She’s a 57-year-old spinster with teddy bears in her bedroom, her mother in the spare room, and a loathing for introspection. So why is Ann Widdecombe, politician-cum-novelist, about to try her hand as a television agony aunt? By Nigel Farndale

Be honest, if left alone with Ann Widdecombe’s fridge, could you resist a peek inside? You could?

What if you arrived early for a meeting with her and she asked you to wait in the kitchen and help yourself to coffee, adding, ‘the milk is in the fridge’? Exactly. With a clear conscience, then, I can reveal that Ann Noreen Widdecombe keeps a well-stocked fridge.

There is single cream and lettuce. There are tomatoes, eggs and cartons of New Covent Garden soup. So far so healthy; she must be sticking to ITV’s Celebrity Fit Club diet, the one that so publicly helped her lose three stone in 2002.

But what’s this? Eight chocolate-chip brioche rolls? A couple of bottles of champagne? A tub of tiramisu?

Ann Widdecombe, the 57-year-old MP, novelist and incurable attention-seeker, lives in a terraced house in Kennington, south-east London. It has a lilac painted front door.

Although her 93-year-old mother Rita has lived here since 1999 – perhaps the tiramisu is hers – it is very much a single woman’s house. The mirror in the bathroom is placed low over the sink (she is 5ft 11/2in and, as she says, ‘don’t forget the half’), there is a bowl of sanitary pads on top of the lavatory – for guests? – and there are cats wandering in and out.

On one wall of the sitting-room there is a samurai sword alongside a ceremonial naval sword (her father was a senior civil servant in the Admiralty and for a few years was stationed in Singapore, where Widdecombe lived between the ages of five and nine).

There is also a framed photograph of Widdy, as she calls herself on her website – ‘the Widdy Web’ – with the Pope (she converted to Rome in 1993, in protest over the Anglican church allowing the ordination of women).

As we sit down on pale green leather sofas, I notice the crucifix around her neck. It reminds me that for all her frivolous appearances on television – she has done Louis Theroux and Basil Brush, as well as Celebrity Fit Club, and in February will star in her own agony-aunt show for the BBC (entitled Oh No! It’s Ann Widdecombe) – she considers herself to be a high-minded moralist.

The political subjects associated with her tend to be either coloured by her Catholicism (anti-abortion, anti-gay rights), or her aversion to libertarianism and liberalism (she is pro the ban on fox hunting and pro the reintroduction of the death penalty). She also writes serious novels which sell well and meet with favourable reviews.

Her first, The Clematis Tree, was about a family struggling to cope with a handicapped child and her second, An Act of Treachery, was a love story set in occupied France. Her third, Father Figure, which is published later this month, has a topical theme: the rights of fathers over their children.

I ask her, then, whether she thinks her flirtations with lowbrow television undermine her seriousness as a politician and novelist.

‘I often hear politicians complain that they can’t get their message across because they are unrecognisable,’ she says in her fluty voice. ‘Well, I always score high in recognition polls. Always. And when people recognise me, what they say is not, “Oh, you used to be the Shadow Home Secretary”, but, “You’re that MP from Fit Club.”

‘If you appear on programmes such as that, the next time you are on television talking about politics, viewers pause to listen for three sentences instead of three words. But there are limits; I turned down Ruby Wax.’

As she talks she constantly blinks her pond-black eyes. It makes her seem vulnerable, which must be an illusion because, as she tells me, she has ‘no hang-ups’, never suffers nerves, never cries, and has no interest in analysing herself. Yet she doesn’t seem to mind analysing others.

Her new television programme, after all, sees her attempting to solve family crises, love quandaries and workplace spats and is, in turn, a spin-off from a bizarre, no-nonsense agony-aunt column she wrote for the Guardian called ‘Buck Up’.

But, looking for fissures in her armour-plating, I wonder whether Widdecombe’s mad whoring after applause is simply a matter of her raising her political profile, as she claims. Could there have been a degree of masochism in her agreeing to humiliate herself on Celebrity Fit Club?

‘I did it because I wanted to lose weight,’ she says matter-of-factly. So why not do that in private? ‘Because I had a serious point to make which is that our obsession with physical perfection is out of all proportion.

‘I argued with the experts on that show most of the time about their “councils of perfection”. We marginalise the disabled, the disfigured, the odd, simply because we’ve got this image which now is entirely physical. I mean, the spiritual side of life is just being kicked to one side.

‘People are willing to undergo the most horrendous operations for the sake of increasing their bust size and I think, “Is there nothing more important in this world?”’

Perhaps there isn’t, I suggest, given that cosmetic change is ultimately intended to help us procreate.

‘It’s nothing to do with procreation at all! If you think of the women’s magazines, television, all the programmes about losing weight, having face-lifts, the multimillion-pound business that is the cosmetics industry, I mean, the whole thing’s gone mad!

‘Do you think the war generation thought for one second how straight their teeth were? I mean, it’s crazy!’ In terms of her appearance, there is little you can say about Ann Widdecombe that she hasn’t already said about herself. Her descriptions have included the words ‘short’, ‘fat’, ‘ugly’, ‘spinster’ and ‘crooked teeth’.

Presumably this was partly a defence mechanism: saying it before anyone else can. Also she may have reasoned that if she made no effort with her appearance she could justify being single, not only to herself but to the world. Yet she took it further, seemingly revelling in the mockery she received about her looks.

When she heard that her nickname around Westminster was Doris Karloff, for instance, she took to answering the phone by saying ‘Karloff here’. Now the black, pudding-bowl haircut has gone, along with the extra pounds. Was it belated vanity?

‘Now, look. I always said if ever there was a health reason for my losing weight, I would probably do it, but that I wasn’t interested in it for cosmetic reasons. And if I had been remotely interested in it for cosmetic reasons, I wouldn’t have gone all my political career with your profession being rude and spiteful and nasty – and just not minding. I would not have done it.

‘So you are wrong to say it was vanity. It was, very straight-forwardly, backache. As for the hair, I see no reason why someone shouldn’t go blonde if they want to try it out.

‘I had been keeping in my natural dark – dyeing the rest to match it – and the white was taking over. I mean, your lot in the press gallery of the Commons were talking about the zebra crossings in my hair as they looked down.’

Did she find that hurtful?

‘Oh, no. I didn’t. But I do occasionally find it irritating.’

Widdecombe did a documentary with Louis Theroux before she lost weight and went blonde. She seemed prickly and defensive in that. She seemed much more friendly and jolly when she did Fit Club some time afterwards. Was this because beginning to lose weight improved her self-esteem?

‘No. I was very wary of Louis Theroux. I mean we had a bust-up on day one because he asked questions which I’d said I wouldn’t answer.’

The questions were about her virginity. She doesn’t believe in sex before marriage and once threatened to sue a journalist who expressed doubts that she really was a virgin. I try a more tactful approach. How many times has she been in love?

‘In love? Er… once. In Oxford.’

She refers to her fellow student Colin Maltby, now a married banker. Their relationship was chaste and fizzled out after three years. So he was the one love of her life?

And does she ever look back and regret not having married him?

‘No, I don’t. I don’t think it would have been right for either of us. He is now very happily married. Successful man. Great family. I think both of us have been happy, as it turned out, not marrying each other.

‘Um, if you’re asking me in the broader sense, do I wish I’d married, the answer is no. It was never a conscious decision not to marry. A lot of people say, “Oh, you put politics first,” well, tosh, I didn’t.

‘It was chance, because Mr Right didn’t turn up. It was also choice because he was never a big enough priority to go out looking for.’

Was it partly that she had a low sex drive?

‘I don’t know, I’ve never bothered. You know, I’m very ha… I take myself as I am. If I was sitting here depressed that I hadn’t married, I might be asking myself those questions, or if I was sitting here with a failed marriage behind me, I might be asking myself those questions…’

Her mother calls from upstairs.

‘Oh, hang on. Yup! I’m down here! Hello!’

She disappears and returns a few minutes later.

‘Right, where were we?’ I ask about her mother. ‘I love having her here and I very much hope that I outlive her, because I wouldn’t like her to have to cope with losing me.’

It’s a strange comment, but I think I know what she means. Does she ever think about what it will be like to go back to living on her own?

‘No, but I mean, my Mum’s only lived with me since ’99, after Dad died.’

When she lived on her own and got home at night, did she ever wish someone was there? A companion?

‘It is that moment when I’m always grateful to be solo. It’s when I come in, after a dreadful day in politics, shut the doors, and there are no demands at all. I mean, there might be a cat crying for food [Widdecombe owns two], but that’s it.’

So she prefers her own company?

‘I think that the brute truth is that I’ve enjoyed being alone. I love my own company. I’m the best company I know. I mean, I can make myself laugh uproariously.’

Not everyone in Widdecombe’s party finds her as funny as she claims to find herself. When I asked one senior Tory what he thought of her he said she was a ‘freak show’, a ‘dinosaur’, and ‘the political equivalent of the Taliban’.

Part of the ill feeling must stem from the unhelpful ‘something of the night’ comment she made about Michael Howard in May 1997. It undermined the future leader badly. As she will be fighting a Tory seat in a few months’ time, does she now feel any regret or guilt about what she said?

‘None at all. None at all. None at all.’

‘I don’t take back a single word I said in 1997, including the famous phrase, but, that was 1997, and we are now in 2005.’

If she doesn’t retract it, it means she still believes it.

‘I’m not going to re-rehearse it, either. I’ve moved on, he’s moved on, the world has moved on and I’m living in 2005.’

Ann Widdecombe is a stranger to self-doubt. She has the masculine traits of literal mindedness, remorselessness and a bluff refusal to concede weakness. When I ask her about these traits she says, ‘No, they are not masculine traits they are human traits.’

From where does her political certainty come? The Bible?

‘I think the answer to that is, yes, to some extent, obviously. But if you take the pro-life issue, most people think I’m pro-life because I’m a Catholic. Actually, I’m probably a Catholic because I was pro-life.’

And she has vices to confess?

‘I think everybody does. I think people have… quick tempers, um… people have resentments.’

What does she think happens to people who have sex before marriage?

Well, do they go to hell?

‘We don’t know who goes to hell. But it’s not to do with totting up every single thing you’ve done and when you cross a certain line you’re dispatched off to the infernal region. I mean, come on! I have lots of friends who have done things I disapprove of.

‘But I am not their judge. They know I disapprove and the interesting thing is they remain my friends.’

Although she is reluctant to analyse herself, she does concede that her doggedness and ambition probably come from her father; while her brother, Malcolm, a vicar who is ten years older than her, is more like her mother – more gentle and placid.

‘But I don’t analyse things in all this great depth. I mean, I know it’s very fashionable to look into every last possible motivation, and to think therapy is the answer to everything, but as far as I am concerned there were things I wanted to do, and I’ve managed to do most of them.’

There is something slightly otherworldly about Ann Widdecombe. She didn’t own a television until her mother moved in five years ago. Her speech is peppered with oddly outdated words such as ‘golly’, ‘darn’ and ‘bunkum’. And I notice the teddy bears in the room. Are they hers?

‘No, they’re mother’s. That’s mother’s corner there. We’ve even got a camel that sings.’

She picks up a fluffy camel and it starts singing an Arabic song.

‘Friends bring them. Those two were gifts from friends. That one I got at some exhibition. They get eaten by the cats and discarded and others come.’

The camel continues its song.

‘Sorry, he does shut up in the end.’

She stares at it in her hand.

‘I do have a fair collection of bears.’

Given her suspicion of therapy and analysis, presumably she doesn’t see anything regressive about an adult collecting teddy bears?

‘I don’t consciously collect bears. People give me bears, you know, and I’ve got bears – I mean, I’ve got bear plates, I find that very endearing. Most people find it quite yucky, and I say, “Doesn’t matter, you don’t have to look at it.” ‘

‘You know, the whole world may laugh at my bear plates, but if I like them I’ll have them because it’s nothing to do with anybody else, and it does nobody an iota of harm that I have bear plates up there. If I want them there, I’ll have ’em there.’


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.