Perhaps it’s because rehearsals haven’t been going so well — ‘It’s been one of those “two steps back” mornings’, Anne-Marie Duff says as she sits shivering in a warm breeze that gusts over the rooftop terrace at the National Theatre. Perhaps it’s because she’s insecure. She self-consciously tugs her sleeves over her wrists, flicks her blonde hair, plays with the tiny silver heart around her neck. This despite —  or because of — the close ups of her strong-boned face that can be seen all over London on a poster advertising George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan. ‘They do make you self-conscious, the posters. They concentrate the mind. Make you realise there is no going back.’
Either way, there is a tautness to the 36-year-old actress today. A fragility, too. She is 5ft 3in tall with thin, pallid skin and large, hooded eyes under mobile, questioning brows. Her voice is unexpectedly light too, floating like thistle down. It seems contrary to her reputation, as she is an arresting actress who likes to take on muscular roles. As one of her directors said of her: ‘She throws herself at parts as if bruising herself on them.’ And this, after all, is not the first time her face has been on posters all over town: the same thing happened when she starred as Elizabeth I in the BBC’s epic The Virgin Queen. With her shaved eyebrows, bleached eyelashes and white make up, she looked ethereal on those billboards: haunting and haunted,  her vanity suspended, an actor of high seriousness. When I ask if she considers herself to be beautiful she snorts derisively, as if the suggestion were peculiar. ‘Of course not. Definitely not.’
Yet plays are sold on her face. ‘Look, I’m not a model, that’s not who I am. I’m all right looking. I’m good looking enough. But I will never be cast as Helen of Troy in a huge, multi-million dollar movie because that’s not who I am — and it’s probably a good thing because I get to play more interesting roles, such as Elizabeth I or Saint Joan.’ She shakes her head and grins. ‘OK I’d love to play a big old glamour puss in designer clothes but those offers don’t come knocking. I get the virgins and the slappers. I don’t seem to have a middle ground.’ She is laughing now. ‘Madonna Whore at your service!’
By slappers she presumably means Fiona Gallagher, the blackly comic character she played in Paul Abbott’s Channel 4 series Shameless. She was the big-hearted, hot-tempered elder sister who kept the dysfunctional family on the Manchester sink estate together, picking up after her wayward siblings and her alcoholic father. Duff left after the second series, but the memory of her pink velour tracksuit and bulky gold earrings lives on. James McAvoy played her on-screen boyfriend, and her off-screen one. In real life they got married last year. He has since been the co-star of the Oscar-winning Last King of Scotland and is currently on location starring opposite Keira Knightly in an adaptation of Ian Mcewan’s Atonement.
The couple have made a pact not to talk about one another in public, and though Duff gives a wide and artless smile when he is mentioned, her nostrils also flare slightly in indignation. She tells me how she loathes the public’s prurient interest in the private lives of celebrities. Not that she considers herself a celebrity, she is quick to add. Actually ‘repulsive’ is the word she uses. ‘I find it repulsive. It’s to do with good manners. I don’t think it is polite to go around telling everyone your business. It’s quite old fashioned of me but I really don’t see what purpose it serves, other than self-indulgence. I mean really, who cares?’
Well, the millions of people who read magazines such as Heat, Closer and Glamour, I imagine. ‘Yes they do, but they shouldn’t because it’s the equivalent of school bullying, you know, finger pointing, look at her. I saw a woman on the Tube the other day suited and booted ready for the office and reading one of these stupid cellulite magazines, staring like an animal at someone famous with spots and I just thought: Woman, what are you doing? What, really, is that doing for you, short of making you paranoid about getting a spot? What is that doing to you as a human being?’
Maybe, I suggest, this phenomena is just payback for years of ordinary women being made to feel inadequate when looking at airbrushed pictures of impossibly glamorous and confident stars. ‘So stars have to be humiliated because readers of cellulite mags feel inadequate? They are reassured when they see people aren’t perfect? Well that’s fine, but it’s cruel.’
A good point well made. She is articulate, this Anne-Marie Duff, and more friendly than this exchange suggests. More hand-on-knee-tactile too, oddly enough. ‘I suppose my view is: If I’m not respectful of my private life, why should anyone else be? The heart is a fragile muscle, you have to take care of it.’
So is she saying she herself would never read gossip about other actors? ‘I suppose I’m nosy in that I love to hear a good old bit of gossip: “Is she really sleeping with him?” But not too much because it kills the mystique. Anyway, as actors you are often in a position where you know who is sleeping with who and you just say…’ she shrugs. ‘“Really?”… We know what actors and actresses are like.’
We do indeed, I say, a bohemian profession if ever there was. ‘Yeah, it’s odd spending hours together with strangers and you have these instant relationships. Three year relationships are compressed into three months, which is why film sets are such sexually charged places. Another thing that puts pressure on your relationships at home is being apart so much. That’s why so many actors go out with people in the profession. Because they understand. You are able to say to your partner: “That’s the deal breaker. This is what I do. If you cannot live with that then it’s over.”’
Sex scenes, I say, snogging colleagues you might only just have met, how weird is that? ‘Yeah but you don’t really love em, and you are probably thinking about someone you really love. It’s just a job. It doesn’t mean anything away from acting. It’s just story telling. And trust me you sometimes have to kiss people and fall in love with people you would really rather cross the road to avoid. That’s the truth of it. There are no blurred boundaries generally.’
There may have been other famous Queen Elizabeths — Glenda Jackson, Cate Blanchett, Helen Mirren — but Duff was the first to play a monarch who cried as hard as she fought. Sustaining that intensity of emotion despite the inevitable distractions and retakes on set, was that all down to cold discipline? ‘What you are forgetting is that most of the time actors don’t have the opportunity to flex their muscles. They might be able to flex three. We all want to be doing everything. When you are playing characters like that it is a opportunity to flex. Halleluiah. Let me be in all day every day to really engage with a character properly and engage with the full spectrum of emotions. Most of the time you might come on and say (she adopts a cockney accent):  ‘Excuse me, serge’. You’re not taxed. Being taxed is what you dream about at 14.’
Is it? Blimey.Duff and her brother grew up on an estate in Hayes, a suburb of west London. Her father was a painter and decorator, her mother a former athlete who, as a young woman in Ireland, harboured desires to go professional. ‘My family are Irish. Great story tellers. My dad would always sing at a party.’ Anne-Marie was a shy child. She went to a  comprehensive and then to London’s Central School of Drama. She worked as a waitress while studying but was, she says, ‘hopelessly clumsy’.  ‘I have no idea where the desire to act came from. No one in my family went to the theatre — too expensive for one thing. And elitist. We didn’t watch trashy TV though. I think that helped. And there were always books around, and we were always encouraged to read. But I don’t know why I started reading Chekhov and Thomas Hardy and Jane Austen. I just did.’
The comment suggests a lack of curiosity about herself. After all, her literary preferences as a schoolgirl indicate not only a romantic spirit but also a keen intellect that needed nourishment. Surely the romance of the actor’s life would have had obvious appeal to that schoolgirl, for all that it made her feel insecure as an adult. ‘It’s true, acting does make you feel vulnerable, even though I’m one of the few who seems to be in constant work. Most of my college friends are hardly ever in work.’
That must put a strain on friendships. ‘Sometimes you are made to feel…’ She trails off. “Well, you are aware of the injustice of it. But I’m not twenty-one. I’ve done my time. And the whole notion of what makes a good actor is so subjective. A matter of taste. I myself can look at someone and say: “I know they are a really, really, lovely actor, but they don’t turn me on.” That’s part of it, too.’
Another strain, I suppose, is that actors are always being held up to public scrutiny, always running the risk of a duff review.
‘I’ve had lots of those.’
I look blank and say I must have missed them.
She spells it out for me. ‘Duff?… Anne-Marie Duff?’
Ah. Good one.
‘But of course I’ve had plenty of bad reviews. I don’t read reviews. Fuck em. They only make you self-conscious. If you go to a party and twelve people say you look great, you must have lost weight, but one person asks if you’ve been eating all the pies…‘ she prods my stomach as she says this. ‘Who are you going to believe?’
The pie person, Miss.
Although she describes herself as ‘a bit of a Pollyanna, overly buoyant and annoyingly sanguine’ she does admit to occasional moments of melancholy. ‘After Virgin Queen I didn’t work for a year and I felt very wee. Very frozen. I think it was a consequence  of having to have so much confidence for three months. I felt like I had to be “on” the whole time. I had to be engaged with so many different personalities. I was knackered mental and physically. You’ve been breathing out, and breathing out, and breathing out.’
In some ways Anne-Marie Duff is your typical, lovable neurotic actress. Certainly she has her share of self-doubt. ‘The best moment was being told I had landed the role of Saint Joan at the National. Then it was downhill. The anxiety sets in. Am I up to it?’ And when asked whether, given her passion for literature, she has tried writing she says: ‘No, it’s hopeless because I’m such a self critic I never get started. Dreadful, delete. Dreadful, delete.’ And she tells me she dreads coming across as a ‘pretentious wanker’ when talking about acting. But she is more thoughtful than most, more inscrutable, more serious about her work. Interestingly, when pressed about why she is so guarded about her private life she admits it is partly because she feels she needs to be anonymous in her roles, so that audiences see Elizabeth I or Saint Joan, not Anne-Marie Duff. ‘That’s another reason for keeping your front door shut. If you know the actress playing Hedda Gabler has just split up from her husband you will think it is the actress crying, rather than her character.’
She finishes the sandwich she has been eating. Her lunchtime break is almost over. Just time to ask about her private passion, fell walking. ‘I mostly do it in the Lake District,’ she says. ’But I was in Patagonia not long ago and that was… It keeps you young. And it’s good to get grubby.’ That said, she is obsessed with having clean hair and always has shampoo and conditioner handy, ‘even if I’m halfway up a mountain.’ She sounds like she can look after herself, I say. ‘I’m good at lighting fires. And on that note I ought to get back to rehearsals.’
It’s another good joke. Get it? Joan of Arc? Fires?
As she is leaving she looks down over the Thames and says: ‘There’s often a guy playing Bob Marley loudly down there…’ She smiles wistfully. ‘It’s funny, I used to go out with a guy who…’ She remembers my tape recorder, shakes her head and says firmly, ‘No, I can’t say.’


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.