English singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding shot to fame in 2010, at the age of 23. She has been honest in subsequent years about her struggles with anxiety, exacerbated by her sudden fame. But, in a recent podcast interview with Fearne Cotton, she laid bare her battle with something that became an anxiety coping mechanism in the early days of her stardom.
Goulding was a student at the University of Kent when she developed a keen interest in electronic music. She contacted a producer known as Frankmusik on MySpace and together the duo worked on her track “Wish I Stayed”. Her music became known as ‘folktronica’ and she was soon discovered by a scout at a university talent contest.
The scout, Jamie Lillywhite, and his superior, Sarah Stennett, encouraged Goulding to leave university and pursue her career in music. They introduced her to record producer Finlay Dow-Smith (known in the industry as Starsmith) and together they recorded Goulding’s debut album Lights in a bedroom in his mother’s house. The album went to number one in the UK and won the Critic’s Choice Award at the Brit Awards in 2010.
Within four years, Goulding had become a superstar, with 19 million album sales under her belt. She was a globally recognized brand and could count huge American stars as her peers. She supported Katy Perry on tour and became friendly with Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift. The working-class girl had made it.
However, despite experiencing incredible successes in her career, it was in her first year of fame that Goulding began suffering panic attacks. One was so severe that she had to be hospitalized. In a 2014 interview with the Evening Standard newspaper she described being in constant fear that something would take all her success away.
“I thought, ‘How am I here? Why do I deserve this?’ I couldn’t believe in the good things happening to me,” Goulding admitted. “I would be waiting for the universe to deliver the bad thing that would take it all back.” She sought professional help and a period of cognitive behavioural therapy helped her deal with her feelings.
Speaking to Flare magazine in 2016, Goulding was honest about her initial doubts about submitting herself to therapy. “I was sceptical at first because I’d never had therapy,” she said. “But not being able to leave the house was so debilitating. And this was when my career was really taking off.”
Goulding described the severity of the anxiety problems she experienced at the time. “My surroundings would trigger a panic attack, so I couldn’t go to the studio unless I was lying down in a car with a pillow over my face. I used to beat myself up about it.”
In 2013 she spoke to Cosmopolitan magazine about the panic attacks and CBT therapy. Goulding detailed her first attack, during which she thought she was dying. “One day after a shoot I was on a train going to a funeral and my heart was pounding; I thought I was having a heart attack,” she said.
The singer was forced to hop into a taxi with strangers when she got off the train and, “[I] was so scared… [I] reached over to this woman and said, ‘I think I’m dying!’” Goulding called a friend, who took her to the hospital, where they told her she’d suffered a panic attack. She then experienced them on a regular basis.
Goulding spoke of how her therapist was able to help her control the panic attacks. “Then I went to see an amazing woman to have CBT, and she flushed everything out. It took a lot of going back to my childhood.” She was prescribed medication, “in small doses” and over time, the attacks stopped.
In this same 2013 interview, Goulding spoke of how insecurities relating to her physical appearance also triggered her anxiety. “I’d convinced myself I was fat; I didn’t like my figure and I had a big nose,” she said. But, at this point in her life, she decided to make a concerted effort to change her thinking. And she wasn’t doing it for a boyfriend or family member.
“Now I’ve finally got to a place where I don’t focus on those things,” Goulding said. “I feel like I’m not changing for anyone; I’m doing it all for myself. Because there’s no one else to do it for.” The songstress revealed that she had previously changed aspects of herself for the benefit of a partner, and she had since resolved never to do that again.
“You should never change for anyone. And I say that because I’ve done it before; I’ve changed for a man,” Goulding admitted. “I was so, so in love with him that I’d have done anything. I look back now and think, ‘What an idiot!’ You only realize when you’re out of it how someone can have a hold over you.”
Goulding clearly felt this relationship was damaging to her and that the man in question was exerting undue control. “He treated me horrendously and I just didn’t help myself,” she said, but then the singer spoke of how much more confident she had been feeling as a single woman. “I feel strong in more ways than one at the moment,” she explained.
The singer revealed that she had worried her anxiety was rearing its head again in 2015. This was when Goulding was on the promotional trail for her third album, Delirium. “There were a couple of times after I released Delirium when I was doing promo and I thought, ‘Oh God, it’s coming back, it’s coming back,’ but it didn’t,” she told Flare.
In a 2017 interview on the Well + Good website she elaborated further on this anxiety. Goulding said that, even though she was able to perform arena tours and make television appearances, inside she had been gripped by fear. “Last year I was asked to perform at the Grammys – a massive honor but, as you can imagine, pretty nerve-wracking,” she said.
Goulding then detailed how she tried to change her own mindset in regard to her potentially crippling anxiety. “In the moments before I walked on that stage, I gave myself a good talking-to,” the singer admitted. “I was annoyed for being paralyzed with nerves every time I was about to perform on television.”
She continued by saying, “I told myself that this is exactly where I was supposed to be and if other people believed in me, I had to start believing in myself.” After this self-administered breakthrough, Goulding found another method of managing her anxiety: exercise. She took up kickboxing and boxing.
Explaining that she didn’t take up her strict exercise programs in order to lose weight, but rather specifically for her health, Goulding said, “It wasn’t about any change in my outward appearance; it was about seeing and feeling myself get better and stronger.” She noted that the good feeling exercise left her with began to be reflected elsewhere.
Goulding said, “It carried over into other areas of my life, and now I truly feel that exercise… is good for the soul.” She expanded on her exercise philosophy by saying, “Keeping fit doesn’t mean spending hours at a gym; the key is to find a workout you really love. The more I started doing classes and also working out with my trainer… the better I felt about myself.”
Goulding finished the 2017 interview by detailing how her attitude toward her anxiety had changed over the years. “It took time, but I’ve accepted that everyone feels nervous before they perform – it’s not just me,” she told Well + Good. “And now that I believe in myself more, that confidence comes through, whether I’m working out, singing onstage or just hanging out by myself at home.”
In an Instagram post from October 10, 2019, (World Mental Health Day), Goulding again took the opportunity to talk about her experiences with anxiety. She wrote, “I know for sure that a lot of my anxiety has come from what they call ‘imposter syndrome.’”. She explained this manifested in her, “not believing in myself enough and thinking that I don’t deserve happiness.”
The singer said she believed that these feelings sometimes resulted in, “sabotaging your own success.” The extreme highs and lows of life as a touring musician were also a struggle. “I know I chose this job, but nothing could have prepared me for the ups and downs that come with it,” Goulding wrote.
Goulding stated how happy she was that more musicians were being publicly honest about the difficulties of being a touring performer. She wrote about how hard it was to experience the adrenaline of playing your music to crowds and then, “going straight back to normality on a regular basis.” She thanked the artists who had been shining a light on the issue, but didn’t name anyone specifically.
Goulding also wrote about a family tragedy that had affected her. She revealed that her grandfather had committed suicide “a few years back.” She wrote that she wished, “[I] had spoken to him more,” and that her family had even had the tiniest amount of insight into the extent of his unhappiness.
Goulding finished her heartfelt post by sending out a message to everyone struggling with the same mental health issues she had faced. She wrote about how she admired, “those who get out of bed every morning and seize the day, even when they’re not feeling too great.” She added, “You are doing amazingly and I’m proud of you.”
A few months later, Goulding appeared on radio personality Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place podcast. Here, she gave fans an even deeper insight into the depths of her past anxiety problems. She revealed that, in order to make herself a more “interesting” person to interview in her younger days, she had turned to alcohol.
“I had to be a fake person to deal with the surreal situation I was in,” she admitted. “Usually for me it involved alcohol. I assumed I couldn’t be good enough, smart, funny or crazy enough to be with certain people without it.” Goulding explained how performances on BBC Radio One’s Live Lounge were particularly tough for her.
“Live Lounges used to be the most nerve-wracking; I even drank before those, I swear to God,” Goulding said, with amazing candor. “I would say, ‘Right, I’ve got to drink this morning because I’ve got this interview and I don’t really know how to answer the questions.’” This led to her questioning her own identity.
Goulding believed that simply being herself would not be enough; she had to be more. “I thought drinking would at least make me a bit more funny, or interesting,” she told Cotton. Interestingly, she didn’t think her reliance on alcohol at this time meant she had an issue with it. She said, “I wasn’t an alcoholic. I could go months without a drink, too.”
Moving past this revelation, Goulding discussed another reason she had sought therapy: anger management. “I used to be much more irrational. I’ve had a lot of therapy and now I try to listen to people rather than talking all the time,” she explained. She then went on to tell of how meeting her husband Caspar Jopling helped her anger issues as well.
“I don’t come across as an angry person, but it’s definitely something I’ve had to work on for a long time. When I met Caspar, this anger thing just went away,” the singer said. Goulding believed that it was Jopling’s calm personality that helped her deal with her own anger issues.
She said, “He helped me see things in a different way. With Caspar, I instantly felt calmer.” Goulding Arthur went on to discuss the root of her anger, which she believed could be tied into her father abandoning their family when she was only five years old. This led to a somewhat troubled upbringing.
“I’ve had family stuff and I’ve had stuff in my personal life which probably made this anger get worse and worse,” Goulding told Cotton, before adding, “Therapy has helped me to get rid of things.” The songstress said she believed that trying to ignore or push down anger was not a healthy tactic.
“Suppressing anger doesn’t work. It is nothing to be ashamed of,” she said. “Everyone gets angry, it’s just about how you deal with it.” Goulding had previously coped with her feelings for her father in her work: namely, her Children In Need fundraising song “I Know You Care”. She told Cosmopolitan in 2014 that the song was “about my dad and kind of my closure.”
“I had a lot of anger and bitterness because he wasn’t around,” Goulding continued. “So much has happened to me in the past four years; he hasn’t been a part of that, and he wasn’t before,” she said. She talked about how part of her wanted him, “to be a nice dude, and be apologetic.”
Unfortunately, Goulding was never sure what his reaction would be to her success, so she chose to write a song about him rather than confront him about his absence. She said, “I’m really worried he’s not going to be like that, so I’d rather have the question mark than the truth.”
Goulding may not have felt comfortable enough to open up so much to another podcast host. But, as she said in a social media post after the podcast went live, she and Cotton had been friends for a long time. “We’ve known each other since the early days,” she wrote.
She continued, “And our lives have evolved massively since I was singing starry-eyed acoustic for her Live Lounge in 2010.” Cotton, in turn, thanked Goulding in her own social media post for being, “so honest and genuine” on the podcast. She had been thankful, she said, for the chance, “to take a stroll down memory lane,” with her friend.