[I] first interviewed Ellie Goulding back in 2009, before she had released her debut album, or won the BRITs Critics’ Choice Award, or any of her subsequent accolades. Back then she was another music starlet aiming for big things; little did she, or anyone else, know what was in store. We chatted about her love of running and Nike trainers, and how she was delighted to have been given a free Mulberry handbag.
Five years on, Ellie has a lot more to be happy about than a freebie. To date, she has sold three million albums and ten million singles worldwide, picked up countless awards and nominations, and last year she bagged her first UK number one with dance stomper “Burn”. The Hereford-born star is also one of the few British female artists to have cracked America, and she starts a 17-date US tour next month in New York. And she’s done all this while remaining relatively unscathed by rumours and this country’s notoriously vicious tabloid press. Her indifferent attitude towards the press led her to be dubbed “the least controversial popstar ever”, but these gibes don’t seem to faze her: “If only people knew what I was really like,” she chuckles. It seems pretty obvious to us that whatever people think of Ellie Goulding, with this level of success, she’s the one having the last laugh.
HUNGER: IT’S BEEN NEARLY FIVE YEARS SINCE I INTERVIEWED YOU. DID YOU EVER THINK THAT SO MUCH WOULD HAPPEN IN A RELATIVELY SHORT AMOUNT OF TIME?
Ellie Goulding: Things have actually happened quite slowly for me, and I think that’s the reason why I’ve dealt with fame in a peaceful manner. That way it’s easier to stay on top of what’s happening. When I first started out it was pretty hectic and intense. Then it kind of died down. Over the past few years I’ve been given the chance to really prove myself as an artist.
HAVE YOU HAD TO STOP DOING NORMAL THINGS?
My life has become a lot crazier in the last year. I think people definitely recognise me a lot more now, and that affects me. I actually get quite freaked out when people stare at me or start taking pictures. I’ll never really get used to that. I’d enjoy being slightly more anonymous again. The other day I got on the tube, and everyone turned to look at me, not just younger people that I’d expect to be fans. My life has become so different to how it was five years ago – when I’d finished university and was living by myself in a little flat in Hammersmith – that it’s hard to remember what “normal” is.
YOUR MUSIC HAS CHANGED A BIT AS WELL. DIDN’T YOU START OUT AS MORE OF A SINGER-SONGWRITER THAN ELECTRO ARTIST?
It was always going to go this way. When I started out, playing guitar and singing were the only resources I had. I didn’t know how to record music, and I didn’t think to link up with electronic producers. I was never a folk artist like people assume, and I never wanted the songs to be just that. I knew there was something missing. I reached out to people like Rusko and Frankmusik, and my sound evolved. I’m always sensing changes in myself and what I want to do with my next record. I end up geeking out for hours on end on music blogs, searching for new sounds.
YOUR LOOK HAS CHANGED TOO. DO YOU FEEL MORE CONFIDENT WITH FASHION NOW?
I think I feel more confident with how I look and my body in general. I’ve always exercised and eaten fairly well, and I’ve given up eating meat and fish. I feel like I’ve matured – I can wear what I want now and be confident. All the awkwardness of my teenage years and early twenties has passed. You just become completely comfortable, and everything falls into place.
WHY DO YOU THINK THERE’S SUCH A FURORE OVER WOMEN BEING SEXY IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY?
It’s always been around. I don’t have anything against being sexy. If a popstar exposes herself or doesn’t wear a lot, it doesn’t really bother me the way it bothers other people. I feel like people are less fussed about it in America, whereas in the UK people are a little bit more reserved. But if someone’s making good music, I don’t care about much else.
DO YOU THINK PEOPLE SCRUTINISE AND READ TOO MUCH INTO WHAT CELEBRITIES WEAR AND THEIR PERSONAL LIVES?
People need to have something to moan about. That’s why they read gossip magazines – I do. I’d be the first to admit that. People constantly feel the need to reassure themselves that they’re okay. If someone else is doing something wrong, or being controversial, it makes people feel more comfortable with themselves. There has to be controversy all the time, and people always have to be fed with negative information. It’s not healthy, but that’s the way the world is.
SO YOU DON’T THINK WOMEN ARE OVER-SEXUALISED IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY?
No. Some of the most successful girls don’t portray themselves as sex symbols. Lorde is doing exceptionally well; she’s been number one in America for ages, and she doesn’t dress like a skank. Lily Allen is doing really well, and she doesn’t dress provocatively. If you make good music, then that’s all you need.
DO THE RUMOURS THAT COME UP IN THE PRESS EVER MAKE YOU WANT TO BE MORE GUARDED?
I clash with myself about it. Part of me doesn’t want to have to change to suit the media. I don’t want to have to cover up my relationships or the people that I’m hanging out with. But at the same time you get less grief and hassle if you do hide it, and that makes life easier.
YOU WRITE YOUR OWN SONGS, SO NATURALLY THEY’RE GOING TO REVEAL MORE ABOUT YOU. IS THAT EVER A WORRY?
Sometimes I’m drawn to lyrics and sometimes I’m drawn to music, but I think people know that I’m going to be very honest with what I say in every aspect. If I censored myself, I don’t think I’d be – and I hate saying this by the way – true to myself. I can’t cover myself up because I think I’d be doing myself an injustice.
HOW CATHARTIC DO YOU FIND SONGWRITING?
It’s a healing process. I think the message is going to be way more positive on my next record. It’s not going to be about relationships. My last album was completely saturated with my relationships, and more specifically, my break-ups. My priorities in terms of what I write about and what I want to draw attention to have changed. I’m not really interested in writing about boys anymore.
DOES BEING IN LOVE CHANGE YOUR CREATIVE OUTPUT?
I think being out of love does. When you don’t have anyone, it makes you think about very different things. You have more time for yourself, and you end up being a bit more open with your emotions.
Read more of our interview with Ellie Goulding in issue 6 of Hunger magazine, out now