Off air Chris Moyles, the headline-grabbing, over-paid Radio 1 DJ you love to hate, is reserved, likeable and – he says – worth every penny

Though the London sky is sagging with rain, Chris Moyles is sitting outside at a pavement table. He has just finished his breakfast show on Radio 1 and is in desperate need of a smoke. With his baseball cap pulled down and the collar of his adidas top zipped up, he looks more like a bouncer than one of the highest paid presenters at the BBC, but I suspect he tucks his neck in like this more out of self consciousness than an urge to present himself as a hard man.

For his is a friendly, ursine face, with big brown eyes that are slightly divergent and front teeth that have an uneven bite. His greying suggestion of a beard, meanwhile, makes him look older than his 35 years. But then he probably feels quite old, given that the target audience for Radio 1 is aged 15 to 29.

Half-an-hour ago, I’d been watching him at work in his studio, from behind the glass of the production booth and when he noticed me he went into one of his riffs, imagining what my opening line might be: something about a posh, broadsheet journalist slumming it for the day in the dingy hovel that is Radio 1. He stands at a console as he speaks into his microphone: doing his song parodies, interviewing his celebrity guests (Lewis Hamilton and Katy Perry today) and bantering with his team which includes ‘Comedy Dave’, producers Rachel and Aled, newsreader Dom, and sports correspondent Carrie. All part of the shouty, free-form, irreverent chatter with which Moyles entertains some 7.7 million listeners every morning between 6.30 and 10. In terms of ratings, Sir Terry Wogan over on Radio 2 is still The Daddy. But the gap appears to be narrowing.

This comes as a surprise to anyone – which is pretty much everyone – who dismissed Moyles as an uncouth, Northern yob when he took over the Breakfast Show in 2004. The previous incumbent, Sara Cox, had been haemorrhaging listeners at the rate of half-a-million a year. ‘I joined Radio 1 at a good time,’ Moyles admits. ‘It wasn’t completely on its a— but it was struggling.’

Not only did he not lose listeners, he started to pile them on, billing himself modestly as the saviour of Radio 1. ‘The saviour line was a gimmick,’ he says. ‘I don’t want to be like the Spice Girls where they genuinely started discussing girl power.’ This September he will have been doing the show for five years, beating Tony Blackburn’s record.

And it is telling that when the BBC recently announced that its stars would be taking pay cuts, Moyles wasn’t among them. He must have felt the repercussions of the Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross affair though, like Ross, he was deemed to be extremely well paid and somewhat controversial. He rolls his eyes, ‘Oh, I get dragged into everything. I think if you look hard enough you will see I am responsible for the Tube strike.’

Presumably he was told to tone it down, though; curb his edginess? ‘That episode was very scary. I was sitting at home when Jonathan’s suspension was announced and I stood in the kitchen watching the television with my mouth open. Sophie [his girlfriend of seven years, a freelance television producer] just stared at me. The bottom line is that the rules have changed. It is similar to when Janet Jackson’s boob popped out accidentally on purpose – it changed the rules for the media in America.’

He thinks the episode demonstrated a loss of nerve by the BBC. ‘I would like the BBC to stick up for itself better. The one line that I get a lot is: “We pay your wages with our licence fee money.” Well, you know what? It’s my licence fee money as well, and I pay for it out of my wage, too. I don’t know how the BBC works but it just does. Leave it alone.’

But it was being left alone, I say, that’s what caused the problem, surely. The public couldn’t stomach the idea of an old person being bullied. ‘Look, not everything on the BBC is for everybody. I personally don’t watch Strictly Come Dancing. It’s not for me, so I don’t care what they do on that show. I don’t watch Country File but I love the fact that it is still on. So that is what the BBC is about. I imagine that 99 per cent of the people who complained about the Jonathan Ross thing didn’t hear it and would probably hate the show anyway. Russell Brand’s show is supposed to be outrageous, that is why it was on late at night on a Saturday. If it had been on Terry’s show it would be the end of the world.’

But is the Jonathan Ross incident not the price the BBC must pay for being subsidised by the public? There has to be more accountability. That is why we know what his salary is, for example. ‘You think you know. The BBC has never released that figure.’ £630,000? ‘That is what they say.’ So there is this feeling that we, the public, are funding radio and television stars like him, therefore we have a stake in what he does.

‘I can understand that. Look, I hate to break the news to everybody, but the entertainment industry is smoke and mirrors. It’s showbiz. Albert Square is not in the East End of London. The Queen Vic is not a real pub. I think a lot of that has been ruined now because there are certain ways of doing radio that I have done my entire career but now people are going, “You can’t do that. You can’t have competitions.” There is even paperwork for the competitions we do where we give away nothing. The next thing, there will be complaints about the number of people employed to monitor these things.’

Moyles may be the recipient of three Sony Radio Awards but his tenure has not been without its controversies. Like the occasion when he mocked the gay singer Will Young in a high-pitched, effeminate voice – prompting the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom to rule that Moyles had ‘promoted and condoned certain negative stereotypes based on sexual orientation’. Then there was the time when, on Charlotte Church’s 16th birthday, he offered to ‘lead her through the forest of her sexuality’ and the time he had to apologise for causing ‘unintentional offence’ after he said that ‘if you’re Polish, you’re very good at ironing and prostitution’. Then there was his use of the f-word.

‘Contrary to popular belief I don’t swear on the air,’ he says now, ‘certainly not deliberately. I said f— once. Whenever that story is dragged up, it always gets misquoted because what they don’t say is that I apologised profusely. Immediately.’ He has sworn several times in this interview; does he find it hard to check himself on air? ‘No, it’s easy to check yourself. It’s like meeting your girlfriend’s parents – you can stop yourself swearing in front of them. Honestly, I am not going to go on the air and say f— deliberately. I am not out of my mind. I love my job and I have a mortgage.’

He’s unsackable surely? ‘I think the BBC would accept that mistakes happen. I’ve been on Radio 1 for 12 years and have said f— once during a comedy rant. My hand flew up and covered my mouth like in a Carry On movie. I went white and felt extremely cold. I said, “I am sorry. I am so, so sorry.”’

The lobby group Stonewall, meanwhile, organised a march demanding his sacking after he described a ringtone as ‘gay’; the BBC governors subsequently ruled that in modern youth-speak, the word ‘gay’ could simply mean lame. Quite something that, I say, officially redefining a word. ‘I can reel off a list of TV shows that have used it in the same sense – The Simpsons, Coronation Street, Hollyoaks – as I used it once. Often there seems to be one rule for me and one for everyone else. One individual from Stonewall [Ben Summerskill] went to town on it. He called me homophobic but also called me fat and told me I should go down to the gym and I thought, hang on a second, so it’s OK to pick on me for being fat?’

What is his definition of a homophobe? ‘Someone who has a phobia about gay people. But the term is thrown around next to my name quite freely and it makes me very uncomfortable. It’s very awkward because what happens is that people say because I used the word gay therefore I must be homophobic. Then people start writing about “the homophobic Chris Moyles” and it is ridiculous.’ He rubs the back of his neck.

‘Look, I’m not homophobic. What does he want me to say? “Yes I am homophobic? I hate the gays?” Such a ludicrous thing. I made that point on air and next day Ben Summerskill writes in the Guardian that I had admitted on air that I was homophobic and I thought, What a scummy, low life thing to do. You little s—. You know I didn’t say it like that. That is very naughty to take it out of context. But I am a walking headline for lazy journalists.’

And the Halle Berry thing? (During a skit with the actress, Moyles said, ‘I’m a big fat American black guy,’ to explain who he was playing, because he is ‘rubbish at accents’.) ‘We still live in a society where when someone uses the word racist everyone goes quiet and gulps,’ he says now. ‘So a black woman says to a white man: “Are we having a racist moment here?” and I remember thinking, No. I said, “No!” Sadly, because it was my show and me it got picked up.’

This is a recurring theme of his, a slight victim mentality that he is being singled out for criticism. From his perspective it must look as if he is merely reflecting the values of his listeners. Politically, I would say he is right of centre. Possibly a Thatcherite. After all, he describes himself as being ‘rich working class’, is against the euro and is dismissive of the global warming lobby.

Yet his paranoia doesn’t seem entirely justified. Even some of Moyles’s harshest critics admit that he has an energy and a presence; that he is a natural broadcaster. Nevertheless, Moyles is twitchy about the press, which is why he rarely gives interviews. ‘There are people who profess to hate me who have never heard the show,’ he says at one point. ‘I find this hilarious and frustrating at the same time. What can I do?’

I ask him what it feels like to be hated. ‘It’s not personal. I read about myself in the papers and I don’t recognise that person they are talking about because what I do on the radio is an exaggerated version of who I am. I’m less gobby in real life. I get most words out between 6.30 and 10 and after that I don’t say much. I don’t have a lot to say. I am socially inept and awkward. I come out of my box on the radio. So when I read about this racist, sexist, homophobic man who is a disgrace to the airwaves, I just think, well, hang on, I am none of those things but what I am is a f—— brilliant broadcaster.’

A flower van drives past the café with a familiar name on its side. ‘Look!’ he says, pointing. ‘Moyles Flowers! By appointment to the Prince of Wales. Got to make the money up you know, there’s a recession on.’ He certainly made up the money with his best-selling autobiography, The Gospel According To Chris Moyles. It charts how he was born in Leeds to a postman father and an Irish housewife mother. School, it seems, failed to engage him. He enjoyed it until he got bored with it all and he has since said, ‘I’m pretty much thick as —-. But I’m very confident in my ignorance.’

As to his psychological landscape, his greatest fear is spiders and ‘flies that make the same noises wasps make. What is all that about? That’s not right. That’s evil’. In terms of his professional career, the memoir relates how he started volunteering on hospital radio in his early teens, then went to local radio upon leaving school. At 21, he joined Capital, before moving to Radio 1 a couple of years later. He has been single minded, if nothing else. And he has never tired of his favourite subject, himself.

His show is self-referential, to say the least, but presumably he has a cut off point about how much he will reveal about himself? ‘For a while it was every element of my life on air. Now I hold back on certain things because my privacy has become massively important to me. I think I’ve earned that right. I give enough five days a week and three-and-a-half hours a day on the show. It can be a pain. When I was house hunting I couldn’t mention it because I knew I would be followed by paparazzi and the price would go up. Where I used to live, opposite Kate Winslet, the paps were there all the time. Then she moved, which was great because I thought, no more disturbance. But then Gwyneth Paltrow moved in.’

That said, he finds it liberating being open about himself on air. ‘Sometimes it’s like being on the psychiatrist’s couch, because you get stuff out of your system. It’s liberating to say, “Hey, guess what, I’m fat”. No one knows how much I weigh. In the press it’s between 15 stone and 20 stone, so that’s great.’ Does he know? ‘Yes.’ How much then? ‘I‘m not saying. I’m trying to lose two stone.’ He has a personal trainer? ‘Yeah, and I’ve been running since just before Christmas.’

There seems to be an angry twist to some of his comedy; does he have an unresolved anger in him? ‘Not an angry man. Very relaxed and chilled. I think I’m fairly easy to work with. I don’t throw many tantrums and when I do I am generally right and the team would agree. I get angry when I know we are better than that.’ What makes him insecure? ‘Everything. When I look in the mirror. Everything. But on the radio I feel supremely confident because that is what I am good at. That is my canvas, my football pitch, my operating theatre.’

Tears fall more readily down the Moyles cheek than you would imagine. ‘The last time I cried was when I did that mountain climb [up Kilimanjaro for Comic Relief]. I was an emotional wreck for a week. I had one dark day where I couldn’t stop crying and it was almost a joke. I was like a heavily pregnant woman. I discovered I have great legs and I can’t control my emotions. I wasn’t sad, I was exhausted. I could hear Gary [Barlow] and Ronan [Keating] on the phone to their kids.’ He impersonates them both for me now. Most convincingly.

So did he come home to Sophie and say I think it’s time we had some children? ‘No, I came home and said to her I think it’s time we had a Chinese and lots of beer.’ He hasn’t made an honest woman of her yet? ‘I think I need to make an honest man of myself first.’ What does his Catholic mother think of that? ‘She’s happy. I bought her a house. She can pipe down. Gave my old car to my dad. He’s all right.’ He cried again when his ancestors were traced for an upcoming episode of Who Do You Think You Are? There is a moving scene in which he goes over to Ypres and cries when he is told the details of how his great grandfather died in the trenches. ‘And all I do for a living is play records and talk a lot,’ he reflects.

Needless to say he managed to cause a stir when he joked during filming that he was going off to Ireland to trace his ancestors rather than Auschwitz. ‘Pretty much everyone goes there whether or not they are Jewish. They just seem to pass through on their way to Florida.’ But actually his family history was a pretty grim story anyway, of the work house and early death from TB.

When he hears that his grandmother’s family of five lived in one room of a house they shared with five other families, and that that house had to share two outside lavatories with six other houses that were similarly overcrowded, he says with good timing, ‘Well, it could have been worse.’ He has come a long way from those humble origins. He even has his own BBC driver who picks him up at 5.30 every morning. ‘In a VW Passat. None of the licence fee gets wasted on luxurious cars for me.’

We say our goodbyes and I go in search of a taxi, but because of the Tube strike there are none. Ten minutes later I bump into Moyles again. He is leaning against a wall, shoulders hunched, having a last Marlboro Light before heading back to the smoke-free Radio 1. ‘Filming Who Do You Think You Are? was fascinating,’ he says between jabs. ‘The producers don’t tell you in advance what they have found because they want to film your reaction when you find out. The biggest surprise for me was that it turns out I’m black!’


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.