Ellie Goulding reveals she endured crippling panic attacks and an addiction to exercise at height of fame

Ellie Goulding reveals she endured crippling panic attacks and an addiction to exercise at height of fame


WITH a glittering pop career and numerous awards, it seems Ellie Goulding had it all.

But she reveals today how, behind closed doors, she has endured crippling panic attacks, addiction to exercise and haunting feelings of not being good enough.

In her new book — Fitter. Calmer. Stronger. — Ellie, 34, who became a mum to Arthur in April, reveals that at the height of her success in her 20s, her days were filled with “complete euphoria and utter terror”.

She writes: “My low days used to be ridiculously low. I just couldn’t find a way out of them. I often felt as if I was failing because when I felt down I wasn’t being productive.

“My voice, my music and writing will always be my mysterious, unpredictable, fiery friend for life.

“But even if I write something I love, I can’t always rely on it to make me feel good. I often write my best songs when I’m feeling miserable.”

These days Ellie, who married art dealer Caspar Jopling, 29, in 2019, is in a good place. Her new book reveals how she got there.

She writes: “I’ve had a pretty colourful life so far, mostly because of where my joy for music and singing has taken me, and I have experienced all manner of ups and downs.

“But through everything, when I think about it, the one constant that has never let me down is training. My exercise and my strength have proved to be the two things I have always managed to maintain, even when times have been particularly testing.

‘None of it felt real or deserved’

“When I’ve felt totally overwhelmed, I’ve been able to use my movement as a consistent way of getting through tough times.”

But it has not been an easy journey.

Having dropped out of uni to pursue a music career, Ellie released debut album Lights aged 24 in 2010 — and became a superstar.

She won a Brit Award that year and hit the top spot in the album charts, but the speed with which she was thrust into the spotlight took its toll.

She says: “It was like being strapped to a space shuttle.

“I was performing live on TV, going to awards ceremonies and sometimes flying to three countries in a day. It was a dream come true, but brilliant things can also be detrimental, and by my mid-20s I was suffering debilitating panic attacks.

“They began to build slowly. I remember experiencing one on an early photoshoot. It happened again shortly afterwards, when I was about to take part in a live TV show.

“I did the show. I was acting the part of the pop star, but inside none of it felt real or deserved.

“To this day, I have never watched that show back. I’m scared I will spot the terror in my eyes.”

One episode was so bad, she thought it was a heart attack.

She writes: “One of my close friend’s dad passed away and I wanted to go to the funeral. Sitting on the train, I realised it was the first time I had sat still in two years.”

As the panic rose, Ellie remembers: “I felt hot and cold. My heart was racing. I heard a small voice say, ‘Err, excuse me, I think I’m having a heart attack’. The small voice was mine.”

Ellie ended up in hospital. However, instead of getting proper treatment, she normalised the episodes.

She writes: “They became kind of routine. Some days it was just a quiet, sickly feeling in my heart that sent waves of cold panic through my body, often accompanied by dread.

“Other times, an attack could spiral into a frightening physical manifestation.”

She continues: “My 20s felt like a combination of complete euphoria and utter terror. My main thoughts seemed to run like this: This isn’t real. Is this real? I don’t deserve this! This is a complete fluke. Did they get the wrong person?”

Ellie learned that this relentless dialogue is one of the chief signs of impostor syndrome.

She explains: “Putting a name to anguish and unease was really helpful.” Eventually, she knew she needed therapy.

She says: “For reasons of shame and confusion, it took me a long time to seek help. Eventually, I found cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).”
CBT is a talking therapy that helps users manage thier problems by changing the way they think and behave.

Ellie writes: “It was life changing. Crying suddenly seemed like a release, rather than a sign of weakness. As I began to recover from my panic attacks, fitness became my sanctuary.”

Starting off exercising 30 minutes a day, Ellie says that what began as a release, “Became my prison”.

She said: “It seemed that all I could think about was when my next workout was going to be.

“I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was using exercise as a crutch. I couldn’t control many things around me, but I could control how much I exercised. Exercising too much led me to start eating poorly. Rather than seeing food as fuel and making wise decisions, I’d eat rubbish and think I could just burn off the calories.

“I didn’t see the value of food or even consider how my eating could benefit my training or help me to train better.

“In my case, it wasn’t about weight and being super-thin, it was about distracting myself from how I felt.”

'Became my prison'

Through therapy, Ellie learned a lot about herself, and where those feelings may have come from.

She grew up in Hereford, but says: “Although I didn’t have the most challenging childhood, there were lots of factors that on their own might have been OK, but together felt like a lot.

“My parents got divorced when I was very young, so my dad wasn’t part of my life growing up.

“And my mum really struggled with money, while raising four kids in a small council house. I clashed massively with my stepfather. There was a lot of tension in our house, a lot of stress and a lot of anxiety whirling around.”

Today, thanks to overhauling her attitude to exercise, diet and mental wellbeing, Ellie says she is happier and healthier than ever.

And now she is sharing what she has learned in her new book, so others can forget fad diets and exercise crash courses in favour of self-care and flexibility.

Her approach to wellbeing is about developing a positive mindset, healthy habits, eating well and exercising.

She says: “Nowadays, I prioritise exercise and making good food because I know how epic it makes me feel, and I know that will help me to think clearly when I’m writing and to perform when I’m on stage.

“If you think of your body as a capable, strong machine that thrives on movement, it will motivate you to move it every day.

“You also need to remember why you’re eating well or exercising. For me, it’s about being a strong and physically powerful woman.

“I won’t lie, a happy by-product of living well is having a flatter stomach and toned thighs — I like the way my body looks when I’m healthy — but how I feel is much more important.”

Even after therapy, Ellie admits she still gets anxious. But feeling fit and strong helps her to overcome her self-doubt. She says: “I get social anxiety when I walk into a room and everyone looks at me.

“But when I work out, it gives me confidence that helps with my anxiety.

“It feels like I have a new tool in my armoury. I’m ready for whatever life throws at me.”

  • These are extracts, edited by NATASHA HARDING, from Fitter. Calmer. Stronger. by Ellie Goulding, Seven Dials, £18.99, published on Sept 2.

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