Ellie Goulding talks anxiety, unfinished romance and flying the feminist flag
Pinning down Ellie Goulding is something of a challenge. In the last few days, she’s returned from Radio 1’s Big Weekend in Exeter, rubbed shoulders with Tom Hardy at a polo event in Berkshire, squeezed in a few killer workouts (handily detailed on Instagram) and jetted to Florida where she finally has a moment to take a breath with Balance.
My schedule is honestly busier than anyone’s I know,’ explains Ellie, 29, before sharing plans to take a ‘gap year’ in the next few months. ‘I look forward to spending time with my family,’ she says. ‘It’s very long overdue.’
Seven years to be precise. Elena Jane ‘Ellie’ Goulding hasn’t had a decent rest since signing to Polydor Records in 2009. A year later, she released her debut album Lights, which went to No. 1; topped the BBC’s Sound Of 2010 poll; and won the Critics’ Choice Award at the Brits.
Two more albums followed: Halcyon, another chart topper; then last year’s Delirium, featuring the single Love Me Like You Do, which earned her a Grammy nomination. She’s sold 11 million albums and 31 million singles, wowed guests at Will and Kate’s wedding in 2011, and toured the world three times over. No wonder she’s spent.
‘I feel tired… but that’s the norm!’ she says.
A LIFE ON THE ROAD
It’s 11am and we’re poolside at Ellie’s hotel in Tampa. Tonight, she starts the third leg of her US tour, so she should be in her room on voice rest, but Florida sunshine plays havoc with the rules.
‘I try to stay in bed as long as possible on show days. I also feel the urge to exercise but I’m lazing by the pool in a bikini that’s too small for me,’ laughs Ellie, referring to the beautiful Beach Riot two-piece she’s sporting. ‘I’m used to cold English weather where I grew up in Hereford.’
Ellie spent her childhood in council houses near the Welsh borders and shared bedrooms with her three siblings after her dad left when she was five. But there’s no longer a ‘family home as such’ nor ‘any family left in my home town’.
Ellie now classes herself as ‘a London girl’, but despite owning a home in central London (‘my art is there, my cats [Wallace and Lennon] and my family photos’) she feels displaced. ‘At the moment, I’m most comfortable in hotel rooms because I’m always on the road,’ she admits.
DEALING WITH ANXIETY
Ellie has spoken openly in the past about battling anxiety and panic attacks, which peaked while she was recording her second album and featured frightening episodes of lying with a pillow over her face en route to the studio. She’s since received cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
‘I know too much about the world and myself to not get anxious occasionally, but I’ve learned to deal with it,’ says Ellie. ‘Especially anxiety from being in the spotlight and my schedule – going from having no money and playing open mic nights to having to miss funerals and weddings and births… Mostly with anxiety, time is a healer – as is living in the present, not dwelling on the past or the future.’
AN UNFINISHED ROMANCE
We wonder if Ellie is working on this now. Six months ago, she split from McFly bassist Dougie Poynter, 28, after two years of dating. But after the pair spent time together at the Coachella music festival, where Ellie was performing, a reconciliation seemed possible.
While Ellie recently described the broken romance as an ‘unfinished story’, Dougie admitted he still loved her – but has since been linked to model Kara Rose Marshall, who previously dated One Direction’s Harry Styles.
If it hurts, she doesn’t let it show. In fact, Ellie insists she wouldn’t erase anything from her past. ‘To change anything now is unthinkable, even the horrifyingly embarrassing moments,’ she says. ‘They’ve all made me strong.’
Ellie has also had relationships with Radio 1 presenter Greg James, War Horse actor Jeremy Irvine and electronic music artist Skrillex, and has been linked to singer Ed Sheeran and One Direction’s Niall Horan. She’s now confident about the type of person who’d make her ideal life partner.
‘Someone who challenges me. Someone who constantly makes me laugh,’ she says. ‘Someone who is kind but intelligent and rational. Someone who loves what I do but has their own journey.’
FLYING THE FEMINIST FLAG
Like her pal Taylor Swift, Ellie packs a feminist punch in her lyrics. Her track On My Mind is about women having one night stands – apparently a retaliation to songs like Chris Brown’s Loyal, which talks down female sexuality. Asked if men and women will ever be seen as equal in the music industry, she reacts as if she’s been given an adrenaline injection, replying with the energy and punch of a political activist.
‘The time is now for women to stop feeling like they can’t speak their mind, and for women to not be threatened or patronised or made to feel degraded,’ she declares. ‘My entire team consists of women and we slay! I will never again censor my songs because I feel I may be judged. I will not be made to feel like a bad person because I had a one night stand. I will never not wear a bikini when photographers are there because I’m made to feel like I’m “flaunting”.
‘Human nature is bizarre. Both men and women will always do strange things to each other – make each other jealous or angry, be unfair. All I will do as a woman is be strong, intelligent and wise about my actions, and never let a man overthrow me.’
Make no mistake. Beneath that Beach Riot bikini are balls of steel – and the fire in Ellie’s belly to instigate positive change spreads far beyond this topic alone.
The prospect of turning 30 this December has prompted her to start plotting goals for the next decade, as well as continuing to release ‘music I’m proud of’ and ‘a classical album’. Philanthropy features heavily in her plans, including her work as patron for vulnerable women’s shelter The Marylebone Project and homeless charity Streets of London.
The world is also big on Ellie’s agenda.
‘I want to continue to share awareness of the environment and global warming – man’s effect on the natural world,’ she says. ‘It really is a scary reality and people need to start acting upon it immediately. I’m sure I’ll end up travelling the world in the next year or so for research.’
TRAINING FOR LIFE
Ellie is equally passionate about the food she consumes – and the food she doesn’t. A ‘strict vegetarian’, she cut meat out of her diet three years ago, such was her objection to consuming ‘the countless chemicals and hormones pumped into animals’. She’s felt ‘on top form’ ever since.
‘A plant-based diet is scientifically proven to keep you healthy and strong,’ she says.Now a poster girl for fit not thin, Ellie’s workout schedule features boxing, bootcamp, Bikram yoga and running. ‘People ask, “What are you training for?” I always say, “Well, for life!” I don’t take for granted the opportunity to make the most out of my body,’ she says.
FINDING INNER HARMONY
However, Ellie is quick to highlight that her sense of balance – which also includes ‘good people, good books, good music’ and ‘taking time to reflect’ – comes from not putting herself under too much pressure.
‘If I don’t feel like working out, I don’t,’ she says. ‘I don’t beat myself up about it. I’m not extremely rigid with my diet. If I want to eat chocolate, I do. It’s the same with Champagne.’
Revealing her biggest contradictions, Ellie says: ‘I get drunk as much as I work out. And I’m a feminist yet sometimes I feel like I’ll do anything for the man I love.’
There are, of course, more: she’s slight yet strong, council-estate raised with a cut-glass accent, heavily spiritual but rebellious, super healthy with an aversion to breakfast…
Turning back to more immediate matters, Ellie ponders what’s next on her schedule.
‘Festivals, an Australian tour, then back in the studio and it all starts again,’ she says, adding: ‘And I’m very grateful.’
And here’s the point. Ellie is a woman who wants it all and is thankful for every good hand she’s been dealt. With so much to achieve, the gap year may have to wait a little longer…