Ellie Goulding is a contradiction. On the one hand, she’s a double Brit Award winner with 15 million album sales worldwide and the most entrances on the Billboard Hot 100 chart by a female British solo artist this century, thanks to hits like Love Me Like You Do, which hit the No.1 spot in 70 countries. With the Grammy Award nomination, the multi-platinum discs and just the 14.5 million Insta followers thrown in, Ellie has served up the recipe for world domination.
On the other hand, as I find out when I *literally* Zoom into her office at her south London home, she is painfully shy. Ellie enters our call softly spoken and quickly informs me, “I’ve just stopped washing my hair,” as she scrapes back her hair and rubs the arms of her camel-coloured cardigan. Like all conversations right now, we talk about lockdown life, which she’s spending with her husband of eight months Caspar Jopling. He spends his days in the downstairs of their south London Home, studying for his MBA at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, while she writes music upstairs in her study. She’s also casually self shot her own powerful music video at home – more on that later – which has come as a surprise to her, as shyness is something she’s always dealt with.
“[Emotionally] lockdown’s not as difficult as I thought it would be, because I’m quite a solitary person,” the 33-year-old reveals. “I used to go out a bit, but not much. I don’t really like going to pubs, I love the idea of it, but I can get quite socially anxious.”
Many will have preconceived notions of what a popstar of Ellie’s success levels would be like in real life. You might imagine an outgoing extrovert who loves a good time and with a penchant for diva behaviour. But for Ellie, social anxiety has prevented her from playing up to that myth throughout her career.
CREATIVE DIRECTION: ISSTUDIO, MAKE UP: Lucy Wearing, STYLING: Bra and knickers Eliza Poppy, Rings FV Fine Jewellery, HAIR: Raphael Salley, NAILS: Sylvie Macmillan @ M+A World Group using CND
“My friends know me as the person that will walk into a room and for the first ten minutes be painfully shy and not be able to really talk to anyone. I analyse [everything], it can make [me] overthink social situations that are otherwise very simple. I’m also slightly conscious of people having a preconceived idea of what I might be like. I battle with that.”
As the second of four children, Ellie, whose full name is Elena Jane Goulding, was always shy. Growing up in rural Kingston, where her father, Arthur, left the family when Ellie was five years old, she first fell in love with music aged nine when she started playing the clarinet. Having learnt to play the guitar at 14, she started writing her own songs while attending Lady Hawkins High School.
“I was looking through some old photos that my sister sent to me the other day from when I was in school, and when I look at old photos, I can see a really shy girl in those photos,” Ellie confides. “I can just tell by my facial expression and my body language that I was really uncomfortable. But I also loved to perform, so I think I have this difficult contradiction where all of me wanted to perform, but I was really self-conscious.”
The conflict between her extrovert Ellie and introvert Ellie came to the fore when she broke onto the music scene in 2010 with her debut and first No.1 album, Lights. “When I first started, I really had to have quite a few drinks to push me out onto that stage,” Ellie reveals. “It was easier because I could hide behind this massive guitar that was way too big for me. I was still apologetic and scared of what people would think of me. I think when people say to me, ‘Do you have any regrets?’ I think I wish I’d been more confident.”
At this time, her fears around social anxiety were transferred to her music. “I didn’t want everyone to love me and want to be the centre of attention. I couldn’t bear the idea of disappointing someone, or not being funny or good enough. It was the same with my singing. Once I thought more from a perspective that not everyone’s going to like me and not everyone’s going to enjoy my music, but perform for the people that do, that changed everything, because then I would go out on a stage completely unapologetic, strong and just perform and not let anything get in the way!”
She has worked hard over the years to keep up this confidence, but confides she fears that lockdown may take it back to square one. “I have no idea what I’m going to be like as a performer after this lockdown period because I haven’t really been performing to crowds of people. Somebody said the other day, ‘Could you come into London and sing some songs for a charity that I’m a patron of?’, and I was just like, ‘I don’t know. I don’t even know if I’m capable of that right now.’ You have to be in that confidence zone, and I think it’s going to take a bit of building back up. Quarantine has slightly thrown me off that journey, but I’m sure I can pick it up again after.” She adds, “I think I’ve definitely become more resilient and I’ve spent a long time working on it.”
CREATIVE DIRECTION: ISSTUDIO, MAKE UP: Lucy Wearing, STYLING: Dress Natalia Fedner, Earring Maria Tash, HAIR: Raphael Salley, NAILS: Sylvie Macmillan @ M+A World Group using CND