Coming around again: the Seventies songstress on famous friendships, affairs and therapy.

As Carly Simon is showing me around her house on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, she mentions, matter-of-factly, that it is haunted. Guests in the spare bedroom always hear the same conversation, apparently, about a record deal.

At 64 she seems little changed from her Seventies heyday, a rangy blonde in a rah-rah skirt and knee-length snakeskin boots. And those teeth still have you shielding your eyes.

Indeed, such is the warmth of her wide and white smile, I resist the urge to point out that ghosts do not exist. Besides, even a sceptic like me cannot deny that there is a metaphorical presence in this house, the ghost of a man not yet dead.

I refer to James Taylor, her ex-husband and fellow singer-songwriter and guitarist. Fellow legend, too, for the couple were rock nobility who used to hang out with film stars and presidents, who topped the charts, who appeared together on the cover of Rolling Stone.

‘James built this house in 1969,’ she says, showing me old photographs of the building site. ‘It was just a cabin in the wood and we would sleep on a pull-out couch over there.’

The house has expanded a great deal since then. It now has a recording studio, library, tennis court and a 45ft-tall watchtower that you reach by a nautical-style spiral staircase.

Today, with a dusting of snow on the surrounding fields, it feels cosy. There are candles everywhere, a log fire crackling in the grate and lentil soup cooking on the stove.

The room we are sitting in is dominated by a baby grand piano. There is a chessboard set up and an acoustic guitar propped against a rocking chair.

Her friends on the island have included Jackie Onassis and Bill Clinton. There are photographs of them but none of James Taylor that I can see.

‘James who?’ she says with a laugh.

Their marriage was one of the most glamorous, high-profile pairings of the Seventies, but it was pushed to the limits by his heroin addiction and infidelities.

When he picked up a venereal disease while on tour – ‘a road accident’, as the euphemism had it – he told her in this room.

Understandably, she didn’t take it well and swung at him with the nearest thing to hand, a guitar. When she calmed down she told him she had some news, too. She was pregnant.

They divorced in 1983 after 10 years and two children. He remarried, twice. She once, to a poet.

When I meet Ben, their 33-year-old son, I see James Taylor haunts his features, too. The resemblance is uncanny, even with his Mormon beard and beanie hat.

Ben Taylor lives in a cottage in the grounds here, but still sees a lot of his father. He is even closer to his mother, but he doesn’t exactly act as a go-between, because the two do not talk.

I get the impression Ben cannot even mention his mother’s name in his father’s company.

‘It is so important that Ben has a good relationship with his father,’ Simon says. ‘Given my druthers I would have a good relationship with him, too. But I don’t seem to have any druthers about me!’


‘Oh, is that an Americanism? It means given what I would rather have, I would rather have any relationship with James – be it frustrating, mediocre, whatever – than no relationship at all, than what we have now, which is a long empty alleyway of memories leading up to a big wall of silence.’

Blimey. You can tell she wrote her own lyrics, can’t you? Ben is a musician who has the same vocal style as his father.

‘Actually, I think the more Ben sings, the less like James he sounds,’ Simon says. ‘He is an interesting combination of the two of us. His voice box is more like mine but the way his tongue sits in his mouth, and the way he pronounces words, is just like James.’

Ben has performed on and co-produced his mother’s new album. It features a couple of new songs but is mostly new acoustic versions of her old songs, reinterpreted for a voice that is about half an octave lower than it used to be.

It includes Anticipation, Coming Around Again and – how could it not? – You’re So Vain, the original of which had Mick Jagger on backing vocals and was one of the biggest-selling singles of the Seventies.

If her ex-husband haunts this house, that song must haunt her. But she doesn’t seem to mind talking about it. Indeed, it was so cold when I arrived she poured shots of apricot cognac and sang, ‘Her cognac was apricot!’ which is a decent joke, if you recall the lyrics to You’re So Vain.

There is a website dedicated to that song which lists the dozens of times she has been asked by journalists over the years who, among her many former lovers, the song was written about. Cat Stevens? Kris Kristofferson? Mick Jagger?

The usual assumption is that it is Warren Beatty. The actor did, after all, ring her to thank her for the song, because he was so vain he thought it was about him.

At the time they had their affair, she has said, Beatty was still relatively undiscovered as a Don Juan. She felt she was one among thousands – ‘It hadn’t reached, you know, the populations of small countries.’

She has always refused to say who You’re So Vain is about, quite rightly arguing that people don’t really want the truth, they prefer the riddle. I tell her I am going to be the first journalist in almost 40 years not to ask her, because I’ve already worked out the answer. It’s about Willie Donaldson, isn’t it?

She laughs. ‘Yeah, that’s it. You’ve got it! Actually, I suppose it could have been about him, in that the time period would have been accurate, and a lot of the specifics in the story might have been embellished. I mean, the Leer jet could have been a Falcon. I don’t think Willie flew by Leer jet.’

Willie Donaldson was her least-likely conquest, or rather she was his. He was perhaps best known as the satirical author of The Henry Root Letters and the man who first staged Beyond the Fringe, but he was also a serial bankrupt, crack addict and pimp, one who ended up dying in a seedy London bedsit, his computer still logged onto a lesbian porn site.

But when they met he was a glamorous, Cambridge-educated playboy and impresario who had inherited a fortune and was going out with the actress Sarah Miles.

It was 1966. London was swinging. Carly Simon was 20. Donaldson described her as ‘the answer to any sane man’s prayers; funny, quick, erotic, extravagantly talented’.

Sadly for both of them, he wasn’t exactly a sane man. Eccentric would be a better word. They got engaged, then he dumped her.

‘I was madly in love with him,’ she says now. ‘And after he broke my heart I couldn’t regain my interest in men for four years. I kept trying to understand why I found him so exotic. It wasn’t just because he had an English accent.

‘We met on July 8 and by July 20 he had moved out of his place with Sarah Miles and had moved in with me at Wilton Place. We went up to the Portobello Road to buy tea sets. It was gangbusters. Then the Dear John letter came on October 24.

‘We started to communicate again once I was married to James and he wrote back saying: “There hasn’t been a day when I haven’t thought of you.” All this tenderness poured out of him, when I was at a safe distance!’

Is it possible that he was being kind when he left, because he knew how self-destructive he was?

‘I don’t think so. I think in retrospect it was a good thing that I didn’t marry Willie but it wasn’t that he was being kind. I think he knew his ways were too perverse for me, that I was too much of a prude.

‘There was a story he told of my taking a bath then lying naked on the bed and saying: “What do you think?” That never happened. I have no idea why he felt the need to project that. He didn’t even have a bath tub!’

He used to call her Little Frog Footman. ‘I think it was from Cinderella. He did appreciate me. I don’t think I could have loved him as much as I did if he hadn’t brought out something that I really loved about myself. My boyfriend Richard, who you met earlier, he’s like that. He makes me feel so good about myself.’

Richard is a surgeon, a veteran of the first Gulf War, and a divorcee 10 years her junior.

He is handsome in an all-American, flinty-jawed way, and when we met he told me that, because his operations often take several hours, he likes to have music playing in the operating theatre – and yes, there is some Carly Simon on the playlist. And no, he’s not that kind of surgeon and that wasn’t how they met.

He is a leading specialist in laparoscopic surgery. Simon has had breast surgery, but it was reconstructive, following a mastectomy in the late Nineties. That must have concentrated her mind, I say, given her a stark intimation of her own mortality.

‘It sure did,’ she says. ‘One of the things about creativity is you can be in denial about these things. When I found out I had cancer, there were four hours in which I was pounding my head on the marble kitchen top saying, “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it.” But then I felt as if this little army in uniform was flooding me. They had come to help me fight it. I felt really strong about it after that. It was one of the strongest periods of my life.’

There is a new biography of Warren Beatty, by Peter Biskind, which suggests that when he met Carly Simon in a bar and she told him about her breast cancer he looked uncomfortable and ran off. She has a copy of it on her bookshelf.

‘Oh God!’ she says, rocking back on her sofa. ‘I meant to hide that before you got here!’

The book quotes Beatty as saying he has slept with more than 12,000 women. That must make his ex-lovers feel pretty special!

‘You think? You know what? I’ve been flirting with the idea of writing an autobiography because I was talking to Mike Nichols about all these biographies coming out and he said I should never co-operate with them because look what they’ve done to Warren.

‘That book is full of inaccuracies. I haven’t read it myself but Richard read out some passages, one of them saying I cut a swathe through the famous and notorious men of my generation. A swathe? I know exactly what I did every single day because I kept a daily diary from the age of seven until 1983 when I broke up with James.’

Was it therapeutic?

‘I needed much more therapy than that!’

Simon had a nervous breakdown in the early Sixties, one brought on by a wine allergy. She has been seeing therapists ever since and, to this day, suffers from a debilitating stage fright, which means she hardly ever performs in public.

‘When I’m feeling anxious or depressed, I do find it helps to reach for a pen and paper. There is something about writing things down, that hand-eye combination, that makes me feel calmer.

‘Seeing things that are bothering you written down takes away their power. It gives you a perspective. Helps you contain them. The other day I was feeling so terrified and sad I had to pull the sheets over my head. I think Richard was a little shocked by my behaviour.’

Her parents seem to have been part of the problem. Her father, also called Richard, was a wealthy publisher, the Simon of Simon and Schuster. The young Carly grew up among the rich and famous of Manhattan. Not only Rodgers and Hammerstein but also George Gershwin were regular guests at the family home.

Her father died in 1960 when she was 15. ‘It was a difficult age. There was an emotional numbness surrounding his death for me that hasn’t been broken through yet. I had an even bigger reaction when I was 10 and I found out he had had his first heart attack. That demolished me. So freaked out.

‘I would knock on wood 500 times every night thinking that would keep him from dying. Compulsive behaviour. The fact that he didn’t die the first night I did it meant I had to keep doing it. I was so scared. I eventually began knocking less, getting it down to 300, then 100 in the last year, then he died.’

There were unresolved issues. ‘I wanted him to live longer so that I could see him and my mother really love each other. I couldn’t bear the thought that they didn’t have the perfect marriage, with the perfect house, and the perfect car and the perfect apple pie cooling on the window ledge.

‘My mother fell in love with someone else, you see. And when my sisters told me when I was 12 that my parents didn’t love each other, that was when I started having serious anxiety attacks.’

Did that memory impinge upon her own marriage?

‘I think we do compensate by going off in the opposite direction. You can repeat the mistakes of your parents’ marriage or you can go out of your way not to repeat them.

‘I heard Ben say the other day that he really doesn’t want to repeat what he saw in the relationship between myself and James. Yet those little repetitions sneak up on you from behind and there you are doing the same things your mother did to your father.’

She sounds like a hopeless romantic.

‘I am. As a child I used to read Gone with the Wind over and over again. I wanted to be Scarlett O’Hara. I never wanted to believe that it was possible that there could be infidelity. I never wanted to be believe that it was even possible for a man to look another way, even for a moment. My bubble of monogamy was pierced in a harsh way.’

Speaking of biographies, there was an excellent triple one which came out not long ago called Girls Like Us, about Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Carly Simon. It portrayed them as feminist icons, yet that is not how Simon saw herself at the time.

‘I wanted to be the little woman behind the man leading the academic life,’ she says. ‘I was too shy to be front of stage.

‘The other day I came across a recording I made of a night at my apartment when I was living with Kris Kristofferson. Bob Dylan had been around earlier and we were all passing around the guitar. Whenever it came to my turn I would run into the kitchen and say I’d left the coffee on the stove or something. Shyness. Scared to perform.’

Shyness? Really? Wasn’t she shy and confident at the same time? Driving with her foot on the break and the accelerator?

‘Yes, but with me it goes from one extreme to the other like a pendulum, until I become the hum of the pendulum. I stole that line from Mike Nichols. If I say anything good, I’ve probably ripped it off. You’ve got to hear this recording. Can I play it for you?’

She goes upstairs, returns with a MacBook Pro and finds the sound file. Kris Kristofferson sounds drunk when he is talking but when he is playing his guitar and singing he sounds pretty good.

Was it only the guitar they were passing around?

‘As I recall, it was more about booze that night. I did used to smoke grass though. There was a time for about two years when I would roll myself a joint every morning when I woke up.’

Not good.


Ending the day with a joint, maybe. But starting it? Surely that’s a slippery slope.

‘But you get used to it. I guess I was stoned as much of the waking hour as I wasn’t stoned. I stopped it all very suddenly when I was pregnant with Sally.’

Simon began her career as part of a double act with her sister Lucy. They were called the Simon Sisters and on the cabaret circuit they opened for Woody Allen, among others.

They split up when Lucy married a psychiatrist and had a child. They still sometimes duet on the phone but it must have been hard for Lucy to watch as her sister’s solo career took off?

‘I guess it was but if she felt that, she had the good grace not to show it. She was never going to say to me, “Damn you and your number one singles”. That said, my family were all pretty piqued around the time I married James. That seemed too much for us to all of a sudden become like this royal couple. Yet it was never discussed. I still feel a little guilty about it.’


‘Because I wasn’t the one who wanted fame, but got it anyway.’

Famous people had always surrounded her, though. Is that why the Clintons and Jackie Onassis found it easy to be in her company? Because she wasn’t star struck?

‘Probably. I remember with Jackie especially…’ She trails off.

‘Sorry, but she was Jackie to me. To try and be coy about it would be even more obnoxious than sounding as if I was name-dropping. I used to take great pleasure in being relaxed in front of her and think she appreciated that because she always seemed relaxed with me.

‘I think a lot of the people in her life were emotionally uptight and not willing to share. We had a similar sense of humour and were attracted to a lot of the same people. We loved each other and I remember one of the first times we had lunch together I was really nervous because she was half an hour late.

‘She had been stuck in the elevator but she turned up as calm as anything and I was the one who was hyperventilating. I had to take a Valium washed down with gin. She thought this was funny and told me I was like a thoroughbred racehorse. High strung. Which is true.’

It is nearly dusk and Richard comes in from outside. He has been clearing wood and now has a bonfire going. Simon suggests we all go out and roast marshmallows on it. She puts on a black velvet frock-coat with a furry collar and, carrying a packet of marshmallows in one hand, picks up a guitar in the other.

Well, it is a campfire and she is Carly Simon. Somehow she manages to strum while wearing long, white silk evening gloves. A thoroughbred racehorse, indeed.


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.