George Ezra on doubling as Ian McKellen, the Brits and not hassling Madonna for selfies

The 21-year-old is up for four awards and Dermot O'Leary is his number one fan...

Ezra grew up in Hertford, on the northern outskirts of London, the son of teacher parents. He picked up a guitar in his teenage years, began writing songs, and in 2011 moved to Bristol to attend music college. Steady gigging in Bristol and London created a buzz. Alongside BBC Introducing, who booked him for their Glastonbury stage in 2013, early support came from the unlikely source of fashion label Burberry.

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“I remember playing a set for them after one of their fashion shows, and Dermot was heckling me doing it! And you can imagine the kind of event the Burberry thing was – all these fashion people… And there’s Dermot shouting, ‘Come on Georgie-boy!’ Then I met him afterwards and it’s nice when someone is genuinely a fan. It’s very humbling.”

O’Leary duly tried to secure the youngster for a session for his radio show. “Then the little bugger went and got signed to a record label! And in Arsène Wenger-style, they covered him in cotton wool and stuck him in the reserves for a year! So it took ages to get him on the show.”

Entertainingly, though, he chose to disguise his voice in the video for Listen to the Man. Instead he had Sir Ian McKellen “sing” the vocals. A photographer friend knew the theatrical knight, who readily agreed to step up to the (fake) microphone and mouth the lyrics to the catchy song, which look far more natural coming from the rugged thespian than the angelic musician.

The clip (complete with comedy dialogue interlude) has had eight million YouTube views.

So now the Brits. This year’s ceremony is set to feature Madonna, Taylor Swift and, rumour has it, Rihanna. Expect fireworks, dragoons of dancers and more than likely a trapeze or two. But there’ll be no such bells and whistles for Ezra. “The great thing about the Brits is that every year there’s a real variation of performances. Some people strip it right back, and for others, the circus comes to town.”

How about his performance? “I think it’ll be a happy medium,” he demurs. “But, no, I won’t be coming flying in from anywhere on a trapeze.”

Will his family be watching back home? “I’m hoping to get as many of them as I can to the ceremony. And I’m trying to get some of the boys from home invitations as well.” Even though he’s a Brits novice, Ezra knows full well how lively the Brit Awards ceremony—and the after-parties—can become. “I’ll be having some stern words to all the lads beforehand: ‘Right, behave yourself—just for a few hours, then you can go out and burn off energy.:

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And no hassling Madge or Swifty for selfies? “Exactly!” he laughs. “I can get away with it though.”