Ellie began showing interest in the arts at a young age; she started playing the clarinet at 9 years old and at 14 began playing the guitar. She was active in theater while studying at the Lady Hawkins High School, where she played the scarecrow at a Wizard of Oz production. She later on attended school at the Hereford Sixth Form College where she learned how to write music; she also entered a singing a school singing competition and won. This led her to pursue drama, politics, and English at the University of Kent. Her university years further exposed Ellie to electronic music and she was eventually discovered by Jamie Lillywhite from Turn First Artists during a talent contest. She had a successful showcase for Sarah Stennett, head of Turn First Artists, after which she was advised to take a break from school in order to pursue a career in music. Lillywhite became Ellie Goulding's first manager and was also responsible for introducing her to Starsmith, a producer who later on became her chief collaborator and the main producer for her debut album, Lights.