"I feel like we're really focusing on this subject," Ed Sheeran says, trying to move the conversation on. We're talking about him – and how people feel about him. He's "very aware" not everyone is a fan.

And he's right, we are focusing on the subject. Because despite the fact he's about to play six huge stadium shows in New Zealand – setting a new record for the country's highest-selling tour - he's also copped online hate from people who "don't get" his success and come under plenty of fire simply for inspiring that controversial Dunedin mural.

First look: Scaffolding removed from Sheeran mural. Source: ODT

"People just hate that I'm doing well," he says. And he knows why.

As we discuss how he's always described as genuine and down-to-earth, he interjects: "I think that pisses people off".


"Honestly I think that's one of the reasons [I'm so polarising]. I think pop stars are meant to be pop stars, they're meant to seem a bit larger than life."

Before I met him, Sheeran did seem that way. Making my way backstage for our interview, I was stopped by at least four different security guards. Badges and credentials were checked and even people with full access struggled to convince them to let me near the pop star.

As we set up, the videographers told me how "nice" and "approachable" Sheeran is and I nodded disbelievingly. I was a sceptic to start with, but having seen him perform for near 60,000 people the night before and being forced to jump through hoops just to get near him, it felt even harder to buy.

Ed Sheeran performing in Melbourne. Photo / Getty Images
Ed Sheeran performing in Melbourne. Photo / Getty Images

After all, Sheeran is the biggest artist in the world right now.

He was officially named the best-selling recording artist in the world last year and has been selling out tours since his hit album Divide released last March. His six-show stadium tour of New Zealand will be our biggest ever - and the biggest in Australasia - having smashed the record for highest ticket sales for a single tour.

On the flipside, Sheeran was "trolled" so much last year he quit Twitter and gave up his smartphone - "there was no point waking up and looking at that bile, it was better to wake up and live your life," he says.

So how is it that he's simultaneously one of the world's most successful and most-hated artists?

"The thing...people hate the most is; 'He's just a normal guy'. People are like 'No he's not!' So you writing that would definitely piss someone off," he says.


But I'll write it anyway because remarkably, Sheeran really is just as down-to-earth as all the reports have suggested. After all the hubbub just to get to him, when he comes in, he's just . . . normal. Almost disappointingly so.

Sydney night #1 - photo by @zakarywalters

A post shared by Ed Sheeran (@teddysphotos) on

We make small talk, compare taonga, he recommends a country cover of my favourite song of his, and asks for tips on where to go when he gets to Dunedin.

I ask how he's managed to stay the same and he shrugs.

"Well I don't really do anything that's out of the ordinary," he says. Then, probably noting the doubt in my face he adds: "Like, I've got four of my school mates out on tour with me and we do what we did in school - just on a kind of bigger budget.

"Yesterday we sat and drank wine and watched Sons of Anarchy. There's nothing too out of the ordinary, it's just we're doing it in a really nice hotel room."

Life has changed, of course. But if Sheeran's insisting fame hasn't changed it, then I ask about the other biggest thing that could happen to a 27-year-old bloke: His recent engagement to his childhood sweetheart, Cherry Seaborn.

The singer proposed over the Christmas holiday and admits he's "had a lot more public interest" in him since.

"I've never had paparazzi outside my home - ever. And then as soon as the engagement was announced they were just there, that was quite weird. I've never been a Hello or OK magazine kind of guy, but I think . . . people like the story of it."

He adds, thoughtfully: "I think it's going to change her life quite a bit more than mine, and I have to be quite wary of that."

This is, presumably, where rumours of Sheeran's impending retirement from music came from - rumours he's quick to shut down.

"I never said that," he says, clearly not dispelling it for the first time. "I said I would basically slow down. What I'm doing now is, I'm on a three-year tour to promote Divide and if I had a baby and I was away for three years and I came home and it was a toddler already without me, that's something I'm not really up for doing."

Fans were also concerned Sheeran's marriage would spell the end of his career, in that without the heartbreak and pining, what would happen to the music?

"The two biggest songs on the record were Perfect and Shape of You and they're both written about Cherry and both happy experiences. I used to think that as well; like, 'oh shit I need to be heartbroken to make good music', but I don't think it matters," he says.

Sheeran will kick off his New Zealand tour this weekend and he's surprised to learn it will be the country's biggest tour ever. He grins saying, "Is it really?" before awkwardly adding: "Cool", clearly unsure how to react to such news.

But it's news like this which has bolstered his previously "thin skin" and helped him care less about his haters.

"I feel like I make music that people either really love or really hate, and thankfully there's more on the love than there is on the hate and that's why I've come not to care. For the people who don't like me in New Zealand for instance, it's the biggest tour that's ever happened in New Zealand, so that outweighs it," he says.

"I get to tour around the world, I get to make the music I want to make and play it to people who like it and then I also get the opportunity to convert people . . . so it's a pretty win-win situation."

Ed Sheeran knows hes polarising, but he doesn't care anymore. Photo / Getty Images
Ed Sheeran knows hes polarising, but he doesn't care anymore. Photo / Getty Images

Is he cocky? A little. But with this level of success, why shouldn't he be? Is he also likeable, relatable and easy to chat to? Surprisingly, yes. When I leave, he grips my shoulder, wishes me a safe trip home and thanks me for coming.

Then his people march me back out to the street and my visitor's sticker is promptly taken from me, lest I try to sneak back in later.

It's strange because everything about it feels like visiting a megastar, except the megastar himself.

Who: Ed Sheeran
What: Divide Tour at Mt Smart Stadium
When: Auckland's Mt Smart Stadium - March 24, 25, 26 and Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium – March 29, 31 and April 1.