Offering intimate insights into one of the world’s most successful male solo artists shares the motivations that drive him to continuously release relatable songs that go on to garner critical acclaim. Ed Sheeran, who’s publicly known for each of his albums reaching number one on the charts, is now sharing the love, loss and grief he’s privately contended with in his new Disney+ docuseries, ‘Ed Sheeran: The Sum of It All.’
The four-part documentary, which is debuting today on Disney+, was directed by music video and docuseries helmer, David Soutar (‘Jack Whitehall’s Sporting Nation,’ ‘Ellie Goulding: River’). ‘Ed Sheeran: The Sum of It All’ was executive produced by Ben Turner and Ben Winston, who work for British television, film and music production company, Fulwell 73.
The team at the company approached the Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter-guitarist with the idea for the project. The idea for the docuseries arose after Sheeran first met Winston and Turner while he was writing songs for One Direction’s early albums.
In ‘Ed Sheeran: The Sum of It All,’ the titular global superstar opens the doors to a definitive and searingly honest view into his private life as he explores the universal themes that inspire his music for the first time ever. The documentary follows Sheeran after he learns of life changing news and reveals his hardships and triumphs during the most challenging period of his life.
The project features exclusive footage behind the musician’s iconic hits. The docuseries also includes never-before-seen personal archive with Sheeran and his friends and family, including his wife, Cherry Seaborn, and his epic stadium performances, which give insight into his world.
In each episode, Sheeran faces themes and emotions that most people experience. Along the way, he expresses his deeper thoughts as he reassesses life and explores what he thinks of the world, of himself and how this difficult time has influenced him and his new music.
Sheeran generously took the time the night before ‘Ed Sheeran: The Sum of It All’ was released on Disney+ to attend the project’s World Premiere at New York City’s The Times Center. The musician participated in a post-screening Q&A, which was moderated by Gayle King, to discuss the making of the documentary, which premiered two days before the release of his sixth album, ‘Subtract.’
Question (Q): What was it like to be able to sit here and watch the docuseries with an audience?
Ed Sheeran (ES): It was really different. I haven’t watched it a bunch of times, but I first saw it after these guys first put it together. They said they didn’t want to make a propaganda piece or me to be involved with the editing. They said, “We want to make a documentary from what we see.”
So many artists who make a documentary kind of turn it into a promo package that they want you to see. But I trusted these guys, and said, “You make what you feel is right.”
So for me, it’s a really uncomfortable watch because there are so many things that I would cut out. I’d be like, “I don’t know about sharing this or that.”
But I think that’s what makes it human and relatable. They found this thread through it that is uncomfortable and that we all go through and experience.
Q: You’ve said that despite all of your professional accomplishments, life became instantly better when Cherry came into your life. I looked at this as a journey for both of you because it’s so personal. So how did you make the decision together to allow yourselves to be filmed this way, because we don’t normally see you on red carpets?
ES: To be completely honest, we actually didn’t reach the decision until about two months ago. I haven’t really told the filmmakers that.
We did speak in the beginning because the documentary was originally meant to be about me. I spoke to Ben Winston and said, “This is actually what’s going on in my personal life, and I don’t really want to make a documentary about it.” He said, “Let’s just film it and see.”
So I spoke to Cherry and said, “We don’t have to do anything with it. We’ll just watch it.” So we watched it with my and her parents, which was super uncomfortable. As kids, you don’t usually tell your parents the whole story; you just say, “Everything’s all fine.”
So it wasn’t until we watched it and had that reaction with Cherry and our parents. They said it’s beautifully done and it’s really important to tell this story, so at that point, we finally felt comfortable saying yes to sharing our personal lives. Until then, we were like, TBC.
We’ve been talking about doing it for awhile. We had some calls, and I sent them some footage of me making some tracks. I said, “Make a documentary about that.”
To be honest, I don’t think these guys were too interested in that. They said, “Let’s actually see you as a human, since everyone knows you as an artist.”
Q: Ben Winston told you: “Let’s just film and see how it goes,” Did you know that you were going to get something special, since you know the filmmakers, which convinced you to allow them to share these personal moments?
ES: The key thing was that I never wanted to make a documentary about a sad pop star that makes the audience feel bad for me. What I think is great about the documentary is the themes it explores, and shows things that everyone goes through. Everyone goes through the fear of sickness in their family, as well as grief and the ups and downs of mental health.
Q: The documentary shows that you went through a lot of troubles.
ED: We all do.
Q: I really also liked the people around you who are shown in the documentary. It shows that you’re still friends with your friends from before you became famous says something about you.
ES: Thank you.
Q: The docuseries also shows how you’re dealing with grief over (English music entrepreneur/producer/DJ) Jamal’s (Edwards, who was Sheeran’s best friend and helped launched his career) death. Have you had time to process it?
ES: I don’t think you ever process it, really. I think your life builds itself around grief.
One thing I really liked about making this documentary is that more people are going to know Jamal now. I think it’s really important to share his stamp on history.
He’s a really prominent figure in British culture, but the rest of the world isn’t as familiar with him. But Disney’s such a far-reaching company that now countries all around the world are going to know Jamal, who would have never have dreamed that he would be on TV there.
But overall, I don’t think grief is something you should get over. I think to respect the person you lost, you have to live with it and allow yourself to be sad sometimes. You also have to allow yourself to laugh at the fun times sometimes.
But to erase someone from your memory so you don’t feel sad is disrespectful to that person. So I allow myself to feel sad when I want to feel sad.
Q: You don’t allow yourself to ever complain?
ES: I think it’s more human. I think that’s the thing with this documentary. When people watch it and see how I react to it, they’re not saying, “Oh, I’m said for Ed because he’s sad.”
They’re watching it and relating it to their own lives. They think, oh, I’ve lost someone. That’s why I think the documentary is so powerful. I’ve spoke about this a lot with Ben Winston; it’s not a documentary about a musician; I feel like it’s a documentary about grief.
Q: In the documentary, you said: “I hope people like it, but if they don’t that’s okay.” You didn’t say it in an arrogant way. But can you talk about that because I thought, I understand that?
ES: I think people think that being a successful recording artist is an egotistical thing. As I explain in the documentary, if I just wanted to write songs for my own enjoyment, I’d write songs and not release them.
But I love performing and touring around the world and connecting with people, as well as releasing albums. I hope these songs connect with people worldwide. The way to do that is to release it to as many people as possible.
But in that, you’re allowing it to be liked or disliked. In that, I’ve had successful songs and unsuccessful songs. But I feel like making this new album, Subtract, I haven’t made it for anything other than trying to process my own grief.
For the filmmakers, it was making the documentary, but for me, it was making this album. Recording the album was my own cathartic way of trying to make myself feel better.
I actually wasn’t intending to put this album out; I had a whole other album that I was planning on releasing. But I put it out to help with my grief, so I don’t really care how it does. I’m going to put it out, and it’s going to exist.
Q: You said in the documentary that you always knew that you would work harder than anyone else. When you saw other musicians perform one concert a week, you said you would do three a day. You wanted it that badly, did you not?
ES: My dad always said, “The people who work hard get the farthest, even if they’re not the most talented people.” I had very limited talent as a kid, but I knew the one thing I could do is outwork everyone else.
So I’d be doing shows with people who were 10 times better than me – they had better voices and were better guitar players and performers. But I knew I could get up to that level by outworking them.
It’s what I say to kids all the time. I tell them, “You don’t have to be the best singer, songwriter or performer. But if you work harder than other people, you can reach the top.”
People think I was born with natural talent. But you can go on YouTube and find videos of me when I was 13 or 14 and was performing, and they’re really bad.
Q: Are you worried about the masses seeing the documentary?
ES: Yes, it’s something I spoke a lot about with Cherry. This is our life; it’s not something that’s scripted. But it’s something that we’ve kept private for a very long time, and rightly so. We’re a couple, and not celebrities who always want to be out there on the red carpet.
What I’m hoping is that this documentary goes out there and it exists for what it should exists for, which is a snapshot of grief, mental health and depression, and we can close the door and get on with our lives.
Photo Credit: Sofi Adams