Don’t let his title and designer wife fool you: Sir David Hare wasn’t always the labelled-up, Oscar-nominated pillar of the establishment he is today.

It would take a stronger will than mine to resist commenting on David Hare’s shoes.

They are like a schoolboy’s: scuffed, boot-shaped and an unappealing shade of rust-brown. What is extraordinary about them is their ordinariness, that and the way they go with his dark, finely tailored Nicole Farhi suit – which is about as well as ketchup goes with caviar. I point this discrepancy out to him. He looks at the shoes and nods. ‘Yes, they are bad.’

Well, bad for him maybe, but not for an interviewer on the lookout for a cheap metaphor. As a 21-year-old, you see, Hare was angry, angry, angry. He wrote and performed angry agitprop plays. He toured the provinces in a van, exposing unsuspecting, theatreless towns to angry, left-wing ‘street’ theatre. He was, clearly, going through an angry, scuffed-shoes phase. Now, at the age of 58, he is Sir David Hare, the pillar of the New Establishment, the dramatist whose name has become synonymous with the National Theatre, the man who – yes – married Nicole Farhi. He’s no longer angry, it seems, just a bit peeved. And the shoes surely represent a residual, nostalgic flicker of subversion on his part.

‘The managing director of Nicole’s company once had a quiet word with me about my terrible suits,’ he tells me. ‘After that I have always worn Nicole Farhi. I don’t think he said anything about my shoes.’

I ask whether, as an idealistic, red-flag-waving youth, Hare ever imagined he would one day be married to that embodiment of capitalism, an international fashion designer.

‘Fashion designers can be idealistic,’ he counters, not unreasonably. ‘Nicole is one of the most idealistic people I know.’

They live in Hampstead, Farhi and Hare. They also work there, though from different addresses. I am talking to Sir David in what he calls his ‘studio’: an airy, two-storey house where he does his writing. On the walls are framed posters of the films for which he has written screenplays, most notably The Hours, for which he was Oscar-nominated. On the shelves there are editions of the 25-odd stage plays he has written over the decades: from Plenty in the 1970s, to Pravda in the 1980s, to his ‘state of the nation’ trilogy in the 1990s (Racing Demon, Murmuring Judges, and The Absence of War), and to his deftly handled play about the Iraq war, Stuff Happens, in 2004.

On his desk there is a proof copy of his latest work: Obedience, Struggle & Revolt, a collection of his occasional lectures. They cover pet themes of his, such as the Israeli-Palestinian impasse, the privatisation of the railways and the ‘hysterical self-righteousness’ of the British press. The most autobiographical of the lectures concerns his time reading English at Cambridge. He was taught there by the Marxist critic Raymond Williams, but only after threatening a strike when Williams tried to farm his students out to other tutors.

As an 18-year-old, you suspect, Hare was more serious-minded than his peers; less fun, too. What advice would he give that angry young man if he met him now?

‘I wouldn’t give him any advice because I would just find him so ridiculous. That is what I argue about the 1960s: ridiculousness was in the air. The hippy movement was self-satirising. People smoked marijuana for fun, not for great insight.’ He rakes a hand through his neatly side-parted hair; his tonsure is not visible from the front and this recurring, nervy gesture seems designed to keep it that way.

‘I was useless with drugs and didn’t enjoy them,’ he continues. ‘Any drug I tried didn’t suit me. I spent so many evenings trying to bring people down from bad trips. A very boring way to spend your life. I was always more work-orientated.’

It sounds as if he was more a square than a hippy, I suggest. Does he look back on his youth and wish he had been more frivolous? ‘No, not in the slightest. But I was impatient at Cambridge – keen to leave and start up my own theatre company. It was partly because I had had a taste of frivolity before going to university. I had spent some time in Los Angeles as a 17-year-old and in those days the West Coast of America seemed very exotic: the surfboards, the music, the girls who cut their jeans off round their thighs. Cambridge seemed grey and cold by comparison and this put me in a bad temper from which I never quite managed to recover.’

David Hare and his elder sister grew up in Bexhill-on-Sea in Sussex. Their father was a purser with P&O. Hare was, he says, educated out of his class.

‘I had this “off” accent – a bit Bexhilly – and I was ridiculed for it at school, so I changed it. I can still spot class fakery in others.’ But he was a public-school boy for all that, a head boy at Lancing no less. Did he later feel embarrassed about this bourgeois background, when he became a committed socialist?

‘I wasn’t really a committed socialist,’ he replies. ‘This is a misrepresentation.’ Is it the ‘committed’ or the ‘socialist’ he objects to? ‘What I’m saying is that I was never a Marxist and that set me apart from many people in my generation. I thought it unlikely that revolutionary change was going to come from the urban proletariat. It didn’t seem to me to be the way history was heading. That made me isolated. At the end of the 1970s I came under a ferocious attack from the orthodox left because I no longer considered that art should be pursued solely for political ends. That was painful for me, that attack. I still find it painful to think about now.’

He may have rejected agitprop theatre, but that didn’t mean he stopped being a political dramatist. As a playwright, indeed, according to the theatre critic Michael Billington, Hare came to view his native land with a mixture of critical exasperation and baffled affection: ‘He became one of those writers who feels constantly obliged to take Britain’s moral temperature.’

He also became known as a playwright who did his homework. For The Absence of War, for example, he talked Neil Kinnock into allowing him behind the scenes of Labour’s 1992 general-election campaign. He then exposed the leader’s faults in such a forensic way that Tony Blair declared that for years after seeing the play he felt haunted by its unerring accuracy. The admiration was mutual. Once asked what he thought of Blair, Hare said, ‘I think he’s me. I think he’s us. I think he’s like all the well-meaning, good people I know.’ Judging by Stuff Happens, he doesn’t think that any more. In fact he seems to be utterly disillusioned with Blair.

‘I wasn’t at the Festival Hall on the night of the 1997 Labour victory,’ Hare says when I put this to him. ‘I never thought Blair would be the second coming, so I was never illusioned.’

Actually, Blair does not come out of Stuff Happens as badly as Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. But wasn’t it risky rushing to judgement about the war in Iraq? After all, in five years’ time democracy and peace could well have spread across the Middle East as a result of it.

‘Critics always say nothing dates faster than the up-to-date, and I don’t think that’s true. Some of the most exciting writing of the 20th century is in immediate response to events, Brecht and Orwell being obvious examples. I don’t think I will change my mind about the war. I just don’t believe the overthrow of Saddam had to involve 80, 90, 100,000 civilian deaths. I don’t think I’ll ever believe that was necessary.’

Stuff Happens was critically acclaimed, not least because many felt it marked a revival of political theatre as a genre. Even so, does Hare fear that, ultimately, because of its limited audiences, theatre is doomed to irrelevance, compared to, say, television? ‘No, audience sizes aren’t everything.’

What about as a force for changing society? Does he ever worry that his time might have been better spent in direct action, manning the barricades, as it were? ‘Completely. Of course. It has been a lifetime of failure, but it doesn’t feel as if it has been a lifetime of waste.’ Failure? ‘Because the theatre hasn’t changed and society hasn’t changed.’

What about Hollywood? Surely he doesn’t regard himself as having been a failure there?

‘The cinema broke my heart,’ he says. ‘For years I made a lot of films that no one went to. I didn’t expect The Hours to be the mainstream success it was, not least because it was a serious film about suicide. In fact, I was committed to working on The Permanent Way when The Hours came out. I kept being approached with offers from Hollywood producers and would say to them, “Sorry, I can’t. I’m working on a play about the privatisation of British Rail.” They would look at me as if I were off my head.’

It could be, of course, that Hare is just overly sensitive, as he admitted in Acting Up, a diary published in 1999. It covered a year he spent trying his hand as an actor. Upon receiving a lukewarm response from one audience he wrote, ‘Oh damn and f- showbusiness and all its ways.’ He realised as he wrote that diary that he had come to acting with no defence mechanisms, that is, with none of the abilities to bury and repress feelings which other actors have. The result is a searingly honest hand-wring in which he portrays himself as a cruel, vain, miserable, self-obsessed, paranoid, bitter hypochondriac. Did he like what he learnt about himself when writing that diary?

‘The whole venture was probably misjudged. I wanted to tell people what acting felt like if you were, as Simon Callow put it, “unprotected by a shield of technique”. And it felt vulnerable-making. I’d never do it again. That book was a complete failure. Maybe I was naive but I really wanted to explain the theatre to people like yourself who weren’t a part of it. I guess it sold entirely to the acting profession. I meant it for the layman and totally failed to reach them. I think Michael Simkins’s book [What’s My Motivation?] was much more successful in that respect.’

It was certainly more humorous, and it strikes me that a degree of humourlessness, or rather earnestness, seems to define Hare and his work. He is affable in person, and endearingly insecure about his rep-utation, but you begin to notice after a while that, though he smiles readily enough, his smiles don’t necessarily signify amusement. They are, rather, a compensation – the learnt response of one who is conscious of his own overbearing seriousness.

I ask Hare whether he thinks a more developed sense of humour might have helped him cope better as an actor. ‘My standing on stage essentially for the first time at the age of 50 made me feel fantastically vulnerable,’ he says. ‘So if you ask me did I have a sense of humour about it, I would have to say no.’

Why does he take things so personally? ‘Do you know a writer who doesn’t?’ Some writers invent a persona to hide behind, I point out.

‘Look, play-writing is a very wearing profession,’ he responds. ‘The previous generation of David Mercer, John Osborne and Dennis Potter were all tempestuously difficult people because the business of exposing yourself to public approval and disapproval is wearing. John Osborne said to me before he died that it would have made no difference if he had never lived. I knew Tennessee Williams quite well at the end of his life and his dominant topic of conversation would be the rejection of his work by the public at large. You never spent a night with him when he wouldn’t talk about the critics and the decline of his reputation.’ He shakes his head. ‘The evenings he wasted in despair at his neglect.’

But isn’t such gloominess a crucial part of the creative process? ‘It isn’t the case that if you are going through a great deal of suffering, you will write well, or if you are happy, you will write badly.’ Smile. ‘But yes, I do think grievance is fundamental to a playwright.’

Is he happy at the moment? ‘In my personal life, yes. Because I am very happily married. My life with my wife and children is completely wonderful. Am I happy about my writing? Of course not.’

It doesn’t sound like Hare gets much pleasure from it; is it masochism that keeps him going? ‘I enjoy the craft of writing. I love the company of actors. I love working alongside them. That is the chief pleasure of it. After Stuff Happens opened in Los Angeles recently I felt a threehour high in which I could not have felt more fulfilled. The anxiety re-descended upon my return to England.’

He is happier now than he was when he was a child, he adds. His unhappiness then was linked to the absence of his father, who was always away at sea. ‘We didn’t have a relationship to speak of. He was a frivolous man who would roll in very sun-tanned from Hawaii or wherever, take the elastic band off a thick roll of cash, hand some over to my mother and then disappear again. He was not a presence in my life. I wanted his love and approval and he was never there to give it to me.’

Was his father living a double life? ‘He was living more than one life, I now know.’ Another woman? Pause. A nod. ‘I only learnt about it after my father died and my mother got Alzheimer’s. She became delusive about events in her life which I didn’t understand. I had to ask people what she was on about, then everything fell into place.’

In terms of character, did he consciously strive to be the opposite of his father?

‘Yes. I have taken fatherhood very seriously and would never treat my children like he treated us. Perhaps I overcompensate for his coldness.’ Hare and his first wife Margaret had three children together who are now in their late twenties. When I ask what effect the break-up of his first marriage had on his children he says, ‘They coped fantastically well. I’m not sure I did. Those years were fantastically difficult. As difficult for Margaret as they were for me.’

Did he ever think he would find happiness in a relationship again? ‘No, I had given up. It was a complete fluke. The chances of my walking into a room and meeting someone with whom I felt an instant connection seemed so remote. But that was what happened, and when it did, I thought, “Now I see. This is it.”‘ He and Farhi married in 1992.

Hare admits that his ‘rootless youth’ was characterised by ‘a certain self-dislike’. Does he like himself more now? ‘It becomes irrelevant. It’s what you’re stuck with. Self-hatred was my propeller for so long and, in a way, it is a useless emotion. I guess I am driven, but by what I have never cared to analyse. It’s true that I wanted to find a warmth in my life that it seemed to lack when I was young and, essentially, I have found that warmth with Nicole.’

So all that angst and insecurity, all that youthful anger, may simply have been a matter of his needing to feel loved?

He laughs joylessly. ‘Do you think so?’


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.