‘Vulgar, self-pitying, greedy’ – impressions of Cherie Blair weren’t exactly sympathetic during her time as the Prime Minister’s wife. But two years after she left Downing Street, the human rights lawyer is frank, funny and (whisper it) quite charming

From the moment she enters the room, Cherie Blair manages to wrong-foot me. We are meeting at the chambers in London where she works as a QC specialising in human rights law and, as she shakes hands, she stands way too close, invading my personal space like a one-woman Barbarian horde. Then she says, while still pumping my hand and smiling up at me, ‘I read your columns, including the stuff you sometimes write about me!’

Argh! For the next 10 minutes I cannot concentrate, trying to recall what I might have written about her over the past decade or so. Was it anything rude? Did I refer to her as Cruella de Vil, as journalists lazily do? Compare her smile to a Scalextric track, perhaps? Oh God… You have to admire the tactic, though.

I also find her perky manner disconcerting. By way of preparation I’ve been watching footage of this 54-year-old mother of four being interviewed on television, and she often comes across as edgy and cold. Yet in person there is a lightness and warmth to her, her sentences punctuated with laughter. I’ve been told by the third party who set this interview up that I am not to ask about the expenses scandal or the fate of Gordon Brown – because she won’t be able to comment on either – but it soon becomes obvious that she will answer pretty much any question I ask.

I have also been reading Speaking For Myself, her best-selling memoir. Some reviewers gave her a kicking, calling her vulgar, self-pitying, grasping, cringeworthy and so on. One amusingly suggested she should take out an injunction against herself, or perhaps sue herself for libel. But this is to be expected. Few people have been as divisive and unpopular in recent years as Cherie Blair. A Radio 4 poll even voted her the person listeners would most like to see deported.

Everyone seems to have an opinion on her. My devoutly Catholic mother-in-law, for example, is not keen, mainly because Cherie claims to be devoutly Catholic, too, despite the very non-Catholic revelation in her book that she used contraception, or rather forgot her ‘contraceptive equipment’ when they visited Balmoral (and lo, unto them, a baby was born nine months later).

My mother isn’t that keen either, come to think of it. Like many people who used to ride to hounds – including the Princess Royal – she blames Mrs Blair for the hunting ban, or at least for forcing her husband’s hand on the issue (Mrs B, as she was known in Downing Street, claims this wasn’t the case, by the way).

Being neither a Catholic nor a subscriber to Horse & Hound, I read her memoirs with an open mind and was surprised by how funny they were. She has fine comic timing and does a nice line in self-deprecation, describing herself as looking like ‘the mad woman from the attic’, for example, in that photograph where she opened the door in her nightie – ‘with my hair like a bird’s nest, and bleary-eyed’. And her account of how Tony proposed to her while she was on her knees cleaning a loo is hilarious. ‘I know,’ she says when I mention this. ‘So romantic. Him standing, me on my knees scrubbing the toilet, then after that, the wretched man said: “Let’s not tell anyone yet, let’s keep it to ourselves!”‘

Plenty of reviewers loved the book though and, on the cover of the paperback, published this month, there is a quote that reads: ‘Charming, frank and funny.’ And that is about right.

We are meeting on the Thursday of the European elections. Downing Street is in turmoil. Gordon Brown is a gibbering wreck. There is speculation he might not survive until the weekend. On a day like today, I suggest, when the body politic is pumping with adrenaline, she must miss being at the heart of things. ‘Not really. Been there, done that, got the scars on my back. It’s quite nice being a spectator again, rather than the subject of a spectator sport.’

Presumably she doesn’t miss things like the press scrutiny of her finances – the £100,000 fee she was paid for a lecture tour of Australia in 2005, on behalf of a charity, for example. ‘Rather naively, I thought because it raised $250,000 for charity it was a good thing, but the press didn’t think so. I’ll never do that again. You learn by your mistakes.’

Did she consider paying her fee back? ‘No, I didn’t. The caterer was paid. The comic was paid. I was paid. Together we made a lot of money for the charity. In England I speak all the time for charities without asking for a fee. But I had gone all the way over to Australia and spent a week away from my children and my work, whereas I wouldn’t have to do that for a speaking engagement in Manchester.’

Long before the current expenses scandal, Cherie Blair was involved in an expenses dust up of her own: whether she should pay for André, her personal hairdresser, out of her own money, or whether he was a legitimate government expense. ‘In the end I did pay for him, but I couldn’t have done my duty as the wife of the PM without him or someone like him.’

So, can she empathise with MPs who feel their expenses are justified? ‘I think – what can I say about the expenses row? – not much other than I am glad I am no longer involved in that world. There is now an impression that MPs are out for what they can get, which usually isn’t the case. Our MPs are not crooks and it is wrong that people should think they are. I think there is a real danger now of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.’

The word greedy is often applied to her; is that fair? ‘No, because personally I don’t think I am all that greedy. Like everyone, I am formed by my background and mine was, well, we didn’t have a lot of money. I didn’t live in a cardboard box but I did live in a place where at the end of the week the money was gone.’ That was in Crosby, Liverpool. Her father, the hard-drinking, serially adulterous actor Tony Booth, was absent for most of her formative years, and she was raised by her grandmother and mother, a RADA-trained actress who worked in a fish and chip shop to make ends meet.

‘That must have affected my own anxieties about money, about paying the bills. We knew that when we left Number 10 we had no house to move to because we had sold ours in 1997. Sometimes I used to say to Tony, “We could be out of here tomorrow and it could be me, you and four children with nowhere to go”.’

Now they have bought a house in London (for which they paid £3.5m) and another in Buckinghamshire (£5.75m). Tony Blair has consultancies with investment banks thought to be worth £2.5m and he is also thought to have earned around £2m from speaking engagements, as well as £4.6m for a book deal. In addition to her salary as a QC, Cherie Blair was reportedly paid around £1m for her book. Are all her money worries over now? ‘I’m in a fortunate position now, but do I still worry in the back of my mind that it could all be gone tomorrow? Yes.’

She was the original WAG (Women Against Gordon) and complained about the way he was constantly ‘rattling the keys’ to Number 10. Does she now think that her former neighbour should have been careful what he wished for? She laughs. ‘There is this whole image about my relationship with Gordon being… Look, he has many good qualities and it was not wrong of him to have wanted to be prime minister – most politicians do, and why shouldn’t they? It’s just that as Tony’s wife, when Gordon’s ambition got… when he became impatient, I was on Tony’s side.’

Hence Tony Blair’s quote that there was no danger of his wife running off with the man next door? ‘Yes, I think that was quite observant of him.’ And the reason why, when Gordon said in his conference speech that it had been a privilege to work with Tony, she said: ‘That’s a lie’? ‘I didn’t say that, I didn’t! The trouble is, everyone thinks I might have said it.’ But she did think it? ‘I might have thought it, but even I’m not so stupid as to say it.’

Well if she didn’t say it then, she has now. We are on the subject of her gaffes and they seem odd for someone with an alpha brain. Upon leaving school, she studied law at the LSE, going on to gain the highest bar examination marks of any student in the country in her year. There are, it seems, two Cheries; the smart lawyer and the not-so-smart embarrassing politician’s wife. They even have different names – Cherie Booth and Cherie Blair.

She does indeed talk of a disjunction between her life as a high-flying QC, a world in which she feels comfortable and in control, and her former life as a prime minster’s wife, less sure of herself, more prone to gaffes. ‘The thing is, I knew the decisions I was making in the legal world would only affect me. In the political world, if I made a gaffe Tony took the consequences, and it is always worse to hurt the ones you love than hurt yourself.’

Is it true he would sometimes bury his head in his hands and say, ‘For goodness’ sake woman!’ ‘He does say that, you know, quite a lot. But he kind of only half means it. He’ll have a rant and get it out of his system. He is not one to hold grudges. We’re both optimists.’ She reckons one of the reasons
he loves her is that she is so unpredictable. ‘I hope so, otherwise he wouldn’t have stuck around for
so long.’

Any advice for Sarah Brown? ‘Be there for your husband. But she doesn’t need my advice. She’s done a lot better than me in the press.’

And Samantha Cameron? ‘Exactly the same. In the end, it’s about having someone to share it with, which Ted Heath didn’t have. Even now Margaret Thatcher gets confused and looks for Denis.’ She describes her tempestuous relationship with Alastair Campbell as a ‘double act’. He went ballistic over what became known as ‘Cheriegate’, the time she bought two flats in Bristol at a discount, with the help of the fraudster Peter Foster.

‘Yes, that was not one of the high points of our relationship. I’m very fond of Alastair. He was extraordinarily loyal to Tony. But he was slightly prone to barging in without knocking. And I think he felt the pressure towards the end, especially when he became part of the story. What he was trying to protect me from was what he fell victim to himself.’

Does she now resent the way Campbell bullied her into doing her emotional mea culpa speech about Cheriegate on the evening news? ‘I don’t… I don’t think I was bullied. The trouble was, Tony had insisted I tell him what had happened in terms of my contact with Peter Foster and he would pass on what I said to Alastair… Today Tony has a Blackberry but when he was PM he… He had a computer on his desk but never turned it on. So when I said I’d had an email from Foster, it didn’t really mean much to him.

When we left Downing Street in 2007, I said to Tony: “We’re going to sit down and I’m going to show you how to use a Blackberry.” And now the kids say, “Mum, he’s never off that ruddy thing, why did you teach him how to use it?” ‘

Speaking of equipment, I tell her my Catholic mother-in-law was somewhat surprised by her admission that she used contraception. ‘I suppose it was the Catholic in me that meant I couldn’t bring myself to go into any more detail.’

But surely the term raised more questions than it answered. ‘Some people have speculated that it might have been a wooden shelf to put between us in bed… But part of me said that because, though I like to think of myself as a good Catholic, I couldn’t have had the career I had without contraception. The fact is, even in Spain, France and Italy there must be a lot of Catholics who bend the rules.’

So is she going to solve the mystery of what the equipment was? ‘Nooo! Certainly not. You can probably guess anyway.’ A cap? She covers her ears and laughs. ‘I’m not saying anything!’

Here is another mystery. As a couple, their friendship with the Clintons is easy to understand, all four are left-leaning lawyers. But the Bushes? What was that about? ‘It’s not really that baffling because one of the main job descriptions of the British prime minster is to get on with the American president. Whatever the domestic policies, on foreign policy Tony and George saw eye to eye. That said, I talked about policy and politics with the Clintons in a way I never did with George and Laura. Most of the time I talked to the Bushes about the things we did have in common, like having children the same age. We have stayed friendly with them.’

OK. Time to authenticate some tall tales. Is it true that when Bill Clinton came to Chequers she was worried he would try and get off with Carole Caplin – the masseuse, one time soft porn model and New Age ‘therapist’ – who was walking around in her stretched leotard? Another laugh. ‘I just think Bill is one of those men who appreciated… feminine company.’

Why did she trust Caplin when she was so obviously flaky, what with her crystals and her ‘toxin showers’ and everything? ‘I don’t think my judgement… I shouldn’t have bought those flats [Foster was Caplin’s boyfriend] because even to this day they are not worth what the Daily Mail claimed they were worth.’

What does she make of Lord Levy’s insinuation in his memoirs that Tony was the father of Carole’s baby? ‘I think that’s a load of old rubbish, frankly.’

Is it true that Cherie and Tony rolled round in mud as part of a rebirthing ritual while on holiday in Mexico? ‘That’s a load of old rubbish, too.’ Really? ‘It wasn’t rebirthing. We went to Mexico and we thought we would try some treatments and one of them was the Mayan equivalent of the sauna.’

And it involved mud? ‘No, actually. Did it involve mud? I can’t remember. Don’t think so. Although you get all sorts of things these days, don’t you. Seaweed wraps and so on. I don’t think that one was about mud, particularly.’

Is it true that her husband has a pact with the Queen never to watch the film The Queen? ‘That’s my understanding. I don’t know whether the Queen has watched it but I’m pretty sure Tony hasn’t. I watched it on my own on a plane. My daughter Kathryn was miffed because they didn’t get a red-haired actress to play her. And I wish I was as thin as the actress who played me. And I hate Michael Sheen as Tony. Doesn’t do it for me at all. Tony is six foot and quite broad shouldered and Michael isn’t six foot and isn’t strapping and doesn’t have that physical presence.’

Is Mrs Blair a monarchist? ‘I am a great fan of the Queen. I miss her.’ That was not what I asked. Is she a monarchist? A knowing smile. ‘I’m a huge fan of the Queen.’

When she left Downing Street she shouted at the waiting press: ‘I won’t miss you!’ She describes in her book how her husband cringed, telling her through clenched teeth: ‘For God’s sake, you’re supposed to be dignified, you’re supposed to be gracious.’ Obviously she doesn’t miss the press, but what about Number 10?

‘The big difference with our life today is that Tony is constantly travelling to the Middle East and America. The irony is that we saw more of him when he was PM. Leo would pop down and see him, sometimes he would pop up for lunch. But, you know, today Tony is working at home so we just had lunch together.’

Their eldest two children have graduated from Bristol and Oxford and are now working. Kathryn is around the corner from here at King’s College, London, and has just finished her second year exams. Leo is eight and Mrs Blair now says she is aware of being one of the oldest mothers in the playground. ‘Sometimes I think I’m older than some of the grandmothers, frankly.’

Time to go. Cherie Blair has, indeed, been charming, frank and funny. I can only think it is to do with the freedom of being out of what she calls the goldfish bowl. Her happiness must also be a little to do with Gordon Brown’s unhappiness. She would have to be inhuman, I say, not to allow herself a chuckle about the pickle Gordon has got himself in.

‘Well you forget that I am a Labour Party animal. I joined the party at 16. We have our Labour poster out today. This is the government that I think deserves to be re-elected. So there is not much joy in seeing the turmoil at the moment.’ ‘Not much’. She is a lawyer who chooses her words carefully.

She stands close again to shake hands and, as she is leaving, turns and asks me a question. ‘Your Catholic mother-in-law doesn’t approve of contraception, but what about your Catholic wife?’ Damn she’s good. Wrong-footed again.


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.