Sir Christopher Meyer, who recently retired as Britain’s ambassador to the US, is the man who brought Tony Blair and George Bush together. ‘There was a chemistry between them from their first meeting,’ he tells Nigel Farndale

As war loomed in Iraq, the British ambassador to the United States – the man who had played cupid to Tony Blair and George W. Bush – packed his bags and came home.

Sir Christopher Meyer, a 59-year-old with an easy manner, an alpha brain and a habit of wearing bright red socks, was retiring from the diplomatic service, but not from public life. Indeed, last week he took over the chairmanship of the Press Complaints Commission, the self-regulating body that devises and enforces codes of conduct for the newspaper industry.

After nearly six years living in the British Embassy in Washington, an imposing Lutyens mansion, he must have trouble adjusting to the modest building in Salisbury Square, just off Fleet Street, which is home to the PCC.

“I tend to take the stairs,” Sir Christopher says in his well-modulated, officer-class voice, “because the lift here is so tiny it make me feel claustrophobic.”

The PCC’s chairman is frequently assumed to be in the pockets of the newspaper editors (because they, or rather their proprietors, fund his £150,000 salary). How does Sir Christopher plan to correct that unflattering impression?

“My own view is that, with a majority of lay members on the Appointments Committee, the commission is independent. The Code of Practice Committee is entirely comprised of editors, true, but you are much more likely to have editors obey a code they have evolved themselves than if the state imposes a code upon them. Human nature being what it is, the editors would find every possible way of breaking out of it. There are people, of course, who don’t want self-regulation to work.”

Who? “There is a yearning in some quarters of government for it to fail,” he says diplomatically. “But in my experience a privacy law wouldn’t work. When I was working in Downing Street [Meyer was John Major’s press secretary, 1994-96] we chewed the idea over, but we realised this is one area government should keep out of.”

His predecessor, Lord Wakeham, who resigned following the Enron scandal, seemed to spend much of his time trying to protect Prince William and Prince Harry from the tabloid press. Sir Christopher’s task is going to be harder.

Prince William, in particular, will soon turn 21 and no longer be protected by the PCC rules on intrusions into the privacy of those in full-time education. At some point an editor will get a scoop – his first girlfriend, say – for which an admonishment from the PCC will seem a small price to pay.

“There are all kinds of tensions here I’m going to have to look into,” he says. “Where does the public interest end? Where does privacy begin? Should the boundaries be different for the princes as opposed to ordinary punters?”

Will he impose the PCC’s will – and nobble the editors – by going through proprietors? “It’s not exactly the way I see it. I don’t exclude the possibility that I am going to have to call an owner and tell him to come down hard on an editor.”

Sir Christopher’s departure from Washington on the eve of war raised eyebrows. Had he stayed on for a few more months wouldn’t he have been able to make the diplomatic wheels turn more smoothly? “My presence in Washington wouldn’t have made the blindest bit of difference. In my experience of the first Gulf war, and of Kosovo and the Afghan war, when a war starts, diplomacy takes a back seat.

“It is a very frustrating time to be in an embassy, because there is nothing you can do any more. Actually the timing of my retirement was well judged.”

It certainly was. He’s like Macavity, T. S. Eliot’s “cat of suavity”, who is never there when you reach the scene of the crime. “Hell,” Meyer says with a laugh. “You speak as if I had a choice in these matters.”

Yet he also managed to slip away from John Major’s camp just before the Tories’ disastrous defeat in the 1997 election. “Well, give me a break! I was a civil servant. I was never a political appointee. When I went to John Major in 1994, the deal was two years – so come January 1996 I left to become ambassador in Bonn. It wasn’t as if I said, ‘Oh shit, the ship’s going down. Must jump!’ ”

It must have been a bloody experience dealing with the media on John Major’s behalf. “Most of the time I enjoyed it. But people had very short-term horizons. Good and bad days were defined in terms of whether you could get the nine o’clock news to handle something better than the six o’clock.”

Did Major become too obsessed with the press? Was that one of his fatal flaws?

“Yes. The press was very hard on him for a very long time. Very hard. They knew he read the press. It doesn’t help if journalists think the Prime Minister reads every sentence they write. I tried to filter reports for him. My message was always, ‘When the sharks are circling don’t, for God’s sake, throw blood into the water.’ ”

Was he doing that job at the time of the (false) rumours that Mr Major was having an affair with the Downing Street cook, Clare Latimer? “That was just before I took over. And no, in anticipation of your next question, I had no idea about Edwina Currie.”

He was having breakfast at the British Embassy with Mr Major, whom he describes as a friend, when reports of the September 11 terrorist attacks came through. “It took 10 minutes for us to realise that a large passenger jet was involved, rather than a light aircraft. It seemed impossible.

“Only the night before I had been sitting on the terrace with Condi [Condoleezza Rice, US National Security Adviser] and others, talking about the world, and that world we were talking about bore no resemblance to what we were confronted with the following morning.

“They were hairy days. People around you pull together but they also want leadership and reassurance and a catharsis, too. I went to see the staff at the New York consulate a few days later and as soon as I started to speak to them, to thank them, everyone was in tears, letting the stress come pouring out. Extraordinary. It was a very emotional time. I felt choked.”

The real watershed, he believes, came when Tony Blair made his statement about the British people standing shoulder to shoulder with the American people.

“That was a pivotal moment in Blair’s strong personal relationship with Bush. There was a chemistry between them before that. It was obvious from their first meeting [at which Sir Christopher was present]. But it was Blair’s personal response to 9/11 which was the great accelerator. His visceral response to the events was very similar to Bush’s.”

Texas George and Islington Tony seemed so wooden together at their first “Colgate” meeting: they are not obvious bedfellows. “But who is?” responds Sir Christopher. “People who you think should get on rarely do. The press conference afterwards didn’t do justice to the texture and substance of their meetings.

“To begin with there was a no-nonsense approach between them, it’s true. They got straight down to business. But I remember after 9/11 we arrived at the White House after a memorial service in New York, and Mr Bush immediately put his hand on Mr Blair’s arm. He then steered him into a room for a private talk while the rest of us were waiting to go in to dinner.

“They are political colleagues – brothers in arms, even – but you can tell from their body language that they are also close personal friends. That is why they always prefer to meet in family surroundings.”

Were Blair and Bush talking about attacking Iraq straight away, while the stumps of the Twin Towers were still burning?

“Iraq came into the frame very soon on the American side, because there was immediate suspicion in Washington that Saddam had something to do with it. A search for evidence of a connection began, and it still has not been demonstrated. At the first meeting between Blair and Bush on September 20, the main items on the agenda were: how do we deal with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and where does Iraq fit into all this?”

The run-up to this war was a disaster, diplomatically speaking. How did America manage to squander all the international goodwill it had after 9/11?

“There are a number of things here. I suspect that the shock of the events of 9/11 wore off much more rapidly outside America than it did inside.

“Also you have to remember that this was a new administration still learning the ropes. It had come in with a deliberately different style to the Clinton-Gore administration. It was determined to strike a different note, sound more nationalistic, hard-edged, ‘a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do’.

“It handled a few issues badly, such as the Kyoto Protocol, and I think that, to the rest of the world, that difference in tone was very striking. Bush-Cheney came as a sharp shock. The language upset people. One of our roles in Washington was constantly to explain what lies behind the language.”

One of Meyer’s initiatives as ambassador was to visit George Bush in Texas in 1998, before the then governor had even declared his intention to stand for president. “The most significant thing I was able to do was effect a smooth transition from the Blair-Clinton era to the Blair-Bush era.”

He recalls asking Condoleezza Rice about Blair’s friendly relations with Bill Clinton, saying, “Level with me – is this going to be a problem?” Thanks, in part, to Sir Christopher, it was not.

In February, just before the Meyers left Washington, the Bushes invited them to the White House for a private farewell dinner – an unusual, possibly even unique, honour for a foreign ambassador. Meyer knows Bush well: how will he be coping with the perceived setbacks in this war?

“He is a man who, once he has taken the big decision, will be very steady. From what I have seen of him since 9/11, once he is certain a course of action is right, he will stay true to it.”

Washington is considered the most coveted and glamorous posting in the diplomatic service – one of the glittering prizes. Although the chairmanship of the Press Complaints Commission is decidedly less romantic, it too could be seen as a trophy.

Indeed, from public school (Lancing) via Cambridge (Peterhouse) to the Foreign Office, Sir Christopher’s rise and rise has looked effortless, calculating – slick, even. I ask him where the raffishness was? Was there no dissolute youth? No drug-taking wilderness years?

“Why should I answer that!” he says with a laugh. “A gross intrusion! I must get on to the PCC!

“I don’t know what to say. It never entered my mind to join the Foreign Service until my final year at Cambridge. Maurice Cowling, my history supervisor, asked me what I wanted to do and, when I said I didn’t know, he suggested I take the exam for the Foreign Office.

“I was terrified when I passed and got a letter saying, ‘Please report for duty as soon as you graduate.’ I went off to Italy for a year instead, to study in Bologna, and there I had a dissolute time. A great time.”

Actually he was a Johns Hopkins Scholar of Advanced International Studies in Bologna and, as soon as he finished his course, went straight into the Foreign Office. But just because Sir Christopher has had a shimmering career, it doesn’t mean that there have been no shadows in his life.

His father, a flight lieutenant, was killed in action in 1944. His second wife, Catherine, though celebrated for her deft social touch, her photogenic looks and her short skirts – The Washington Post swooningly noted that she had “made boring old embassy parties sexy again” – has dedicated the past nine years of her life to battling for access to her two teenage sons, who were abducted by her former husband, a German doctor, in defiance of British and German court orders. She has written a book about her ordeal and enlisted the support of Cherie Blair and Hillary Clinton in her campaign.

It is a mistake, then, to take Sir Christopher at face value. He is always described as “unflappable”, I note, but he must have a very impulsive side given that, after a whirlwind courtship, he married Catherine in a register office the day before they flew out to Washington.

“Yes, that is more in my character,” he says. “When I read about myself being suave, urbane, unflappable, I think: I’m none of those things. The story of me and my wife is much more typical.”

It was said that the Meyers – “one of the hottest couples in the capital”, according to the American press – took Washington by storm. Are they going to do the same in London? “Let hubris not seize one at this hour,” he says with a smile. “Washington is a modest-sized city of half a million people. Any newcomer can make an impact there.” Spoken like a diplomat.


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.