Parade Interview: Ed Sheeran on Screaming Fans, Famous Friends & the secret to his success

From the moment he zips into a New York toy store, it’s clear Ed Sheeran is no typical pop star. Start with his appearance: With his hoodie, unsullied sneakers, and perpetually tousled red hair, Sheeran looks less like a teen dream than a dot-com programmer. In search of a gift for a friend, he inquires about Captain America toys, and the salesman, who’s wearing a Pharrell Williams T-shirt, has no idea he’s talking with a British singer-songwriter whose spring hit, “Sing,” was a collaboration with … Pharrell Williams.

But it’s only a matter of time before someone recognizes him: “Are you Ed Sheeran?” asks a teen girl who spots him near the display of One Direction dolls. Stunned, she asks to take a selfie with him, and Sheeran cheerily ­obliges. She’s just one of the devoted fans around the world who made his 2012 single “The A Team”—a wistful ballad inspired, he says, by a homeless ­woman he met while helping out at a shelter—a top 20 hit and bought almost 4 million copies of his first album, + (a.k.a. Plus). Drawn to his tender songwriting and cuddle pup image, Sheeran’s fans (sometimes called Sheerios or Sheeranators) are so besotted they’ve been known to swipe his hoodies, and at his concerts—he’ll be headlining arenas starting in ­August to promote his just-released album x (a.k.a. Multiply)—they sing along with every word and shriek with abandon. “I always feel quite awkward about it,” he says. “I’ve never screamed at anybody in my life. Can you imagine walking into a shop and someone is screaming about a chocolate cake? You’d go, ‘What is that dude doing?’ ”

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