This is Cate Blanchett’s time. The most exciting actress to emerge in recent memory, she’s now starring in no fewer than five films, including the wartime romance Charlotte Gray. So why can’t she bear to see herself on screen? Nigel Farndale meets her


IF there is a correct way to sit when heavily pregnant – finishing schools are a little hazy on this point – I would guess Cate Blanchett is sitting it, here on a sofa in the Dorchester, her pale blonde hair luminous against a black velvet suit. Her ankles are drawn together, as are her knees, which are turned slightly to one side of her 5ft 8in, straight-spined perpendicular.

The 32-year-old Australian actress has long thin fingers and these are cupped together, resting in her lap, her arms framing her bulge. Her face – angular eyebrows; pronounced, almost swollen cheekbones; a puffy curve for a top lip – is raised fractionally, her head tilted, indicating courteous, if guarded attentiveness.

Beautiful, of course, in that etiolated, otherworldly, strong-nosed way of hers. But warm and playful Cate Blanchett is not. ‘I’m not nervous about the birth,’ she says with a low, diluted Australian lilt, levelling impassive blue eyes at me. ‘Excited, but not nervous.’ It’s hard to imagine her being nervous about anything.

Spookily self-possessed, yes. Industrious, certainly. But nervous, no. And why should she be? She is starring or co-starring in five – five! – films gripping or about to grip America and Britain: the £100-million blockbuster Lord of the Rings, Bandits, The Shipping News, Heaven and, to be released next month, Charlotte Gray (based on the Second World War novel by Sebastian Faulks).

She is planning to return to work within the next couple of months, baby in arms or, rather, in maternity nurse’s arms, to star in a film about Veronica Guerin, the Irish crime reporter murdered in 1996. Did she arrange her pregnancy to fit her schedule? ‘I wish my life were that well planned,’ she laughs politely. ‘We conceived during Charlotte Gray, one of those happy accidents. On the day I found out I was pregnant I had to film a scene in which my character [Charlotte, a Scottish linguist who joins the SOE and works with the French Resistance] does an assault course as part of her training. It was a physical film but I’m very fit and, because I was working, I was being responsible – not drinking, getting lots of sleep.’

‘We’ refers to herself and Andrew Upton, the Australian scriptwriter she married in 1997. They met the previous year when she was appearing in The Seagull. He thought her aloof, she thought him arrogant. Not love at first sight, then? ‘No, I was looking in the other direction, I guess. We didn’t like each other much at all.

Then he kissed me and it was one of those, “Oh my God! What was that?” moments.’ In the same year they married Blanchett appeared in her first major film role, in Oscar and Lucinda, based on the Peter Carey novel, opposite Ralph Fiennes. Next came her starring role in Elizabeth, in which she portrayed the Virgin Queen as a warm and passionate woman who transforms herself into a chilling hermaphrodite with plucked and peeled features and chalkily phosphorescent skin.

For that role she won a Golden Globe and a Bafta and was nominated for an Oscar. She followed it with equally acclaimed performances in An Ideal Husband and The Talented Mr Ripley. Her husband’s biggest success so far has been with the script for Babe – Pig in the City.

Does he have to make compromises in his career in order to accommodate hers? ‘When you both have careers you have to negotiate and juggle,’ Blanchett says. ‘I think you have to be honest, really, take pride in each other’s successes and acknowledge each other’s failures. I try to go with Andrew whenever he has to work abroad, but that’s been difficult since I’ve been pregnant. The painful thing about when he was in Australia recently and I was in Dublin [researching for the Guerin film] was the physical distance. We were on the phone constantly; you know, three in the morning. As long as the two of us are together we don’t really mind where we live. I know couples who live apart for four months at a time but we don’t have that kind of relationship. We’re hopelessly co-dependent!’

The couple have homes in north London and Sydney (on the waterfront). ‘It has forced us to think hard about where the baby should be born. I do think of myself as an Australian. That is my identity.’ Cate Blanchett’s mother, June, a property developer, still lives in Australia, as do her brother and sister (Cate is the middle child).

Her father, Bob, a Texan naval officer who moved to Melbourne in his twenties and became an advertising executive, died from a heart attack at the age of 40. Cate was ten at the time and thinks now that she probably underplayed the psychological affect on her. ‘He died incredibly young. But children adapt. It becomes who you are. You assimilate that change, that pain. It was harder for my mother to lose her partner, so that was where my empathy lay. I didn’t think about it much then, but I did think about it when I got married, and am thinking about it again now I’m having a baby. And there are times when I see friends with their fathers and I think, “What would Dad have been like?”‘

She once said that she wished she lived in a haunted house – perhaps, she thought at the time, as a way of connecting somehow with her father. In her late teens she also developed a fascination with horror movies, and fantasised that her father had been abducted by the CIA and that she might catch a glimpse of him in the street. She doesn’t think she had any replacement father figures as a child.

‘Not consciously, anyway. But I had a strong mother figure and my grandmother lived with us, and that was just the way our family was. Matriarchal. My poor brother!’ It makes her sad to think that her father never knew what became of his daughter. ‘But that is how it is – so I accept it. He’s almost an abstraction now. My memories are only those of a child. But we talk a lot about him in my family, so I now know more about his history and background than I probably did when he was alive. Most of my memories come from photographs, they fill in the gaps. My brother made a compilation of home-made films, and on it I saw footage of my mother and father on the beach together – it really freaked me out. He’s moving! I thought, “That is so strange. There is the human being, my dad, moving.”‘

She shifts her weight delicately on the sofa, runs a hand over her belly, remains erect. ‘It was magical, and I think now I’ll become one of those obnoxious parents who constantly videos her child!’ Has she considered the possibility that she might see ghostly genetic echoes of her father in her baby? ‘Yes. I wonder. I wonder. My father had beautiful hands’

She trails off, then, returning efficiently to film promotion mode, she adds: ‘There’s a lot of that father-daughter stuff in the novel of Charlotte Gray. There is a deep level of unresolve and disquiet.’ In the film her character takes a word association test with a psychiatrist: has she ever tried anything like that herself? ‘Yes, I have, actually. I really wanted to try it before I did that scene so I went to see a psychiatrist in Hampstead. He was great. There was no preamble – he didn’t make me feel comfortable at all, just sat me down and threw words at me. The intensity of the concentration – I had to do it with my eyes closed – was quite strange. I surprised myself with my answers. I went in there feeling very clear-headed, like the character I was playing. I wasn’t going to be intimidated – but then the word that came up a lot was “fear”.’

And her fears are? ‘I’m not sure. Um, I used to be superstitious about taking certain flights, but now I quite like flying. I like the long trips home to Australia because, well, because it means I’m going home. I love it because you get to watch films and read books. With security stepped up since 11 September, I think it’s the safest time in the world to fly.’

Unexpectedly, given her fluency and dynamism in performance, Blanchett can seem a little awkward physically. It is as if she almost deliberately avoids calling upon her acting skills to help smooth out situations in real life. Perhaps this is to do with her belief that you only realise how precious your anonymity is once it is taken away. She talks of acting as shedding skin; does she want to strip away her own personality?

‘It depends. Often you start with a point of connection between yourself and the character you are playing, then you explore the differences. I’m not interested in playing myself, even though I’m sure there are parts of myself in things I do. I don’t want to reach a level of self-consciousness where I become aware of them. That is why I don’t like to watch the daily rushes during filming, for fear that I will over-analyse my performance and lose my spontaneity.’ When asked to describe this ‘self’ she is not interested in playing, she says, ‘Passive-aggressive, a very Australian quality.’

A duality seems to be indicated, certainly. In some ways she is remarkable for her ordinariness, or at least for not being as starry as might be expected. But she is also enigmatic. Her best friend is a social-worker. To relax she plays gin rummy and bakes bread. During pregnancy she acquired a craving for sardines, but she doesn’t believe in faddish diets – ‘If you starve yourself to the point where your brain cells shrivel, you will never do good work.’

She is self-deprecating, too, saying that she never feels she makes sense in conversation, drifting off instead into silence. ‘I feel there is something missing in me and so I’m always trying to find that last piece to complete the picture. Everyone loves clarity but I’m incredibly incoherent, so people will have to be satisfied with the incomplete sentence.’

She is at her most animated – and, yes, coherent – when talking about her craft. She refers to ‘energy production’, ‘spheres of concentration’ and ‘how to use your entire body to transmit ideas and feelings’. She says her theatre work taught her how space works and how to control her voice. ‘It’s about having the tools to problem-solve,’ she says. ‘It means you don’t have to be a paranoiac dredging up childhood fears of drowning in order to connect to a certain moment.’

She laughs. ‘Am I making any sense at all? Not much. Perhaps it’s to do with being pregnant.’ Affectingly, her character in Charlotte Gray tries to save two Jewish boys, orphans, from being sent to a concentration camp. When she watched the preview screening of the film – heavily pregnant and, presumably, with her hormones running amok – was she emotionally swept up in it? ‘After getting over the initial shock of seeing myself in close-up and thinking, “Oh my God, I can’t look, it’s me, me, me, me up there,” I was swept along, yes.’

Why would it bother her to see her face in close-up? ‘Think about it, it’s awful.’ For someone like me, perhaps, but she is used to it – and she is photogenic. ‘I am more used to it than I was, true, and I have become more objective. But I rarely watch films a second time, so why would I want to see myself twice?’ With a shrug, Blanchett describes herself as ‘looking ugly’ in certain of her film roles. She thinks that the greatest compliment she was ever given was when another actor said that she had ‘an actor’s face’.

Is there anything about herself she would change? ‘Sure. Can’t think what, offhand. But sure, why not?’ Perhaps, I suggest, it will be easier for her than it is for other women to accept the ageing process because she knows her youthful self is preserved on celluloid. ‘I doubt it. And I doubt they will be having a festival of my movies when I’m 60. But…’ She trails off. ‘There is an enormous pressure on actresses to stay young and beautiful. Film can be a very superficial medium but if you can overcome that and dig deeper within it you can do something worthwhile. I’m not wedded to looking a certain way. I don’t feel I’m carving, as actresses did in the 1940s, a certain niche for myself. I do what I feel is required for the role and if that means not looking particularly attractive, then that is my job. If someone said, “She doesn’t look very attractive, I don’t want to work with her,” then I’d think, “F- him, I don’t want to work with him either.”‘

She smiles widely at this thought. She has rarely if ever felt self-conscious, she adds. At school, the Methodist Ladies’ College in Melbourne, she was, she says, part extrovert, part wallflower. Her mother introduced her to acting when she sent her – aged 12 – to a theatre workshop. ‘I always thought I was quite shy at school, but apparently not. When I speak to old schoolfriends they remember me as the one who was always instigating things, organising things. I was probably a show-off. I went to drama classes and did a lot of drama at high school but I never imagined I would do it as a living because I thought there were two separate categories in life: fulfilment and work.’

After school Blanchett won a place at the University of Melbourne to read fine arts and economics, another duality, the one for fulfilment, the other work. She laughs at the memory. ‘God, my brain is so deeply unmathematical it’s not funny. I thought I’d do economics so I could get into international relations. But instead I travelled for a year, came back, dropped the economics and took up architecture instead. I used to love the reading side, but my essays were a mess. Scrambled. Too many jumbled thoughts, and no through-line. It wasn’t for me. I always think if you are meant to do something, you don’t need to pursue it actively, it comes about. So I didn’t actively pursue the theatre, it just came about. Finishing my degree was on my must-do-when-I’m-pregnant list, but it hasn’t happened.’

It seems disingenuous of her to take such a fatalistic view. After all, she did pursue the theatre actively enough to enrol at Australia’s National Institute of Dramatic Art. After graduating in 1992 she worked in the theatre with Company B, a loose ensemble of actors including Geoffrey Rush, who later starred in Shine.

According to Rush her prodigious gifts were obvious even then. ‘She was an emotional acrobat swinging from tragedy to comedy to ecstasy,’ he has said. Anthony Minghella, director of The English Patient and The Talented Mr Ripley, has gone further, calling Blanchett the most exciting actress to have emerged in recent memory.

In some ways, though, Blanchett’s fatalism is understandable. In childhood it may have been a pragmatic way of dealing with the misery of losing a father. And there was an incident not long ago which does seem strangely coincidental. She believes she was destined to play Charlotte Gray because she was chosen for the role while playing Susan Traherne, an SOE agent, in David Hare’s Plenty at the Almeida in 1999.

‘A friend suggested I read Charlotte Gray because both Susan Traherne and Charlotte had SOE encounters. I was moved by the book and felt lifted by the sense of hope and love it has, which was juxtaposed to the post-War despair that Susan Traherne experiences. Then, out of the blue, Sebastian [Faulks] sent me a copy saying it is going to be made into a film and I would make a wonderful Charlotte.’

She leans back and pats her bulge. ‘It was as much a happy accident as the timing of the baby, really.’


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.