It’s like wading across a river of warm, bubbling molasses, interviewing Sir David Frost. The current is tugging, part of you wants to drift with it, another part fears you might drown. The stuff of anxiety dreams, in other words.
Sir David is slouched on a sofa in his Kensington office, chewing on a fat Bolivar cigar and looking a bit spivvy in blazer, monogrammed gold cuff links and tasselled loafers. It’s a sticky June afternoon and shafts of sunlight are illuminating the wreaths of cigar smoke. Behind them, his skin looks grey. He has pouches under his eyes; thick square glasses; hangdog cheeks. He’s only just turned 60 – had a big, big party in April, with Prince Andrew, Stephen Fry and Andrew Lloyd Webber among the guests – but he probably wouldn’t get challenged if he asked for an OAP’s fare on a bus.
The broadcaster’s manner is as insouciant and amiable as you’d expect – but I’m trying hard, for reasons of objectivity, not to like him too much. After all, you have to be suspicious of someone who flatters with such apparent lack of guile and shame; who is so unflappable he appears not to have a functioning nervous system; who can begin his career satirising the patrician Establishment and glide unblushingly towards its close with a knighthood, a duke for a father-in-law and a day job presenting Through the Keyhole. But Sir David’s powers of seduction are preternatural. From the first matey, ‘Hello, Nigel, hello, come in, come in, super to meet you, great,’ the man has been enveloping me, literally and metaphorically, in his oleaginous charm. He hasn’t seemed insincere necessarily, just on autopilot, turning me into a guest on Breakfast with Frost, putting me at my ease. I’m pretty sure he extends an arm around my shoulder at one point. He definitely offers me a cigar. And though I don’t normally smoke, I find myself clipping the end off one and lighting it up. Such is the man’s voodoo.
We’re talking about his interviewing technique, the laid-back approach. A couple of years ago a Sunday Telegraph survey revealed that Sir David – together with Jimmy Young – is the inquisitor politicians fear and revere most. They know where they stand with the combative Jeremy Paxman and John Humphrys but with Frost they are made to feel they’re just having an off-the-record chat with a friend- he lulls them into a false sense of security and then bowls them a googly. In 1994, for example, Jeremy Hanley, the then Conservative Party chairman, was coaxed by Frost into dismissing a riot at a boxing match as mere ‘exuberance’ – in contradiction to the government’s get-tough policy on hooliganism – which ultimately cost Hanley his job.
In 1987 Neil Kinnock had dropped his guard when Frost asked if, as a unilateralist, he would be prepared to send ‘our boys’ into battle against an army equipped with short-range tactical nuclear weapons. Kinnock thought not, on the whole, because we could always put up resistance on the home front. The press seized on this as Kinnock calling for a latterday Dad’s Army. ‘That comment was dynamite,’ Frost recalls in his distinctively slurred and undulating register. ‘If a politician feels he is in a hostile and humourless environment, he goes on to the back foot and plays for time, never giving the interviewer an opening. But if you can make him feel relaxed, and you can ask a tough question in a civilised way, you get a more revealing answer. The late John Smith once told me I have a way of asking beguiling questions with potentially lethal consequences.’ Frost grins toothily. ‘I think I’d be happy to have that on my tombstone.’
Sir David Frost has interviewed the last six American presidents as well as the last half-dozen prime ministers. It’s as good a measure as any of his extraordinary longevity in the fickle world of television. On the walls around us are dozens of photographs of Frost through the ages: a ferrety young Frost with a young Prince Charles; a middle-aged, sideburned Frost with Richard Nixon; Frost as grey-haired elder statesman walking between Bill Clinton and Tony Blair across a lawn. The photographs remind you that Frost is the Widmerpool of broadcasting. He’s been everywhere, knows everyone, keeps on turning up and insinuating himself into the lives of the rich and powerful.
At the height of his fame in the Sixties, when a poll revealed he was one of the three best known people in Britain, alongside the Queen and Harold Wilson, David Frost enjoyed the same reputation for aggressive and fearless interrogation as Jeremy Paxman does today. He eviscerated Rupert Murdoch on the subject of pornography in an interview so hostile it is said to have contributed to the media tycoon’s decision not to live in this country. Frost also stood his ground against the formidable debating skills of Enoch Powell in an interview on the subject of racism. In 1967 he inspired the phrase ‘trial by television’ when he savaged Emil Savundra, the insurance swindler, shortly before he was convicted of fraud.
It must be galling, then, for Frost to find himself labelled these days as a pushover who has ‘gone soft’ and who isn’t taken seriously any more because he is far too chummy, socially, with the politicians he interviews. He doesn’t see it that way, of course. It is more a matter of his interviewing technique having developed over the years into something more subtle.  ‘With Savundra I really was angry, though,’ he drawls. ‘Because at the end of the programme he just sat back and said he had no legal or moral responsibility. So instead of waiting for the usual silhouette shot of the two of us during the closing credits, I just walked out. I thought, “I’m buggered if I’m going to stay with him, it would be completely false.”‘
I ask if there was a day when Sir David woke up and realised he had lost his youthful anger. ‘Anger? Well, I started out with That Was The Week That Was and then moved into interviewing. And we were not so much angry young men as exasperated young men. From Suez onwards. Exasperated with the ruling classes saying they were older and wiser than us. The attitude at the time was that all politicians do what they do for reasons of self-sacrifice and public service, rather than ambition or lust for power. And clearly this was nonsense. They needed to be scrutinised. That’s why TW3 touched a nerve. I don’t know whether it was the times that made TW3 or TW3 that made the times but the programme was absolutely at the heart of the social and political changes that went on in Sixties Britain. When Profumo resigned, it was game set and match to the satirists. But in terms of zeal for reform I don’t feel much different today from what I did then.’
David Paradine Frost has two sisters but, because they were born 14 and 16 years before him, he was raised, more or less, as an only child. He went to Gillingham and Wellingborough grammar schools before going up to Cambridge in 1958. He describes his background as lower middle class, his childhood as peripatetic. (His father, the Reverend WJ Paradine Frost, who died in 1968, was a Methodist minister who moved from a parish in Kent, where David was born, to one in Northamptonshire, where he spent his late teens.) Frost took his first job in television straight after graduating and, for two decades, he lived the life of a playboy. He was engaged twice – to the singer and actress Diahann Carroll and the American model Karen Graham, both of whom broke off the engagements.
In 1981 Frost married Peter Sellers’s widow, Lynne Frederick, only to divorce after 18 months. He finally found happiness when, in 1983, he married Lady Carina Fitzalan-Howard, daughter of the (Roman Catholic) Duke of Norfolk. The couple have three sons, Miles, 15, Wilfred, 13, and George, 12. The eldest goes to Eton (where the others will follow).The youngest had Diana, Princess of Wales, as a godmother. With his acceptance of a knighthood from John Major in 1993, Frost’s metamorphosis into an Establishment poodle was apparently complete. Yet as a scornful young satirist his favourite targets were the aristocrats who ran the Establishment. And it is tempting to think that the 20-year-old Frost would regard the 60-year-old Frost as a fit subject for mockery.
‘It’s an amusing point. The.’ Pause. ‘I think, um, I don’t think there really is an Establishment now. So I don’t really think I’ve joined it. I just don’t think it exists any more. I would also say that class doesn’t matter any more either, except perhaps for the placement at a hunt ball. But, oddly, I’ve been having second thoughts about this because of my involvement in the Nick Leeson film.’
This was going to be my next question but Sir David, clearly worried that half the time allotted for this interview has already elapsed without the subject of the film being raised, has jumped the gun. Rogue Trader, starring Ewan McGregor and produced by Sir David Frost, goes on general release this week. Its subject, Nick Leeson, goes on general release tomorrow.
It is a nerve-jangling film which portrays Leeson sympathetically – more a hubristic hero in a Greek tragedy than a pathological liar who caused the collapse of Barings bank in 1995. Sir David realised the film potential of Leeson’s story when he secured a world exclusive by interviewing him in a Frankfurt prison during Leeson’s ultimately unsuccessful fight against extradition to Singapore. Sir David put in the calls to the lawyers himself when he realised that a court ruling which allowed Edward Whitley, the co-writer of Leeson’s autobiography, access to Leeson could also be applied to television interviewers. Such opportunism shows that Frost’s journalistic instincts, and fixing skills, are still mercurial. (He arranged the only interview with the late Shah of Iran with similar good timing, as well as securing the first post-Watergate interview with Richard Nixon, when all the American networks were still dithering.)
‘Nick’s story taught me that class is still an issue in the City,’ reflects Sir David, talking with such alarming surges of volume and emphasis he sounds like he’s doing a crude impersonation of, well, himself. ‘I’m convinced that if he had been Nicholas Fotheringay-Leeson he would have been extradited to the UK and would, as a white-collar criminal, have served a two-year sentence in the Ernest Saunders Memorial Suite at Ford Open Prison. Instead, he was sentenced to six years in one of the toughest jails in the world. His wife divorced him. And he was diagnosed with cancer. He’s had an operation to remove his colon and part of his lower intestine and now he has a 70 per cent chance of surviving five years. If he had been back here, the cancer may have been diagnosed sooner.’
Sir David says he will visit Leeson when he is released – if Leeson wants visitors – and he hopes that Leeson will find the film cathartic rather than upsetting. When I ask if Leeson will profit financially from the film Frost gathers his thoughts, as though revving up on the starting block. ‘That, yes, you know, I mean… ‘He stubs out his cigar and bites the end off another one. ‘There’s no doubt… ‘ He strikes a long match and puffs on the cigar. ‘Leeson didn’t steal any money. And he still hasn’t paid his legal bills. So he gets. Um. There was a small option originally, after the interview, a fee for the first day of principal photography and then a percentage, less than five per cent, which will go straight to paying his legal fees. If the film makes a profit. Which only one in ten do.’
Like Leeson, Frost had a frugal upbringing and then, through his determination and business acumen he accumulated a fortune. (Frost has been described as a one-man conglomerate because not only was he the joint founder of LWT and TV-am, but also, as chairman of David Paradine Ltd, he has produced eight films, published numerous books and marketed himself as lecturer and host.) Unlike Leeson, Frost hasn’t necessarily felt comfortable with his wealth. According to Lord Wyatt’s posthumously published journals, Frost feels guilty about money and sees himself as a Wilsonian socialist. Can this be true?
‘Ah, yes, well, Woodrow Wyatt thought that because of something I said in an interview with Mrs Thatcher. I was saying that the National Health Service would be better if there was no private medicine, and she countered by saying, “But Mr Frost, you use private medicine!” I don’t know how she knew, or whether she was just guessing, but I then said, “Yes, and I feel guilty about it.”‘ Frost spreads his arms out along the back of the sofa and sinks deeper into its seat. ‘When you grow up in a frugal environment anything above frugal is a treat. Once you’ve got enough it doesn’t matter any more. How much is enough? That is the question. Not quite enough is agony. I rather like Roald Dahl’s idea that luxury is being able to wear a new shirt every day, before it’s been laundered, when it still has that silky quality.’
When I ask whether he ever looks at his own fame, wealth and achievements and wonders what it’s all for, in the end, given that you can’t take it with you and no one gets out alive, he just laughs. ‘I think I’m too much of a boring old Pollyanna for that. The church is half-full rather than half-empty. Yes, living is fatal. But I mean [sigh], I’ve been lucky. Incredibly lucky. Hardly any hiccups in my life and I feel grateful. And I have a Pollyanna-ish faith that my good luck will continue.’
Though he describes his mother, Mona, who died in 1991, as the more extrovert of his parents, it was his father who influenced him most. His nervelessness in front of the cameras he attributes to watching his father in the pulpit, his much parodied speech pattern to his father’s clear diction. There was no alcohol or swearing in the parental home, no Sunday newspapers or television, and his father, whom he describes as having had a quiet strength and wisdom, taught him that ‘the only gospel some men will read is the gospel according to you’. He also inherited a modicum of his father’s faith.
‘Yes, yes. My father would have liked me to become a minister but I didn’t really consider it, although I did become a lay preacher on the local Methodist circuit for a while in 1958. I don’t know how life after death works but I do feel the spirit lives on in some way. And I do believe you can plug into that force through meditation and prayer. That’s not to say I haven’t questioned my faith. I remember asking Billy Graham, “If your God is a God of love, surely he must let everyone into heaven in the end?” And Billy smiled and said, “God doesn’t have to do anything if he’s God.”‘
It is difficult to gauge whether there is any real depth to David Frost because, for all his affability and apparent candour, he precludes intimacy and has a tendency to deflect questions about his own beliefs and values by giving you examples drawn from other people’s lives, namely those of the countless celebrities he has interviewed over the years. It is almost as if he exists through his relationships with his guests or, rather, that he only really exists when he is on television. That for him is real life. It has often been noted of Frost that away from the cameras there is an eerie insubstantiality to him.
One guest on Frost’s show described to me how he got a strange sense that Frost wasn’t really in control, that he was just surfing on a giant wave that could break at any moment. You get that impression about him even when he isn’t on air. Perhaps it is just that, as the greatest living practitioner of the ephemeral and trivialising medium of television, everyone assumes there must be something vapid and shallow about Frost himself – and this assumption colours your perception when you meet him.
For all that, Frost seems benign. And no fool. Nor do I think he’s an arrogant man – pretty pleased with himself, a panjandrum possibly, but not arrogant. He is always relaxed, he says, is rarely ill and never suffers from jet-lag. He sleeps well at night – needing just six hours – and you suspect he is not much of a one for long dark nights of the soul. Certainly there was no mid-life crisis. ‘No, I had a fantastic party in California for my 40th birthday. Borrowed someone’s private ballroom and shared it with Rod Stewart who was getting married that day to Alana. We shared a cake, and there was no time for deep or dire thoughts.’
It would seem, then, that no time for deep and dire thoughts would make as good an epitaph for him as John Smith’s comment. That’s not to imply he doesn’t have a sentimental side. Late fatherhood, he says, changed his life, made him less selfish and made him appreciate that other people’s happiness can matter more than his own. But Frost has no political allegiance, and hasn’t voted since he was first allowed to as a young man.  And, really, you have to wonder whether he has ever been that interested in anything other than his own career.
It is tempting to assume that people who are unctuous and ingratiating must be insecure and desperate for approval. But I don’t think this applies in Sir David’s case. He is steeped to the gills in self-belief and just wants to give other people the opportunity – and pleasure – of liking him as much as he likes himself. One person upon whom Frost’s charms apparently failed to work was Peter Cook. The two were in the Cambridge Footlights together and contemporaries of theirs characterise their relationship as being that of Boswell to Johnson. Cook oozed brilliance and talent and let it all go to waste. Frost, with no obvious gifts apart from an ability to be in the right place at the right time, doggedly followed Cook around, sucking up to him and basking in his reflected glory before eventually usurping him.
At Peter Cook’s memorial service in 1995, Stephen Fry recalled an occasion when Frost rang Cook to invite him to dinner with Prince Andrew and his then fiancée Sarah Ferguson: ‘Big fans… Be super if you could make it. Wednesday the 12th.’ ‘Hang on, I’ll check my diary,’ said Cook, riffling through the pages. ‘Oh dear, I find I’m watching television that night.’ Alan Bennett recalled an even more withering comment. ‘The only thing that Peter ever regretted was saving David Frost from drowning.’
When I ask Frost what he thinks provoked the Peter Cook jibes he rolls cigar smoke around his mouth before answering wheezily, ‘The, I think, um. That great joke about regretting saving me from drowning I think was actually Alan Bennett’s joke. Bennett the great scriptwriter. When he said it at the memorial service I laughed along with everyone else. But it wouldn’t have come from Peter.’
Sir David has someone else waiting to see him in reception. ‘Well, Nigel, I could carry on gossiping all day. I really enjoy a good conversation. And it has been great to see you. But…’ I stub out my cigar, shake his hand and emerge blinking in the London sunshine, several miles downriver from where I started.


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.