The heartbreaking tragedy behind a song that helped give Ed Sheeran his big break is revealed in a moving new book.
The then unknown singer poured his grief into writing the emotional ‘We Are’ after losing a close pal in a school trip accident nearly 13 years ago.
The poignant and personal song was not included in any of Ed’s three number one albums.
But it became one of the highlights of his gigs around London and East Anglia when he was a teenager.
He included it in a concert at The Bedford pub in Balham, south London, which was recorded for a self-released live EP in October 2010.
Among the audience were bosses from record label Atlantic on the scout for new talent.
They were blown away by his highly emotional rendition of We Are and went on to sign him three months later.
The flame-haired star, then 19, would later refer to it as “the song that actually got me a record deal”.
Among the numbers Ed, now 27, played at The Bedford that life-changing night were also songs dedicated to his first love Alice Hibbert.
She was so pretty, one pal said Ed was “punching above his weight” with his first serious girlfriend.
But the future superstar went on to prove he was certainly not punching above his weight when it came to his talent.
The Thinking Out Loud idol earned £83million last year and has sold over 100 million singles worldwide.
But as a 14-year-old schoolboy at Thomas Mills High School in Framlingham, near Ipswich, his future didn’t seem to matter as he was plunged into despair by the death of pal Stuart Dines.
Stuart was on a half-term trip to an Austrian ski resort in February 2006 when the coach pulled on to a hard shoulder after a puncture near Cologne.
Moments later a lorry carrying metal rods crashed into it – and one of the rods smashed through a window, killing Stuart.
Ed, who wasn’t on the trip, channelled his grief into We Are – and Stuart’s family were so moved they played it at their son’s funeral.
Ed also performed at a special tribute concert which raised funds for the Stuart Dines Library at a school in Kenya.
Acclaimed author Sean Smith writes in his book, entitled simply Ed Sheeran: “Ed had to come to terms with the death of someone he saw practically every day.
“He resolved to write a song about his feelings. He composed it, he said, ‘whilst I got round to actually accepting it’.”
Stuart’s dad Robert told Sean: “Ed was very, very upset, like a lot of the children.”
We Are was a different song for the teenage Ed – most of his compositions were inspired by love.
At 16, he fell for Alice, a talented artist and one of the most intelligent and attractive girls in school.
“Alice was like Ed’s right-hand lady at the time,” said promoter Phil Pethybridge, who met Ed when he performed gigs as a teen in Cambridge.
“She would always be quite placid about things and let it happen.
“She wouldn’t actively get involved in things like gig set-ups. She would just be there, chilling out and chatting to people.
“She never caused any issues or anything like that, which is quite nice, actually. She just supported Ed in doing what he was doing.”
But when Alice prepared to head off to university in Reading, the couple were forced apart for a while.
Sean writes: “Ed was inspired to start the achingly beautiful song called ‘Sunburn’, one of his most heartfelt lyrics, about the misery of a teenage break-up.
“He explained his motivation, ‘Every single girl I looked at, I was like, ‘But you’re not her!’ The song is the only one that contains Alice’s name.”
The touching track U.N.I, about Alice leaving their Suffolk home town, would feature in Ed’s breakthrough showcase at The Bedford, as would Wake Me Up, “arguably his personal love letter to Alice”.
Sean writes: “He later explained that he had picked out every little thing he had liked about her and put it into words.
“The list includes the number of times they had watched Shrek together (12), the fact that she hates smoke but can match him drinking, and how he carved a brooch for her when he went to the beach.”
But Alice didn’t welcome Ed pouring out his feelings for her in his music.
After four years together, the couple split at Glastonbury Festival in 2011 before his debut album, +, was released.
She was incredibly self-conscious about the fact the album was very heavily about her,” a pal reveals in the biography.
“Her boyfriend was the Ed Sheeran she went to school with and now it was something completely different. She wanted no part of fame. She cared greatly about him. They were wonderful together.”
Despite the split, Ed made no changes to the inlay to his first album, +, writing: “Finally thank you to Alice, all in, chill out time, and being the only girl that all of the songs are about, thank you for the inspiration and for staying you. Love x.”
Ed faced many questions about his creative muse Alice as he promoted his first album.
“He deftly swerved them most of the time by saying he was focusing on his career at the moment,” said Sean.
“He even spoke optimistically of them ending up being married one day. At 20, he was talking about settling down and having kids.”
He is now engaged to another school friend Cherry Seaborn. His ex-girlfriends also include Athina Andrelos, a tour manager for one of his support acts.
Athina became his steady girlfriend in late 2013 but they split at the BRIT Awards in 2015. “By the end of the night she looked distinctly unhappy,” says Sean.
“Apparently she had moaned about him always bringing his family to such events.
“They had a blazing row and he told her he never wanted to see her again. A friend who was there explained, ‘You don’t f*** with Ed’s family. And that was it.’”
Behind his laid- back image, Ed does have a fiery side, which he showed at Blackpool’s Empress Ballroom on his tour promoting second album X.
Crowded with hen and stag parties from Manchester and Liverpool, the audience wouldn’t listen to the star’s support act and friend Foy Vance, and continued to be noisy when Ed came on to perform.”
The result was an unplanned rendition of Oasis’ Wonderwall – and a smashed guitar. “He can’t bear the Oasis song so everyone who knew him realised something was wrong,” said Sean.
“One eyewitness said, ‘He was in a strop. People just weren’t listening so Wonderwall was giving them a two-finger salute without them realising.
“Then he smashed his £3,000 handmade guitar on stage. The atmosphere was ****ing horrible.”
- Extracted from Ed Sheeran by Sean Smith. Published by HarperCollins on November 15, £16.99 ©Sean Smith 2018