The guitar-slinging troubadour has got everything it takes to be a festival sensation: talent, charisma, almost unmatchable popular appeal and stirring, heartfelt songs that hundreds of thousands of merry revellers can sing along to.
As the closing act on Sunday night, I fully expect one of those genuinely astonishing displays of communal joy and solidarity that make Glastonbury festival special, whatever the weather.
I confidently declare this as a pre-emptive strike against the inevitable naysayers. Twitter wags were quick off the mark last night.
“Radiohead, Foo Fighters and Ed Sheeran headlining Glastonbury is like a Top Gear challenge involving a Ferrari, a Porsche and a carrier bag” said @SunnyRandhawa. “Following Radiohead and Foo Fighters with Ed Sheeran is like serving toast having just eaten fillet steak!” jibed @tobyjones. And so on.
“Ed Sheeran is more boring than golf, cricket and horse racing combined” said someone who has presumably never been participated in any of them. “Good of Glastonbury to cater for people who don’t like music” quipped another.
Complaining about headliners at the Glastonbury festival has become something of a national pastime (frequently indulged in by people who never attend and only watch highlights on TV). It may all have started with Noel Gallagher’s patently ridiculous remarks about Jay Z in 2008: “I’m not having hip hop at Glastonbury. It’s wrong.”
Jay Z came out with an acoustic guitar, played Wonderwall and had the crowd eating out of his hands and Gallagher eating his words. But every year since then it seems like there have been grumblings about the headliners.
Artists are too old, too young, too rock, too pop, too hip, too uncool, too something for somebody somewhere. Last year it was Adele’s turn, the most universally popular star in the whole world accused of being too “boring” for Glastonbury.
A chatty woman in an evening gown singing middle of the road ballads may have been about as far from notions of rock and roll spectacle as you can imagine but it was actually very moving, perhaps for the very reason that Adele defied some nefarious outdated notion of what a rock festival is supposed to be about. Well that and the songs.
Her set was gorgeous and fantastic, uniting people in song and bringing a beautiful female energy to Saturday night on the Pyramid stage.
It all centres on elusive notions of what Glastonbury festival represents in the mind of whoever is casting aspersions. But Glastonbury’s diverse, amorphous, open minded character is one of the reasons it is still thriving in the post-rock era, and why it has taken on the status of a cultural institution.
It is defined by its audience, not its headliners, which is why tickets sell out before the line-up is even announced. It’s where the nation goes (symbolically at least) to let down its collective hair, raise its hems and fly its freak flag (or to put it in more British terms, erect its eccentric ensign).
And if, for whatever reason, the populism of Ed Sheeran does not remotely entice you, no one would begrudge you dragging your welly boots elsewhere. There’s sure to be a whole lot of other interesting stuff going on, and plenty of artists craving your attention. And there’ll be more elbow room for the rest of us in front of the Pyramid.
I suspect young Ed is going to be one of those stars who brings the festival together, where hundreds of thousands gather up the hillside to see what he can do. He is absurdly, gigantically, enormously popular, in case his detractors hadn’t noticed.
He’s just sold 4 million records in a week, seen all his albums go into the top five, and practically staged a one man takeover over of the top 20 singles chart. And there is a reason for this, as there always is when someone achieves that kind of unstoppable success. He is incredibly good at what he does: writing catchy, meaningful, resonant pop songs and delivering them as if they belong to everyone who hears them.
I have watched him on a journey from tiny pub venues to theatres, arenas, festivals and stadiums and he has negotiated each stage triumphantly, fuelled by a burning desire to put himself across and an incredible conviction in the power of song.
He played three dates at Wembley Stadium armed only with an acoustic guitar. Really, anyone who doubts whether Ed Sheeran can conquer Glastonbury needs to think about that. He took on Britain’s most hallowed stadium with the same set up as a street busker. And he knocked it for six.
Biggest pop star in the world plays best festival in the world shock horror. Well, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. But sometimes you can come mighty close.