheesy. It's better than us all being competitors."
Speaking softly, Goulding projects remarkable calmness. Inside, though, she's surely churning with excitement. While the 23-year-old has only just finished recording her first album, she's already bagged the Brit Awards critics choice prize and topped the influential BBC 'Sound Of' list (an unknown Little Boots won it in 2009 -- six months later she had a platinum-selling album under her belt). Larking about with Pixie Lott is all well and good -- but given that anything short of a number one debut will likely be considered a flop, she's got to be feeling the pressure too?
"I think if I had gotten the BBC poll and the Brit and I hadn't completed my album I'd have been worried and/or in a lot of trouble. The thing is, people haven't heard what I've done yet, but I have. And I'm very confident."
You can see why the record industry -- desperately seeking the next Amy Winehouse/Duffy/Adele -- is in a tizzy over Goulding. Musically, she is a beguiling mixture of the edgy and the naive: her songs move easily between dreamy electro-pop and homespun folk, often in the time it takes to leap from verse to chorus. Throw in her girl-next-door prettiness and a hefty dose of common sense (she rarely drinks and never takes drugs), and you have a package created in music mogul heaven.
"I don't pay attention to it at all," she says of the hype. "I keep to myself. I live by myself. I don't go on the internet or watch TV that much, unless it's Gordon Ramsay. I'm fine in my own world."
Did she really deactivate her Twitter and Facebook accounts because the attention was becoming too much?
"Well, it wasn't an onslaught. I wanted to concentrate on what was important, which was writing and finishing my album."
Still, beneath the whiter than white exterior, there are occasional glimpses of something darker. In a recent interview, Goulding painted a grim picture of her upbringing in Hereford -- close to the England-Wales border -- revealing that her mother discouraged her musical ambitions and that she rowed constantly with her stepfather. This morning she's not particular keen on delving into her childhood. But she certainly isn't rowing back.
"I wouldn't say I was overly unhappy. It's how it was. It's a fact. I continuously did my own thing and always have done from when I was very young. I studied for my GCSEs and A Levels and my degree and my music -- all by myself. I guess I was on my own journey. That's how it has always been and that's how it's been up to the present day. So that's fine."
And what should we make of her fanatical fitness regime? She has described circuit training as a quasi-sexual experience and, before her musical career took off, ran miles and miles every day.
She elaborates: "I don't drink and I don't do drugs. I'm sort of the 'body is a temple' kind of thing. Music will always win over fitness. I'll squeeze in [exercise] wherever I can. It means there isn't any time to go out and drink. I'm that protective of my body."
Statements like that make Goulding sound like rock music's answer to Lisa Simpson. She seems alive to the danger of coming off as annoyingly squeaky clean.
"Well, I'll drink occasionally. You'd be insane not to let yourself go every now and then. I don't like the feeling of being drunk or being hungover. I'd prefer to wake up feeling fresh and go for a run.
Talking to an Irish journalist recently, Florence, of Florence and the Machine, revealed that some of her best ideas came to her as she struggled to come to terms with a crippling hangover. Apparently, she liked the way it skewed her view of the world.
"I feel I've got enough darkness to go to a place where I can write songs like that anyway," says Goulding. "You can achieve a state of dreaminess, of not quite being there, without being hungover."
She was discovered at a student concert in the University of Kent early last year. Calvin Harris's manager happened to be in the front row and was blown away by the performance. Not long afterwards she received an out-of-the-blue call from scenester extraordinaire Marc Ronson: would she mind terribly if he flew her to New York to discuss a possible collaboration?
"It was amazing that he was willing to do that. It was mainly for his next album. I think neither of us were really ready at that point. He's been in contact since. We're going to get back together soon and do something."
Was she introduced to any of Ronson's a-list acquaintances? "We walked through New York with his dog, which was nice. And we bumped into Estelle on the way."
Adding spice to this year's battle of the pop newcomers is the fact that Goulding is good friends with the artist who placed just behind her in the Sound Of poll, Marina Diamandis, of Marina and the Diamonds. In fact, Diamandis grew up a few miles from Goulding and the pair have known each other since school. Considering they both have LPs on the way, it seems only fair to wonder if a sense of competition now tinges their relationship?
"People might think there would be cattiness or rivalry... I'm not sure I'm doing anything that is very similar to anyone else. We're not in the same world, but, at the same time, we are very supportive of each other. It's good to able to ring up Marina and talk to her about, for example, a song I wasn't happy with, or if I was feeling down. I can tell her and she can relate to how I feel. It's great to have that support."
Ellie's debut single, Under The Sheets, weaves a darkly magical tale of a woman trapped in a claustrophobic romance. Listening to the lyrics, it's tempting to cast Goulding in the role of wronged lover. "There are love stories, there are heart-breaking stories, on my album," she says. "It's a lot of different experiences. Taken from my own experiences and from other people."
Does she have a boyfriend? She chuckles. "Hah! No, I'm not talking about that."
The single Under The Sheets is out now. Ellie Goulding's debut album, Lights, is released on February 26. She plays Dublin Academy on March 14