Ellie Goulding is pretty laid-back about most things. During a recent trip to New York to promote her album Higher Than Heaven, released earlier this month, she brought along her nearly two-year-old son, Arthur, and was adapting to spending her days away from him, though she noted that he is “extremely independent.” When I was late for our lunch at Manhattan’s Frenchette because of a subway incident, she was relaxed, expressing legitimate concern for the person who was hurt.
That said, there is one thing that really does bother Goulding: single-use plastics. She is a climate change activist and was named a UN goodwill ambassador back at the end of 2017. “You’d be surprised at how little people know about small changes you can make in your life,” she said over a glass of Champagne. “We should start to feel like it’s abnormal to have plastic bottles, and pay more attention to the things we buy that are so important.”
Though she got to know the Prince and Princess of Wales when she performed at the reception for their 2011 wedding, their joint passion for addressing climate change is what has brought them together most recently. In December, Goulding attended the ceremony for the Earthshot Prize, which Prince William founded in 2020.
“They are genuinely a kind and sweet Couple. They’re really dedicated to the Earthshot Prize, you know? It’s not just something that they feel they have a responsibility to do,” she said. “I really believe that they’re passionate about it. And it comes from our king, who’s a huge environmentalist and cares about it so much. I think that’s so important.”
One of the unique aspects of the Earthshot Prize is its aim to honor not just ideas, but also groups and companies that are already contributing to the fight against climate change. Reflecting on the ceremony, Goulding noted that she was impressed by the passion and ingenuity of last year’s winners. “I love that it draws attention to the fact that the innovation and the ideas are already here. They exist!” she said. “These people could have invented anything, could have invented moneymaking schemes, which most people do. These people are making things to save the planet for all of us. I think it’s so selfless and such an amazing use of their time. They should be recognized for that.”
She wants to use her platform to help people understand why climate action is so important. “It should be the sexiest, most interesting thing that you can read on the internet, that these people are coming up with, like, mind-blowing solutions to our plastic problem or the fact that we’re also heavily dependent on fossil fuels.”
Her ability to be just as comfortable talking about the climate with the royals as she is belting out a dance-pop hit onstage has turned her into one of the UK’s most beloved exports. She said she was incredibly surprised to see fans lining the streets of York when she married art dealer Caspar Jopling in August 2019. “It was just such a wild, surreal day,” she said. “[My friends] said they remember coming into York, where we got married, and just seeing crowds of people. When I got in, I thought, Oh, my God, I booked my wedding on the same day as some huge event!”
The wedding took place following a break from the music industry that began in 2017, after Goulding spent more than a year on the road promoting her third album, Delirium. She had originally hoped that 2020 would be her time for a big return to form before the pandemic set in.
“I was on a pretty good roll, like a lot of artists were, and then lockdown really was make-or-break for people. You go back to what you were,” she said. “I had to pick up my guitar again and relearn creativity. I couldn’t rely on the bells and whistles of a live show or people making me sound good or dressing me well. I had to just be me again, and whatever I was when I first started out had to come back. It was like a test, you know? Whether you could come up on the other end still genuinely being a successful artist.”
She threw herself into promoting her comeback album, Brightest Blue, virtually, all while living in the Oxford countryside as Jopling finished earning a business degree. The period was difficult, but she thought it led to positive change. “I’ve changed in good ways, and I really learned to appreciate what I can do when I’m not in lockdown,” she said. “I also had a baby—I got pregnant and had the baby during that time. So it changed me in so many ways.”