He’s well-educated, handsome and impeccably connected. Then why is Dominic West so good at playing deeply flawed losers?

Before meeting Dominic West in a pub near his house in Shepherd’s Bush, I’m told by a publicist that the actor is tired of people only ever asking him about The Wire, the gritty, understated, critically acclaimed police drama set in Baltimore. Although “cult” must be one of the most overused and misused words in the arts world, it can be applied with some justification to this series, which ran from 2002-2008.

Its devotees are fanatical and there aren’t that many of them, considering the canonical status the series enjoys – it was aired on an obscure digital channel in this country and so, when word of mouth spread, most people watched the box set on DVD instead. West was its unlikely star – unlikely because his background is so very different from that of McNulty, the hard-drinking, womanising blue-collar American detective he played.

He is, after all, an Old Etonian, as well as a friend of Samantha Cameron.

He’s also married to an aristocrat, Catherine Fitzgerald. They met at Trinity College, Dublin, where he was reading English, but went their separate ways – she married Viscount Lambton, and he had a child with Polly Astor (granddaughter of Lady Astor). They met up again and had three children, all of whom came along to their wedding last year at Glin Castle, her family seat.

Given the baggage that must come with the OE label, you would think that if any subject were off limits, it would be that one. We will, of course, talk about The Wire, because it would be perverse not to – like interviewing Paul McCartney and avoiding The White Album. But for now, let us describe our man as he arrives on a bike wearing a baggy flat cap and an orange patterned scarf. He has just turned 42, and presumably the first thing casting directors notice about him is that he is tall, dark and handsome, though not in a conventional way – indeed, the words that keep cropping up whenever he is profiled are “simian” and “carnivorous grin”. He has teeth like “nutcrackers”, according to one critic. And to this descriptive mix are usually added “oaky voice”, “booming laugh” and “cut-glass vowels”.

But the first thing I notice about him is his beard. He grew it for his much-lauded role as Iago in Othello at the Sheffield Crucible, which has just finished its run. This followed another 1,000-line role in Simon Gray’s Butley in the West End. In that West played a lazy, drunken, extroverted don. He said at the time that he liked that role because it meant he got to be “monstrously camp” and “bitchy”. He has also been all over our television screens this year, having starred in the BBC series The Hour (a second series of which will start filming soon), as well as his chilling and utterly compelling portrayal of Fred West in ITV’s Appropriate Adult. On the big screen he is currently playing the baddy in Johnny English Reborn (a rare taste of critical disapproval for him this, but the critics didn’t stop it becoming number one at the box office) and he is about to appear opposite Rebecca Hall in The Awakening, an atmospheric story set in a Twenties country boarding school, loosely based on The Turn of the Screw.

West plays a wounded veteran of the First World War who is now working as a teacher. “There is an elegiac sadness to the film,” he says. “It plays with this idea that ghosts come out of grief. That they represent a human need to see people because so many had died in the war. The Twenties were a time of grief. People were living in the past because so many of their loved ones had recently died.” West’s grandfather fought at the Somme. “He got injured. Lived a long and happy life in Sheffield. He was an industrialist. We’ve got his medals and his hat. But the best research I found for understanding that period was the poetry. That was the medium of the First World War.” We talk about ghosts and I say that, annoyingly, the film gave me goose bumps – annoying because I don’t believe in ghosts. Does he? “I’m not a rationalist like you. I like to believe there are ghosts all over the place! The country house we filmed in had a lot of history. Several members of the same family had killed themselves there. The son shot himself and I was constantly trying to find that room.”

So he enjoys scaring the bejesus out of himself? “We’re drawn to that which frightens us,” he says. “Morbid curiosity. It’s the reason I like playing evil people like Iago or Fred West. We are fascinated by them.” But at least Iago is fictional. What was most disturbing about his Fred West was his normality. He seemed so matter of fact in the way he talked about his deeds. Worse, he seemed quite vulnerable and almost sympathetic. “My words were almost entirely taken from the transcripts, apart from some of his worst excesses. Everything I did was what I heard on those tapes. There was no acting involved, really. I suppose the psychopath in him meant that he looked to the appropriate adult for cues, because he had no idea what the social convention was on this. He had no understanding of what was thought to be shocking. For him, sweeping up leaves and leaving them in the garden was no different to chopping up his daughter and leaving her there.” In an interview at the time it was screened, he admitted he understood the dark sexual fantasies of West. “This is very, very dangerous territory,” he said. “But necessarily, one has something in common.”

“It got pretty dark,” he now says. “I was having bad dreams about it. It was filmed quite quickly, though, so I could come home and be with my kids and take my mind off it. I realised researching him that anyone who goes near that man, be they a biographer or actor or a relation of the victims, becomes tainted – you’re changed by him in a malign way. It’s extraordinary the power of people like that, they go on after their death. I don’t know whether you would call it charisma, exactly, but he was a lovable rogue, like Iago. Not very intelligent, but likeable and quite charming in his jack-the-laddish way.”

What was really freaky about that performance was that he looked and sounded just like Fred West, even down to the Gloucester accent. “Actually, I thought no one would buy it. But I am hyper self-critical.” I liked the way he kept chewing on his cheek. “Did I? I think that was the fake teeth which gave me even more of a monkey mouth, like his. It helped having a mouthful of too many teeth.” Meeting him in person, I realise that the cheek chewing wasn’t acting. He does it in real life, too.

Dominic West was born in Sheffield, one of seven children. His father made his fortune by manufacturing vandal-proof bus shelters. He played Iago with a Yorkshire accent. How did that go down in Sheffield? “They liked it, but I dare say there were some asking why I was doing it in a Yorkshire accent, asking if I thought Yorkshire sounded evil. But it was the opposite. Yorkshire sounds honest. Everyone calls him honest Iago. He couldn’t do what he did if people didn’t find him honest.” Of all the accents West has nailed, Yorkshire must have been the easiest.

“Yes, because that was the accent with which I used to speak. It also has its dangers, because it comes too easily to me.” What was extraordinary about the pitch-perfect Baltimore accent he adopted for The Wire was that people there had no idea he was an Englishman, though West says he found it a very hard accent to pull off. As part of his research for that role, he spent weeks shadowing real Baltimore cops as they patrolled the ghettos. Must have been an eye opener, that. “I remember my first day standing next to this guy who had been shot eight times and was still alive and his family were standing around him and I was hoping to God they wouldn’t ask me a question. I felt quite uncomfortable, because I was an actor from London. An impostor. Generally when things got exciting, I was excluded – I couldn’t go on drugs raids, for example – but I think it was just as important to learn about the boring stuff, because that is the main part of a cop’s working life.”

Can his friend David Cameron learn any lessons from The Wire about tackling the drug problem here? “Legalise it, you mean? Legalising it was one of the radical ideas we explored in The Wire, as a way of dealing with all the health issues. If you want a radical solution, that’s the way to do it, but it hasn’t been tried yet in real-life Baltimore. I think the writers thought the drug war was a waste of money and lives and that the drug dealers should be run out of town.”

Here’s a name drop, I say. I was round at Ian McEwan’s house not long ago, and I noticed there was no television. Did our Greatest Living Novelist disapprove, I asked? He did have one, he said, but he only used it like a cinema, for watching DVDs. And what was he watching at the moment? The Wire. “Was he?” says West. “That’s great. I think a lot of people did that because when they watched the box set it was quite novelistic, each episode like a chapter. Had it not been for the box set, I don’t think it would have been watched much at all.” What does he make of the fanaticism of the fans? “I do get the feeling from the people who come up to me that they feel like they are members of a secret club. The initiation to this club was sitting through 17 hours of quite impenetrable material. The harder they had to work, the bigger the pay off.”

West was most adept at acting drunk in Butley. And in The Wire too, possibly because he sometimes enjoyed the odd Scotch during filming. And, such is his conscientiousness, his “research” seems to have carried over into Iago – offstage, at least. “With Iago, I would come offstage and go on drinking,” he tells me. What, even when he had a performance the next night? “Yes. Of course. We’d go crazy. You don’t get hangovers because you’re running around so much and sweating so much. Physically, it was demanding for a 42-year-old git like me.” He’s known to like a drink, but now his run has finished I guess it doesn’t matter if he lets his hair down. “I’m in the first week of my holiday and adoring it,” he says. “But by the third week, I’ll be getting a bit antsy. We’re going to Spain tomorrow, then I’m going paragliding with my friends, and then I’m hoping to see the Dalai Lama, because I’ve been doing some work with Free Tibet. We’re flying into Dharamsala from Bir.”

I tell him my pet theory about 42 being the age at which people are reaching their creative peak at the moment: the scriptwriter Abi Morgan? 42. Professor Brian Cox? 42. Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters? 42. “I’m part of this group, you mean? Well, it would be nice to think so. If you spoke to my wife, she would say the success can be dated to me going out with her! But yes, certainly over the past five years. I suppose you get to a time in life where your peers are the people in charge, they are the people about whom books are written and TV documentaries made. They are ‘your time’.” Especially in his case, having been at school with Boris Johnson and David Cameron. “Well, yes, they were older than me, but not by much, so we were near contemporaries. I knew Boris’s brothers well.”

Any memories of Dave he’d like to share? “I wasn’t aware of him at school much, would see him around a bit, but it was Sam I knew better. My good friend Nick was deeply in love with her and resented her going out with this guy Dave. That was really how I got to know him.” Is it true she’s a secret Labour voter? “Really? Why do you say that?” Ed Vaizey MP said she voted Labour in 1997. “That’s hilarious. I can imagine she might because she doesn’t want her husband to be prime minister, though I’m sure she’s delighted he became it. I imagine she would rather have her life back. But I don’t know if she’s a Labour supporter. I doubt it, somehow. He’s very convincing in his arguments.” He chews his cheek. “I think this coalition suits Cameron well because he doesn’t have to pander to his right wing, the Lib Dems keep that in check. He can occupy the middle ground.” West has two sons. Would he consider sending them to Eton, given that in the past he has said he was miserable there? “Yes, I would. It’s an extraordinary place. When I first went there I was desperate not to become what I thought an Etonian was: a soft southerner. It was very much a north-south thing. But it did very quickly nurture my acting. It has the facilities and the excellence of teaching and it will find what you’re good at and nurture it.”

I imagine he, like David Cameron, would rather not carry the label around with him. “I don’t think it will have won Dave any votes. It certainly hasn’t won me any parts. The other day, Newsnight Review was talking about Othello and it came up in five seconds. I thought, ‘Eton is more than half my lifetime ago’. So yes, there is a stigma, and not a benign one. But I do think everyone has to overcome other people’s perceptions of them. Clarke [Peters, who played Othello and was West’s co-star in The Wire] says he gets it with ‘black actor’ but I think there is a political will not to do that now. Old Etonian is attached to my name at every opportunity to explain what? I don’t know. Why I am such an a——-?” The booming laugh again. He doesn’t really think he is one, and I’m inclined to agree.


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.