Ed Sheeran was excited about playing a festival in Manchester but didn’t really have the money to get up there from London.
He caught the Megabus and burned some CDs on the way in the hope that he could sell some for a pound after the gig to pay for his ticket home.
Disappointingly, only seven people turned up to watch him. One of them was his friend, Ian Johnson, from Access to Music in Norwich: "I got there just before Ed was due on and the place was full.
"Then the act before him finished and everybody left. I felt so bad for him. But he performed as if it was Wembley!"
That summed up Ed’s attitude. He didn’t begrudge things or believe himself too grand.
Ed filming The A Team video
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London promoter Tony Moore immediately thought of Ed when he was running the Balham Street Fair and an act didn’t show.
At the time Ed was staying at his new manager Stuart Camp’s flat in South London.
Tony recalls: "He kind of said yes to everything if there was a chance to play. So when I asked him he said, ‘Yeah, of course’ and hopped on the first bus. Working with someone like that makes everything so much easier. He always came with a generous soul."
Ed had exactly the same attitude when he was asked to play at a Christmas event in East London for Crisis, the charity for the homeless.
He was his usual sociable self and chatted happily to a young woman called Angel, who was living in one of the hostels.
Only later did Ed learn her sad story – a girl addicted to crack cocaine who sold herself on the streets to support her habit.
Ed, who was still a teenager, was profoundly moved by this and that night wrote a song about her. It was The A Team and it changed everything for him.
The old cliché of only needing one song was never truer.
It was the Wembley gigs that confirmed Ed’s A-list status
He recorded it at his collaborator Jake Gosling’s studio in Windlesham, Surrey.
He then sang it for a video made by new pal Jamal Edwards for his YouTube channel SBTV, which greatly increased Ed’s vital online presence.
He took the song with him to perform on his first trip to Los Angeles in April 2010.
He only had one gig arranged at a music and poetry evening but proved such a hit that he soon found himself playing a month of small concerts.
He famously caught the attention of movie star Jamie Foxx , who invited him to stay over at his home studio at his Hidden Hills mansion.
It’s the sort of thing that could only happen to Ed, who had inherited from his parents the precious gift of having no fear in social situations.
Jamie let Ed stay at his house
The now legendary encounter with Jamie gave Ed great kudos when he returned to London and Stuart Camp set about securing a record deal for his new client.
Ed opened with The A Team when he took to the stage at the Bedford, the popular music pub in Balham where Tony Moore presented the best of the capital’s up and coming acts.
This was a special night for Ed because he was recording a CD and DVD as well as hoping to impress the record company executives who Stuart had invited.
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The label bosses were hugely impressed. Ed chose to sign his new contract with Atlantic back home in Framlingham so that his mum, dad and brother could join him for a celebratory pint in his favourite local pub.
He was 19 and the teenage years of practice and playing all seemed worth it.
His mum Imogen said: "I used to worry about him when he first went to London. But he gained a second family through music who look after him and let me know he’s alright."
Corporate backing opened so many more doors for Ed.
He sang The A Team on Later…With Jools Holland, which was broadcast the day Prince William married Kate Middleton in April 2011 .
Scene of some of Ed’s early gigs were the Bedford in Clapham
As ever, he wanted his parents to share the occasion and they sat with him on the next table to Ringo Starr .
By the time The A Team was released as the lead single for his first album, the song had been around for such a long time, it seemed like an old friend.
Promotion had gone brilliantly, even when his PA system didn’t work properly at a pub gig in Birmingham.
Ed simply unplugged everything and did his entire set standing on a table.
The atmospheric black and white video for the song had already chalked up a million hits on YouTube so it wasn’t the greatest surprise when The A Team reached number three on its release in June 2011.
At the end of the year it had sold more than 800,000 copies and was the highest selling debut record.
He played Glastonbury which was another childhood ambition fulfilled. Sadly he split from his long time girlfriend Alice at the festival.
Ed and Cherry Seaborn are rumoured to have married
(Image: Splash News)
A friend observes: "She was incredibly self conscious about the fact that the new album was about her.
"Her boyfriend was the Ed Sheeran she went to school with and now it was something completely different. She wanted no part of fame."
The album, + (Plus), was launched at the World’s End pub in Finsbury Park, London, where everyone spilled out onto the pavement and Ed produced a guitar to play songs and even took requests, much to the astonishment of passengers looking out the window from passing buses.
+ went to number one at just the right time to raise Ed’s profile in time for two of the biggest UK events in recent years.
He played at both the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert and the 2012 Olympics, both blockbuster occasions watched by an audience of millions worldwide.
After the Jubilee concert, Paul McCartney came over to speak to him.
Those hundreds of gigs paid off in honing Ed’s live performances
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Ed was with his father who had been a fan for many years. He was able to introduce them: "Paul meet Dad. Dad meet Paul."
It was a lovely moment and Ed declared it to be the highlight of his year.
Ed’s higher profile meant he started working with big name acts, associations which would be of benefit to both.
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He co-wrote Moments and Little Things for One Direction and they became two of the favourite songs for the boy band’s fans.
That would prove extremely helpful when he started out trying to break America by being the opening act for Snow Patrol.
He formed a strong friendship with keyboard player Johnny McDaid and together they would break the tedium of criss-crossing the US on tour by writing songs for Ed’s follow-up album, including ‘Nina’ and ‘Photograph’.
He met Taylor Swift during that first tour and they became great buddies. They wrote Everything Had Changed while bouncing on a trampoline in the garden of her Beverly Hills home.
Ed during Glastonbury in 2017
She asked Ed to be the support act for her 2013 Red tour, which was a huge break for his ambitions to be one of the biggest acts in the US.
He even bought a house in Nashville near Taylor’s estate there, so that he had an American base.
The proof that he had achieved his goal came when his second album X (Multiply) went to number one on both sides of the Atlantic in June 2014.
For many, the stand out track was Thinking Out Loud, which would become the first song to spend a whole year in the UK Top 40.
He wrote the track with his long time collaborator Amy Wadge when she visited him at his new Suffolk home.
They went out to dinner with his mum and dad and wrote the song at the kitchen table when they got back.
Ed was able to channel his romantic feelings towards his then girlfriend, Athena Andrelos , and imagine their life together.
For once, the video was just as memorable as the song itself.
Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift
(Image: Ken McKay / Rex Features)
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Ed, who couldn’t dance at all, lost weight and went on a fitness regime so that he didn’t look chubby as he partnered professional dancer Brittany Cherry in a routine that would have had the Strictly judges reaching for their tens.
Making the video revealed Ed’s motivation in his relentless quest for success. He never accepts that he can’t do something.
His self-declared attitude is ‘F**k you, I can do this.’
The highlight of the X tour was performing three nights at Wembley Stadium in front of 87,000 fans each time.
It was not, however, the fulfilment of a dream. He explained: "It was always too big to dream about."
Ed Sheeran and fiancée Cherry Seaborn wore matching Ipswich shirts during a trip to a match in 2018
(Image: Getty Images Europe)
How could Ed ever top that?
Simple: watched by his mum and dad and his fiancée Cherry Seaborn, he played four nights at the iconic venue on his ÷ (Divide) world tour in 2018 – seen by 1.1 million people in the UK alone.
As an encore he performed You Need Me, I Don’t Need You, the classic anthem that he had composed as a 15-year-old schoolboy in his bedroom at home in Framlingham, determined that one day he would make it.
And he certainly had.
Ed Sheeran by Sean Smith is published by HarperCollins, £16.99
Parts one and two of the Ed Sheeran story.
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