There's something different about 23-year-old pop starlet Elena Jane Goulding. Something that, for the life of me, I can't quite figure out. She's pretty, she's talented, she eats well, and she never, ever, goes out. In fact, these days, she even spends most of her free time in the gym.
"I'm not really the 'going out' person," she admits, holding a large cup of tea in both hands, "I'm a bit boring." Ah yes, that's it. Although, to be fair, I wouldn't have used the word boring myself; the way I see it, Ellie -- as she's known to her fans -- is perhaps a little too ... grounded, especially when you consider the massive wave of hype that's surrounded her from day one.
Indeed, ever since topping the annual and undeniably influential BBC 'Sound of ... ' poll back in January, the pressure has been on to deliver the goods with a debut album worthy of such a prestigious accolade. I suppose it didn't help matters when she also walked away with the Critics Choice Award at this year's Brits, too. Still, it's a double-whammy worthy of applause when you consider that many of us had yet to hear exactly what this young singer-songwriter was actually capable of producing behind closed studio doors.
Thankfully, the electronically wrapped Lights has since gone on to bag that all-important UK number-one spot. Understandably, it's an achievement that Goulding has yet to get her head around. "I still don't believe it, that's the weird thing," she says, sitting over a green salad in a plush Dublin hotel. "It was definitely a sigh of relief, because after getting the BBC thing and stuff I went... 'oh'. Not because I felt pressure, but because I knew that there was going to be an inevitable cynicism about what I was doing, and I just started to become quite bitter about it."
She explains: "I never really set out to, like, win awards or anything, I never really set out to be a singer even, so anything that was given to me was just a bloody bonus, like, I still haven't taken any of it in. But it's the safest way to be because it can either swamp your head with, like, thinking that you're amazing so you end up becoming quite arrogant and you lose focus on how you should be as a person, or you start getting severely depressed about it," she says, adding that the temptation is always there to read about what critics, bloggers and the general listening public might have to say about her.
Having studied drama at the University of Kent, Goulding's unintentional lucky break arrived after winning a college talent contest -- a gig that just happened to include a reasonably well-known music manager in the crowd. Impressed by what he saw, he decided to give young Ellie a call. However, up until that point, she had only ever performed cover versions. Needless to say, it was time to put pen to paper.
"I was never really given that much confidence," she explains, discussing the sudden 'explosion' of creativity that came over her. "For the first time, I felt like maybe I could write a song and, suddenly, all the things that had kind of tied me down from when I was really young, just kind of came out on paper. It was like I was always meant to do that, and it was just like it was a sort of a release, you know?"
While Ellie doesn't delve too much into her family background, there have been suggestions and stories about an unhappy upbringing back in Hereford. I ask about her mother jokingly discouraging her from singing in the house -- was that actually a joke? "Well, I just remember no one ever being positive about my voice -- ever," she says, telling me how it was an old friend of her mother's that would go on to offer the most encouragement through guitar lessons and -- eventually -- a home away from home, where she could sing as loud as she wanted.
"No one really took it seriously," she continues, "and I don't blame them, really, because it was just like a hobby of mine. I was really geeky on guitar and, you know, I'd go out with friends and I'd be pretty normal, yet, I think my friends were a little bit kind of freaked out by how interested I was in music. I don't know, I just took everything in a lot more and, like, music was a lot more of an escape for me and I don't think my friends needed that escape necessarily."
Ellie may have started out by making a name for herself as a beguiling folk princess, but that all changed after sending a song via MySpace to British electronic musician 'Frankmusik'. Cue the beginning of a beautiful relationship with electro-pop -- one that would eventually carry through to her collaborations with 'Starsmith', another British whiz kid whose name, style, and influence, features heavily on Lights.
I ask Ellie how she's prepared to deal with the inevitable media intrusion into her private life. After all, it was only a couple of hours before meeting her that I was reading about her Irish boyfriend. "I don't have a boyfriend," she exclaims. "Okay, erm, according to the press, you have an Irish fella, no?" "Uh, I did. I don't anymore," she answers, clearly taken aback by the story.
"Oh my God . . . s**t, now my mum's gonna' think I've got a boyfriend and I don't! Well, that has just got me, like . . . bloody hell."
"People are obviously gonna' want to be interested in me," she says, "but, like, if it gets to a point where it's just silly -- I'd hate to become a celebrity and it not be about my music, cos I don't think I'd make a very good celebrity!"
Hmmm ... she works all the time, stays in at night, and is a complete fitness fanatic; I don't think we're ever going to see pictures of Ellie falling out of a club at 4am. "If that ever happens," she finishes, "shoot me!"
Ellie's debut album Lights is out now on Polydor