YOU exclusive cover story: Ellie Goulding ‘I want to show my darker side’

Goodbye girl-next-door; hello seductive songstress. Moira Petty meets the new Ellie Goulding

¿I want to show my darker s¿de¿

Singing at the Royal Wedding was one of the highlights of the past two years for Ellie

The new Ellie drips with kick-ass attitude. Her hair is a platinum tangle, her lips are dark, skin vogueishly pale, her stare defiant. As she pushes open the doors of a classical salon in a grand Belgravia house, the location for YOU’s photo shoot, the message is self-evident: Ellie’s back!

Her eagerly awaited second album will be released in October. ‘It’s a lot darker,’ she says. These new photos of Ellie playing the vamp reflect her mood at 25, after two years of extraordinary success. ‘There used to be an emphasis on me being like the girl-next-door. Now I’m more confident.’

Her debut album Lights (later repackaged with new songs as Bright Lights) was released in 2010 and has sold 850,000 copies in the UK and 1.5 million worldwide. She struck a chord with her brand of pop-electronic melodies, clear soprano range suffused with a quirky breathiness, and lyrics that reinvented heartache. And anyone who didn’t know Ellie cottoned on fast when her version of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’ became the soundtrack to John Lewis’s Christmas 2010 campaign.

Along with Adele and her close friend Jessie J, Ellie is one of the Brit-girl pop stars who have stormed America, selling two million copies of her single ‘Lights’ and appearing on every major US chat show.
While the tone of her new album is often grittier, more percussive, some tracks mirror her joyous, fun side. The first single, the rhythmic ‘Anything Could Happen’, has H-I-T written all over it.

Elena Jane Goulding has come a long way from the council house in Herefordshire where she was brought up. Here she talks about the break-ups and new relationships that have inspired her brilliant new album. 

Cover shot

The 'girl next door' has left the building...

When I was younger, I was never the attractive one in my family. My younger sister Jordan – who’s actually a half-sister and is 20 – is really pretty. My older sister Isabel, 27, was taller, with blonde hair and a beautiful figure. I dyed my light-brown hair black, had lip piercings and knew I wasn’t the pretty girl in my group. It definitely made me feel insecure. I was a real nerd and worked hard at school. Back then I didn’t understand that guys would go for looks more than anything, the girl who was incredibly pretty and womanly, and I was never that.

There was stuff I thought I’d never experience, such as performing at Buckingham Palace. Singing at the Royal Wedding was one of the highlights of the past two years. They [the Royal Family] are so lovely. I was the only singer to perform at the wedding reception for 650 guests. The atmosphere was great. I did the first dance, singing ‘Your Song’, and then a selection of album songs that they knew – it was great because they knew all the words – as well as cover songs.

My new album is about heartbreak. Once I thought it would be less about those issues, but unfortunately it’s not. I think girls will be able to relate to it. I can fall in love in a simple way, but I can dissect it in such an intense fashion when it ends. If it’s possible, I’m way more honest on this album. Although it’s positive and anthemic, there’s a doom-laden happiness to some of the album’s tracks. One, ‘Joy’, has the lyric, ‘I’ve realised the joy is not in your arms/I know I’ll always ache with an empty heart.’ Sometimes I’d look at the lyrics I was coming up with and realise that I had all this sadness inside me.

I was naive to think my relationship with Greg James [the Radio 1 DJ] wouldn’t be in the spotlight. I fell in love with him because he’s very positive and intelligent and a really good person. I thought it would be fine, that it would last for ever. That I had fallen in love with someone so purely and simply was amazing to me. It was very sad that it didn’t work out and was down to factors such as not being able to see each other much. When I was young I would read about people who had broken up because they hardly ever saw each other and I would think, ‘That’s rubbish. You can always make it work if you’re in love.’ It’s so sad to me that you can’t – so much about a relationship is about being together.

You never know who you’re going to fall in love with. I became very good friends with Sonny Moore [the 24-year-old American dubstep DJ, producer and songwriter known professionally as Skrillex] when we worked together and after that we realised we wanted to spend a lot of time together. Although we are very similar, I didn’t see it coming at all, especially after such a sad time breaking up with Greg. Sonny is based in Los Angeles but sort of lives in hotels. I’ve been splitting my time between my work and seeing him on tour because he pretty much does a show every night, so if I want to see him, I go along.

I value my body and try to keep it healthy. I eat lots of protein. Carbs make me feel like I’ve eaten a jumper. In my fridge right now are lots of salady things that have gone off, soya milk, salami, cheese, edamame beans and some leftover sushi.

I’d like to look like Madonna when I’m her age. I also look at athletes and love their bodies. I’ve always wanted to be muscly, not skinny. A lot of women yo-yo around, but I’m always aware if I’m getting a bit out of shape. I never look at the scales but I can just tell. It goes on my tum and bum.


Ellie channels a lot of the angst she feels about her upbringing into her songs

Somebody died right in front of me once. When I was 16, I worked in a home for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. This woman was sitting in a chair and I was helping her eat when she died. She just lost the power to live. I didn’t feel scared. Your body goes away after death but I’m not sure you really do. It’s something I’m thinking about a lot at the moment.
The only day I remember of my parents’ marriage was the day my dad walked out. As I stood there at five years old, with my older sister and younger brother, I knew that he was gone. There are songs on the new album about my dad not being around. I was very bitter and angry. There’s never been a resolution, an ending, but now I’ve channelled that into songs. I last saw him when I was 19.
I don’t hate him at all and I will probably see him again.

From the age of around 11, I was constantly thinking and writing about the concept of falling in love, the fairy tale and how it can end in tragedy. At one time I was looking for a father figure, but I’ve become so independent – I’ve got my own place and car and can fend for myself – that not having a father doesn’t affect me so much.

I used to be introverted and unsociable but now I value special friendships and having good people around me. When I first moved to London in 2007, after leaving my drama degree course at the University of Kent two years in, I didn’t have any friends in the capital. I lived in a room in a studio with my guitar and a thick Haruki Murakami novel. I went to the gym and out running and that was
my life. It became the basis for a lot of my songwriting.

‘Royal Wedding was a real highlight – it was great because they knew all the words’

When I go out for the night with Jessie J, it’s not wild. We went to the launch of Tinie Tempah’s clothing line at Selfridges. It was really relaxed and people didn’t bother us. At the after party, we danced all night and had a couple of drinks. You lose your anonymity and a certain amount of freedom and it’s easy to get paranoid when you go out, to think everyone’s staring. You just have to be normal and not give off this aura of fear.

I’ll never forget the advice Chris Martin gave me. I’d just duetted with Gary Barlow at his 40th birthday party and Chris said that even when I thought I’d finished writing an album, I should keep going. I used to get to the studio at midday and finish about 6pm, but my ethic has changed and now I really live it.

Adele has paved the way for many of us. Although I’ve never met her or performed with her, she is a hero of mine, along with Björk. Music was getting louder and louder and so just to hear the piano and her voice on ‘Someone Like You’ was beautiful to me.

Ellie Goulding performs on the V Stage at the V Festival in Chelmsford

Ellie Goulding performs on the V Stage at the V Festival in Chelmsford

You can be the best performer in the world but you can still go out there and mess up. It’s embarrassing. I’ve fallen over on stage and once I forgot my own lyrics. I don’t feel pressured by the expectations of this second album, though. It’s more important to make something you love and are proud of.

I don’t think my mother realised how unhappy my relationship with my stepfather was. He just wasn’t very nice to us. It was a time when family happiness wasn’t a priority. The priority was staying afloat financially, keeping our house and having electricity. But even if there were rubbish times at home, I loved living in the countryside, playing outside and being physical. My mother was a really amazing artist and then she had my sister and went to work in a supermarket. It all changes when you have kids. She has since remarried [after Ellie left home] and moved to Birmingham. I was once too judgmental about her, venting because I was going through a hard time. I read what I said in old interviews and realised I needed to correct things about myself. I’m closer to my mum now. She’s cool, very tactile, but believes in tough love.

Seeing friends and family struggle financially has made me sensible with my money. My managers show me expenses that I need to approve, but I won’t let anything be spent unnecessarily. I’ve just bought a flat in Marylebone, London, but I didn’t go overboard. I love prints of skulls and bones and have some taxidermy – a crow and a rabbit – to remind me of home. I like art and have a big portrait of Björk.

I often tell white lies. I wish I didn’t but I don’t like hurting people’s feelings, ever. I guess I try to avoid feeling bad in any situation.

I’m in a good place now. I have moments of wanting to have a lot of fun and then moments of being more reflective. I used to be all over the place, without vision or direction. I’m more focused and can make decisions now. All that irks me is these false nails. I can’t write, I can’t play the guitar, I can’t bear them! 

Ellie’s new album Halcyon will be released on 8 October, and her new single ‘Anything Could Happen’ on 30 September

Styling: Avigail Claire at Balcony Jump.

Styling assistant: India Trusselle at Silver Spoon Attire.

Hair Mellissa Brown @SOHO Management using Bumble & Bumble.

Make-up: Lucy wearing using MAC Cosmetics