Sheeran began to become known abroad in 2012, in the United States he made a guest appearance on Taylor Swift's fourth studio album, Red, and wrote songs for One Direction. "The A Team" was nominated for Song of the Year at the 2013 Grammy Awards and he performed the song in duet with Elton John during the ceremony. He spent much of 2013 touring North America as the opening act for Swift's The Red Tour. His second studio album titled x (read as "multiply") was released worldwide on 23 June 2014, charting at number one in the UK and US. He was nominated for Best New Artist at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards.
Sheeran was born in Hebden Bridge near Halifax, West Yorkshire but moved to Framlingham, Suffolk as a child. His father, John Sheeran, is an art curator and lecturer. His mother, Imogen Lock, is a culture publicist-turned-jewellery designer. His parents ran the independent art consultancy, Sheeran Lock, from 1990 to 2010. Sheeran, the younger of two boys, has an older brother, Matthew, who is a classical composer and postgraduate music student.
Sheeran began music recording in 2005, and released his first independent EP, The Orange Room EP. He moved to London in 2008, and began playing in very small venues. In 2008, he auditioned for the ITV series Britannia High. He also opened for Nizlopi in Norwich in April 2008 after being one of their guitar technicians. In 2009, Sheeran played 312 gigs. He recalls reading an interview with James Morrison that said that Morrison had done 200 gigs in a year, and Sheeran wanted to surpass that number. He released another EP in 2009, You Need Me, just before going on tour with Just Jack. He also did a few collaborations with Essex singer-songwriter Leddra Chapman, including Cee Lo Green's Fuck You. In February 2010 Sheeran posted a video through SB.TV, and rapper Example invited Sheeran to tour with him. In February 2010, he also released his critically acclaimed Loose Change EP, which featured his later debut single "The A Team".
In April 2010, Sheeran bought a ticket to Los Angeles, with no contacts other than one poetry night. He played open mic nights all over the city, before he was spotted at The Foxxhole by Jamie Foxx, who was so impressed that he offered Sheeran the use of his recording studio and the bed of his Hollywood home for the rest of his stay. Throughout 2010, Sheeran began to be seen by more people over the internet through YouTube and his fan-base grew, with him also getting credit from The Independent newspaper, England football captain Rio Ferdinand and Elton John. Sheeran also self-released two other EPs in 2010, Ed Sheeran: Live at the Bedford and Songs I Wrote With Amy, which is a collection of love songs he wrote in Wales with singer-songwriter Amy Wadge.
On 8 January 2011, Sheeran released his independent EP, No. 5 Collaborations Project featuring appearances by grime artists including Wiley, JME, Devlin, Sway and Ghetts. With this EP, Sheeran gained mainstream attention for reaching number 2 in the iTunes chart without any promotion or label, selling over 7,000 copies in its first week. Three months later, Sheeran put on a free show to fans at the Barfly in Camden Town. Over 1,000 fans turned up to see the show, so Sheeran ended up playing four different shows to make sure everyone saw a gig, including a gig outside on the street after the venue had closed. Later that month, Sheeran was signed to Asylum/Atlantic Records.
Sheeran at Academy 1, Manchester Dot to Dot Festival, June 2011
Sheeran at the Frequency Festival in Austria, August 2012
On 26 April 2011, Sheeran appeared on the TV music show Later... with Jools Holland, where he performed his debut single "The A Team". Six weeks later, "The A Team" was released as a digital download in the UK. The release served as the lead single from Sheeran's debut studio album, entitled +. "The A Team" entered the UK Singles Chart at number three, selling over 58,000 copies in the first week. It was the best selling debut single and the overall eighth-best selling single of 2011, selling 801,000 copies. The lead single also became a top ten hit in Australia, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway and the Netherlands. During a headline set in the BBC Introducing tent at Glastonbury Festival 2011, Sheeran announced that "You Need Me, I Don't Need You" would be released on 28 August as the second single from the album. The second single peaked at number four on the UK Singles Chart. "Lego House" was released as the third single, reaching the top ten on Australian, Irish, Scottish, New Zealand Singles Charts, Flemish Ultratop 50 and the Wallonian Ultratip. "Drunk", released on 19 February 2012, became Sheeran's fourth consecutive top ten single in the UK, peaking at number nine.
Taylor Swift contacted Sheeran after hearing his music while touring Australia in March 2012. He later co-wrote and provided vocals for "Everything Has Changed", a single featured on Swift's fourth album Red. Released in October 2012, it was the biggest-selling new album of 2012 and was nominated for Album of the Year at the 2014 Grammy Awards. Sheeran also contributed two songs to One Direction's second studio album, Take Me Home, released in November 2012, "Over Again" and the single "Little Things", which became the group's second number-one hit in the UK. Sheeran's album peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard 200, while The A Team reached No. 16 on the Hot 100. In late 2012 and early 2013, he headlined a US tour of 6,000–9,000 capacity venues. "The A Team" received a nomination for Song of the Year at the 2013 Grammy Awards. Elton John, who runs Sheeran's management company, canvassed the award organizers to get Sheeran a performance slot at the ceremony but was told that Sheeran alone was not high-profile enough. John decided to appear with Sheeran to circumvent this problem: "I got a call from Elton being like, 'I couldn't get you a solo slot, but would you mind playing with me?'"
Sheeran played 64 dates at arenas and stadiums across North America as the opening act for Swift's The Red Tour from March to September 2013. Sheeran got a Red tattoo to mark the career opportunity and remarked, "I think Taylor's just opening up a lot of doors and it's up to me to make sure that I get through to them. It's a massive opportunity for me and I want to make sure to grab it with both hands." Sheeran was also featured on "Old School Love", the lead single from Lupe Fiasco's fifth studio album Tetsuo & Youth. Sheeran also features on Naughty Boy's debut album Hotel Cabana, on the track "Top Floor (Cabana)".
On 8 October 2014, Sheeran released a music video from the x album entitled "Thinking Out Loud", where Sheeran was filmed dancing with his leading lady. The video got almost 3 million views within 24 hours from its release.
Sheeran performed a gig in Bristol, which raised £40,000 for a charity that reaches out to street sex workers. "It's good to show insight that these people are real people with real emotions and they deserve the same charity work as anyone else," Sheeran said. "There's a lot more popular charities that get a lot of attention. And with certain subjects like this they're often washed over and people don't necessarily give them the attention they deserve." Tickets were available to those taking part in the charity's Give it up for One25 campaign by giving something up for 125 hours and hitting the £125 fundraising mark.