Ed Sheeran's rise from busker to worldwide phenomenon explained

The Thinking Out Loud singer is now one of the biggest popstars in the world

British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran performs live during a concert at Palalottomatica. Rome (Italy), January 26th, 2015 (Photo by Marilla Sicilia/Mondadori Portfolio/Sipa USA)
Ed Sheeran, pictured 2015 (Alamy)

Ed Sheeran is baring all like never before in new Disney+ documentary, The Sum Of It All.

Tying in with the release of his fifth album, Subtract (–), Sheeran is capping off a meteoric rise to stardom, becoming one of the UK's most beloved popstars over the world.

But how exactly did he get there? Turns out a lot of graft, some important friendships, and some secret struggles to make the music he loves (plus a couple of choice film and TV cameos).

Here's how Ed Sheeran went from busking across the UK to being a worldwide megastar.

Early beginnings: Sheeran family are artistic by nature. His older brother is a composer, and his mum and dad are both in the art world.

Raised in Halifax, Sheeran performed at church choir aged four, then learned cello before starting guitar lessons at 11. He also did Youth Music Theatre.

Double or busk: Sheeran started busking and performing in London aged 18. After a failed audition to be on CBBC musical drama Britannia High in 2008, he attended ACM in Guildford to study further.

He quit within the year to tour with singer Just Jack.

FILE - This June 4, 2012 file photo shows musician Ed Sheeran performing at the Queen's Jubilee Concert in front of Buckingham Palace in London. Sheeran, who wrote the pop ballad
Ed Sheeran (AP Photo/Joel Ryan)

Meeting Jamal: One of Sheeran's significant career moments came in 2010, working with Jamal Edwards on a video for SB:TV.

Read more: Ed Sheeran admits he 'didn't want to live anymore' after death of Jamal Edwards

The pair's tight-bond continued until Edwards' sudden death in 2022. Sheeran was shocked by the loss, referring to Edwards as his brother.

A large section of the upcoming doc is dedicated to their friendship.

The A Team: Part of his Loose Change EP, The A Team began to grow online in 2010. He soon went on tour with Example, and created The No. 5 Collaborations Project EP with grime stars including Wiley.

He signed with Atlantic Records in 2011, and The A Team became the lead single, hitting No.3 in the charts.

Capital FM's Summertime Ball - London. Ed Sheeran during Capital FM's Summertime Ball at Wembley Stadium, London.
Capital FM's Summertime Ball - London. Ed Sheeran during Capital FM's Summertime Ball at Wembley Stadium, London.

Plus (+): Sheeran's first album Plus released in September 2011. Singles included Drunk, Lego House and You Need Me, I Don't Need You - all of which were top 10 hits.

It's gone platinum six times. The success also got worldwide attention as interest grew thanks to the increased use of YouTube and streaming.

Singers Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran perform together at Z100's Jingle Ball 2012 presented by Aeropostale at Madison Square Garden on Friday Dec. 7, 2012 in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Powerful collabs: Collaborations have always been an important part of Sheeran's output, but he got mass attention due to tour and single Everything Has Changed with Taylor Swift.

He's since performed with Beyoncé, Eminem and Rudimental.

Multiply (X): In 2014, X gave Sheeran his first UK no.1 with Sing. Opening the floodgates to multiple hits including Don't and Thinking Out Loud, he won two Brits and multiple Grammys for the songs.

He also embarked on his own world tours, including sell-out dates at Wembley Stadium. X became the first album ever to be certified diamond in Australia.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 10: Singer Ed Sheeran poses before announcing his huge headlining show for Friday 10 July 2015 as part of his 'X' world tour at Wembley Stadium, on November 10, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images for Ed Sheeran)
Ed Sheeran (John Phillips/Getty Images)

Divide (÷): After disappearing from social media, Sheeran returned in time for Divide's release in 2017.

It became record-breaking – causing the fastest-selling world tour of all time, and the first time in UK history an artist held the top two spots in the UK chart with Castle on The Hill and Shape Of You.

It was the first album to ever have 10 songs in the top 10 over the course of its run.

British singer Ed Sheeran leaves the Rolls Building of the High Court, following the copyright trial over his song 'Shape of You', in London, Britain, March 8, 2022. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Ed Sheeran at High Court for copyright trial for 'Shape Of You' (REUTERS)

Legal Issues: Divide song Photograph marked the start of a number of plagiarism claims against Sheeran. X Factor star Matt Cardle believed the chorus matched that of his single Amazing. This was settled out of court.

Read more: Ed Sheeran slept through his album launch amid 'pretty gnarly' COVID-19 battle

A lawsuit claiming Thinking Out Loud plagiarised Marvin Gaye was thrown out in 2018, and in 2022 he won a court battle over accusations Shape Of You infringed "lines and phrases" of 2015 track Oh Why by Sami Chokri and Ross O'Donoghue.

Equals (=): Equals arrived in 2021. Releases of Bad Habits and Shiver allowed him to become the first ever solo artist to achieve 52 weeks at number one across his catalogue.

Shivers became his 11th song to hit 1 billion streams on Spotify.

Read more: Ed Sheeran returns to social media after 'turbulent' personal life

The album marked a change in his lyrics, focusing more on his new family, and marriage.

Ed Sheeran receives the award for Songwriter of the Year at the Brit Awards at the O2 Arena in London, Britain, February 8, 2022 REUTERS/Peter Cziborra
Ed Sheeran (REUTERS/Peter Cziborra)

Subtract (–): In March 2023, Sheeran announced his fifth album, completing the Calculations Collection, will be released on May 5.

Alongside it is a four-part Disney docuseries, which features his wife Cherry Seaborn (whom he married in 2019) and their two daughters Lyra and Jupiter.

It also reflects on his career rise – and its highs and lows.

Ed Sheeran: The Sum Of It All is released 3 May on Disney+. Watch a trailer below.