The fastidiousness should not surprise, yet somehow it does. When two mugs of tea are placed on the wooden table in front of him, Bryan Ferry leans forward and lifts them straight off again. ‘Can we get a couple of magazines to put these on?’ he says to his assistant in his wispy, halting voice. ‘Or some pads. Thick ones. This table has got some rings on it already.’ He is fussing, in other words, even though his manner and speech could not be more languid. And, though I don’t know much about furniture, I’m pretty sure the table he is fussing about is fairly ordinary, not obviously antique.

The reason it shouldn’t surprise, of course, is that this particular rock star is known for his exacting taste in, well, everything – suits, paintings, cars, women, houses, wine, even interior design (Nicky Haslam once said that Ferry was more likely to redecorate a hotel room than to trash it). And he is capable of making grown producers cry with his, shall we say, attention to detail in the studio (his album ‘Mamouna’, released in 1994, featured 112 musicians and took five years to complete). Also, he is quite a strict and controlling father to his four grown-up sons (his words not mine). He is traditional, believes manners maketh man and likes to have the dinner table set properly.

Age doesn’t seem to have mellowed him, or left its patina. He is 62 and still looks as he has always looked – tall, lean and lupine with his floppy, side-parted hair still (suspiciously?) dark. When I suggest he hasn’t changed much, he sucks in air and says, ‘I don’t know. There are days when I look in the mirror and see the picture of Dorian Gray.’

Yes, but he’s not exactly rock-star addled is he? He’s no Keith Richards. ‘Mm, mm. I suppose when I started I was 25. Fairly grown up. I was never a wild, teenage pop-star type.’

Perhaps he simply cared too much about how he looked in those narcissistic and, at times, epicene early years: the eye patch and shoulder pads, the pencil moustache, the dinner jacket and studiously undone black tie. Tom Ford, the designer behind the Gucci brand, once said that Ferry was the ultimate style icon. And Peter York once memorably said that Ferry had led such an avant garde ‘art-directed existence’ he should be hanging in the Tate. He must love that quote, I say. He smiles shyly, avoids eye contact and hunches his broad shoulders as if drawing himself in. ‘I tend to be rather downplayed in real life, compared to my on-stage life. Quite self-contained. But I think my life has been interesting, for sure. Whether it is an artwork, I couldn’t say. Certainly, I’ve no intention of pinning myself to an art gallery wall. It’s a funny thing being such a shy person yet being a singer in a rock band. It’s a sort of contradiction.’

He certainly enjoyed his reputation as an aesthete, an exquisite, a dandy. But he thinks in retrospect that the emerald-green eye-shadow and the fake leopard-skin jackets of his early Roxy Music days were a mask to hide behind. ‘I felt I was playing a role. I felt the music was me, but the presentation wasn’t, necessarily. The spotlight can be a real handicap. It’s one of the reasons I like being in a band. Safety in numbers. I suppose it is quite hard to get on stage for the first time and so the clothes and the make-up helped. It can still be quite hard even now, when I’m not in the mood. You know, I think, “What are you staring at?”‘

We are in a high-ceilinged room above his recording studio near Earl’s Court, the one he once jokingly referred to as his Führerbunker, to his later regret. The walls are white-painted brick, the rugs Arts and Crafts. There are dustsheets over the furniture and, on the walls, paintings and prints by his friends and mentors the pop artists Richard Hamilton and Mark Lancaster. He knows a lot about fine art, does Ferry. Collects it. Has spent a lifetime studying it. Even did a degree in it in the mid-Sixties at Newcastle University, near to where he grew up in County Durham.

His father was a miner there, in charge of the pit ponies. It was a life of tin baths and outside privies. The contrast with his adult life in the South could not be greater: the aristocratic friends, the sons at Eton and Marlborough, the imposing country house near Petworth in West Sussex, the elegant town house in Chelsea (the one with the Bentley parked outside). There is still a trace of the North East in his vowels, but it is like ink that has faded in the sunlight. When you ask a question, he will murmur agreement softly under his breath, ‘mm mm’, and just when you think that’s all you’re getting, out will waft his answer.

The career shift from artist to musician seems to have been unplanned. ‘After graduating, I moved to London and found work as a supply teacher. Then I kind of drifted into music. I remember discussing it with Mark Lancaster. After he went to live and work with Jasper Johns, he told me it was much cooler to be an artist than a rock star. I’m not really sure why I didn’t take his advice.’

Instead of taking his easel to a garret, Ferry taught himself the piano and began to write music. He teamed up with five other musicians, including Brian Eno, he of the peacock-feather collars and synthesiser, to form Roxy Music. They also worked with the fashion designer Anthony Price to combine the look of glam rock with edgy, intelligent lyrics, innovative electronic music and highly stylised vocals. Their first single, Virginia Plain, came out in 1972. After that the hits kept coming: Let’s Stick Together, Do the Strand, More Than This, Love is the Drug, Avalon…

But Ferry’s love of art never went away and now he thinks not pursuing art as a first career has meant it has retained its allure for him. ‘The art world today is very social. I’m always going to dinners and openings. I have quite a few friends who are artists and dealers. I’m much more at home in that world than the music world. More comfortable.’

It was his aesthetic sensibility that landed him in trouble last year. In an interview with a German magazine, he described Albert Speer’s buildings and Leni Riefenstahl’s movies as ‘beautiful’. The tabloids savaged him and he apologised, explaining that his comments had been taken out of context and that they did not mean that he approved of the Nazi regime. On the contrary, he found it ‘abhorrent’. The Mirror in turn had to apologise to Ferry for misleading its readers in its reporting of this story. Among other things, the paper admitted that Ferry hadn’t even mentioned the word Nazi in the original interview. I’m glad The Mirror apologised. I remember thinking at the time that the press were being unfair to him. He was, after all, merely echoing a legitimate and respectable academic view that, as the literary critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin put it, ‘Fascism is the aestheticisation of politics.’ Leni Riefenstahl’s movies and Albert Speer’s buildings were beautiful. It was their context that was ugly. When I raise this subject, Ferry folds his arms and rocks forward as if in a straitjacket. ‘Ah. Please don’t draw me into this again. So boring.’

OK, I say, but I want him to tell me what it felt like to be monstered by the media after so many years of enjoying a good relationship with it. ‘It was like being in some film noir. Bizarre. Very scary actually. And very ugly. There was a feeding frenzy and because there is 24-hour media now…’ He trails off. ‘I’m sort of speechless about it. I don’t want to say anything because… You could be in disguise. One becomes totally untrusting.’ He sighs. ‘It was all so…’ He sighs again. ‘It was so absurd. Anyone who knew me would tell you it was… ridiculous.’ He looks over his shoulder to the table behind him, searching for something. ‘I have this letter about it from a friend. A film-maker… Actually, can we change the subject please?’

OK again. In 2000, Ferry, his wife, Lucy, and two of their sons, were flying from London to Nairobi in a Boeing 747 when a mentally ill passenger dashed into the cockpit and grabbed the controls, forcing the aircraft to plummet. Is it true he told his son off for swearing as the plane plunged? He smiles. ‘Oh yeah. Wouldn’t you? I sort of woke up to hear my son.’

In those seconds when he thought he was going to die, what went through his mind? ‘Did I contemplate my own mortality, you mean? It all happened too quickly for that. The pilot said afterwards we were five seconds away from death. It was the co-pilot who pulled us out, while the pilot was fighting with the intruder. After that, I did consider life was beautiful and rich and in glorious Technicolor. You have to savour every moment. When I’m on a plane now I feel much easier about it because I can’t believe lightning will strike twice. Also, since that episode, I have tried to get a better balance in my life, between work and everything else. But it’s a struggle. Last year, I think I toured too much. The ‘Dylanesque’ album. I was on the road for nine months, on and off. My real life got left behind.’

‘Real life’ meaning? ‘Well, I’m quite curious. I like going to galleries and things. I go out a lot. Not an at-home type. I don’t cook. I like to be entertained.’ While he has been talking the intercom has been buzzing and the phone has been ringing. He now says to the intercom: ‘Hello? Hello I’m busy!’ The phone rings and this time he crosses the room and picks it up. ‘Hi, someone keeps buzzing me and I’m in the middle of an interview. Could you, kind of, shoot them? Thanks.’

An engineer and a producer are waiting for him in the studio, it seems. ‘We’re just working on something; building it up around a piano motif I’ve recorded. Some of the best things I do are where I think I’m not being recorded, so you almost have to trick yourself into recording.’ He’s always making notes for lyrics, he adds. Has notebooks scattered around. ‘I suppose if I ever stop doing it, it will be a sign I’ve grown up.’

He folds and refolds a piece of paper as he talks. He smoothes the table with the side of his hand. He doodles and fidgets. Endearingly, he is not really sure why he has agreed to this interview, as he doesn’t have an album or a tour to promote. But there is a reason of sorts, the film Flashbacks of a Fool. It is directed by Baillie Walsh and stars Daniel Craig as Joe Scott, a decadent English film star who is suddenly tipped into a mid-life crisis by the death of a childhood friend. The flashback of the title is to the early 1970s, with one particular Roxy Music track acting as a trigger to memory in the manner of Proust’s madeleine. When Ferry saw a preview of it, he was moved to tears. When he realises I won’t be seeing the film myself for another few days, he asks, fastidious man that he is, if I would like to meet up again afterwards so that I can tell him what I made of it.

And so we do, at his house just off Sloane Square. In the intervening days, another example of his attention to detail, he has sent me a copy of a book I was asking about: Re-make/Re-model, by Michael Bracewell, a history of the cultural influences that led to the formation of Roxy Music. I tell him I liked the film, by the way. It is intelligent, subtle, funny and, above all, evocative. It had me dabbing my eyes, too. Along with David Bowie and George Best, Bryan Ferry seemed to epitomise that glamorous period. ‘I think the girl in the film who mimes to one of my songs was a great improvement on the original,’ he says. ‘I found that quite touching, actually. She looked very good, very much like an idealised Roxy fan with the make-up and the clothes.’

In the film, the teenage Joe has eye-shadow applied by this girl, so that he will look like Ferry. I ask what Ferry’s father, the Durham miner, made of the eye-shadow. He laughs. ‘Not sure, actually. We didn’t discuss it. I didn’t see a lot of my parents around that time. They didn’t move down from the North until about 1976, when I bought my place in Sussex. I was away all the time, so they moved in there and had a new lease of life. They didn’t drive, poor things, so they were kind of stuck there. But they liked to walk and they thought it was paradise, which it was, which it is. The South Downs are beautiful. I don’t think my dad felt uprooted. For him, the world was wherever he was. A vegetable garden was his world. He wasn’t interested in flying to New York or Paris. He was quite a solitary figure. A real one-off. My mother was much more gregarious. She used the telephone.’

Does he look like his father? ‘A bit. I’ve come to resemble him more as I’ve got older. It’s like when I see pictures of my sons and I think they look just like me, or how I did at a certain age.’

He says it is a mild regret to him that his sons don’t know the meaning of hardship; don’t have anything to compare their comfortable lives to, as he does. ‘It’s good to have layers in your life. If I’m in a limousine on the way to the airport, I still haven’t forgotten what it is like to stand in the rain at a north-eastern bus stop for hours. I do have memories of deprivation, but I don’t carry them around like some bitter, Left-wing hammer to beat people on the head with. The human experience is all about contrast.’

He concedes that he made a conscious effort to bury his old identity and invent a new one. ‘But there’s nothing wrong with that. If you see the house I was born in. It wasn’t very nice. And the fact that I wasn’t born into a house with tapestries and paintings makes me appreciate these things more. I do like to surround myself with beautiful things. I’m not into cash or stocks and shares and markets. All I’m interested in are things. Art. They are very important to me.’

This time he makes the tea, a pot of it. As he pours we talk about the book he sent me. In one passage it notes how many gay men there were in ‘the Roxy circle’. Ferry went for an androgynous look, of course, like Bowie. Did he ever find himself questioning his sexuality? ‘Oh God, no, but the art world, the Seventies world, was such a gay world. One of the principal architects of Roxy, that whole movement, was Anthony Price and he never married. He designed the first album cover and was very influential. He’s still a dear friend. Quite a character. That was the time a lot of people like him were coming out. I’m not sure Roxy had much of a gay following though. I think that was more Bowie. Roxy was a group of straight guys from the North with girlfriends.’ He gives his shy grin, eyes downcast. ‘I’m not trying to apologise for being straight, but I did go to co-ed schools. That might have had an influence on me. I think a lot of my gay friends went to single-sex schools.’

And, of course, the album covers were the stuff of heterosexual teenage fantasy. One, ‘Country Life’, featured two scantily clad models. It had feminists in an uproar, resulting in it being sold under brown-paper covers in America. But in Britain people were pretty relaxed about it. I remember it well. Many was the teenage hour I would contemplate it. ‘Yes,’ he says, ‘it’s remarkable how liberated the climate was then. There is much more political correctness around today. What you can and cannot say. As I discovered last year. In a way it was much freer in those days. You could speak your mind. You certainly wouldn’t have got told off for talking about Albert Speer’s buildings in the 1970s.’

His main collection of Bloomsbury paintings is in his Sussex house, but he does have some here. ‘That’s a Wyndham Lewis,’ he says, when I ask about them. He stands up and leads the way out into the hall. ‘And that’s a Duncan Grant. Through this is a Paul Nash.’ We talk about Nash’s letters from Passchendaele and discover that both our grandfathers fought there, both for Yorkshire regiments. Mine survived. His died there. ‘I found his name at dusk on a memorial in Belgium,’ Ferry says. ‘It was freezing cold. So many dead. Awful. I became really tearful. I just stood there sobbing.’

In the drawing-room there are pots containing dozens of neatly sharpened pencils. There are pads of paper fanned out, art books and brocaded cushions. Everything is tidy. I don’t see any photographs of the women who have been in his life, but I suppose you need only look at the Roxy album covers for them: Playboy playmate Marilyn Cole, supermodels Amanda Lear (who would later date David Bowie) and Jerry Hall (who left him for Mick Jagger in 1977). The album cover girl he married was Lucy Helmore. That was in 1982. She was the one he had the four sons with. When they divorced, 20 years later, he cited her adultery. She was nevertheless awarded £10million in the settlement, or so the reports said at the time.

Since 2003, he has had been with Katie Turner, who is 35 years his junior. The relationship seems to have been on-off – off last month but apparently on again this, according to the tabloids. The trouble, reportedly, was that she wanted children, whereas he felt he was too old to go through all that again. How’s his love life at the moment, I ask? He laughs and groans and says something that should be quoted only in the context of our previous conversation: ‘Oh dear. I should have been gay, shouldn’t I?’

So the story in the papers? ‘Oh, I didn’t read it. Presumably, it was asking: Will they, won’t they? Don’t know, is the answer. Saw a friend for lunch today who said there was something horrible reported. A friend of mine said… A friend of Katie’s said… But they never reveal who these friends are. Hope your love life is more straightforward than mine.’

Well I married a Catholic, I say, so yes. ‘I was married to a Catholic for 20 years,’ he counters. ‘Didn’t stop our marriage ending in divorce.’

He worries about the effect his divorce might have had on his children, not least because they don’t have one place to go to that they can call home. He was lucky, he says, because he grew up always knowing where his parents were. He is taking two of his sons to Seville tomorrow morning to watch a bullfight. ‘It’s quite festive. You feel in contact with Spanish culture. They respect the bull. Admire it and yet fight it. Very similar to people who hunt foxes. They respect them.’ He grins. ‘I’ve suddenly realised this is a controversial thing to say. I don’t want to be controversial.’

Bryan Ferry controversial? Never! ‘Well, nowadays, it doesn’t take much.’ He folds his arms and puts his feet on the coffee table at the same time, the self-conscious man trying to be open and relaxed. Parking charges and speed cameras are his biggest bugbears at the moment. It’s not that he has become a grumpy old man, he says. He was a grumpy young man. Certainly, there is a contrariness to him, an understated wilfulness. His eldest son, Otis, seems to have inherited it. He was the one who broke into the House of Commons to protest against Labour’s ban on hunting. ‘People usually come up to me and say your son is a hero, give him a hug for me. People like a rebel, I suppose. The hunting ban was mean-spirited. And futile. Because it has made hunting cool.’

He is proud of his son, he adds. But what is it like, after all these years of having the attention himself, suddenly getting his toes trodden on by his son? ‘Very annoying! Especially for someone who has come from the “me” profession. Forget him. What about me!’ The comment suggests that while Ferry may be a reserved man he is not without a dry sense of humour. I ask if he is a Conservative. ‘Never was anything really. Never really voted. Always lived in a huge majority where I don’t think my vote would have made much difference. Where I was born it was a 23,000 Labour majority and now I live in a similar Tory majority. But yes, I am conservative by nature so it would be fair to say I was supporting them now. That said, I always felt politics and art don’t mix very well.’

Not since the Nazis tried it, right? He looks puzzled for a moment then rolls his eyes. ‘Oh. I see. Politics and art. Right, right.’


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.