The people of Argentina haven’t yet erected a statue in honour of Andy Summers, but it can only be a matter of time. The lad’s a folk hero to them; Eva Peron with an electric guitar and a broken nose. Indeed, he has just returned home after playing a string of concerts down there and still hasn’t quite got over the number of Argentinean men who came up wanting to touch him, kiss him on both cheeks and, curiously enough, stroke his jacket. Never women, just middle-aged men; with big moustaches.

Home for Lancashire-born Andy Summers is a spacious, orange- and-green coloured open-plan house in Santa Monica, California. He shares it with Kate, the woman he married (twice), their two young twins, Maurice and Anton, and their Chihuahua, Ren. It’s a two-minute walk from the beach and, though the sky is overcast on the morning of my visit, the breeze coming in off the Pacific is gentle and warm. Not that you’d know it from the way that Summers hunches his shoulders, turns up the collar on his black leather jacket and cups his hands around a steaming mug of Starbucks coffee as he sits out on his terrace.
Here, with a mock rueful shake of his head, he recalls the incident which made him a hero in Argentina. It was in 1981, just before the Falklands War. The Police, then the most commercially successful rock band in the world, were playing a concert in a theatre which looked more like a maximum security prison. Armed policemen were patrolling the aisles, tapping their batons into the palms of their hands and making sure that none of the fans in the audience got out of their seats. A young girl suddenly rushed toward the stage, only to be grabbed and beaten up by a hefty, moustachioed policeman. When Summers saw this, he crossed to the front of the stage and kicked the policeman square in the face. ‘I did this,’ he now says, standing up and miming playing a guitar while delivering a kick, ‘completely spontaneous and completely foolish. The crowd went wild. Rose as one. And Sting sidled over and said to me [he adopts a husky Sting voice]: ‘Er, I think they’re going to arrest you, Andy.’
Backstage, five plainclothes policemen came to see Summers. One grabbed him by the throat, pulled him off the ground and threw him against the lockers. The quivering Summers apologised, agreed to have his photograph taken for the local papers shaking hands with the injured policeman, and was released with a caution. His act of violence seems to have been wholly out of character  — to meet him, you can’t imagine a more equable, amiable fellow. But to the wildly romantic, oppressed youth of Argentina — mostly men who’re now middle-aged and wearing moustaches — Summers became an unlikely symbol of fortitude, rebellion and hope in the face of tyranny.
On the false idol front, it probably helps that Summers appears not to have aged a day since the mid-Eighties, when the Police broke up and the fickle spotlight of fame suddenly dimmed on him. At 55 (Heavens! And him a one-time punk, too!) he looks healthy and permatanned, with scarcely a wrinkle around his heavily lidded eyes. His mousy-coloured hair is no longer dyed blond, the trademark of his former band, but it’s still pretty spiky. Always looked young for his age, though, has Andy Summers.
He grew up in Bournemouth — where his late father ran a café  — and his first job after leaving school there was playing guitar during the intervals at the town’s jazz club. He was 17 but everyone thought he was 12. Perhaps it was something to do with his having inherited the genes that determine height from his mother. (She still lives in Bournemouth and has a phone call from her son most mornings — today she had been complaining about her brevity of stature and how, with each passing day, she seems to be shrinking ever more.) Then again, when the three members of the Police — Sting, Summers and the drummer Stewart Copeland — reformed briefly in 1992 for an impromptu version of ‘Message in a Bottle’ at Sting’s wedding, guests were astonished that the 50-year-old Summers still only looked about 30. Light-hearted speculation among guests about Summers having had a face-lift was inevitable — although, given Sting’s sensitivity at the time on the subject of plastic surgery, it’s doubtful whether anyone speculated in front of the host.
Perhaps guests expected Andy Summers to look more like the grey-faced but elegantly wasted Keith Richards.  After all, in the Sixties he did do his fair share of substance abuse  — when, that is, he wasn’t busy being a leading exponent of the creed of free love. This may come as a shock to those who equate their youth with the punk era, but snarling Andy Summers was in fact a hippie interloper who, in an earlier incarnation, was guilty of possessing shoulder-length hair and a purple cloak, experimenting with LSD after an encounter with the Animals, and jamming with Jimi Hendrix. Summers played lead; Hendrix, improbable though it may seem, played bass. ‘Can you believe it?’ Summers now says with another shake of his head. ‘Weird.’
Summers had made the move from genteel Bournemouth to Swinging London with his musician friend Zoot Money and together, in 1964, they formed the modestly successful Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band and soon replaced Georgie Fame as the resident group at the Flamingo Club in Soho. Summers has vague memories of knife fights next to the stage and crowds composed mostly of prostitutes and drug-dealers. The band eventually split up and the two friends left to form the psychedelic rock group Dantalian’s Chariot. Summers’s only reliable memory of this period was that he broke his nose in a car crash while touring in Yorkshire. In 1968 he left to join Soft Machine, a Dadaist band notorious for playing one riff called ‘We did it again’, which they did again and again for 30 minutes until the audience went into a trance, or the band was booed off stage. Later that year he joined Eric Burdon of the Animals to form the New Animals. This lasted for nine months — on the most memorable day of which Eric Burdon seduced Summers’s girlfriend, a model, while Summers was out of it, man, on acid.  One legacy of this period is the flower-power vocabulary that Summers is wont to slip into. He still calls money ‘bread’. He still says things like ‘this scene’ and, ‘I was really getting into a moment’ and ‘It was, like, really really heavy.’ At least when he catches himself he has the decency to look embarrassed and add, ‘That sounds American, doesn’t it?’
We have now moved through the main reception area, decked with canvases of colourful abstracts painted by Summers, to his study, the walls of which are lined with books, the surfaces scattered with records and CDs. But there are no glass cabinets in the house displaying what would now surely be an historically edifying collection of Summers’s hippie trouserings and shirtings. ‘I did keep one coat which was like a wizard’s outfit,’ he reflects, a Dorset inflection still discernible in his voice. ‘Velvet and gold. But I don’t know where it is now.’ His voice trails off.  Then, recovering his thoughts on the theme: ‘I think, yeah, there was a more reckless spirit then.’
Like Sir Paul McCartney and George Harrison, Summers is pretty scathing about the Beatles tribute band Oasis — dismissing Noel Gallagher as ‘George Formby with an electric guitar’. But, a fading rock star’s prerogative, he is equally unimpressed by the Sixties counter-culture today’s bands aspire to. ‘Now if you are a young musician starting out, it’s all been done. Everyone knows which drug has which effect. Whereas when we started out it was genuine experimentation.  Those that survived all have children and they’re warning, “Don’t mix this with that.” You know, a lot wiser.’
Summers has kept diary jottings all his adult life, which he thinks would be fun to turn into a book one day. The entries for the New Wave period are interesting, he says, but the real colour is from the Sixties. If ever he writes the book, one of the more colourful chapters will concern his experiences with groupies. Summers admits to sleeping with dozens of them — and one, Jenny Fabian, even wrote a bestselling book, Groupie, in which she records some of his exploits. He laughs when I ask why he thinks women fell for him in such profusion. ‘Well, when you’re debonair and handsome it helps,’ he says, framing his face with his hands. He bumped into Fabian again after a Police concert near Dublin. She was breeding greyhounds for a living.
Chance encounters happen to Andy Summers quite a lot.  And it’s not surprising really given that, like Woody Allen’s human chameleon character, Zelig, he appears to have insinuated himself into almost every pop tableau. Indeed, hours of harmless amusement could be harvested from playing the game Six Degrees of Separation with Summers’s musical career. He’s connected to just about every rock star you can think of, even if, in some cases, it’s three or four stages removed. He would get to Ringo Starr in two stages: Ringo co-starred with David Essex in That’ll Be the Day. Summers played guitar in David Essex’s band briefly in the mid-Seventies. David Soul? Two stages again. In the early Seventies, Summers shared a flat in California with Paul Michael Glaser, Soul’s co-star in Starsky and Hutch. Dana? Too easy. He once appeared as the Eurovision Song Contest winner’s backing musician on a television programme.
Understandably, the Museum of Rock which Bill Gates is founding will have a special section devoted to Andy Summers. He is, after all, an influential guitarist, with a sophisticated signature style which other musicians say they find almost impossible to copy. And yet, until the Police, Summers had never really made his mark. ‘My peers had been Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck,’ he says with a shrug. ‘That was the period I came from and I thought I was as good as everyone else but, for some reason, it had never really happened for me. I hadn’t been in the right band at the right time. So at the start of the Seventies I came to the States and dropped out.’
With five dollars in his pocket, he claims, he married an American singer, Robin Lane and, for three years, studied classical guitar at Northridge University in California. His marriage broke up and, in despond, he spent weeks at a time rarely bothering to get out of bed. He returned to England in 1973 and found work as guitarist for, yes, you haven’t guessed it, Neil Sedaka. In 1974, when Mick Taylor left the Rolling Stones, Summers was tipped by the music press for the job — along with Ron Wood (who got it).  Finally, in 1977, fate gave Summers a soothing neck massage when he joined the Police.
‘Before I joined I went to see Sting and Stewart play and they were patently not a punk band,’ he says. ‘They sort of looked the part, but they weren’t coming off as authentic at all. But it didn’t matter because people gobbed on them anyway. I’ve probably got a picture of us backstage at the Marquee covered in spit.’ He leans back on his chair as he rummages around in the bookshelves behind him looking for the photograph. He can’t find it. For a year, he says, things were desperate. ‘We were putting up our own posters and spraying our own graffiti. So many times we ended up pushing the van because we ran out of petrol.’
Finally, one night in 1978, when the Police were supporting the comedy rock band Albertos y los Trios Paranoias at a concert in Bath, about a thousand punks turned up to see them. ‘The place erupted,’ Summers recalls. ‘Total mayhem. Girls throwing their knickers on stage. The poor Albertos were standing on the side of the stage with white faces muttering “Bastards!” That’s when we knew something was happening. I remember going home and telling Kate, ‘You wouldn’t believe it. A total riot.”’
Summers had married his second wife, Kate, an American psychology graduate, in 1973. They had their first baby, Layla, in 1978, were divorced in 1981, then remarried in 1985 and had the twins. Summers believed at the time that when you are on the road for a three-month stretch and women were throwing themselves at you, promiscuity was inevitable. Thus he had an unspoken agreement with his wife. ‘Pressures on marriage?’ Summers says. ‘Yeah, it was very difficult to hold all that together with Kate. We were never off the road. It had a happy ending though.  We remarried in LA. A fancy Buddhist wedding on our lawn. Sounds very Californian, doesn’t it?’ (Not the way he says it. ‘Boodist’. Then again, he’s not really a practising one.) ‘We just sort of knew this Boodist guy who did Boodist weddings,’ he adds.
A pergola of electric orange and red flowers runs from the front door of the house, alongside the lawn — where the family stand during LA earth-tremors — to the main reception area. Summers’s blond twins now walk up it with Jane, their nose-studded English nanny. They have been at a ‘sleepover’, and one of them, Anton Y, has somehow managed to rip his trousers from waistband to ankle. Summers’s children have a single initial instead of a middle name — Maurice X, Anton Y, and Layla Z — because he liked the idea of them being called XYZ, but couldn’t find names to fit.  Since the Police broke up, Summers has made eight solo albums, mostly mellow jazz and what music critics would call ‘ambient, textural rock’. One was titled XYZ, after his children’s middle initials.
With shy giggles and strong Californian accents, Beavis and Butthead, as their father now calls the twins, ask if they’re allowed to go on their bikes to get a pizza. When their father asks if they’ve ever been allowed to go on their own, they chorus, ‘Mommy lets us go. We’ve done it a million times.’ Summers calls their bluff and, after asking the nanny to prepare lunch for them, suggests we go to his favourite bar-and-grill on Venice Beach. It’s just around the corner from his studio — and he needs to pop in there afterwards to check on a leaky roof he’s having repaired. In his purring saloon car, a black Toyota Infiniti, Summers slips his sunglasses on and chuckles about how in his Police days he would travel everywhere by limo and the band even had its own plane. ‘In the end we were going around with 75 people on the tour — riggers, lighters, electricians — you become like the calm spot at the centre of the hurricane. There was a party every night after the gig. It was relentless. We decided we were either going to have to get fit or take more drugs to keep alive. We were on a downward cycle. Touring is killing.’
At the restaurant he bumps into a few of his friends, has a chat and orders steak and fries and a glass of red wine. He recalls further anecdotes from his touring days. At a Glasgow concert, police charged fans three times to prevent a riot. And Summers heard of one fan who tried to slash her wrists because she couldn’t get to meet the band. ‘Girls used to camp outside our houses,’ he says, adding with a philosophical grin, ‘actually, come to think of it, it was mostly Sting that got all that.’
Off-stage, the tension between Sting and Copeland became difficult to disguise. They regularly had fist fights, some of which Andy Summers would film on Copeland’s home movie camera. There was rivalry between all three band members, though, about things as petty as who should have the most prominent position in publicity photographs. That Summers and Copeland were receiving the same percentage of the royalties as Sting, who wrote all the songs, didn’t help matters. There were many reasons for the band to split, but it has entered pop folklore that it really happened because Summers, the peacemaker, could no longer keep the two huge, warring egos of Copeland and Sting apart.
The now clean-living, yoga-practising Sting says that, at the time, his personality was changed by the amount of cocaine he was taking. In his own words, he became depressed, paranoid and a complete bastard to be around. ‘Yeah,’ Summers says with a smile. ‘He always likes to paint that picture. I take it with a pinch of salt. He is who he is. Very talented, a brilliant musician, but, you know, he is Machiavellian. He calculates everything and is decisive, so I think he says and does what he needs to, to get to the next stage.’
When the Police disbanded, Sting threw himself into his solo career and environmental campaigning, Copeland wrote film scores and played polo, and Summers took up photography and painting. ‘I ended up back in London and it was like, “Now what?”’ he says. ‘It was a bit like walking off a cliff. Took me a while to take in the whole experience and process it, as Americans say. It was a couple of years before I could stand up and walk again.’
He and Sting still see each other every few months and, in recent years, each has guested on the other’s solo albums and turned up to perform the odd song at each other’s concerts. Copeland lives in LA, and he and Summers talk every week, especially since a rap reworking of ‘Every Breath You Take’ got to number one recently and the ‘Greatest Hits of Sting and the Police’ album came out in December. ‘The Police as a business goes on for ever,’ Summers says. ‘We quit while we were ahead. Then again I think there was still a lot of juice left in the band. I think what we should have done is gone out every three years and done gigs together but still had solo records. But that wasn’t to be. Trouble is, that’s all you’re ever known for. It’s hard to get beyond that — which is sort of what has happened to me,’ he laughs the mirthless laugh. ‘It’s a blessing and a curse.’
Summers’s new contemporary jazz album, ‘The Last Dance of Mr X’, is about to be released in Britain. It features his own compositions alongside a few covers including Charlie Mingus’s ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ and Thelonius Monk’s ‘We See’. It’s pretty subtle stuff and it’s had good reviews in America — but when he played tracks from it on tour there recently he found audiences still wanted him to include Police songs. He expects the same will happen when he tours Europe this spring. ‘When I play a Police song, the crowd goes wild,’ he says. ‘It’s a gesture. But you don’t have to spend a whole night doing it.’ Sting finds he has to do the same at his concerts. Inevitably, then, there is speculation that the band will get back together. ‘This seems a particularly hot moment to re-form,’ Summers says with as nonchalant a shrug as he can muster. ‘It would be great fun. It would have to be. We couldn’t go out there and be at each other’s throats again. So who knows? For Sting I think it would be a very good career move because he has nothing to prove now as a solo performer. Everyone knows he can do it. I think it would be a good healing process all round — that sounds very American, doesn’t it?’
Myth or not, it’s easy to believe that Summers was the one to patch things up in the band. He has an easy laugh and an affable, unassuming manner. Later, at his studio, he picks up one of the 90 guitars stacked around the soundproofed walls, sits down on a long sofa beside me and, eyes closed, plays — quite beautifully — a couple of the more wistful compositions from his new album. It’s an acoustic guitar and, from this close, I can hear that as he plays he emits a tiny snuffling sound to himself, a sort of involuntary sighing noise that comes from the back of his throat. Perhaps it’s a veteran’s trick, but he seems to get so absorbed in his playing that, when he stops, he looks slightly disoriented.
We walk up to the roof terrace of the studio, and Summers shows me where he has had to have leaks sealed. Rainwater had run right through to the recording equipment, two floors down. In the fading afternoon light we stand in companionable silence surveying the palm trees along Venice Beach. Stars and Stripes flap from flagpoles on the surrounding rooftops. ‘That’s Dudley Moore’s restaurant down there,’ Summers says, in a distant sort of way, pointing at a faded looking building across the street below us. ‘It’s funny, you know,’ he adds. ‘I’ve been introduced to him three times but he never seems to remember me.’ We fall into silent reverie again, our thoughts lost in contemplation of this strangely melancholic observation.


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.