David Sedaris is no stranger to embarrassing encounters: he’s made a career out of them. The most popular American humorist since Woody Allen talks to Nigel Farndale about the tics that make him tick.

I know a lot, perhaps too much, about the slight, gap-toothed American sitting opposite me, dwarfed by a large brown sofa that is as wide as it is deep and tall. I know that he, David Sedaris, once picked up crabs from a pair of underpants he bought at a charity shop, that he has a tendency to let his mouth hang open when bored, and that his Greek grandmother never forgave his equally Greek father for marrying a non-Greek woman who had ‘two distinct eyebrows’.

I know he is lazy and owns a Stadium Pal, an external catheter used by sports fans who don’t want to miss any of the action when they take a ‘comfort break’. I know, too, that when he came out at the age of 21 – he’s 51 now – his best friend said she always knew. ‘It’s the way you run,’ she said. ‘You let your arms flop instead of holding them to your sides.’

What else? I know that he used to wear fake padded buttocks, because he has ‘no ass’, and that he considers his calves to be his single best attributes. When I ask about these now, as we sit in the Thames-side office of his publishers, he rolls up his trousers, stands, turns and stretches up on tiptoes to see over the back of the giant sofa and wave at an imaginary friend in the distance.

‘See?’ he says over his shoulder. ‘They’re almost comically muscular, don’t you think? The equivalent of Popeye’s forearms. It must be genetic because I don’t work on them. I think I should have my calves preserved for the nation when I die.’

I’m not the only one who knows all these things about him, by the way. The four million or so people around the world who have bought his books know them, too. His sixth, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, is published this month. And, as with the others, it is a collection of semi-autobiographical essays, some of which have appeared in The New Yorker. They are all about him, his family and his life, but how much he exaggerates the truth for comic effect is the question, the reason for the ‘semi’.

Did he really have such nightmare neighbours? Such dead-end jobs? Such strange encounters during his years as a hitchhiker? As with those other great semi-autobiographers Bill Bryson and Clive James, it doesn’t really matter – you’re just glad he wrote the books. And anyway, it’s in keeping with his sense of mischief. You suspect he considers it his mission in life to reduce the notoriously exacting fact checkers at The New Yorker to tears.

As a prose stylist he is often compared to that other great New Yorker writer James Thurber – dry, mordant, pitch perfect. As a human being, the most obvious comparison is with the comedian Larry David. Sedaris goes through life unintentionally winding people up, digging himself deeper, creating misunderstandings. His latest volume includes an account of an argument he had with a woman sitting next to him on a plane. When she fell asleep, he inadvertently coughed out the lozenge he was sucking and it landed in her lap. I won’t give away how he tries to extricate himself from this awkward situation, but suffice it to say it is a good illustration of how he manages to identify the absurdist humour that lies just below the surface of everyday life.

While we are talking, I notice there is a MacBook Air laptop on the floor by his feet. Nothing remarkable in that, except that, well, didn’t I read somewhere that he is so technophobic he only recently started using email? ‘I still don’t much,’ he says in a voice that manages to be clipped and prim, yet somehow also wispy. ‘Hugh [his partner of 16 years] bought me this because he was sick of us being stopped at security because of my typewriter. One security guard even asked me to turn my typewriter on. Anything that they haven’t seen a thousand times already that day is going to cause you problems.’

As a child growing up in the middle-class suburbs of Raleigh, North Carolina, Sedaris developed a repertoire of tics and obsessive/compulsive tendencies such as rocking and counting his steps, but the one that truly exasperated his teachers was his uncontrollable urge to lick light switches. He resolved most of them when he took up smoking as a teenager. It gave him something to do with his hands and focused his agitated mind.

He recently stopped smoking (a subject he wrote about at length, of course) and when I ask if any of his childhood compulsions have come back he thinks for a moment then sticks four fingers between the buttons on his shirt. ‘Nowadays, nearly all shirts are made with space for five fingers so I had to ask them to put little snappers between them so that when I bend over people can’t see my stomach…’ He demonstrates. ‘I have grey chest hairs, which no one wants to see. The snappers just make it so much easier.’

He was blessed with an equally eccentric family of one brother and four sisters (one of whom, Amy, is now a comedian), and an insensitive mocking father. But it was his chain-smoking, wisecracking mother who dominated the family. ‘Growing up, we would all sit around the table and talk for hours, six kids… all competing to make my mother laugh.’ His mother would give him cartons of cigarettes for his birthday – when he was in his teens – and once said to him: ‘I don’t know how it happened, but you’re mine. If that’s a big disappointment for you, just imagine what I must feel.’

She died in 1991 – of lung cancer – and, soon after, for reasons that may or may not be ripe for Freudian interpretation, his career took off. He was discovered, in a small club in Chicago, reading the diary he had kept since 1977 (it was his hilarious account of life working as an elf at Macy’s Santaland that really swung it). This led to regular readings on the highbrow National Public Radio. The readings turned into essays, the essays into books and the books become bestsellers.

Meanwhile, his readings began selling out the Carnegie Hall, with fans mouthing along to their favourite passages. Among guests on the David Letterman chat show, he alone gets to read from his own script, standing at a lectern as if giving a lecture. The comedy is partly to do with his delivery – he has the timing of a Woody Allen – and his lispy voice. He can’t stand it. ‘My voice turns my stomach,’ he says. ‘It used to be much more excitable, though, a much more girlish pitch.’

He divides his time between Paris, Normandy and, his home at the moment, London. But he is not sure whether his observation of London life will be funny enough to perform. ‘I just can’t do the accent,’ he says. ‘And so much of the humour of the English relies on nuance of delivery. Also there is much more of a language gap than people imagine.’ For example? ‘Well words like “fanny” and “pants”. They are innocent words in America, but here…’

I imagine that his neighbours in London don’t provide him with seams of comedy as rich as the ones he mined in New York for seven years. Take his elderly neighbour Helen, the star of the story overleaf. She died in 1998, the same year he and Hugh moved to France. ‘If someone is as unhappy and angry at life as Helen, your disapproval isn’t going to make any difference to her,’ he says. ‘She was a product of her time. The casual racism. Alan Bennett called people like that “urban peasants” because they never left their block. I admired her ego because I am so plagued by self-doubt. I like the fact that she didn’t mind confrontation. I would always avoid it.’

Example? ‘I went to Harrods and there was a guy next to me at the urinal and the attendant said: “You didn’t flush the toilet.” I mean, this guy’s job was to be pleasant to customers, yet there he was taking them on. I made a point of flushing and also made a point of not using too many towels, and all because I wanted this guy to like me.’

Although there is often kindness and affection in Sedaris’s portraits of the strangers he encounters, they also reveal that he has that thing that Graham Greene said all good writers must have: a chip of ice in his heart. He is quite ruthless in the way he brings Helen to the page, for example. ‘Really? You think? I thought I was giving the best of Helen! She was really like that. Her daughters, too. One was busy and couldn’t come to the funeral. When Helen was in the hospital dying, there were things I saw in that room which I wouldn’t record because she was a vain person. So there I held back.’

I ask if he is unkind to himself as a form of self-defence: if he says it first it takes the edge off it? ‘That’s a hard thing to navigate in Britain because you guys are harder to impress. There is a code to it. You say the opposite of what you mean. Americans are better at being positive and selling themselves. I don’t think it’s deliberate self-deprecation on my part. I just try to be upfront. Anyway, if you are going to write about other people then you have to be mean to yourself. ?You have to be prepared to tell the world what your scrawny ass looks like.’

You suspect that, as a young man, he took on strange jobs such as working in an autopsy centre because he knew that one day they would make good copy. He protests that this wasn’t the case. ‘It was more a matter of my always having been fascinated by death. I don’t know why you don’t hear more about these places. It was unbelievable, especially the autoerotic asphyxia cases. They would take crime-scene photos of the dead men: in a closet or a shower dressed in their wife’s clothing. The wife would have gone on vacation and come back to find him. He would have been dead for three or four days. I would look at those photos for hours to pass the time. Now, whenever I see an obituary of a man who died young and they don’t say why he died, I always assume it is autoerotic asphyxia.’

I get the feeling that Sedaris is quite passive aggressive, getting what he wants by putting himself down. Besides, for all his callousness, I have heard that he is a secret charity worker. True? ‘I did some stuff with Age Concern, yeah. I can’t do much. I can’t drive a car or fix anything. All I can do is clean.’ Inevitably, his charity work led to misunderstandings. ‘There was one old woman who had all these jars littering up the place and I helped her get rid of some of them, then the next thing I know she is complaining I stole them. She called my supervisor and complained. Said she might have needed them one day for picnics. I wanted to say trust me, her picnic days are behind her. I liked that job because it meant I could get to go in other people’s houses. See inside.’

Sedaris is the master of the poignant ending as, for example, when he describes in one essay how Hugh always loses him in crowds. He finds himself cursing his boyfriend as he tries to keep up, and plotting how he is going to leave him. He then takes the reader through his thought processes as he realises that he couldn’t live without Hugh. ‘”There you are,” I say. And when he asks where I have been, I answer honestly and tell him I was lost.’

‘I really would be lost without him,’ he says now. ‘He looks after me. He’s always up at dawn hewing logs and drawing water. And like in the house at the moment there is a pile of unopened mail and he will sort through it all when he gets back at the weekend. I just couldn’t do that.’

So what does he, Sedaris, bring to the relationship? ‘I can’t figure out what Hugh needs me for. I don’t bring anything to the relationship.’ He pauses before delivering one of his poignant, vaguely melancholy endings. ‘I guess I make him laugh.’


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.