“I’m not gonna pretend it didn’t hurt not doing it,” Sheeran said during an appearance on That Peter Crouch Podcast. In 2019, he had already begun writing his take on the famous theme for Daniel Craig’s latest Bond film. The opportunity first came in 2017 when Bond producer Barbara Broccoli expressed interest in bringing him on board. In a 2019 interview with Music Week, Sheeran’s manager Stuart Camp shared: “Ed asks me [about it] every day and I say, ‘The thing they do last is the music.’”
Leaving the music until last is exactly what pushed the opportunity directly into Billie Eilish’s lap, because for the first time the order had actually flipped. “I was within a fucking gnat’s pube of doing one,” Sheeran said. “And they changed directors and then they just changed scripts and that was it. We’d done all the meetings, I started writing it.”
No Time to Die was originally meant to be helmed by Danny Boyle, who ultimately exited the film citing creative differences with Cary Joji Fukunaga stepping in as the new director. Pandemic-related delays of the film’s production schedule meant that the James Bond theme song “No Time to Die” arrived 20 months before the movie was released. Eilish joined a long line of musicians who had recorded their own take on the theme in the past, including Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, Paul McCartney, Lulu, Duran Duran, Adele and Sam Smith.
For Eilish, “No Time to Die” represents a career milestone. Crafted alongside Finneas and Hans Zimmer, the original song crowned the 20-year-old singer the youngest in history to win an Oscar, Grammy, and Golden Globe for the same recording. But for Ed Sheeran, who had initially been tapped to write the theme before Eilish was appointed, the single is a sore reminder of what could have been.
“You’ve got to remember, we were really auditioning for this,” Finneas told Variety last year. “They didn’t come to us and say, ‘The job is yours. Now go write a song.’ They said to us, ‘We’d love to hear what you come up with.’ And so we knew that they were inviting us into their world.”
Still, Sheeran is holding out hope that he’ll receive the same invitation again in the future, adding, “But if they came back, I’d be like, ‘Yeah, yeah, of course, yeah!’”