David Gilmour is the model rock-star plutocrat – modest, creative, generous. Until the talk turns to money… and the Rolling Stones. ‘How much do they need?’ he asks Nigel Farndale. ‘It’s like a sexual compulsion’.

An arrow of barking geese spirals down towards a lake. Horses stand dozily in meadows, swishing their tails against the early summer flies. There are copses of woodland here, and thickening hedgerows and, sometimes, because this parcel of West Sussex is owned by a rock star, fans. ‘There is a public footpath beyond those fields over there,’ David Gilmour says with a lethargic nod. ‘Fans do sometimes walk it and I see them videoing the house. On the whole, though, they leave us alone.’ The ‘house’ he refers to is a rambling, ivy-covered farmhouse with an Aga, the odd dog hair on the upholstery, and dozens of gymkhana rosettes – but no platinum discs, no leopardskin throws. The ‘us’ is his wife, the novelist Polly Samson, and four of his eight children (he has four from an earlier marriage, now grown up).

Standing barefoot in jeans and T-shirt, Gilmour seems a solid and unyielding figure with an angular head and an impassive and narrow stare. There is, you soon sense, depth below his still surface. He is a David, never a Dave. In fact he is David Gilmour CBE, partly in recognition of his philanthropy, which included giving the proceeds from the sale of his London house to the homeless charity Crisis: £4 million.

He is polite and friendly but also taciturn – almost introverted. When he speaks, it is softly, with a crack in his voice. The son of a Cambridge don, he is also what used to be called well-spoken. ‘We never wanted to pretend we were anything other than nice, middle-class boys,’ he says of his band, Pink Floyd. ‘We never pretended to be working-class, like Mick.’

You have to get into the rhythm of his speech, which is as measured and precise as his guitar playing. He also has a public school way of qualifying everything with ‘slightly’, ‘pretty’ and ‘fairly’, as if afraid of exaggeration. Perhaps it is simply that there is no need to exaggerate the Pink Floyd story, nor his. He was lead vocalist, lead guitarist and joint songwriter, with bassist Roger Waters, of one of the biggest rock bands in history. In their glory days – the 1970s – the big Pink Floyd concept albums broke records effortlessly. One in four British households is said to own a copy of their biggest, Dark Side of the Moon. Last summer, when the band reformed for Live8 after an acrimonious split 20 years ago, they stole the show.

When Gilmour released a new solo album earlier this year, on his 60th birthday, it went straight to number one. A good present, I say, as we sit down in his drawing-room. Long pause. ‘It’s hard to put into words, but I feel more proud of On an Island than anything else I’ve done. We’ve got a nice system in this room and we like to sit in here of an evening and play the whole album through, pretty loud, and it definitely still gives me a thrill. I rarely listen to albums after I’ve released them. Normally one has been over every note of every instrument so incessantly and anally that one is sick of it.’

He is not a man in a hurry. ‘With Pink Floyd we packed a whole career into two or three years, now it takes me a decade to do one bloody album. I think I’ve grown lazy in old age. Bits of music do nevertheless keep arriving serendipitously at my fingertips whenever I pick up a guitar and, after 10 years of jotting them down and not doing anything with them, it was starting to feel a bit rude to one’s muse.’

On an Island is, as Gilmour might say, pretty good. It is a warm and lyrical album with all the tonal beauty, washes of sound and soaring, atmospheric guitar playing Pink Floyd fans could hope for. When a melody comes to him, does he immediately know it is new? ‘The bane of my life is when muscle memory takes over and my fingers play a tune they are familiar with. You have to do something to get yourself out of that comfort zone and one way for me is playing a piano, or using a different guitar tuning. Otherwise it is like doodling.’

He has sometimes woken up with a new tune in his head. ‘It is very odd because you think surely that is something I have done before, but then you realise it isn’t. ‘Fat Old Sun’, which we have been doing on this tour [his current solo tour], I always thought I had nicked from somewhere. But in 30 years I’ve never found out where, so I guess I’ve got away with it.’

Oasis must feel like that all the time, I suggest. He half-smiles. ‘Oasis I can pin down in a second. I can usually work out the three different songs they have lifted.’

Most of the lyrics for the new album were written by his wife. ‘She can express my thoughts better than I can,’ Gilmour says. It is a telling comment. Polly thinks he is ‘a bit autistic’. Wives often say that of their husbands, I point out, but what does he think she means by it? ‘She thinks I’m not that articulate, and I tend to agree. She thinks my guitar does my speaking for me, better than I can with words. I can become quite selfish when I am in the final stages of recording an album. Me, me, me. But otherwise I am quite shy. That might seem like a paradox, but even on stage I am fairly hopeless at introducing myself. I can’t do the raconteur moments between songs.’ Long pause. ‘Also I’m not comfortable giving autographs. I don’t understand why people want them. I will walk round the block to avoid an autograph hunter.’

The theme of the new album – those Pink Floyd habits die hard – is mortality. One song, ‘This Heaven’, reflects Gilmour’s atheism. ‘There is an element of contended resignation in that song. It extols the virtues of living in the moment and accepting your mortality. Perhaps the closest I will get to immortality will be through Dark Side of the Moon. I think that record will go on being played for a while yet.’

He was 27 when Pink Floyd recorded it. ‘It was a very productive period but, when I think about it now, I don’t feel shocked at how young I was then. Hendrix, Otis Reading and Janis Jopling were all dead at about 27. All those people had had long, illustrious careers by then. Your twenties should be your high-energy, creative years. You could say that after Dark Side we had achieved all we wanted to, and certainly it was hard to get up and running with Wish You Were Here [in 1975].’

Back then he had long hair and androgynous good looks – he had been a male model briefly in his teens. He still has high cheekbones and full lips but has he found growing old and grey disturbing? Is that what the brooding on his mortality is about? ‘Not really. I look in the mirror and I see the same face I saw then. Some of the hair has gone, unfortunately. And I’ve put on some weight but I’m perfectly at ease with the ageing process.’

Does he have a narcissistic side? ‘Polly thinks I’m the least vain person she has ever met, but I have got my vanities, yes. I’m a bit embarrassed by that young chap at times. If I hear him speak, like in the Live at Pompeii DVD [a concert filmed in 1972], I do find it excruciating.’

Because? ‘Because he was pretentious and naive.’

Gilmour did all the usual rock ‘n’ roll things. He took his share of drugs and collected classic sports cars and vintage aircraft (he has a pilot’s licence). But none of it seemed to make much of a dent in his fortune. The Rich List has him down for about £75 million, but that is probably shy of the true figure. Does he even know what he is worth? ‘No, I don’t actually. And I would much rather drop quietly out of that list. It is all guesswork anyway. One can calculate what the value of one’s tangible assets are. I’m a director of Pink Floyd Music Ltd and if I wanted to sell my shares in that, with future royalties and what the name is worth, well…’ He exhales and shakes his head. ‘I haven’t a clue what someone would offer for that, but obviously it is a valuable asset. There are people who would be able to make much more from that than I do, because I and the others have certain limits to what we will allow to be done in our name. I suppose we owe it to fans not to allow, say, ‘Us and Them’ to be used in an advert. You have to respect their wishes.’

Corny question, I know, but does his money bring him happiness? ‘I don’t think much of my satisfaction is related to my material possessions, but then how would I know? I am happiest when going for a walk with my wife and children in the countryside and that is free.’

But can he imagine living in a caravan and being happy? ‘I’ve just been living in a caravan this last weekend, or rather a motor home, for the Badminton horse trials. I’m perfectly at ease with that sort of thing.’

Does it worry him that his children will have a skewed take on the world because of his wealth? ‘Yes, it does worry me and we are very active in trying to convince them that they are unusual in this. But they are not going to have it all their lives. They are going to have to earn it themselves. My younger children especially are clear on those realities, I think.’

His intention is to unburden himself of much of his wealth before he dies. ‘Children who are given money are emasculated. It’s a big disincentive to making your own way in life and I want my children to have the satisfaction that I have had from making my own way.’

I suggest that his wealth seems to make him unhappy, or at least guilty. ‘I do feel uncomfortable about the degree of wealth that comes with the territory I occupy. We live in a capitalist society, I suppose, and it is a matter of supply and demand. And I do look at other bands and think, well, we are a f— of a sight better than them. But it is extraordinarily perverse that I as a musician am paid so much more than, say, a doctor, or a nurse, or a teacher.’

Did he find the disparity of income between himself and his father, a zoology lecturer, embarrassing? He becomes animated, by his standards. ‘Yes, I did. I did. He’s retired now but he worked hard and did something of great value to the world, researching genetics. It felt obscene the way I was treated compared to him. There were moments when we were both embarrassed by it all.’

Does he look at some of his peers, such as the Rolling Stones, and wonder why they are still so driven by money; endlessly touring and milking their reputations? ‘I think it’s ridiculous, actually. Mick and Keith should get a life. It’s like a strange, sexual compulsion. How much do they need? I think a lot of it is the applause. It’s a powerful drug, 50,000 people appearing to adore you. I’m a big Stones fan but they haven’t done anything that matches their earlier stuff in years. As Bob Dylan shows, it doesn’t have to be that way. He can still come up with material that is completely new and interesting.’

The unexpectedly waspish tone of this comment makes you wonder whether the big Pink Floyd bust-up all those years ago was entirely the fault of Roger Waters – the usual theory. Throughout the 1970s the two men fought for artistic control of the band. Waters always took the prize for pomposity and, later, for animosity – he was spectacularly rude about his bandmates. Finally, in 1986, he launched a legal action to stop them from carrying on as Pink Floyd. The rancour descended into farce when Waters claimed to have patented the inflatable flying pig that features in Pink Floyd’s extravagant stage show, forcing the remaining three members to build another inflatable flying pig, with a pair of testicles added. Waters lost the court battle. Before he rang Gilmour to persuade him to take part in a one-off Pink Floyd performance at Live8 last summer, the two men had scarcely spoken for 20 years, apart from through their lawyers.

‘I do feel that I never did Roger any harm,’ Gilmour says now. ‘Yet he did his best to harm me. Live8 gave me some closure. It was good to get some of the bile that had been building up for 20 years out of the way. You don’t want to die with unhealed wounds. The enmity between Roger and me has been an uncomfortable and negative thing that I haven’t liked living with. It was good that the Pink Floyd story didn’t end on a sour note. Now we can be on civil terms and enjoy a chat once in a while.’ Have they stayed in touch since Live8? Pause. ‘No, we haven’t really, but we have emailed each other within the last months or so.’

Pink Floyd was the undoubted highlight of Live8, but there must have been a lot of egos to accommodate that night. ‘We were so nice and modest about it all that when they told us there were not enough dressing-rooms and we would have to share, we said OK, fine. Then we found out that everyone else had their own proper, assigned dressing-room because they had insisted on it. We had to share ours with Snow Patrol, or someone. I think we should have been slightly more superstar-ish about it.’ Don’t you just love that ‘or someone’?

After Live8, Pink Floyd were reportedly offered $200 million to tour America, but Gilmour quashed any speculation that the band might re-form permanently. He also announced that he would be donating to charity his share of the royalties from the upsurge in sales of the band’s albums. Even so, for all his magnanimity, it must have given Gilmour some satisfaction that his new solo album this year went to number one, while the solo efforts of Waters, the self-styled ‘creative genius’ without whom Pink Floyd could not exist, have languished.

That Roger Waters, I say, trying to goad a little; he was a megalomaniac, wasn’t he? ‘Possibly always, but, for a lot longer than people think, his megalomania was controllable.’ Pause. ‘But it’s a boring old subject. I think we worked pretty effectively together until after the Wall album in 1979. Besides, there is something to be said for creative tension. We did complement each other, Roger and me.’ Another pause. ‘I’ve got that again with Polly.’

What? She’s suing him? He almost laughs. ‘No, I mean that she has a different area of talent to mine. It is almost onomatopoeic, the marriage of her words and my music.’


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.