George Ezra’s secret struggle with loneliness, anxiety and how he almost quit music
Award-winning singer George Ezra is holed up in his Hertfordshire home trying to stay cool about performing at the Platinum Party At The Palace jubilee concert.
The singer has played just three shows since 2019 and is feeling the pressure of entertaining the Queen.
“I played my first gig in London two weeks ago and just stood at the side of the stage saying, ‘How the f**k am I going to do this?’ I have to remind myself pop music should be fun. With the jubilee, it’s easy to overwhelm myself and get nervous. If I look too far ahead my mind starts to melt,” says George.
“I remember these events growing up, and I think I’ve got a little bit of imposter syndrome. Diana Ross is playing, you know. I haven’t met the Queen yet but if I do I’ll be on my best behaviour.”
About 22,000 people are expected to descend on Buckingham Palace for Saturday’s concert featuring a host of headline acts, three stages linked by walkways, and light projections across the face of the iconic building.
Although George may be nervous, he can bank on the support of at least one member of the royal family. “I’ve heard that Kate Middleton has one or two of my CDs,” he reveals.
It’s hardly surprising that George, born George Ezra Barnett, is on the Duchess of Cambridge’s radar. Both of the Hertford-born musician’s first two albums, 2014’s Wanted On A Voyage and Staying At Tamara’s, which was released in 2018, reached No1 and between them spent more than 330 weeks in the charts – figures that puthim in the same category as Ed Sheeran. Even those who don’t know Ezra by name will recognise his catchy hit singles Budapest and Shotgun on the airwaves.
Having been inspired by travel in his earlier records, this time it’s heartbreak and a yearning for love that shape his new album, Gold Rush Kid. After three years, the 28-year-old split from singer Florrie – Florence Arnold – in 2020 and found himself living alone in their London flat during lockdown.
From his lowest ebb, he began writing – and the result is his most emotional album yet. Gold Rush Kid includes a tear-jerking piano-accompanied ballad, Sweetest Human Being Alive, in which he sings of his longing to meet his future flame.
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“I love that song,” says George. “I wrote that in the flat in the first lockdown when I felt really isolated. In the past, I would have censored myself from writing that kind of emotion. I’ve protected myself from it before. With the first and second records, I could just pinch other people’s stories and be the bubbly kid that writes about travelling around Europe. This is without a doubt my most personal album. It’s the record I hear myself on the most.”
At the end of those solitary five weeks in the flat, the loneliness had become unbearable. Crippled by anxiety fuelled by fear of the virus, George packed his bags and went to live in the back of a van on a friend’s farm for six weeks.
“For the first five weeks I was able to convince myself it was an experience,” he explains. “Then one day I just woke up and I knew I had to get out. It wasn’t good for me to be alone much longer. So I got this camper van on to my friend’s farm and I lived there for a further six weeks.
“It was a heatwave and there were dogs that needed walking, fields that needed mowing… We almost lived in paradise – if there wasn’t this undercurrent of anxiety.”
George has suffered from anxiety since childhood. He has Pure O – “purely obsessional” – a form of OCD that sees the sufferer experience distressing intrusive thoughts without the physical compulsions. It peaked while he was promoting the album Staying At Tamara’s and left him exhausted and questioning his future.
In 2020, he wanted to quit music, telling his manager, “I don’t identify with it, I don’t understand it. I find it really hard to get my head around why I would pursue what I associate with being quite stressful – because the last album was unenjoyable at times, by my own doing.”
He explains, “I allowed myself to becomea tightly wound young man. I was a stressed dude. With the first album I felt like a chancer and had no expectations. It was just fun. With the second, I realised there was something to lose so I really pushed myself to continue operating at that level. There’s a healthy amount of stress and pressure, but I used to overindulge it.
“I lived constantly feeling intimidated and overwhelmed. If I had a negative thought, I’d keep going back to the thought, back to the thought, back to the thought… It really affected my sleep. I’d be awake at 4am most nights. It became a terrible cycle.”
George gave up alcohol and caffeine, but realised there was no quick fix for his anxiety. Since then, he’s found a therapist and has started practising transcendental meditation.
He has also left London, where he felt like “a visitor”, bought a new house near his family in Hertford, and tries to maintain a good work-life balance – no social media, phone off at 9pm, read a book.
“I tried a lot of different things but it didn’t matter what I consumed, I was an anxious person,” he says. “I was 24 and trying to work out who I was while trying to present myself to an audience. When I think back to how I used to exist it’s enough to make me feel quite sad – or just want to hug myself. I’m much better now.”
Three days after the jubilee concert, George will mark his 29th birthday with a gig in Malta. As he approaches his thirties, he is reflective about the future. Gold Rush Kid, written with long-term collaborator Joel Pott, will be out in June and his UK-based tour kicks off in September. But it means his search for love is on hold for now.
“I have certain friends that are obsessed with relationships and they say ‘you’re lying’ when I say I don’t want anyone right now,” he says. “I became aware a while ago that I’ve chosen to pursue a unique way of living as a musician. I’m not home much and that comes at a price.
“It’s like the Sweetest Human Being Alive lyric – ‘Would it be lovely to meet someone?’ Of course. I definitely have my moments of, ‘Ah that would be really nice.’
“But do I care if that’s tomorrow? Not right now.”
Gold Rush Kid is out on 10 June on Columbia Records
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