Three is the magic number for Ed Sheeran this weekend. A hat trick of concerts in Wembley Stadium will be the triumphant culmination of years of hard gigging, and that isn’t even the end of a world tour that began in Japan in August last year. He’ll keep going til almost Christmas, with more stadiums to come in Ireland, the US, Australia and New Zealand. Since his second album x (pronounced “Multiply”) became a worldwide hit, the Suffolk 24-year-old has been racking up endless impressive statistics – money made, singles sold, tattoos inked, and so on – but it’s still just one man on those gigantic stages, looping acoustic guitar sounds and singing hit after hit. Here’s Ed’s career in numbers, some of which are very big indeed.
That’s how many fans will watch Sheeran at Wembley over three nights this weekend. For comparison, that’s about 63,000 more than went to Glastonbury Festival this year. U2 managed to fill Wembley twice when they last played there in 2009. “I’ve made no secret recently of my ambition to play Wembley Stadium on my own in front of 80,000 people,” he said when announcing the first show. Mission accomplished – thrice.
The number of concerts on the x world tour, beginning at Osaka’s 850-capacity Big Cat venue last August, and due to wind up in front of 47,000 in the Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland in December. Amid all those shows was one in Austin, Texas for just one girl: an “ultimate fan experience” for 16-year-old Sydney from Virginia. She even got to choose the setlist.
“Probably about 2,000”
Sheeran’s estimate of the number of gigs he’s played in total to date, as told to Zane Lowe in an interview last week. In 2009 he played 312. In April 2011 he did four shows in a single day in Camden’s Barfly, when he’d only just been signed to Atlantic Records. He had to play that many times to satisfy everyone who turned up for the free concert he’d announced – including one in the car park.
The amount he was asking for in 2009 to play a personal gig for you in your house. It’s probably a bit more now.
Sales so far in the UK for his x album, which was certified seven times platinum in May. Its predecessor, the similarly minimally titled +, is a mere six times platinum on 1.8 million copies shifted. Only Sam Smith has sold more albums than Sheeran at home this year, while Ed pipped him to the post to be the top seller of 2014, and the third biggest worldwide behind One Direction and Taylor Swift.
Weeks at number one for x in the UK. Adele’s 21 is the only album to spend a longer period in the top spot this century, at an untouchable 23 weeks. Sheeran is now ahead of Sam Smith’s In the Lonely Hour with eight weeks at number one, The Beatles compilation 1 with nine and James Blunt’s Back to Bedlam with 10. His album has also spent the whole of the past year inside the top 10.
Sheeran’s smoochy single Thinking Out Loud recently reached a full year inside the UK top 40, the first song ever to do so. The tune, a guaranteed wedding first dance favourite for years to come, is currently on 54 weeks in the top 40, and is also the seventh biggest-selling song of 2014 and the 10th biggest of 2015 so far. The large numbers have something to do with streaming now being included in chart stats, which means it isn’t really comparable to, say, Bryan Adams’s (Everything I Do) I Do It For You (23 weeks in the top 40 in 1991) but in the current era it’s nonetheless a mighty feat. At the time of writing, Thinking Out Loud had scored a frankly ludicrous 407,741,733 Spotify streams.
In April Sheeran became the first British artist to hit two billion streams on Spotify, and only the second musician to reach that skyscraping target after Eminem. Unlike some of his peers, such as his buddy Taylor Swift, he’s a big streaming fan. “I’m playing sold-out gigs in South America, I’ve sold out arenas in Korea and south-east Asia. I don’t think I’d be able to do that without Spotify,” he has said. “For me, Spotify is not even a necessary evil. It helps me do what I want to do.”
That’s what the Sunday Times Rich List believes he earned in the past year. He wasn’t coining it seriously enough to be included on the list of wealthiest British musicians under 30 in 2014. This year he’s in seventh place behind Adele and the five young hunks of One Direction.
BRIT Awards on the mantelpiece. Sheeran won two BRITs in both 2012 and 2015, including British Male Solo Artist twice. He has yet to win a Grammy but they’re slower about these things, so he may yet pick one up in 2016. Other notable gongs include Songwriter of the Year at this year’s Ivor Novellos, British Artist of the Year at last year’s inaugural BBC Music Awards, and who could forget “Best Pop Star BFFs”, a joint trophy last year for him and Taylor Swift at something called the Capital Twitter Awards?
Plays on UK radio last week for his current single, Photograph. According to the stat monkeys at Music Week, that means the song reached an audience of 53.7 million people, more than any other track that week. Its video, featuring Sheeran being adorable as a baby, is also a big hit, currently on over 24 milion YouTube views.
Sheeran’s tattoo collection is growing rapidly, most obviously on a rainbow-coloured left forearm. They include a copy of a sketch that singer-songwriter Damien Rice gave him when they met at a Rice concert when Sheeran was 11. There’s also a Matisse drawing that’s a favourite of his mother, handwritten lyrics by The Streets and Bon Iver, a Lego head and Pingu.
The amount that Sheeran made from a gig in Exeter in 2010, being paid £50 for the show and spending £80 to travel down there.
The number of people he performed to that night: the sound man and the promoter.
Rappers appearing on songs with him. Sheeran may look as un-black as it’s possible to be, but not for nothing did he come top of BBC Radio 1Xtra’s “Power List” of the most important artists in the urban scene last summer. You can hear how much the London rap population adores him on his No. 5 Collaborations Project EP from 2011: seven tracks featuring everyone from Wiley to Wretch 32. Or check out his turn on Krept & Konan’s album The Long Way Home, out this week. The Americans are increasingly into him too – he made a whole EP with Yelawolf in 2012, and has also been on tracks with Lupe Fiasco and Ty Dolla $ign.
Twitter followers. In one of the key measures of popularity in the internet age, that puts him comfortably in the top 100 users of the social network, a few hundred thousand ahead of Beyonce Knowles and Kanye West, but still well behind the likes of Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and Rihanna. He gets plenty of mentions on Swift’s timeline at least.
Car in the garage. Sheeran is really letting the side down here, having only just bought his first car. How did the man who earned 20 million quid in the past year splash out? On a Mini.
Driving tests passed. But that didn’t stop him from appearing on Top Gear’s Star In A Reasonably Priced Car earlier this year. He was slow. Still, when you’re always on a tour bus, who has time to drive? Ed Sheeran is firmly behind the wheel of a pop career with numbers in the stratosphere.
July 10-12, Wembley Stadium, HA9 (0844 980 8001, wembleystadium.com)