updated 04/03/2013 AT 4:00 PM ET
•originally published 04/05/2013 AT 4:00 PM ET
“We’re not,” he says with a laugh. Which isn’t to say that the whole thing wasn’t a hoot: “My mates asked if it was true. It made me feel like a stud!”
He sure is. Since the success of his single “The A Team,” the flame-haired, Framlingham, England-bred Sheeran, 22, is living the dream.
Now opening Swift’s sold-out Red tour, he was hand-picked by John to do a duet at the Grammys in February – “a very surreal thing,” he says. And soon he’ll be bringing his British invasion to Nashville, where he’ll record his second album.
An Englishman in Nashville? Sheeran can’t wait. “People in cowboy hats and chaps eating barbecue,” he muses. “I love it.”
For Sheeran, it’s all still hard to fathom. The younger son of art lecturer John and jewelry designer Imogen (brother Matthew, 24, is a composer), he got his start playing in pubs as a teen, sometimes to crowds of just six or seven.
At 17, armed with “dreams of selling records and playing in stadiums,” says Sheeran, he moved to London, where he met some other lads on the cusp of fame. “I made friends with Harry Styles before I knew who One Direction was,” says Sheeran. “They hadn’t had a single yet.”
In 2010, with the same pluck and determination, he went to L.A., where he couch-crashed with pals and hoped for a break.
In true Hollywood form, he got one after catching the eye of actor Jamie Foxx, who showcased Sheeran on his radio show and took such a shine to him that he invited him home to record in his personal studio. “He said, ‘Come crash,’ ” recalls Sheeran. “He was really, really nice.”
Three years later Sheeran is playing arenas with Swift, 23, whom he met through his manager a year ago. They clicked right away.
“She’s this big pop star who’s done really well, but in person she’s just a regular friend,” says Sheeran. “We do this thing where we meet up and pass the guitar back and forth.”
But the real proof he’s made it into Swift’s inner circle? Passing muster with her picky kitty Meredith. “We get along,” says Sheeran. “She won’t hang out with the dancers – but she’ll come and hang out with me.”