Ed Power: Tonight's gig proves Ed Sheeran has not neglected his Irish origins
If it wasn't for the screaming fans following him everywhere, Ed Sheeran could almost – almost – pass for a normal person.
The 23-year-old, tonight performing an invite-only VH1 gig in Dublin, has bulldozed the charts without ever acquiring the blinding aura of a proper celebrity.
When he popped up on the X Factor final before Christmas, stuttering his way through a fanboy anecdote about meeting Van Morrison for breakfast, it was as if a guy from down the road had somehow stumbled into international ubiquity.
It comes as no shock to learn he does his own laundry and still has a student bank account.
Call us self-serving but dare we suggest Sheeran's Irish roots have contributed to his groundedness? As his red hair and multitude of freckles attest, Sheeran is proudly of Celtic stock and, as a child, spent long, lazy summers at his grandparents' home in Gorey, County Wexford.
He credits Galway cousin Laura with broadening his musical horizons while it was a 2002 Damien Rice gig at Whelan's that convinced the then 11-year-old that he wished to make a living in music (hence his return to the 300-capacity room for this evening's gig, to be streamed live to millions in the US and for which tickets are rarer than flying elephants).
"It was the first time I thought,' right, I'm going to pick up a guitar and do it on my own,'" Sheeran told me in his first major Irish interview in 2011.
"That was the first spark of inspiration. I met [Rice] in the pub afterwards. He was a nice guy. That's all I needed.
"We always bonded over music growing up," says Laura Sheeran, today a respected singer-songwriter in her own right (and as one half of electro duo Nanu Nanu).
"We never really needed to talk about anything else: it was always just music, music, music. We used to experiment with home recordings on eight- track machines. I remember us sending each other CDs of our new songs all the time when we were teens. We both got really into 'loop' stations around that time too.
"We used to nerd out over looping techniques and stuff. "
Interviewing Sheeran I couldn't but be struck by his lack of affect. And this was following his debut album, when he was already on his way to stardom. He was, he told me, especially proud of achieving success on his own, without the backing of a record label.
"I can distribute my music independently. I can make a video for no money, put it on YouTube, tell fans about it on Twitter and Facebook. It's all good!
"That's the best way to be. You have longevity. If you find success from building your own foundation, you don't need the record company. Atlantic could drop me tomorrow – I've still got the fan-base that got me here. They got me into the charts before I was signed. It's a better position to be in."
As this weekend's concert will attest, Sheeran has not neglected his Irish origins. Headlining Dublin's 3Arena last year he made of point of wearing an Ireland soccer jersey. He also insisted on taking time off from his super-busy scheduled to attend Laura's wedding in Galway.
"We have been best friends forever, since we were born really," he said of his cousin."She was the first person to introduce me to Damien Rice's music. So she's to thank for all this."
Indeed, it's an indication of just how 'Irish' Sheeran feels that he rates Dublin crime drama Love/Hate as among his favorite TV shows. This, you suspect, is not something that can be said for Kanye West or Beyonce.
"I am completely hooked. I think it's like the Irish Breaking Bad. I want Nidge to be my best mate. I can do a Nidge impression - it's just a lot of nodding and saying Trish."
"People seem to have this idea that Ed's career suddenly took off after he released [debut LP] ‘+’ and that he was some kind of overnight sensation," says Laura.
"This could not be further from the truth. So many years of hard work, struggle and hustle brought him to that point, with no team behind him, just him. Before he was signed he’d already put in six or seven years of intensive prep towards his career, gigging, touring, practicing, recording. And, most importantly, writing, writing, writing -practicing the craft.
"His ambition never [diminished] despite plenty of rejection and criticism over the years.
"Instead, he used that criticism and rejection to fuel his [desire to succeed] and to prove those people wrong.
"When he started to get big, we all knew it was coming for a long long time. It was no surprise to us. We were all so so proud to see all his hard work paying off, and still are. He’s the most hard working person I know. He deserves every ounce of his success."