For entirely selfish reasons I have been trying hard to like Diana Krall. I go to see her in concert, you see. I have all her albums. And the next time I go to see her in concert, or play one of her albums, I don’t want to have it ruined by a voice in my head saying: ‘What a cow.’ But the fact is, from the moment she turned up late, pointedly ignored me while she poured herself a coffee, and then greeted me with a crusher handshake, the world’s bestselling jazz singer and pianist has been in a foul mood. Ominously, when I try to melt the permafrost by congratulating her on her pregnancy (her first, at 41, baby due in December) and asking her the standard jokey question about whether she has developed any odd cravings or caught herself behaving erratically she glowers at me, actually glowers, and says in a flat voice: ‘You might just find out.’
After five minutes of her blocking my questions with defensive, one-sentence answers delivered in a Canadian monotone, I consider throwing in the towel. Upon reflection I wonder whether I shouldn’t just ask her if she wants to reschedule. But then I remember how tight her schedule is: she flew into London from LA last night to begin a three week tour of Europe — and so jetlag may partly account for her charmlessness. Anyway we have already rescheduled — the interview was originally going to happen in Italy. So instead I smile and say: You don’t like being interviewed much, do you? It seems to help.  She sighs. ‘I don’t like talking about myself.’
So why did she agree to meet me? She shrugs, rubs her bare arms and complains about the air conditioning being on too high.
Does talking about Diana Krall make Diana Krall feel self conscious? Silence. ‘It’s not my favourite thing to do. It’s boring.’ Another silence. ‘I’m quite shy.’ (The default excuse of rude people.) ‘And people have preconceptions about me.’
Such as? ‘You know, from the photographs.’
She refers to her album sleeves, the ones that made her the poster girl of the jazz world — Diana in tulle by moonlight; Diana barefoot and swathed in sarape on the shoreline; Diana all sultry, blonde and puffy-lipped in a little black dress that shows off her long legs (she’s 5ft 8in) and stiletto heels.
She is a seriously talented jazz pianist. She wins Grammies. She gets asked to play at the White House. Did she worry that she might be taken less seriously because of those photographs? ‘No I never thought of that. It was my choice. The record company didn’t make me do it.  I love fashion and I love photography. But I know a lot of people who put pretty pictures of themselves on their covers and the records don’t sell. My records always sell. My tours always sell out. I think I deserve more credit for that as a live performer. I’m not saying the pictures didn’t help. But just because you have a pretty girl in a pretty dress it’s not going to change people’s mind about whether they like your music or not. I had to apologise for those record covers for a while, I won’t do that any more. Get over it, people. That’s all petty stuff.’
Now this is more like it; something approaching passion; and delivered in a torrent, with the words almost eliding one into the other. Not wanting her to lose momentum, I suggest that, anyway, the photographs complement the music. “Yeah, there is a sexuality to the music. It’s sexy.’
They complement her singing voice, too. She shrugs. ‘Yeah, the smoky voice, Scotch and cigarettes, all that crap.’ I’m beginning to feel some sympathy for her, having to endure such clichés — because the point about Diana Krall’s singing voice is that it is not clichéd. It is completely original, partly because of its androgyny and almost tenor depth, and partly to do with a crack it has. It is husky, slow-burning, breathy; almost lisping at times. And her phrasing manages to be both languid and supple: bending notes, stretching them expressively, fading to a whisper. It’s as subtle as dark chocolate, her voice. It’s like, yes, Scotch and cigarettes, all that crap. I’ll stop now.
And yet… some jazz purists talk dismissively of ‘The Diana Krall crowd’, meaning musical tourists who would shy away from John Coltrane, Charlie Mingus or Thelonious Monk. The reason she has sold millions of records, they sniff, is that her music is unchallenging. But anyone who thinks her music bland and easy just isn’t listening attentively. Part of the snobbery, I suspect, may have arisen because she made her name recording popular standards from the Great American Songbook, rather than more obscure pieces.  After all, it was not until her third album, a homage to the Nat King Cole Trio recorded in 1996, that she really hit her stride. Since then she has become a peerless interpreter of the likes of Gershwin, Cole Porter and Bacharach imbuing their slow songs with a bluesy swing, or bringing an unexpected melancholy to their more upbeat songs. ‘I never tried to copy anyone vocally,’ she says. ‘People have compared me to Peggy Lee but actually Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Louis Armstrong were much more of an influence. I was born listening to Bing Crosby, I knew all the lyrics by heart by the time I was 15. It sounds boring and nerdy but there was something about his phrasing that I loved. I felt I had a head start.’
The place she was born listening to Bing was Nanaimo, British Columbia. Her father was a chartered accountant there, but he was also a keen amateur stride pianist and something of an expert on 1920s and 1930s pianists such as Fats Waller and Earl Hines. I ask if it’s true she was playing the piano at the age of four? ‘Bout then, yeah.’ And was that because she had pushy parents? ‘No they didn’t push. I wanted to from the beginning. My piano teacher played boogie woogie piano for me after my lessons and I loved it. I can still see myself as a four year old looking forward to that. I knew already at that age that I had a feel for swing music, music that had that…’ She clicks her fingers three times.
How did she stay focused on jazz when all her peers at school were getting into rock and pop? “Well I was into that, too. I listened to bands with my friends. But I heard a jazz concert quite young, and this is boring stuff,  but I joined a jazz band at school and started improvising when I was around 13. I began studying chord structures and jazz theory. Then I heard Ray Brown play and that was it for me…’
Krall was certainly precocious. At 17 she won a scholarship to study piano at the prestigious Berklee College of Music  in Boston but left after 18 month when she was ‘discovered’ by her hero the bassist Ray Brown (once married Ella Fitzgerald). He was so impressed by her virtuosity he convinced her to move to LA and ask the legendary  jazz pianist Jimmy Rowles (who used to accompany Billie Holiday) for lessons. ‘I quit college and knocked on Jimmy Rowles door,’ Krall recalls. ‘By myself. It was quite lonely. He said he didn’t teach. I wouldn’t accept no for an answer. He said you can come over, but I don’t know what I’m going to teach you.’
What did he teach her? ‘Everything musically, but it’s important to hang out with people like that and absorb the atmosphere and listen to the stories; listen to their struggles. Same thing when I hung out with Oscar Peterson last year. We told stories and listened to  his records. He asked me to play with him and I thought: “Try not to freak out, enjoy the moment.” We ended up singing Nat Cole songs together and it was one of the highlights of my life. What can I say? I wanted to tell my grandkids I’d played with Oscar Peterson.’
Did he rate her as a pianist? ‘Yeah.’ For he first time in the interview she smiles. Hers is a lip curling smile, like Elvis Presley’s. It exposes white, white teeth.
We talk about her new album ‘From This Moment On’. I tell her I liked the way she slowed down the tempo of one of the tracks, Irving Berlin’s ‘Isn’t this a Lovely Day’, so that it was as if hearing the words for the first time. ‘Thank you,’ she says. She’s good at breathing new life into familiar songs, I add.  ‘So I’m told.’
Actually, it is unfair to characterise Krall merely as a interpreter of standards. In 2004 she moved into darker, more introspective territory with the release of her album ‘The Girl In The Other Room’. There was no photograph of her smouldering on the cover. In tone it seemed to be influenced by her fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell, indeed it included a cover of Joni Mitchell’s Black Crow. But for the most part Krall co-wrote the  songs herself, with her husband Elvis Costello. They had married in December 2003 —  a first marriage for her, a third for him —the wedding taking place on the estate of their friend Sir Elton John.
When I ask if she had tried to reinvent herself with that album she shakes her head. ‘It wasn’t a conscious effort. I couldn’t do anything else. I’d lost my mother.’ Her mother had died of cancer of the plasma cells in 2002. ‘I’d also lost my mentor Ray Brown and my friend Rosemary Clooney. It was the loss of a parent followed weeks later by the loss of a father and mother figure. I was devastated. I was not feeling  like singing ‘Deed I do’ [one of her more upbeat songs].’
Does she find it painful to listen to that album now? ‘I don’t listen to any of my records again, ever. It’s cathartic finishing them, then I don’t want to hear them again. There are some songs I never play live because it would feel false, because if I’m not in the mood, I can’t lie that I am. I can’t be forced to do something I don’t want to do.’
No kidding. Perhaps her reluctance to enter into the spirit of this interview is just that, an inability to lie. As such it could be seen as a measure of her integrity. And yet she’s a performer. You would imagine she could fake being nice and polite for the sake of PR. Apparently not. ‘There’s this big joke about ‘Peel me a Grape’,’ she continues, referring to one of her more flirtatious songs. ‘My tour manager has never heard me sing it, yet people always shout it out, requesting it. I haven’t heard that song in six years. I just can’t do it. Not feeling that. A lot of The Girl in the Other Room songs I’ve put to one side, too.’
Working with her husband; what was that like? ‘It was fun writing with him. It worked well.’ She stifles a yawn.
Had she listened to Elvis Costello’s songs as a teenager? ‘I remember hearing Watching the Detectives on the radio.’
Her husband is someone who has transcended genres, I note: punk, folk, country and western, classical, jazz. ‘Uh-huh.’
I guess being pigeon-holed is the curse of the artist? ‘Uh-huh.’
Does she feel frustrated when fans want her to keep covering the standards? ‘Uh-huh.’
It occurs to me that her feisty manner might be a compensation for those lazy accusations that her music is bland. This may explain the way she constantly dismisses herself as boring, as a topic of conversation at least. But it could also be that she finds the concept of press interviews hypocritical, especially after the annoying time she had with the media a few years ago when her name was linked to Clint Eastwood, Hollywood’s biggest jazz fan. Both denied there was anything going on. When she is not in the mood, she is not in the mood, it seems. But what about when she is due to give a performance? “I’m never not in the mood when I’m performing. Ever. I might feel tired but as soon as I hit the first note I’m in the mood. I never feel negative about performing, unless I have to perform at a loud car show. That is excruciating. When people are talking. I don’t feel comfortable about that.’
I tell her I once came to see a concert she gave at the Royal Albert Hall when she had a bad cold, and yet she struggled gamely on. In fact, I suggest, when sandpapered by a cold, her voice had an even huskier and more attractive texture than normal. Did she see it that way? “Not really.’
She starts doodling on a notepad. ‘You know,’ she says without looking up, picking up the thread of an earlier conversation. ‘I never got bored re-interpreting jazz standards. Something like My Funny Valentine you can pull apart and put back a million different ways. You can take any song and improvise.’
In terms of improvisation, I say, drugs have always played a significant role in jazz. ‘Well that applies to the history of anything, art, literature anything.’
Yes but especially with jazz improvisation in the 1950s and 60s… ‘Well whatever worked for you.’ Has that ever worked for her? ‘Whatever works, as long as you get what you want in the end and don’t die in the process…’ She sighs impatiently, her lightening mood swinging back to darkness. ‘It’s kind of an old stereotype,’ she says peevishly. ‘I’m not having to deal with a lot of the things those artists had to deal with.’ Long pause. ‘I don’t think it’s an interesting conversation.’
I guess she has more of a safety net than the jazz stars of the 50s and 60s had. Managers, advisers, assistants. Presumably, she has an entourage with her? ‘I don’t travel with personal trainers and personal chefs, if that’s what you mean. I have a crew and I have a hair and make-up person. Don’t have her with me at the moment, as you can probably tell. [Her hair is gathered and she doesn’t appear to be wearing make up]. I buy my own clothes. But I do have people who look after me, yeah. People who make sure I’m not getting stressed out.’
Her quartet is far too distinguished to come under the heading ‘entourage’, by the way: drummer Jeff Hamilton, bass player John Clayton, and guitarist Anthony Wilson all being legends in their own right. Do they bow to her fame? “No they keep me in my line. They are my big bothers. They’ve known me for years. I don’t have people around me who don’t tell the truth. There’s no attitude or ego. I was never a big ego. I was always more on the insecure side.’
Insecure in what way? Presumably she doesn’t have insecurities about her looks? ‘Of course. Of course I do. Everyone does. There will be times when I wake up and look like shit.’
So she isn’t a narcissist? Long pause. ‘I don’t know.’
It would be understandable, being photographed all the time. ‘I’m not being photographed all the time. I’m not being photographed all the time. My photo shoots are one day.’
So she’s what? Well adjusted? ‘I’m fairly grounded, but always less neurotic when I’m playing. If I don’t play I end up internalising things… It has nowhere to go.’
If she was in a prison cell without a piano would she go mad? ‘Probably.’
What about if she were deprived of her pretty dresses? ‘I rarely dress up. I usually dress up if I go out to dinner with my husband but I don’t let it run my life. If I was going to a big party I’d get nervous about my gown…’ She trails off. ‘This is a crap conversation.’ Silence.
I ask if her husband has travelled over with her for this tour. ‘He and I just played in Aspen together. I played a show one night and he played a show the next night so we saw each other for two days then. Now I wont see him for a month… But we love what we’re doing. We love our tours. It’s hard being apart but… we get it. We struggle with missing each other but we talk on the phone every day, even when there is an eight hour time difference.’
Is her husband going to be there for the birth? ‘I certainly hope so!’
Well some fathers are squeamish. ‘Oh I see. I thought you meant in the same town.’ She rubs her arms and shivers. ‘This air con… I’m a bit chilly.’
She plans to tour again this time next year, but what, I ask, if  motherhood has made her too happy by then to sing her melancholy songs. ‘You never know.’
Again. No kidding. We have been talking for an hour and a half and it is time to say goodbye. One bone-crushing handshake later I sit back down and reflect ruefully on the old adage: never meet your heroes. I make some notes and get up to leave. It is then I notice the pad she had been doodling on. It is only a bit of cross hatching and a few loops but — hey — disillusion be damned — it is Diana Krall’s cross hatching, Diana Krall’s loops. I tear off the top sheet and slip it in my pocket.


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.