She’s a pop phenomenon whose loud, flamboyant stage presence has inspired everyone from Madonna to Lady Gaga. But in person, her silences speak volumes

If June 6, 1944, is the longest day, my hour in the company of Alison Goldfrapp may qualify as the second longest. It’s not the singer’s scaly silences so much (though they are bad enough), it is the grumpiness.

Example: I ask her if, when she is on the road, there is a hierarchy among her band. An innocent – even bland – question, you might suppose. A chance to share a droll anecdote about how the drummer always comes at the bottom of the pecking order, perhaps. But no. ‘That’s you saying that, not me saying that,’ she snaps. ‘Hierarchy is your word, not mine.’ I know it is, I think, mentally pinching the bridge of my nose.

Amusingly, her publicist, a friendly soul, has told me Goldfrapp is on good form today. He must be aware of her reputation, must know that almost every interviewer who has come into contact with his client has noted how frosty she is. So why put up with it, you might ask? Well, she’s hard work, but her Garbo-like mystique is intriguing. You have to tease answers out of her. Be persistent. And after a while you are rewarded. You also come to realise that, through her occasional silences, she is speaking volumes.

To be fair, Goldfrapp, which is her real name – it is German in origin, though she is British – has never pretended she likes being interviewed. Indeed, she has said she has a complex about talking to people, has nightmares about it even. She puts it down to a lack of confidence, to being shy. Yet shyness can be an excuse for rudeness, the social equivalent of wearing sunglasses indoors and not taking them off when talking to someone, which she also does.

Occasionally she will tilt back her sour face to study me – her Ray-Bans are darker at the top than the bottom – and I half glimpse the eyes which, exaggerated by false lashes, are made so much of in her videos, along with her shapely legs and her natural golden ringlets. Today her hair is half-gathered, her legs tucked up beneath her. She is wearing black, which emphasises her pale, almost transparent skin, and, though she does smile from time to time, this has the effect of lowering the room temperature even further.

But, and this is the reason it is worth having a stab at interviewing her, for all this, she makes good, hooky, interesting music and has been doing so for quite a while. She was something of a late developer musically, having turned 30 before she landed her first record deal (she is 44 now). Before that she did a fine arts degree at Middlesex Polytechnic as a mature student, and for her graduation show she milked a Jersey cow, while yodelling.

Her break came in 1999 when she teamed up with Will Gregory, a classically trained musician who had previously worked with Portishead and the composer Michael Nyman. He is articulate, well-spoken and seven years her senior. They formed Goldfrapp, her surname being more arresting than his, and developed an innovative brand of electropop. She usually writes the lyrics, he the melodies.

After a couple of albums they hit paydirt in 2005 with Supernature. It opened with Ooh La La, a T.Rex pastiche, and sold by the million. Madonna said it was her album of the year and invited Goldfrapp to her parties. Soon after this, Madge began imitating Goldfrapp’s look and sound, inspiring critics to call her Oldfrapp.

Younger acts have followed, including Florence + the Machine and Lady Gaga – who, like Goldfrapp, is 5ft 2in and bisexual. But by the time others were copying her, she had moved on. A melancholy album followed and her latest, Headfirst, is even harder to pigeonhole, with quirky shades of Van Halen and Olivia Newton-John.

The imitation is as often of Goldfrapp’s flamboyant stage persona as her music. She doesn’t dance much but she certainly has presence, and a sense of the theatrical. She designs many of her costumes herself, from the high camp of feather boas and bell-bottomed catsuits to the surreal juxtaposition of horses’ tails hanging from hot pants. Her videos are equally witty. It’s a paradox that someone so introverted in private can be such an extrovert on stage.

I guess it helps in her job to have exhibitionist tendencies. ‘I’m not sure about the exhibitionist tendencies,’ she says, emphasising the words mockingly. She chews on a strand of hair. I ride the silence. ‘Um, I think a lot of singers are shy people. I suppose singing on stage is not like talking, you are not as exposed.’ There. That wasn’t so hard.

What would she normally be doing now, on a typical afternoon, if she weren’t subjecting herself to the torture of an interview? ‘At the moment? Getting on a plane. Having some crap food. Getting off a plane. Touring. The gig bit is fine but the travelling … it’s so unglamorous. The loos at festivals, the dressing rooms, sticky, smelly. Actually, I’m enjoying it at the moment, still doing the festivals, then we have a tour in this country in November.’

When she says she is enjoying it at the moment, that suggests she wasn’t in the past. What is it she finds enjoyable now? ‘Well, we get on really well, the band.’ This is where the hierarchy question comes in. I re-phrase it. Bands often fall out on tour. The clashing of egos. The close proximity. But because she is the leader of her band, presumably her word goes. ‘I suppose I am the boss. It’s my gig but we’ve known each other a long time, so we are a team.’

We are in a private room in a West End hotel. A waiter knocks and enters with the Coke and a coffee we have ordered. When he can’t find a bottle-opener, Goldfrapp sighs loudly.

She stirs and stirs her coffee. Tap, tap, tap with the spoon on the side. Stir, stir. She doesn’t take a sip. Is Will the more musically trained? ‘The more musically trained.’ I take it from that answer that she doesn’t read music? ‘No. It’s all by ear. But I use my voice. If you’ve got a computer and an ear for melody you don’t have to be classically trained. I think it’s a bit of a myth that if you can read music you can write music. It doesn’t work like that.’ She stirs the coffee again. Tumbleweed passes through the room.

With her background in the visual arts, perhaps she is stronger on the design side of the live shows? ‘Actually, I was doing music before art school.’ I surreptitiously check my watch. The hands seem to be going backwards. I know – the Jersey cow. There must be an amusing anecdote about that. How on earth did she get hold of one and get it in her degree show? ‘I rang a company called Animal Actors and said I want a cow. They asked what colour. I said Jersey. I got it miked up and I sang while milking it.’ How did she learn the technique? ‘I took lessons.’ From?

‘A goat farmer.’

Well, top marks for being deadpan. It occurs to me that her hostility might be an act, a pop star being cool. She is very image-conscious, after all, and very controlling of it. But there may be another explanation. Her singing voice is silky and appealing but her speaking voice, well, isn’t. She has an estuary twang that reminds you of Janet Street Porter. She is self-conscious about this, not surprisingly, given that her father, a well-spoken army officer, mocked her for it.

He was an interesting character, a little eccentric by the sound of things. He used to take the family – she is the youngest of six – out into the woods at night to listen to the sounds of nature. He also took them swimming in the sea, when the moon was full. And once a week he would sit them all down to listen to classical music, and afterwards ask them to express how it made them feel.

Goldfrapp grew up in the Hampshire countryside, in what is known as ‘Jane Austen country’. Her early childhood there was happy, especially when she was at a private prep school. But then she failed the entrance exam for the senior school and had to go to a comprehensive instead. The children there seemed ‘scary’. To fit in, she dropped her received pronunciation, tried glue-sniffing and pricked herself an ink tattoo on her hand. She left school at 16 with two O-levels, one in drama, one in art, and moved in with a friend. At 17 she went to live in a London squat, where she smoked a lot of cannabis.

She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, was that it? ‘I was clear that I wanted to do music and I wanted to write songs. But I wasn’t clear about how I was going to make that happen. I wrote loads of songs but didn’t want to show them to anyone.’ But she doesn’t mind showing them to Will? ‘He is very good at not making me feel self-conscious.’

I have read that she thought she must have come across as a ‘stroppy bitch’ when she first met him. This comment prompts me to ask her how would she describe herself today? ‘I’m not going to do that. I don’t think about that.’Well, OK, she mentioned shyness earlier, let’s start with that. ‘I just didn’t get the exhibitionist bit. I don’t think that just because you go on stage you are an exhibitionist.’

She chews on her hair again. Stirs her coffee. She must have had a lot of freedom growing up in the countryside, I say. ‘Yes, I did. But I think it’s difficult when you are a teenager because the countryside can seem stifling and boring. Up to the age of 13 I thought it wonderful, then I thought it small-minded and claustrophobic. Going to the woods didn’t have the same allure as it did when I was eight. There’s not a lot going on for the youth in the countryside unless you are in the Girls Guides, which I wasn’t.’

Her transition from private school to state school, was that hard? ‘I don’t think about it. It was school. Whatever. Why are you interested?’ Because personalities are often formed in the early years, that is why they are called formative years. ‘OK, there were good parts to it and shitty parts. I left school at 16 and I’ve done quite a lot since.’

If she could meet her 16-year-old self again, what advice would she give her? The 44-year-old Alison Goldfrapp lets out another long sigh. ‘God, this is like an amateur therapy session, isn’t it? I really don’t know. I think I was eager to get out of a small town and try things out. Being a teenager I found tough. And I found it hard in London, not knowing anybody.’

Was her father still alive when she left home? ‘Yeah. He died when I was 23.’What did he think of it? ‘Don’t know actually. I was probably a bit oblivious and ignored any advice.’

She says her close friends found it ‘odd’ when she became famous. Was it a bit odd for her, too? ‘Around Supernature I was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of travelling I was doing and the number of interviews. It was all a bit, Whoa! A bit weird. I didn’t know how to deal with the attention. It made me uncomfortable. I love making music and performing but I don’t like the celebrity side of it. The photographs I find pretty gross, actually. No one tells you how you are supposed to react when someone shoves a camera in your face.

‘I like going home and having dinner with my friends. People sometimes have an expectation of you when your career is at a certain level. They want you to be some kind of character. It can be quite stressful. People want to meet you.’

Unexpectedly, she now laughs; an easy, room-filling laugh. ‘But I don’t get the same attention any more, so that’s quite good! It suits me fine.’ Celebrity is a mask that eats into the face, as John Updike once said. ‘I don’t know how to explain it really. I would feel guilty for not going out to dinner. Or someone would be shocked because I was out without my high heels and mini-skirt, disappointed because I was in jeans and T-shirt. It would confuse me.’

There is a palpable sadness about Goldfrapp, a weariness, and she wears it like a heavy cloak around her shoulders. We talk – well, I talk – about how music has the power to reflect and manipulate emotions, especially with the use of major and minor keys. ‘Yeah, certain chords will feel right,’ she says, nodding in agreement. ‘We spend a lot of time talking about the atmosphere and mood of our songs. Every sound has a personality.’

Has she been in love many times in her life? ‘I don’t think so. I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it. Sorry, how did we get on to this?’

Major and minor keys. Emotions. ‘Oh, OK. Do I fall in love easily? I don’t know. I get into people. I like discovering them. I’ve probably been infatuated with a lot of people in my life, I don’t know whether that is the same.’ She is in love at the moment? ‘Yes. It’s a good place to be. The world seems like a kinder place when you are in love.’

Her girlfriend, Lisa Gunning, is a film editor. They met a couple of years ago while co-composing the soundtrack for Sam Taylor-Wood’s film Nowhere Boy. Her previous relationships had been with men. It just happened that this time she fell in love with a woman. Even she was surprised.

I ask how her constant touring affects her relationship with Lisa. ‘She has come on the last couple of legs of the tour and documented some of it, which was nice. She gets on well with the band. I think some people find it difficult being away from the family for long periods. Adjusting to being still, and having a routine, after a tour is over is hard, whether I’m in a relationship or not.’

Does she cry easily? ‘Yes, really easily. Sometimes it’s pathetic. It can happen anywhere. In the airport the other day I was really tired and got tearful. I was watching this family who were all saying goodbye to each other, parents saying goodbye to their son, and it was a really intense moment. They couldn’t let him go. And the dad was patting the son on the back, doing the manly thing. And they all started crying. Then I started crying. F—.’

Well, if this were a therapy session, there is a lot that could be read into that reaction. The sight of a father saying goodbye to the child moves her to tears. She stirs her coffee again. Does not take a sip. It will have gone cold by now.


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.