His record-breaking world tour has seen him play to 8.5 million people across 43 countries, earning a staggering $1.26 billion.

However, Ed Sheeran has revealed that fame has played a toll on his mental health so much so that he's cut his friends down to just four - and all are on his payroll.

The pop star admits he gets anxious in social settings, which has led him to surround himself with only those he can truly trust, his old school friends.

"I have social anxiety," said the 28-year-old. "I don't like large groups of people, which is ironic given I play shows to thousands of people."

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Sheeran will wrap up his 893-day tour tomorrow after playing four nights in his home county Suffolk, Ipswich.

The friends have remained a tight-knit group since they were classmates at Thomas Mills High School in Framlingham, The Mail on Sunday has discovered.

Sheeran's 2017 hit Castle On The Hill refers to the boys getting drunk as teenagers and "smoking hand-rolled cigarettes" by the town's medieval castle.

In an interview, he said: "I've got three of the friends that are in the song on tour with me. They're not really like a crew. They work in the day and then afterwards we drink red wine and watch The Wire."

Confidante: Ed's closest friend Lauren Baker-Woodside, a 27-year-old English literature graduate from Glasgow University. Photo / Zakary Walters
Confidante: Ed's closest friend Lauren Baker-Woodside, a 27-year-old English literature graduate from Glasgow University. Photo / Zakary Walters

The singer's closest friend is 27-year-old Lauren Baker-Woodside, an English literature graduate from Glasgow University, whose parents run Framlingham's Dancing Goat cafe.

"She keeps him sane," her mother Wendy Baker, an artist and teacher, said. "She's been touring with Ed for the last four or five years."

Josh Harte adds to the tight-knit group, who studied at Amsterdam University College, before becoming Sheeran's personal tour chef.

Personal chef: Josh Harte, who studied at Amsterdam University College, prepares the singer organic meals. Photo / Supplied
Personal chef: Josh Harte, who studied at Amsterdam University College, prepares the singer organic meals. Photo / Supplied

"Ed eats mostly vegetarian with some seafood when we are by the ocean," he said. "All of the crew are provided with metal water bottles and we don't purchase any drinks in plastic containers."

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Sheeran also has two photographers with him who were in his year at school – Zakary Walters, and Nic Minns.

Photographer Zakary Walters documents life on tour. Photo / Zakary Walters
Photographer Zakary Walters documents life on tour. Photo / Zakary Walters

Zak studied graphic design at Falmouth's University College before becoming Sheeran's "personal photographer".

Meanwhile, videographer Nic was a camera operator on Sheeran's movie Songwriter and took the first photograph of Ed and his wife Cherry Seaborn when they got engaged.

Videographer Nic Minns worked on Ed's film Songwriter. Photo / Zakary Walters
Videographer Nic Minns worked on Ed's film Songwriter. Photo / Zakary Walters