Convincing UK singer Ellie Goulding  she’s a celebrity isn’t easy. It’s also not something I expected to have to do.
The “lass with the little voice” is how she was often described when her debut album, which included a delicate cover of Elton John’s famous Your Song, flew to the No 1 spot in the UK in 2010.
Now splashed across the pages of every UK newspaper – most recently amid rumours of a new romance with actor Jeremy Irvine – Goulding doesn’t see it. Not at first anyway.
“I just don’t see myself as a celebrity,” she says. “I don’t like it. It makes me cringe. I’m a singer – that’s what I do,” she insists.Casually dropping into conversation she spent last New Year’s Eve “with Jessie” on a beach in Thailand — yes, that’s Jessie J, the other uber-famous UK pop singer, to the rest of us — she’s quick to explain. “My friends are just my friends,” she said a little sheepishly, having stopped for a second to digest how her initial sentence must have sounded.
Goulding is spending this NYE with her fans in Dubai as she joins the star-studded line-up at Sandance on Nasimi Beach .
“Jessie and I are great friends and we went to Thailand last New Year to have a chilled out break and bring in 2012,” she added. “It sounds way more glamorous than it was,” she laughed, digging herself a little deeper. “We set off lanterns.”
Glamorous or not, the company Goulding keeps is indicative of who she is. “Jessie J is someone who makes me laugh,” says the 26-year-old. As are her “old friends”, many of whom she met in university halls at Canterbury where she studied drama and started writing songs.
Her assistant Hannah is a friend from school and the latest edition to her Facebook friends list is a make-up artist drafted in to “sort me out” before a show. “We just hit it off,” she said nonchalantly. “You just know when you can be friends with someone. When you want to be, I mean.”
Blood may be thicker than water, but Goulding speaks of her friends over family – even when prompted. “My friends are so, so, so cool,” she said, avoiding any further mention of her father — “an undertaker obsessed with murder” — who left her mother when Goulding was five.
“They inspire me. They make me laugh. They are clever, clever, wonderful people and I consider myself a very lucky individual to even be associated with them. I trust them in all situations. I feel I attract a certain type of person and I’m very happy about that,” she added.
It’s been a whirlwind three years for Goulding. She released her first single, Under the Sheets , in September 2009, toured with Little Boots and picked up the Critics’ Choice award at the Brits.
Her album, Bright Lights, was released to critical acclaim and before she knew it she was performing at Kate and William’s royal wedding reception and at the White House for President Barack Obama during the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony last year.
If it all sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Soon after things started to take off Goulding began to show signs of illness and before long panic attacks were a regular part of daily life.
The singer found herself in hospital unable to control her angst saying, “I’d be doing a photo shoot and I’d feel like I was going to have a heart attack.” Lengthy sessions with a professional therapist and Goulding managed to keep things under control. “But I suffered,” she assured.
An obsession with running, something she started to “prepare my body for something” abruptly stopped.
“I’m probably the most sane I’ve ever been,” she laughed. “I am so proud of my latest album and I’m in a good place. I know what I want to do and it feels good. I’m running again, partying, going to shows and travelling the world,” things which make Goulding happiest.
She tries to run at least six miles a day, a habit developed at university. “It took over my degree. I just needed to run,” she said.
Goulding radiates self-sufficiency. Her songs, originally written to channel feelings of being alone and miserable, have transported her far from the council house in Herefordshire where she grew up with her mother and three siblings — two sisters and a brother.
Goulding mostly writes about pain, anguish and heartbreak, strange given her upbeat attitude to life today.
“Tweeting to me should be all about fun,” she said about the social media networking site. “I like tweeting my fans about trivial and funny things. I don’t like to get too heavy and say much about my feelings.”
However, Goulding also believes in honesty. “if I’m scared before a show, then I like to tell my fans I’m nervous. There is no shame in saying those things,” she says as if trying to convince both herself and me.
At 19 she scooped a record contract after winning a student singing competition exposing her to a London audience.
The fact her show in the UAE at Sandance NYE is not only her first Dubai show but also her first New Year’s Eve performance proves her relative newness to the industry.
“I just thought it would be fun,” she said. “I’m really excited to come to Dubai and perform in the warmth. It reminds me of how far I’ve come,” she added. “I’m proud of what I’ve achieved. Even if it’s just singing to 1,000 people it’s quite amazing from where I’ve come from. It’s a huge achievement and I want that to always be my focus. I never want to question why I haven’t sold X number of albums. It shouldn’t be that way.”
Those things are what celebrities worry about. Ellie isn’t your average celeb.
How to Sandance
Sandance takes place on Monday, December 31 from 3pm-3am. Hosted by BBC Radio One’s Zane Lowe, the music festival presents a star-studded line up for New Year’s Eve, including Ellie Goulding, Rita Ora, Roger Sanchez and Paul Van Dyk complete with fireworks at midnight to ring in 2013.
Tickets, priced Dh295 and Dh500 for VIP, are available at platinumlist.ae and at Nasimi Beach. For VIP table packages call 055 2004321.