Lovely scented soap, that’s what Bob Hoskins likes about this restaurant around the corner from his house in North London. I know this because when he returns from what Americans call the bathroom he says: ‘They have lovely scented soap ’ere.’ He doesn’t call it a bathroom, by the way, even though he has spent a lot of time in Hollywood working with the likes of Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and Oliver Stone.

‘I reached a point where they said you may as well live here, Bob. It’s where the work is. Where the money is. Get yourself a nice house with a swimming pool. It was an attractive offer but I couldn’t possibly have brought my kids up there.’

Though he does a decent American accent, notably in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, you only have to hear him say a couple of words in his natural speaking voice to know that he is as cockney as jellied eels. He couldn’t live full time anywhere other than London – even his country retreat in East Sussex, an oast house.

Today he is sitting in an enormous, high-backed chair which seems to emphasise his height, or lack of it. He is 5ft 6in. Pauline Kael, the film critic, once compared him to ‘a testicle on legs’. For his part he describes himself as a cube and says that ‘not even my mum would call me pretty’.

But the camera loves him. He grips you with his eyes as he talks. And he has a mischievous grin, which he deploys generously.

Where were we? Scented soap. I was about to explain why this observation was telling. Hoskins, for all the high testosterone of The Long Good Friday, his unforgettable film debut in 1980, is oddly in touch with his feminine side. You could see it in his first television drama, Dennis Potter’s Pennies from Heaven in 1978. He did a rather delicate, skippy little dance in that.

‘The choreographer got me to rehearse in a room without mirrors and convinced me I was Fred Astaire. Then when I saw the film there was this little hippopotamus running around.’

Getting in touch with his feminine side came as a revelation to Hoskins. ‘I realised one day that men are emotional cripples. We can’t express ourselves emotionally, we can only do it with anger and humour. Emotional stability and expression comes from women. When they have babies they say “hello, you’re welcome” and they mean it. It is an emotional honesty.

‘I started my career by becoming a stalker, watching women in the street, the way they greet each other. I thought if I could capture some of that expression, that depth of emotion, it will make me interesting to watch as an actor.’

What is he like now, away from the camera? Can he express emotion in private?

‘No, I’m terrible. I can only do it on screen. My dad died recently at the age of 93 and I found myself crying, then I stopped and thought this is acting. This isn’t honest. You’re not giving him the honest emotions he deserves. But the truth is, I didn’t know how to anymore. I was completely confused. It had become a curse. I can turn the tears on professionally.

‘When my dad died I thought I’m doing this for the people around me rather than for myself.’ And when he was on his own? ‘Didn’t cry. Partly because whenever I remembered my dad I grinned. He was a funny old stick.’

Hoskins’s father was a shy man, a bookkeeper; his mother, a nursery school cook, was more of an extrovert. Bob was their only child, born in 1942 and he perhaps felt he missed having siblings, given that he went on to have four children himself, two from his first marriage, two from his second.

He has been with Linda, his second wife, for 28 years and is devoted to her to the point of being uxorious. He has suffered from depression in the past and when he is feeling ‘fragile and pathetic’ only a cuddle from his wife will help.

I ask if he ever catches himself using his actorly skills with her, manipulating emotions to win an argument, say. ‘You do sometimes think, Oh, I could pull one here. But I’m not going to give you specific examples because my wife will kill me when she reads this.

‘One of the things I’ve realised is that I am very simple. My wife asked me once if I loved her. I said: “Look love, I’m a simple man. I love you. End of story.” But I guess you gotta keep saying it with women. I guess she needed reassurance. Blokes are very arrogant, they always assume the woman still loves them.’

Hoskins left school at 15 with one O-level and drifted from job to job: porter, lorry-driver, window cleaner. He then did a three-year accountancy course but dropped out.

His life changed dramatically in 1968 when he accompanied a friend to an audition and got mistaken for a candidate. He was asked to read for a part and ended up being given the lead. As soon as he started acting he knew it was for him.

‘I fit into this business like a sore foot into a soft shoe. But when I started I thought, Christ I ought to learn to act now I’m doing this for a living. I was a completely untrained, ill-educated idiot. So I read Stanislavski, but I thought it was all so obvious. Same with Strasberg. He just seemed to be saying look busy. Impress the boss. I soon realised actors are just entertainers, even the serious ones. That’s all an actor is. He’s like a serious Bruce Forsyth.’

The other great turning point in his career was when he realised that the camera could read his mind. It was when he was playing the doomed London gangland boss in The Long Good Friday. In the film’s closing scene his character realises he is being driven to his death. In two long minutes, without a word, Hoskins moves with measured facial gestures from shock to terror to wry acceptance.

‘For that last shot,’ he says, ‘John Mackenzie said I’m going to put the camera on your face Bob for five minutes and I want you to just think your way through the film. I said “you’re f—ing joking, ain’t you?” So I thought my way through the film and there you see it in the final edit.

‘We drove all round London for that scene. What I learnt from that was that if you was thinking the thoughts of your character, whatever you are doing is right, it is conveyed in your eyes and body language. The camera can see your mind. It takes quite a bit of concentration. You feel exhausted afterwards. But it’s worth it.’

Sometimes though, the camera delved too far into his mind. His latest film is Disney’s long-awaited Christmas Carol. It stars Jim Carrey as Scrooge and Gary Oldman as Bob Cratchit. Hoskins plays Old Fezziwig, to whom Scrooge was apprenticed as a young man.

The film uses ‘digital performance capture’ technology which captures the movements of the actor on computerised cameras in a full 360 degrees. It also uses groundbreaking 3D technology and animation.

Endearingly, when I mention this, Hoskins says he hadn’t realised the film was in 3D.

The director is Robert Zemeckis, the Oscar-winning director of Forrest Gump. He also made Who Framed Roger Rabbit? That film left Hoskins feeling very odd indeed. His doctor told him he should have a five month rest after that.

‘I think I went a bit mad while working on that. Lost my mind. The voice of the rabbit was there just behind the camera all the time. You had to know where the rabbit would be at every angle. Then there was Jessica Rabbit and all these weasels. The trouble was, I had learnt how to hallucinate. My daughter had an invisible friend called Jeffrey and I played with her and this invisible friend until one day I actually saw the friend.

‘I was following where she was seeing it. If you do that for eight months it becomes hard to get rid of. I went to this one do where I got talking to a very county lady with a big hat and there was this weasel in her hat with a big pr–k!’

Does he think now that he did actually go insane around that time? ‘My daughter, when I came back from filming in San Francisco, she said “Dad, slow down, slow down. You’re going barmy, mate.” And I was.’

He was hyperactive? ‘Probably talking too much, yeah. The character that frightened me most though was when I did Felicia’s Journey. I played a serial killer in that. Two weeks after filming, Linda said: “Bob, you do realise you are being very strange don’t you?” And I thought, Oh f— I’ve still got a killer inside me.’

Another psychological tipping point had been the break-up of his first marriage. In the aftermath his first wife accused him of being violent, though he denies it.

He now says he simply wasn’t mature enough to be married. He had a nervous breakdown, he says. ‘And funnily enough theatre cured it. I used to go to see a psychiatrist in Harley Street but then my friend Verity said if you are going to have a nervous breakdown you should do it on stage as a one man show instead, so I did.

‘I wrote a play called The Bystander about a bloke looking through a hole in the wall and talking to pot plants. On the first day, when the tickets had been sold and I was supposed to be on stage, I wondered off in a trance and Verity had to come and find me. I was talking to the ducks on the pond. She said: “There is not one f—ing duck here who has paid for a ticket. I’ve got a full theatre waiting for you get yourself in there.”

She grabbed hold of me and dragged me down the stage in front of the audience. I did the show and when the audience applauded at the end it was like something popping. I was fine after that. Verity opened a bottle of champagne and said: “Welcome back to sanity”.’

After his first marriage failed he assumed marriage wasn’t for him. ‘But obviously it was. I thought: what would my ideal wife be? I made this woman up in my head and on the Royal wedding day in 1981, when they kept pubs open to midnight, she walked in and I thought that’s her. Sweetheart, you don’t stand a chance.’

He claps his hands and grins. ‘I didn’t need to project. She was what I wanted. That’ll do. I’m very romantic. I’ve emptied flower shops.’

How important has his second marriage been to his mental health? Does Linda keep him grounded? Tease him? ‘Yeah. She will say, all right, you’ve done well, but remember you live here with a family and two kids. That’s more important than your work.’

I ask what he is like as a father. ‘I had quite a lot of time away from them, but Linda always used to bring the kids out with me on location. With my first kids it was difficult because I didn’t see as much of them growing up as I would have liked.’ Fame puts a strain on relationships, he says, because one person has a lot of attention and the other doesn’t.

‘But it also puts a lot of pressure on you. It separates you from the human race a bit because you can’t talk to anybody about anything apart from your career and who you know. That is all anybody wants to ask you about. You can’t have a normal conversation.

‘I just want to say: “F— my career, how’s your life?” I met a little old fella in Regent’s Park when I was walking a character around. He said: “You are who you are, ain’t you?” and I said: “Yeah, I am who I am.” And he said: “That’s good. I grow roses.” And we sat talking about roses all afternoon. It was wonderful.’

There have been occasions, though, when the attention from the public has become tiresome and he has lost his temper. Linda gets quite embarrassed when this happens, he says.

‘The thing is, when the kids were babies I used to take them up the park. There was one occasion when this group of people started pointing and if you have two kids you have to give them your full concentration and so I said: “Sorry I’m with my kids today” and this woman said: “Without your fans where would you be?” And I lost it and told her to f— off. I said: “I don’t need you. If you’re a fan then pick someone else.”’

The majority of people don’t see him as a celebrity, though, he reckons. ‘They think they know me. I was in Marks & Spencer the other day when this woman said “Bob, where’s the tea?” and I showed her and she said: “No, not that fancy organic tea. Real tea, the sort of tea we drink. PG Tips. Typhoo.”’

Although Hoskins has had requests from publishers to write his memoirs, he says he hasn’t got the memory for it. He has no film posters in his house, not even for Mona Lisa, the 1986 film for which he was Oscar nominated.

‘Dementia will be a friend. It will grin at me and say: “How you going son?” I’ll be like my dad. He phoned me up one day and said: “The mafia is laundering money through my bank account.” I shot round there and realised it was the pocket money I was giving him. “You prat,” I said. “It’s the money I’ve been paying into your account.”’

I suggest that he could always have told his father: ‘The mafia? I s–t em.’ He rolls his eyes, recognising the line from The Long Good Friday.

‘Yeah I suppose I could,’ he says. ‘I still get people coming up to me and quoting lines from that film. They will say “Cut ’im” and I wonder what the hell they are talking about because I haven’t seen it for years.’

He rarely watches the films he has starred in and having made more than 80, he often can’t even remember which ones he has been in. ‘I’ll be watching a film on television at home and then realise with a shock that I’m in it.’ That’ll be the dementia kicking in, I say. ‘Yeah,’ he says with a grin.

‘I’ll be ringing my son up and telling him the mafia are using my bank account to launder money next.’


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.