Ed Sheeran is one of the biggest artists of our time.
Actually, scratch that — record for record, he’s one of the most successful musicians in the history of music: over 100 million singles and 38 million albums sold means he’s mathematically up there with Bob Dylan, David Bowie, and Coldplay.
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But how do we define greatness in 2018? Is it Spotify streams, or Pitchfork reviews, or something… even bigger? Perhaps greatness today is something to do with how you leave your mark.
And for Ed Sheeran, his legacy is all about reach — not just with his ginormous fanbase (even his adopted cat that hasn’t tweeted in four years still has 62,000 followers), but more importantly, with the lives he can touch through his platform.
It’s not long until he joins Beyoncé, JAY-Z, Chris Martin, Pharrell Williams, and loads more at Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100, presented and hosted by the Motsepe Foundation, on December 2 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Not that you need to be any more stoked, but here’s a few reasons why Ed Sheeran is a total baller for humanity.
On 18 July, 2018, Nelson Mandela would have turned 100.— Global Citizen UK (@GlblCtznUK) July 9, 2018
To celebrate his legacy, #GlobalCitizen is headed to Johannesburg — and we're bringing friends! 👀 @Beyonce@S_C_@Wizkidayo@EdSheeran@Pharrell@Usher@ShoMadjozi@CassperNyovest#BeTheGenerationhttps://t.co/n9uwdnxmIf
1) He fights poverty
When Ed Sheeran does anything, it goes global. Five minute cameo on Game of Thrones? Viral. Ballroom dancing in a waistcoat? Two billion views on YouTube. A visit to Liberia with UK charities Comic Relief and Street Child to see for himself how their work helps alleviate poverty? Utterly galactic.
What’s more, that campaign (with the help of a lot of other incredible celebrities) ended up raising over $100 million in the fight against poverty. And the young boy in Liberia that Sheeran personally tried to help is now safe — and wants to grow up to be president.
“If I had not met Street Child and Ed, I would still be on the streets and sleeping in canoes on the beach,” the 14-year-old boy, called JD, told the MailOnline.
Sheeran’s since performed at Goalkeepers 2018 in New York City too — an event launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that highlights the progress of the Global Goals, 17 vital objectives that set out how to end extreme poverty before 2030.
Here he is with Bill and Melinda Gates, Kenyan renewable energy pioneer Dysnus Kisilu, 18-year-old Londoner and period poverty activist Amika George, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad. Finally, Sheeran can abandon the loop pedal. He’s found his band!
2) He’s a mental health champion
Ed Sheeran cares about mental health issues because he knows exactly what it’s like to deal with anxiety. That’s why he joined a host of other stars like Olly Murs and Ella Eyre to perform in Camden, London, earlier on November 18 to fundraise for the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), The Mix, and YMCA.
“I don’t think I was born with it,” he told BBC Radio 2’s Jo Whiley. “I think the anxiousness comes out of the fact I don’t really go outside a lot.”
“I often feel like I’m not one to talk about it because it’s not something I was born with,” he added. “It’s something that’s developing.”
He also mentioned he won’t release another album until 2020. Deep breaths, everyone.
THAT. WAS. INCREDIBLE ⭕️ ⚡ Thank you SO MUCH for coming, supporting and spreading the #IAMWHOLE message and thank you to all of our INCREDIBLE acts. See you next year! #M4MH#IAMWHOLEpic.twitter.com/aJ9XA6ChmO— WHOLE (@wholeofficial) November 18, 2018
3) How about all those other charity shows, huh?
Some people call him the “nicest guy in pop.” At the very least, he’s exceptionally generous with his time.
Sheeran used to sleep on the streets outside Buckingham Palace as a once-struggling artist — so in 2016 he supported efforts to raise money for homelessness charity Centrepoint. His first ever show at the Royal Albert Hall in London last year was to help fund the Teenage Cancer Trust — and he’s previously helped raise £40,000 ($51,200 / R718,200) with an exclusive performance to people who had campaigned for One 25, a charity for sex workers.
He sung a duet with Kermit the Frog to fundraise for children on the US’ Red Nose Day in 2015; he played a song for sick children at Boston Children’s Hospital this September; and his only live show in 2016 was at a gala dinner for East Anglia's Children's Hospices at the Natural History Museum.
And you might have heard of another show he’s been known to play in the past.
4) He’s always been a Global Citizen
“Drunk in loo-oo-oo-oove! We be all night, lo-oo-oove! Lo-oo-oove!”
Yeah, that’s Beyoncé. Covered in glitter. With Ed Sheeran. In a flannel shirt.
Two of the biggest names in pop culture came together in 2015 for a surprise duet at Global Citizen Festival in front of 60,000 screaming fans in Central Park, New York City. Yes, it was wild, and no, we can’t promise it will happen again when they share a stage on December 2. But we’re not saying it’s impossible.
That year’s festival promised to affect the lives of 92 million people around the world. Something tells us that the show in Johannesburg is going to be even bigger.
5) He’s working with BTS
Ok, ok, it’s got nothing to do with poverty, but c’mon! If K-pop can’t save the world, then the human race is doomed.
6) All those other things everyone forgets about
Are you sitting comfortably? Because we could be here all night.
Ed Sheeran serenaded a dying 15-year-old fan over the phone as she took her last breaths; he helped an old friend beat financial difficulties to pay off her family’s mortgage after inviting her to co-write Thinking Out Loud — one of the most streamed songs of all time; he wrote A-Team after he met a woman while volunteering at homelessness charity Crisis; he covered a Bob Dylan song for anti-poverty organisation the ONE Campaign; he supported a campaign to help tens of thousands of children in Ugandan and Rwandan orphanages; donated hundreds of personal items ranging from his actual boxers to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures to St. Elizabeth Hospice — a charity that helps terminally ill young people.
Greatness is the human legacy you leave behind. So yeah — we think Ed Sheeran is already up there with the legends.
The Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 is presented and hosted by The Motsepe Foundation, with major partners House of Mandela, Johnson & Johnson, Cisco, Nedbank, Vodacom, Coca Cola Africa, Big Concerts, BMGF Goalkeepers, Eldridge Industries, and associate partners HP and Microsoft.