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WATCH: 'He was on the cusp of making it' - Inside Ed's early Suffolk gigs

Ed Sheeran performing at the Steamboat Tavern in Ipswich in 2008     Copyright: Jen O'Neill

Ed Sheeran performing at the Steamboat Tavern in Ipswich in 2008 Copyright: Jen O'Neill

Jen O'Neill

He is arguably the biggest music star in the world right now - so it's almost impossible to imagine Ed Sheeran playing at intimate venues to audiences of just 100.

Ed Sheeran performing at the Steamboat Tavern in Ipswich in 2008     Copyright: Jen O'NeillEd Sheeran performing at the Steamboat Tavern in Ipswich in 2008 Copyright: Jen O'Neill

But that's exactly what former Steamboat Tavern landlady Val Bint witnessed on several occasions, back when the Suffolk singer "always wanted to support, never to headline", so he could catch a train to London and perform again, sometimes into the early hours.

'Fame hasn't changed him'

Val was at the Waterfront pub's helm when the flame-haired youngster - then a fresh-faced sixth-former at Thomas Mills High School - played to just 120 people, aged 17, back in 2008.

"He never acted the superstar - fame hasn't changed him one bit," the 63-year-old remembers fondly.

Former landlady and owner of the Steamboat Tavern, Val Bint. PICTURE: RACHEL EDGEFormer landlady and owner of the Steamboat Tavern, Val Bint. PICTURE: RACHEL EDGE

"He always wanted to support, and never wanted to headline.

"That was because if he supported, he had time to get on the train and go to London where he'd play another gig there, sometimes until 1, 2 and 3 in the morning. He'd sometimes do three gigs a night.

"At the Steamboat, he often supported Underline The Sky (who vied to support him at the Chantry Park performances this year)."

Val credits Ed's down-to-earth personality and ordinary upbringing for his unfased attitude to superstardom - and believes that when it gets too much, the 28-year-old will always find a way back to his roots.

Ed Sheeran performing at the Steamboat Tavern in Ipswich in 2008     Copyright: Jen O'NeillEd Sheeran performing at the Steamboat Tavern in Ipswich in 2008 Copyright: Jen O'Neill

"Whenever I saw him Ed was a very personable guy, quite quiet, but just a normal boy," she added.

"He had extraordinary talent, but he never pushed that fact and was never in people's faces about it.

He did a secret gig for about 100 people, at that time he hadn't been at the Steamboat for about five years.

"What surprised me was that he was exactly the same.

Ed Sheeran at The Swan, Ipswich, in November 2010  Copyright: Jen O'NeillEd Sheeran at The Swan, Ipswich, in November 2010 Copyright: Jen O'Neill

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"He was still so down to earth, and I think that's largely down to his family.

"His mum and dad were at the secret gig, and they actually thanked me for the opportunity to do it!"

MORE: The 17 questions you need answered ahead of the Chantry Park gigs

Ed's early gigs at The Steamboat earned him a raft of loyal followers - but there was one particular performance at an equally-popular venue often described as the launchpad for his meteoric rise to fame.

Ed Sheeran at The Swan, Ipswich, in November 2010  Copyright: Jen O'NeillEd Sheeran at The Swan, Ipswich, in November 2010 Copyright: Jen O'Neill

Celebrating the Uprock club night's sixth birthday in style at The Swan on November 7, 2010, a "sweat-soaked" Sheeran had a "huge throng of fans" screaming his name as he warmed up for headliner DELS the rapper.

'On the cusp of making it'

Photographer Jen O'Neill captured the iconic images of Ed at The Swan gig - which have since been used countless times in then-and-now galleries documenting his career.

She said: "I had been quite lucky because I had covered a few gigs as he was growing in popularity. The Swan gig was in the November of 2010. It was at that performance that I felt he was on the cusp of making it.

Ed Sheeran at The Swan, Ipswich, in November 2010  Copyright: Jen O'NeillEd Sheeran at The Swan, Ipswich, in November 2010 Copyright: Jen O'Neill

"He had a loyal following and it was amazing to watch him getting more and more popular.

- Read more from Jen O'Neill here, alongside exclusive unseen footage of the gig.

'We turned The Darkness down'

FolkEast organiser John Marshall-Potter has shared his memories of a young Ed performing at his former venture, Gig in The Park in Halesworth, three years in a row.

He remembers booking the rising star - and ironically turned down fellow Suffolk band The Darkness, who were the bigger name at the time and are Ed's support act for his upcoming Ipswich gigs.

Ed Sheeran at The Swan, Ipswich, in November 2010  Copyright: Jen O'NeillEd Sheeran at The Swan, Ipswich, in November 2010 Copyright: Jen O'Neill

His younger son was at sixth form with Ed, and he had recommended the up-and-coming singer for inclusion at his dad's festival.

MORE: Ed's former singing teacher on why he has made it so big

He explained: "We had an application system for bands to play, and I still have Ed's along with a band from Lowestoft called The Darkness. We turned them down!

"Our younger son was at sixth form at the same time as Ed, and got to know him so it was he who said that Ed was well worth booking, so we did. We always did, and still do with FolkEast, try to give young artists a platform alongside mainstream national artists.

"He thoroughly deserves his success, which was a result of his own hard work over many years."

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