English neo-folkie Ed Sheeran wishes he could pinpoint the moment in childhood when his songwriting talent kicked in. But there’s one problem. “I don’t really think it is a talent you’re born with,” says the 21-year-old, whose lilting hit “The A Team,” featured on his debut album, “+,” won Britain’s prestigious Ivor Novello Award and is nominated for a 2013 Song of the Year Grammy. “I was shit at writing and performing songs when I first started. But I played a lot of gigs, and I’ve written a lot of songs, and it’s like practice makes perfect. It’s a skill you have to learn.” His theory holds up. He’s penning hits for One Direction and composing and duetting with Taylor Swift on her new recording, “Red.” He’ll also appear with Elton John at the Grammys.
You actually played the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee? At Buckingham Palace?
Yeah! And it was fun, man. And I met the queen after I played, which was cool. But I was told that you can’t extend your hand for a handshake — she has to extend her hand. She didn’t really say anything to me, though. She just asked me if I enjoyed it, and I said I did.
Then you played Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” at the Summer Olympics closing ceremony last year.
I just got a call from the guy who was organizing. I guess he was really into what I do. And I had Mike Rutherford from Genesis playing with me, and Nick Mason from Pink Floyd, and Richard Jones from The Feeling. And it was quite mad, some of the conversations I had afterwards backstage, with Nick Mason alone.
Is it true that in 2010, you bought a ticket to Los Angeles with only one gig booked, wound up staying and then recorded the “+” song “U.N.I.” at Jamie Foxx’s home studio?
I was getting a bit bored with the U.K. scene. I’d done all the small shows that I could do, played with all the people I could. So I just wanted a change of scenery. And a challenge. And when I touched down, I went straight away to play this huge poetry event, where I sold about 700 CDs at $10 a pop. So I was pretty much sorted for the month I was there. Then I got booked at Jamie’s club The Foxxhole and met him, and ended up crashing at his house for a few days.
What did you learn from him?
Just to always stay as cool and humble as possible. Because he’s a huge star, and for him to be that nice to me
— a complete nonentity when I was there — was just really incredible.