Ed Sheeran is cool with his uncool childhood.
"Having things that make you different help you become an interesting person," he toldThe Hollywood Reporter before being honored at the American Institute for Stuttering's Freeing Voices Changing Lives Benefit Gala on Monday. "Most of the people I knew that were normal in school are all pretty dull right now — they go to the gym four times a week and look at themselves in the mirror a lot, but they don't really have a lot to say.… Most of the people that are successful started life off as a weird kid with no friends."
The musician was commended at the New York City fundraiser for his openness about overcoming his stutter, an oft-shamed disorder that Emily Blunt also conquered when a teacher first suggested she try out for a school play. "It can be mistaken for a learning disability, an anxious sensibility or a weakness," the actress, emceeing the evening in an Elisabetta Franchi jumpsuit, told THR. "It's not true to your real character; it's just that you're limited in your ability to speak.… I wanted people to understand that it wasn't that I didn't know who I was or what I wanted to say or who I wanted to be."
In his speech, Sheeran proudly noted his childhood's rougher edges. "I was a very, very weird child. I had a port-wine stain birthmark on my face that I got lasered off when I was very young; one day, they forgot to put the anesthetic on, and ever since then, I had a stutter. I also had very big, blue NHS glasses — NHS is the National Health Service, one day I hope you'll have the same! And I lacked an eardrum on one side of my ear, so stuttering was actually the least of my problems!"
"But it was still quite a difficult thing. The thing I found most difficult was knowing what to say but not really being able to express it the right way," he continued. Though speech therapy and homeopathy didn't work, rap music became an effective remedy. "My Uncle Jim told my dad thatEminem was the next Bob Dylan — it's pretty similar, it's all just storytelling — so my dad bought me The Marshall Mathers LP when I was nine years old, not knowing what was on it. I learned every word of it, back to front, by the time I was ten. He raps very fast and melodically and percussively, and it helped me get rid of the stutter."
"Stuttering is not a thing you have to be worried about at all. Even if you have quirks and weirdness, you shouldn't be worried about that," he told the younger attendees. "The people I went to school with that were the most normal and were the coolest when we grew up — I was telling Emily earlier that one of the cool kids from school now does my plumbing! That's a fact!"
"I wanted to not necessarily to shed light on stuttering or make it a thing, but stress to kids in general to just be yourself, because there's no one in the world that can be a better you than you," he continued onstage at the The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers. "If you try to be the cool kid in class, you'll end up very boring and doing plumbing for someone who apparently wasn't that cool. Be yourself. Embrace your quirks. Being weird is a wonderful thing.… I have a f—ing football team now, that's pretty cool!"
"Embrace your weirdness," he concluded. "From a stuttering point of view, don't treat it as an issue. Work through it and get the treatment you want to get, but don't ever see it as a plight on your life. Carry on pushing forward."
Sheeran spoke after remarks from previous honoree Vice President Joe Biden (via video) and gala co-chair and Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank. He didn't realize he was being honored until an hour before the event — plenty of time for the musician and Blunt to meet and grow chummy, to the point where he called her "not quite a cougar" on the red carpet and she jokingly told the audience that he was a "son of a bitch."
He ended the evening by performing "Thinking Out Loud," and when the audience asked for more, he donated $20,000 more to the institute — "I didn't actually realize how drunk I was until I stepped onstage!" he admitted — and sang his now-signature "Don't/Loyal/No Diggity" mash-up and Irish traditional song "The Parting Glass."
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