Has he seen a therapist? Does he have OCD? Or a secret yearning to study French poetry? Lord Sugar tells all<

f Alan Sugar, Lord Sugar, were a dog he would be a short-bodied, wire-haired dog. A terrier of some sort. A snarling, bristling, silver-coated terrier. This thought occurs to me as I watch him stride into the cavernous supply room where our photographer, Dan Burn-Forti, has set up his lights in front of an abandoned red leather chair.

“You’ve got seven minutes,” Sugar barks. He only ever poses for seven minutes; indeed, he once refused to sit for David Bailey because he wanted more than that. Dan knows the seven-minute rule already, having photographed him twice before.

He also knows that he must not ask Lord Sugar to point his finger at the camera, as he does when he says his catchphrase, “You’re fired!”, on The Apprentice, a new series of which is about to start on BBC One. This will only annoy his lordship, and given his reputation for being prickly, Dan knows that you really don’t want to annoy him.

The storeroom is on the third floor of Amshold Ltd, a large corrugated building on an industrial estate just beyond the M25 in Essex, the headquarters for Lord Sugar’s business empire, and it is full of the everyday supplies a company needs, from cleaning fluids and pens, to printer paper and lots of watercoolers.

There’s also a dusty old Amstrad computer from the Eighties, the product on which Sugar built his fortune (he is thought to be worth about £840 million, with most of his money these days coming from property). For my generation, your first computer was nearly always an Amstrad (mine was the 9512). Sugar had the simple, yet inspired, idea that if computers could be made affordable, everyone would want one.

The photographs over – seven minutes exactly – we repair to Sugar’s office. Light slants through a semi-shuttered window. His wooden desk forms the top of a giant T, the bottom being the long, granite desk at which his visitors sit, at an angle to him. Symmetrically arranged on the desk are two phones, two silver-shaded lamps, two glass in-trays, two model aeroplanes and two computers. Behind it, on the wall, are evenly-spaced family photographs. Sugar has been married to Ann for 43 years. One is tempted to describe her as the long-suffering Ann, but she has been quoted as saying that her husband is “softer” in reality than he appears in the media.

For his part, Sugar has said that he doesn’t know what she saw in him at first. He wasn’t exactly romantic, eventually proposing in a minivan on the Stratford flyover. They have three grown-up children. All were privately educated. Two of them work for his company.

The interview begins with a brusque: “Now what can I do for you?” The compulsive watch checking also begins, not a surreptitious, corner-of-the-eye check but a full-on, rude, I’ve-got-more-important-things-to-be-doing-right-now check.

While it’s possible that he only does this with me I suspect he does it with everyone, not least because he often describes himself as an impatient man. Restless. Easily bored.

Yet, in contradiction of this, he can’t bear disorder in his life. Everything has to be aligned, from the clams on his plate to the pictures on his wall. He is fanatical about cycling and perhaps there is something about the constant rhythm of peddling, the order it represents, that he finds therapeutic.

I suggest this because about 20 minutes into our conversation I notice him aligning the pens around his desk with his jotter. When I ask why he does this, whether it is evidence of obsessive compulsive disorder, he says in a deadpan voice: “Yeah, there’s a man with a white coat waiting outside. Partial insanity. I’m just going to move this pen over two millimetres.” He measures with a ruler. Nice self-mockery.

A psychotherapist would read much into this, I suggest. Has he ever been tempted to see one? “No, no, no. As a young man some friends of mine had some kind of visionary round their house to read what was going to happen to them and I happened to turn up and say it was a load of nonsense. And they said I should try it and the man said, ‘I can tell you have had a bad day today. You’ve had a big row with your boss and I can see it’. And I said, ‘I haven’t got a boss, I work for myself.’”

It’s an anecdote that tells us you don’t have to be a particularly talented “psychic” to guess as soon as Sugar walks through the door that he has had an argument with someone that day.

If he were to see a therapist, I suggest, he or she would want to explore why, when most people need to be liked, Alan Sugar doesn’t. In fact he seems to enjoy making enemies. (He joined Twitter last year and soon found himself embroiled in a war of words with Kirstie Allsopp, calling her “a lying cow” for saying he was “uncharitable”.) Why is that? “I don’t make enemies, it’s just I’m not afraid to speak my mind, which can sometimes mean people don’t like what I am saying. They become, in your terms, enemies.

“I tell it like it is, but I’ve got some employees who have worked for me for 25 years. I can’t be that bad if they stick around.The only people whose opinions I worry about are my wife, my children, and my employees. And as long as they still like me the rest of the world can,” he checks himself, “make its own mind up. I don’t go out of my way to schmooze people or make friends.”

So has he deliberately cultivated a television persona which is, well, what is it? “Dare I say it, the reason I think people like watching me is that I speak a lot of common sense. They know I’m not talking rubbish. There’s no complexity in what I’m saying on The Apprentice. It’s not highbrow, intellectual speak. It is obvious.”

The youngest of four children brought up in a council flat in Hackney, Sugar began his career selling lighters and car aerials from the back of a van. Clearly his is a story of determination, guts and a strong work ethic, but it is also one of single-mindedness and self-belief. Where did that come from, does he suppose? His parents?

“I don’t think so, they came from a completely different era. Very cautious and non-adventurous. Had a difficult life. My mother was a housewife. My father was a garment worker. What I did was totally alien to what my father would have done. So no.”

Did he worry about outshining his father? “No, no problem there at all. I’d broken the mould of working in a factory culture. You’re not a psychiatrist are you? Do you want me to get on the couch?”

If that would make him feel more comfortable. “Well can we get back to talking about The Apprentice.” It’s not a question. But I had a good run, and I’m surprised his patience took as long as it did to wear thin.

So. A new series of the Bafta-winning reality show begins next week and this time, instead of winning a £100,000 job in one of Sugar’s businesses, the winner will go into a 50/50 partnership with him. He will invest £250,000 in a start-up company of the winner’s choosing. Sixteen candidates, as usual. Twelve tasks. Cue Prokofiev music.

The firing stage. Does he ever get emotionally engaged? Feel moved?

“Yeah I do, especially on the penultimate programme because you have had people who have been working hard trying to impress you for 11 weeks and it gets difficult when you have to make a decision because they can’t all be winners. The firing tends to be soft landings towards the end because I don’t want to be suppressing someone who has tried their best but just wasn’t quite good enough.”

Before this interview his lordship was being interviewed by Evan Davis for Radio 4. Isn’t the new format a “leetle” bit like Dragon’s Den? “Yeah, well he seemed to think so, but as I told him, we’re the ones who keep winning the awards and he hasn’t won one yet.”

Sugar thinks there is an “expectancy culture” out there. Young people think they can come in at a high level, bypassing all the dirtying hands stage. “They look at the young fellow who invented Facebook and think they are going to find a venture capitalist who’s going to give them 10 million quid. But he was an anonomy. The guy that invented YouTube is an anonomy. The guy who invented Amazon is an anonomy.” I think he means anomaly, except that, having given three examples, they aren’t exactly anomalies.

“What they forget is that all these people were anonomies,” Sugar continues. “But when you look at the Sugars, the Bransons and the Greens, we started with nothing, at the bottom, and we learned from our mistakes and we hustled. We ducked and dived. What we want to demonstrate to the viewers is that you can still start with very little.

“I’ve given this latest mob £250 and they’ve turned it into £1,500. Did they need a bank loan? No. Did they need a big factory? No.”

And it shouldn’t matter in terms of starting up that we are in a recession? “No, that’s all rubbish. I’m sick and tired of hearing about the recession. It’s all c—. I started in 1967, one of the worst recessions in living memory. It’s all about being positive.”

Part of Sugar’s morbid appeal on television is that he is always trying to keep his anger in check, stop himself from swearing. In his autobiography, What You See Is What You Get (2010), he writes: “The niceties weren’t instilled in me by my mother and father. I was never taught any social graces, not even simple things like saying, ‘Hello, how are you?’”

In the book he also admits to feelings of guilt (towards his mother, with whom he didn’t spend enough time when she had depression towards the end of her life), of “gut-wrenching anguish” (during his 10-year period as the owner of Tottenham Hotspur) and to moments of self-doubt: “Am I a one-trick pony?”

Is this evidence of introspection, I wonder. Of an examined life? I try to steer him back to the personal stuff. Does talking about it make him feel uncomfortable? “No, it’s just this isn’t a profile about me.” Yes it is. “Well it’s all in my book. Read that. First two chapters.”

I like to hear things from the horse’s mouth, not that I’m comparing him to a horse. “Well people do say reading that book is like listening to me talking. I dictated it.”

Not only does he not write books, he doesn’t read them either. Or listen to music. The closest he comes to culture is watching a bit of television, Law & Order. And yet clearly, to have done as well in business as he has he must have, as he puts it, genius and brilliance.

Does he regret not having had a formal education, going to Oxbridge, perhaps? “I don’t think the outcome would have been any different. And I would perceive three years at university as a waste of time. I would have already made £200,000 by then. I’m a commercial person, not an academic.”

Those three years may be a waste of time financially but not in terms of his cerebral development, surely. He might have acquired a taste for French poetry, for example, which might have enriched his life in profound ways, giving him intellectual depth.

“Not really. The thing is, I’ve been in the university of life, you see, and you can say to these people who come out with their two-point-ones, or whatever, that’s fine but you know nothing. We’re going to put you into a practicable environment now where you begin to learn.”

Isn’t that rather patronising? I mean, he doesn’t know these people with their two-ones. And all the Nobel Prize winners this country has ever produced went to university.

He raises his voice. “All it is is a badge that shows they have a brain. That’s all it is. You’re not a dummkopf. But you are not an expert in economics. I’m sorry. You are not an expert in business. You are not an expert in electronics. When you become an expert is when you start rolling up your sleeves on the shop floor.”

Clearly he is a good judge of character, a quick judge, too. Is that down to his impatience? “I have instincts but I know better than to react to them straight away because that’s knee jerk. It’s bad, bad, bad practice to form an opinion of someone after only 20 minutes, unless they are being abusive.”

Does he have an instant prejudice against public-school types? He sighs. “Not really, but if you are born with a silver spoon in your mouth, it doesn’t mean that you have a brain in your head.

“If your parents can afford to send you to Eton that’s not your fault, but Eton isn’t going to make you brilliant. It can make you charming and polite, that’s good, but it doesn’t make you better than anyone else.”

What motivates him to carry on with his businesses? How much is enough? “I have got enough yes. Don’t need any more. But I like making it. That’s in my nature. It’s like a footballer likes scoring goals.”

What does he like about it? “It’s the buzz, isn’t it?

Creating something. Making something. Being successful. That is the buzz. Having a deal. It’s a buzz.”

And his motivation for carrying on with The Apprentice? “There is a certain amount of ego involved, to be fair. It is nice to be recognised, nice to be famous. But my main motive for doing it is to instil entrepreneurial skill and enterprise into young people.”

At the beginning of the show he lists what he doesn’t like. “I don’t like cheats. I don’t like schmoozers. I don’t like a— lickers.”

When I ask him now what he does like he says: “The first daffodils of spring, Shakespearean sonnets, walking barefoot in the sand.” No, of course he doesn’t. He’s all about the not liking.

Having talked about the folly of making instant judgments, I will now make some. After an hour or so in his company, I would say Lord Sugar is repetitive in conversation, intellectually complacent, distracted, and, yes, impatient. He is almost certainly an anal retentive and did I mention repetitive?

Like David Brent, he shouts you down, has no social skills or tact, and is boastful, though I do get that he is sending himself up when he says how brilliant he is.

I don’t share these conclusions with him, but I do ask if he ever slips into self-parody. “No, I’m pleased to say I’m not an actor. What you see is what you get. I’ve met you before haven’t I?” Nope. “Yeah, you’ve been here before.” Nope. “Yeah you have. It obviously wasn’t a memorable moment for you.”

And with that slightly bizarre exchange we part company, me blinking into the sunshine feeling slightly punch drunk, him barking like a terrier at some unfortunate on the phone.


James Blunt

It could be the homes around the world; his military bearing; or that he’s our biggest musical export since Elton. For whatever reason, being called annoying, a philanderer or – worse – middle class doesn’t exactly keep James Hillier Blount awake at night. Nigel Farndale met him

It’s not the sight of the groupies that haunts me, but the sound, or rather the absence of sound, as they ghost past us on their way up the stairs to the dressing-room. It takes me a moment to figure out that the reason they aren’t talking to each other is that they don’t know each other. One of the band members, the keyboard player, I think, has picked them from the audience on the basis of their looks. Half-a-dozen of them, all in their late teens and early twenties, and all, surprisingly, in pretty frocks, as if they were going to a Sunday school meeting. They have been separated from their friends like lambs weaned from their mothers. The silence of the lambs.

The ‘us’ they are filing past is James Blunt and me. He has a bottle of beer in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and not a hair in place – tousled just so, like a Renaissance painting of John the Baptist – but they don’t realise it’s him because he has changed out of the suit he was wearing on stage and is now in jeans, T-shirt and leather jacket, as well as a pink feather boa and star-shaped novelty sunglasses. But I’m getting ahead of myself. This is the end of the day; we need to go back to the start, well, to the middle, when the seats are empty and the Texan sun is at its most unforgiving.

A barefoot and unshaven Blunt is wearing normal sunglasses and shorts as he plays his piano, strums his guitar and sings his plaintive songs into the microphone for the sound check, all the while looking out with his soulful eyes over an empty, open-air arena in Houston. At 5ft 7in, he’s not a tall man, but he has presence and an unaffected manner – a certain maturity, too, one that you wouldn’t normally associate with a pop star in the ascendant.

But then he is 34 and this is his second career, his first being as an officer in the Household Cavalry. He joined after graduating from Bristol University with a degree in sociology. He became a champion skier for the Army and not only saw active service in Kosovo, but also guarded the Queen Mother’s coffin when she was lying in state.

Tonight he will be supporting Sheryl Crow, though, since his second album ‘All the Lost Souls’ and the single from it, ‘1973’, went straight to number one in America, he is arguably the bigger act these days. Indeed, not since Elton John has there been a more successful British singer-songwriter in the States.

His first album, ‘Back to Bedlam’, also went to number one over here, as it did in 18 other countries, making it the biggest-selling album of the millennium. It even entered the Guinness Book of Records as the fastest-selling album in one year. But it was his first single that really put him on the map. You’re Beautiful became the sound of that summer. It was everywhere, and still is – having become a favourite at weddings, funerals and bar mitzvahs. I even heard a brass band playing it at an agricultural show in the Yorkshire Dales this summer.

As well as millions of sales, James Blunt has won Brit awards, Ivor Novello awards, MTV awards and various Grammy nominations. In terms of credibility, he’s headlined at Glastonbury and won the respect of the world-weary music press. Yet not everyone loves him, as he points out when we get something to eat in the canteen area back stage.

‘After Back to Bedlam really started selling,’ he says, ‘there was this sudden aggression towards me in the UK, for whatever reason, and that focused my mind, made it clear to me what I was doing and why I wanted to do it. I write songs for myself. I don’t write them for you, or for anyone else, I write them because I have experiences that I need to process. I don’t have the answers all the time, but I do have lots of questions, and I express them in the songs I write.’

He is, I think, alluding to a poll last year of ‘the most annoying things in life’, which put him at number four, just behind cold-callers and queue-jumpers. ‘I haven’t met anyone who voted in the poll, have you?’ he says when I mention this. ‘That poll probably came from a website that was after some publicity. You and I could do the same poll very quickly right now and it would count as a poll. We could do one about annoying newspapers, for example. I promise the Sunday Telegraph wouldn’t be in my list. My parents take it.’

His father, a retired colonel in the Army Air Corps, manages his son’s finances. His mother arranged the purchase of his six-bedroom villa in Ibiza (he also has a chalet in Verbier and recently bought a place in Chelsea). ‘I’m not married,’ he says, ‘and so the support structure in my life is my parents. I’m closer to them now than I have ever been.’

He certainly isn’t married, as the photographs of him emerging from nightclubs with various high-profile women on his arm attest. Tara Palmer-Tomkinson was probably the best known socialite, Jessica Sutta, of the Pussycat Dolls, the most glamorous. He also seems to be photographed regularly cavorting on beaches with bikini-clad models such as Petra Nemcova, whom he dated and then dumped – unceremonious dumping being his way of ending relationships, according to the tabloids. He once said he found himself in a swimming pool in LA with nine naked women. ‘I was the only bloke. It was the only time I wished my mates were there, purely to spectate. I had arrived. It was a moment.’

Now he says of the tabloid interest in his peripatetic love life: ‘Last week I went to my home in Ibiza and was photographed by the paparazzi in my swimming trunks with girls. What is the point of that? I’m not that bothered, but maybe the media should be concentrating more on global warming or the Russian invasion of Georgia.

‘Looking at me in my swimming trunks is not a great sight. It’s a waste of time. There generally is a long lens pointing at me wherever I go, these days. I’m comfortable with it. I appreciate how things work. But my record label said something about my always being photographed coming out of nightclubs and I thought, “But this is what I do. I was doing it before the second album came out, so what is different now? You didn’t tell me to stop then.” I’m not going to change my life because of these people. I don’t see why I should.’

His label also gets him to dye his grey hairs and be enigmatic about his love life, which is an old tactic dating back to the Beatles – they had to pretend they didn’t have wives and girlfriends so that fans could fantasise they were in with a chance.

Actually, at the time of going to press, Blunt seems to be going out again with one of his old flames, Verity Evetts, an Oxford-educated barrister. He has also stayed friendly with some of his other exes, the socialites at least. He told one – an ex who got married not long ago – that he doesn’t feel ‘centred’ at the moment and would like to get married as well. Then again, he also said that he never tires of singing You’re Beautiful night after night because it gets him laid night after night.

Either way, he tells me he has grown used to the idea that his mother will probably find out from the papers what he has been up to, and with whom, before he has had a chance to tell her. ‘And my [two] sisters are quick to email me about things in the papers, laughing their heads off. I get healthy, ritual abuse from them, and give it back myself.’

As we are talking, I can’t decide whether the way Blunt smiles all the time is disarming or disturbing. He’s like a victim of a religious cult, smiling at the beginning of the sentence and at the end. I guess he has a lot to smile about, but also I sense a great deal of insecurity to disguise.

Then, I’m distracted by the sight of Sheryl Crow playing table tennis across the room. She has been holding her adopted son in one arm as she bats with the other, and now, even more distractingly, she is heading straight for us. ‘Are we going to have one of our little conversations on stage again tonight, James?’ she says. ‘That flirting thing. I think it worked well last night.’

They discuss the duet they will sing – a cover of Cat Stevens’s The First Cut is the Deepest – then we both watch her shimmy away, her blonde curls bobbing. ‘She’s very down to earth,’ he says. ‘I’d met her a couple of times, which was why she asked me on this tour. We do end up playing a lot of table tennis on the road. We’ve done 117 shows so far this year, in 117 cities, and there are a lot of hours to fill in the day.’

As he sleeps on his tour bus with his band, one city tends to blur into another. When I joke that he is in Cincinnati now, he looks genuinely confused. ‘No, this is?… Oh, right. Actually, I always get the tour manager to say where we are just as I’m going on stage. I still managed to get it wrong the other night, saying “Hello Dallas” when I meant Austin. I’m surprised I got out alive.’

He is funny on the subjects of things that go wrong. ‘People are normally surprised by my show, which is more energetic than you might think. Jumping on the piano. Jumping out into the audience and running up and down the aisle high-fiving them. But going off the stage can be quite dangerous. I broke my finger once. My legs carried on when I jumped off, and I smacked down on the ground. The spotlight was on me, and when I got back to the piano I hit the wrong note and thought, “Why did I do that?” And I looked down and saw it was because my finger was broken, sticking out an angle. Look,’ he says holding it up. ‘It’s still crooked.’

On another occasion, in Chicago, he jumped 8ft off the stage. ‘When I began running to the audience, a security guard stuck his arm out and I thought, “Does he want a hug?” Then next thing I know he’s rugby-tackled me. He wouldn’t release me and I was screaming in his ear, “I’m the f—ing singer.” I had to wait for the other guards to pull him off.’

I would have thought Blunt’s training in unarmed combat would have helped. I presume he still works out. ‘No, never. Couldn’t handle it. Too boring. I am a hyperactive person though.’ He likes an adrenaline rush, as well, having recently bought an 1100cc Moto Guzzi V11 Sport motorbike. There’s also the skiing, which he still does, and the riding. Actually, he tells me, he never really liked horses before joining the Life Guards. So why did he join that particular regiment?

‘Well, it is a reconnaissance regiment.’ But they are all so tall in the Life Guards, did that not make him self-conscious? ‘Some are. The Foot Guards tend to be taller regiments, though. The Life Guards take a few shrimps, as well. Besides, they are on horses, so height isn’t so important. Also being in that regiment had the benefit of being in Knightsbridge. I got a chance to be in London and meet people in the music scene.’ And groupies, as it happens.

As he paraded up and down the Mall in plumed helmet and shiny breastplate, girls would stick their phone numbers down his knee-length boots. But it was his time in Kosovo that really made girls swoon. He used to strap his guitar to the outside of his tank, because there wasn’t room for it inside. He had learnt to play the violin at five, the piano at seven and the guitar at 14, while a pupil at Harrow.

He writes his songs on piano and guitar. ‘But mainly guitar because it is easier to carry around. It’s like a child messing around with a toy. If a tune comes to me I don’t record it instantly. I think if I remember it, then it must be worth remembering, and if I forget it, then it was forgettable.’

Does he have any anxiety dreams about forgetting lines or chords? ‘Not yet. Perhaps I will tonight. Perhaps you’ve jinxed me. But audiences aren’t judgmental, and if things go wrong and you can look them in the eye, that is fine. The only people who are judgmental are the journalists. I will be conscious of you being there in the audience judging me.’

Blimey. Sorry about that. Is it true he signs breasts? ‘Not that I remember. Not that I’m fussy what I sign. A lot of men started coming to the shows after I appeared on Top Gear last year. That was such fun. I spun the car five times. I thought I might as well make the most of it. I am competitive.’

He recorded one of the fastest laps, but I’m surprised blokes didn’t think him manly before that, given his tour of duty in Kosovo. ‘It’s because I sing songs that are heart-on-your-sleeve and therefore I must be overly emotional. Nothing I can do about it. I could pose more, but I am comfortable with my masculinity.’

He has said that his lyrics are autobiographical, in which case, are we to assume that the lyric on his new album, ‘I killed a man in a far away land’, means he killed a man in a far away land? I only ask because in the past he has said that he would never try to exploit what he went through, what he saw. ‘You should ask any soldier how many lives he has saved. How they do it is no one else’s business. What I took from my experience in Kosovo is that you are told from one day to the next who your enemy is and it keeps changing. That’s what is happening in Iraq, too. I believe in looking people in the eye, looking for the common humanity.’

He is a great believer in looking people in the eye. He will use the phrase again later and it seems to reveal a Christ complex, or a John the Baptist one. That direct and challenging stare of his. It would also explain the hair.

It is time for him do some photographs before he goes on stage and, endearingly, he says he is ‘not fussed’ about the grooming he is offered before they are taken.

On stage his features contort with passion when he sings. The big video screen goes in tight on his face. His voice is by turns soft and tremulous and forceful, but always high. Having seen him in concert once before, a couple of years ago, I notice the tone of his banter has changed.

‘Wow it’s hot tonight,’ he says now. ‘I’m surprised any of you are wearing any clothes. We could all take them off and get friendly.’ It is suggestive, designed to get the teenage girls in the audience screaming. Before he used to joke about his ‘girlie voice’ and taking helium to get it that way, and being ‘a bit wet’ and the ‘housewives’ favourite’. I think now he has realised that, actually, he is a proper musician, a popular one, too, and that he doesn’t need to apologise for it.

Afterwards, back in the dressing-room, he strips to the waist as he talks because he wants to take a shower before going back on to do his duet with Sheryl Crow. ‘Things got a bit hairy out there when I jumped into the crowd,’ he says. ‘Did you see that? Some thought it was some kind of sport to grab me.’

I watch his duet from the side of the stage and notice he whispers something in Sheryl Crow’s ear and then she starts running her hands over his trousers suggestively, patting them. Afterwards, I ask what he said. ‘”Is now a good time to ask for your phone number?” She was checking my pockets, pretending to look for a pen.’

He shows me round the gold-coloured tour bus where he will be sleeping tonight as they drive to their next gig in Dallas. It is full of hi-tech equipment and is nicely air-conditioned but there isn’t much space in the bunks. ‘We do live in close proximity,’ he says. ‘Some of us stay up late. This is the crew end, they have to get up early.’

Where do the groupies go? ‘Never have groupies on here. Never. They’d only get in if we invited them in. But we’d only ever invite friends in.’

Does he sleep OK? I heard he has to take sleeping pills. ‘It is a bit of a rough sleep, but better than a hotel and taking planes all the time because you have to get to the airport two hours early, which is miserable. Then your flight gets delayed.’

He is drinking champagne from a plastic cup. ‘This is for your benefit,’ he says. ‘The tour management went out and bought a bottle of champagne because he thought I should be seen drinking it. Better for my image. Isn’t that sweet? Normally, we drink vodka and beer. In fact, I think I’d rather have a beer, now. Want one?’ He opens a well-stocked fridge then takes me to the back of the bus where there is some seating space. He has one small case which he pulls out from a cupboard. It continues a few pairs of socks, T-shirts and a spare pair of jeans. No photographs or mementos. ‘This is all I have for 14 months on the road,’ he says. ‘I’m not known for style.’

Does he know how much he is worth? ‘No I don’t, not very interested in it to be honest. I travel with hand luggage only. That is why I always seem to be wearing the same clothes in photographs. If a tabloid says my clothes aren’t fashionable or my hair looks stupid, I really don’t worry about it. Don’t have any hair gel.’

In London, he takes the Tube or the bus. He prefers pubs to restaurants. When he goes to Ibiza, he flies easyJet. Still, that’s at home. Presumably on the road he can afford to be more self-indulgent.

Another lyric that we can only assume is autobiographical is ‘I’ve taken a s—load of drugs’. It is. Though his only comment on the subject is that he has ‘a comfortable relationship with drugs’. His relationship with fame is less comfortable. Oscar Wilde said there were two forms of tragedy: not getting what you want, and getting it. Is that how it felt for him when he went to number one? ‘Actually, I don’t think I had been dreaming about it. Certainly, I hadn’t anticipated being so recognisable so quickly.

‘I do remember getting a phone call from the record company, who said both the single and the album have gone to number one, and thinking, “S—, this is not what I expected.” I hadn’t prepared myself for it. Number two is great. Number two is nice. I sensed then it would mean having to change from being a musician to being a celebrity and that that would be a change for the worse. Fame doesn’t affect me, but it does affect everyone else around me. As for celebrity, it is the worst invention of the modern world. Gossip columns treat your life as if it were a cartoon. Relationships reduced to cartoons.’

Although there are other public-school bands around at the moment – Radiohead, Coldplay – Blunt seems to have suffered more than most from a perception that he is too posh to be credible. His family name is Blount (and his middle name Hillier), but he changed it to Blunt to sound, well, blunter and more proletarian.

When he tells me he would nevertheless still send a son of his to Harrow – ‘I think I would. I think I would. Public schools make individuals rather than sheep’ – I ask what he makes of the mood change now that the old Etonian David Cameron has made it OK to be posh. ‘Is it? I must come back to Britain immediately. Is it really safe to come back?

‘It’s not a dirty word to be posh, people come up to me and no one gives a damn if I’m posh. It’s about having a normal conversation and looking people in the eye.’

We head back to the dressing-room where he puts on his feather boa and novelty sunglasses then we wander back downstairs to have a word with Sheryl Crow, who is signing autographs. This is the moment at which the keyboard player says: ‘This way to the good-time room girls’ and the silent groupies dutifully appear.