Given that Charles Dance is an actor, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his manner off stage is quite actorly. Yet somehow it does. I suppose it is because he is often cast as the reserved, taciturn, patrician type, while, in person, he is tactile and garrulous. Sitting on a sofa in his dressing-room at the Wyndham’s Theatre, London, he makes big theatrical, off-the-shoulder gestures, taps the wood of his dressing table – the superstitious actor – and leans forward to touch my knee occasionally, to emphasise a point. Moreover, he punctuates his anecdotes with ‘darlings’, ‘sweethearts’ and ‘dears’.

Physically, he looks taller and more athletic than seems decent for a 61-year-old. He doesn’t dress his age, either: his 6ft 3in frame looking rangy in faded jeans, T-shirt and heavy black boots. His hair may be thinning and becoming as pale as his skin, but his face is still strong boned, his hooded eyes still flinty. Intellectually, you suspect, there is not as much depth there as he likes to think there is, but he is friendly and engaging. Like many in his profession, he enjoys having a whinge about the actor’s lot.

Don’t get him on the subject of dressing-rooms, for example. He has just been touring the provinces before opening in the West End this week – ‘the foreplay before the penetration,’ he calls it, rather alarmingly – and the dressing-room he had in Cambridge was dark and subterranean. This one is windowless and has a fan whirring, but at least it is freshly decorated and all the light bulbs around the mirror are working. ‘That’s thanks to Madge,’ he says. ‘I was doing The Play What I Wrote here in 2002, just before Madonna did a show here and she paid for the dressing-rooms to be done up. But the funny thing was?…’ he bounds up from the sofa and marches across the room to the shower area; here he describes two diagonal slashes with his arms, ‘…?they put crime scene tapes over the shower so no one else could use it before Madge.’

The play he did before that was Long Day’s Journey into Night at the Lyric on Shaftesbury Avenue. ‘In the dressing-room were little sachets of vermin poison. Pretty bloody awful. There was a mattress in there with a piece of fabric that looked like Monica Lewinsky’s old dress on it. Half the lightbulbs had gone. I was there for 12½ weeks doing a play that was not a bundle of laughs, so I bought some ready-made curtains and a throw and some lightbulbs and insisted they had the room painted. They brought colour swatches of white, white or white – so I chose white.’

In his latest play, the first major revival of William Nicholson’s award-winning Shadowlands, Dance plays C.S. Lewis. Although Nigel Hawthorne, on stage, and Anthony Hopkins, in the Oscar-nominated film version, are hard acts to follow in that role, Dance proves himself worthy. His struggle as the middle-aged Lewis to accept that he has fallen in love for the first time, only to lose his new wife to cancer, is mesmerising. ‘It is about love in the presence of pain and suffering,’ Dance says. ‘C.S. Lewis believes pain is a tool. Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.’

Presumably getting in the right reflective mood beforehand, while sitting in a pleasant dressing-room, is crucial to this performance? ‘Your mood can be affected by the state of your dressing-room, and by the day you have had, but hopefully that doesn’t affect the performance.’

I ask whether he can relate to the religious aspects of the play: C.S. Lewis, the devout Christian, agonises over the faith that has let him down. ‘Not at all. I am an agnostic. I’m not bothered about not knowing. Religion is at the core of the play, but we pretend. It’s my job. If I’m playing a murderer I don’t murder people.’

And the academic aspects, the donnish world of Oxford? ‘I am not an intellectual. I am reasonably intelligent, but not intellectual.’ I only ask because he often plays men who are in professions that others find inspiring: Army officers, doctors and so on. When he prepares for such roles, does he ever wonder whether, by comparison, being an actor in greasepaint is somehow not quite a proper job for a grown man? He seems affronted by this question and answers in a loud and indignant voice. ‘Some might think it’s a job for children, but it’s not! We do work very hard!’

Slightly taken aback, I say that I didn’t mean to sound rude. I reframe the question in terms of the Samuel Johnson quote about every man thinking meanly of himself for not being a soldier. ‘I see; well, I like pretending to be all those things. I like pretending to be someone in the military, but whether I could do it I don’t know. That’s why I am an actor.’

I tell him I went to see his Coriolanus years ago, the ultimate role for an actor with martial aspirations. ‘London or Stratford?’ The Barbican. ‘Good. I was reasonably happy with it by the time we reached the Barbican.’ It was a powerful and memorable performance, I say. Perfect casting.

The irony, though, was that Coriolanus is the patrician who is condescending towards the plebeians, and Dance’s background is plebeian. He is the son of Nell, a former parlour-maid.

Dance returns to his actors-are-just-pretending theme: ‘I just pretend. I was able to observe the aristocracy at close quarters because my mother worked for them. She certainly worked for much posher people than we were. Housekeeping. One observed it and absorbed it. My mother married above her station. She came from the East End. I’m not sure what my father did, because he died from a perforated ulcer when I was four, but I think his family had been confectioners. And I think he had been an engineer. A little further up the social scale than my mother. He used to do the occasional music hall recitation.’

Despite this background, when Dance started out in acting a fellow actor noted that he was ‘a toff actor’ as opposed to ‘a peasant actor’. ‘It’s because I have a patrician face,’ Dance says. He does indeed. But it is also to do with his bearing. As an actor he has a commanding presence and a certain grace. He can convey emotions with the flicker of a muscle, with the slightest movement of the eye. Two of his more polished aristocratic roles are the Earl of Erroll in White Mischief and Lord Raymond Stockbridge in Gosford Park. When he was filming the latter he told the director, Robert Altman, that he was in the wrong place, upstairs with the toffs; he should be downstairs with the servants. Altman said: ‘Not with that face, Charles.’

It might be that he learnt his patrician bearing from observing his step-father, Edward, a civil servant. He had been the lodger. He drank lots of tea and did the pools. ‘A fairly solitary men who seemed to have no friends or family, but quite decent. He looked after my mother. She would say, “When your father died I had 10 bob left in the world, dear”.’

His mother’s wasn’t a happy life. Nell nursed Edward through cancer and then died from a heart attack six months after he did, in 1984, the year The Jewel in the Crown was making her son’s name. They used to row a lot, mother and son. ‘Terrible emotional scenes. She was a very emotional woman.’

I ask if she was socially insecure. ‘She came from the servant class, which was not the same thing as the working class. The servant class is right in the middle. I’m not sure I believe there is such a thing as a middle class: it is either working class on the way up or aristocracy on the way down. She also, of course, was a lifelong Tory voter, as most people from the servant class were; you can’t possibly be governed by your equals. You have to be governed by your betters.’

His brother is 10 years older, a retired naval officer who lives in France. ‘He had been a difficult adolescent and my mother thought joining the Navy would make a man of him. So she marched him off to the recruiting office when he was 15, a decision my mother regretted until the day she died. I remember sharing a bedroom with him before he left for the Navy and there were books of poetry around the place and he wasn’t a bad draughtsman either. All that had to go. My mother learnt from her mistake and allowed me to indulge in poetry and the arts.’

Charles Dance had been studying graphic design and photography at Leicester Art School when he got the acting bug. Steve McQueen and Peter Finch had inspired him to become a screen actor, while ‘Brian Rix dropping his trousers in a farce made me want to prance about on stage’. He abandoned his course in favour of acting lessons from two retired thespians, Leonard and Martin. They were gay, but quiet about it, as society demanded at the time.

What was he like at that age? ‘When I was 19, I was long-haired, going on the Aldermaston march, shagging everything in sight. The march was more fun than anything. I’m not especially political.’

Was he narcissistic as a young man? ‘Not really, not until way after my teens. Mid to late twenties, possibly. I look around now and see guys who are fantastic looking and then I look in the mirror and think this is a very odd face. It doesn’t bear close scrutiny. Bags under the eyes, thinning hair, I don’t see a handsome man when I look in the mirror. Never have done. It is not an easy face to photograph, which is tricky in a film career unless you are in the hands of an astute and clever director of photography. I wear clothes quite well and am reasonably fit and have a good body, but I don’t think I am particularly handsome. When people first started describing me as being that, at the time of Jewel in the Crown, I was surprised, but then I learnt to embrace it, a little too fondly.’

At the time, he was described as the English Robert Redford. I suggest it must have given him confidence to be told he had matinee-idol looks, even if he couldn’t see it himself. ‘Confidence is something I have had to acquire. This profession is littered with people, who, by their nature, are more introvert that extrovert. I can have my flamboyant moments, but I am, by nature, an introvert. I acquired confidence by giving myself severe talkings-to from time to time. I found that aspect of Coriolanus – the opening scenes where he is confident, strutting, all “I’m f—ing wonderful, and powerful”, harder to act than the more vulnerable moments later in the play when it emerges that he is a mummy’s boy.’

He thinks that early on in his career he may sometimes have been cast because of his looks – but not any more. ‘Now I am getting more interesting roles. Mr Tulkinghorn in the BBC adaptation of Bleak House, for example. Or Ralph Nickleby [in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby]. He is a complete s—. Evil, but interesting. Whereas there are only so many ways you can play a romantic leading man. You know you are there for a reason.’

He described himself earlier as ‘shagging everything in sight’; just how successful was he with women? ‘Not that successful. You know how it is when you are a young man: lots of groping most of the time, nothing serious.’

For 23 years he was married to Joanna, a sculptor. They have grown-up children: Oliver, who works in film, and Rebecca, who is in publishing. Then, in 2004, they divorced. Dance’s name has been linked to one or two actresses and models since, but he nevertheless worries that he might end up alone. He prefers not to think about it. Indeed, he feels uncomfortable with this conversation, not least because his ex-wife was door-stepped by the press at the time of their divorce. ‘I’d rather you avoided the subject,’ he says, ‘but I can’t blame “the business” for the breakdown of my marriage. I don’t want to talk about it. If I had a choice in the matter I would say “please don’t go into all that”, but if you want to insert something about it I can’t stop you.’

I note that actors tend to be liberal by inclination, that this is partly to do with the bohemian life they lead: the touring, the intimacy with fellow cast members, the abandonment of self-consciousness. In Dance’s case, that includes appearing nude. He has no qualms about it, as he demonstrated recently in the film Starter for Ten. He turned up on set for that scene already naked. When the wardrobe assistant offered to cover him up, he said: ‘No need, darling’.

‘Well, if you’ve done it once, after that it doesn’t bother you,’ he says now. ‘To continue the painting analogy, painters have brushes and paints, we have this.’ He sweeps his hands the length of his body. ‘The audience feels cheated if you don’t open up and be honest about yourself. I feel I have cheated myself if I don’t go that far. Having stuff in reserve is to cheat.’

Similarly, he is not fussy about what he appears in, so long as the money is good. He has done a number of forgettable Miss Marple-type dramas on television and memorably wore fishnets and a red rubber micro-skirt for the Ali G movie. ‘I’ll do anything for money,’ he says. ‘People talk about choices. What choices? The choice is to work or not to work.’

I suppose he has an additional choice in that he can also write, produce and direct. Notably, he wrote, produced and directed Ladies in Lavender, a film about two sisters, played by Dames Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, living on the Cornish coast, who take in a Polish stray just before the Second World War. ‘There was a day when I was stupid enough to try to direct Judi. She came up with a line that was a bit sentimental for her and I knelt down and touched her knee and said: “Judi, it is a bit Celia Johnson-ish.” And she said: “How dare you? And get your hand off my knee.”.’

The film grossed more than $30million. ‘But none of it found its way into my pocket. It all went to the f—ing distributors and sales agents. I see the returns. I get “0000” next to my name while they are coining it in. It was a bugger to get the financing together for that film. I had to ask Judi and Maggie to defer fees and they sweetly said “of course, darling”, even though they knew deferment usually means deferred indefinitely.’

He slips on a black polo-neck and scoops up a packet of cigarettes from among the greasepaint pots. He is going to pop outside for a quick fag. As we walk through the theatre we talk about Shadowlands and its funereal themes. He says he would have loved to have gone to George Melly’s funeral. ‘He had a cardboard coffin which people wrote funny things on, like, ‘You owe me 20 quid, George”.’

As we stand outside the stage door, in the drizzle, I ask if he has thought about what form he would like his own funeral to take. ‘God no,’ he says, lighting a cigarette. ‘Too busy trying to live, for f—‘s sake.’


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.