… now Donald Trump wants to turn part of Scotland into a golf course. He’s already worth ‘about $10 billion’ but – in between barking orders to his secretary (and our interviewer) – he says he’s not motivated by money. Nigel Farndale almost believes him

The first surprise is that Donald Trump, a man who prides himself on his focus and discipline, does not have clear surfaces in his office high above Manhattan.

On the contrary, the place is cluttered with baseball bats, American football helmets, assorted trophies, silver spades propped against walls, and dozens of framed magazine covers stacked rather than hung. Evidence of a busy mind perhaps; or a short attention span.

‘This is Shaq O’Neal’s shoe,’ he says picking up what appears to be a shipping container from among the sports vests and baseballs laid out on a sofa. ‘Here, have a hold of it. It’s a monster, right? Size 22.

He took it off immediately after winning the NBA. And this is Tyson’s world heavyweight belt.’ He places a heavy, medallioned belt in my other hand.

‘The trouble is, I have nowhere to put these things. And all these.’ He gestures at the picture frames and then at the extravagant views from his windows, Central Park to the north, the Empire State Building to the south. ‘Don’t have enough wall space because of all these windows. When I have time I’ll get them hung up.’

It sounds improbable, this lack of space, given that we are standing on the 26th floor of the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, the most valuable piece of property in Manhattan, and one of the many skyscrapers around the world which this 62-year-old real-estate tycoon owns. But the lack of time rings true. His day starts at 5.30am, and he takes between five and 10 minutes for lunch, at his desk.

Though he is friendly enough, when he comes to the end of a sentence he has a habit of saying, ‘Go ahead’, as in, next question. Boy, is it unnerving.

The second surprise, by the way, is that he has shaken hands. I thought he hated that, to the point of obsessive compulsiveness. ‘Well, you look like a nice clean guy,’ he says. ‘What am I going to catch from you? It is a terrible custom that we all have.

But I guess it’s better than the hug. I had this guy came in a couple of weeks ago, and he says, “Hi Donald,” and shakes my hand, then gives me a hug, then sits down and starts coughing, and I say, “What’s wrong?”

And he says, “I have the worst cold.” So I say, “Excuse me,” and go off and wash my hands.’ Pause. ‘Go ahead.’

What about social kissing? ‘The triple is the worst. In France. One, two, three. The triple is crazy.’

Is that what he has to do with his one-time girlfriend, Carla Bruni? Or is it the kiss on the hand, now that she is the wife of the President of France?

‘Carla? It’s not awkward with her. She’s a terrific woman who is going to do France proud. She is already a great first lady. Is that what they call it over there? Has she taken you guys in England by storm? So different.’ Pause. ‘Go ahead.’

Scotland, I say as we sit down – him behind a vast polished desk cluttered with phones, cuttings and magazines, most of them featuring him on the cover; me opposite on a chair that is slightly lower than his.

A few weeks ago he landed his plane, a private Boeing 727 with the name Trump written in giant gold letters on the side, on the tiny Isle of Lewis, dwarfing anything else flying into or out of that airport.

He then spent precisely 97 seconds looking (for the first time) at the house where his mother was born and raised, all the while being photographed by the world’s media.

Then, with all the subtlety of a bulldozer, proceeded to give evidence to a public inquiry into a controversial £1 billion development he is planning to build at Balmedie, 13 miles north of Aberdeen, arguing that he was going to build ‘the greatest golf course in the world’ there, and there was no point in doing it ‘in a half-assed way’.

Environmental groups have balked at the proposal to build two golf courses, a five-star hotel, 1,000 holiday homes and 500 private houses on a three-mile stretch of coastline. They have argued that it could cause irreversible damage to a protected area of sand dunes.You certainly like to make an entrance, I say.

‘Well, you know all that publicity surrounding my visit is good for Scotland. I got calls from all over the world after that, from people wanting to invest there. It was on all the front pages. So many people have written about it. I have cuttings sent. Kelly!’

This is another thing he does. Mid-thought he will bark out his secretary’s name.

‘Can you bring in that pile of cuttings?’ Kelly appears and hands them over. He flicks through them. The headline on one is ‘Donald Grump’. I ask what it is about.

‘To be honest I don’t have time to read them. I wouldn’t get anything else done if I did. These are just the ones about Scotland. There are 33 other locations we’re working on. We’re doing great jobs around the world. Dubai.

China. India. Russia. Look here. Your FT. Right on the front page. I think that’s good for Scotland. I think it’s a positive. I think we made our case well. We have right on our side. Assuming we get the necessary approvals, I think it will be a great thing for Scotland.

There are very few opponents. I think they were very ineffective in the commission. I think we made our case well. Great thing for Scotland.’

This is another thing. He repeats his message several times in the same block of thought, treating discourse as an exercise in attrition. (Take these repetitions as read from now on.) He also bigs himself up all the time.

In fact, I don’t think I have met anyone less self-conscious or, with the possible exception of Don King, the boxing promoter, more puffed-up with self-belief. The funny thing is though, it suits him. He does it with a strange, almost cartoonish charm.

Trump has said that one of the things that attracted him to the site was that he had ‘never seen such an unspoilt and dramatic seaside landscape’. Which is precisely what makes it ‘the perfect setting’ for a six-storey hotel with customised boulevard. Does he appreciate the irony of that comment?

‘You will hardly even see the course,’ he says. ‘There are hundreds of courses built on SSSIs [Sites of Special Scientific Interest] in the UK. Tremendous number. It’s going to be beautiful, otherwise it wouldn’t be suitable.’

When we spoke, the inquiry was due to publish its conclusion any day. Whatever the outcome, this has been an unusual experience for Trump. Has his celebrity been a hindrance in this case, does he suppose? ‘I think it’s been both positive and negative. Positive in the sense that people know the work I do.’

His name is on everything: his buildings, his planes, even, according to legend, his bed. Did the use of his name as part of the brand start out as egotism?

‘It probably started right here in this building. Every company in the country wanted this site. It was and remains the best site in New York.

In my twenties I wasn’t naming buildings after myself, and then I bought the building rights for this site over Tiffany and had a choice of naming this building Trump Tower or Tiffany Tower, and a friend of mine who was streetwise said, ”When you change your name to Tiffany, then call it Tiffany Tower.” So I called it Trump Tower and it was a tremendous success.’

I have been trying not to stare at his famous brush-forward, comb-over hairstyle, the one that was once compared to a sunken apricot soufflé and which has been described by the New York Times as ‘an elaborate structure best left to an architecture critic’. As we are talking about branding and image, the question seems to be begged. For the love of God, man, why?

‘People always comment on it, but it’s not that bad and it is mine. Look,’ he lifts it up. ‘I mean, I get killed on it. I had an article where someone said it was a hairpiece, but you can see it isn’t.’ Does he use gel?

‘No, I use spray actually. I’ll comb it wet then spray it so it doesn’t get blown away by the wind. I’ve taken a lot of heat on the hair but, hey, it seems to work. Some people say, “Why don’t you comb it back?” but I don’t think NBC would be happy. They don’t want to take any chances.

‘Hey, Kelly! Can you bring in the figures from Nielsen?’

He is referring to the ratings for his US television show, The Apprentice, which he launched, along with the catchphrase ‘You’re Fired’.

‘There,’ he says, handing over the figures. ‘Didn’t even write them myself! When my show became a success I had all these people trying to copy it. Martha Stewart. Richard Branson.

They all failed. I really like Richard even though he tried to copy my show and failed. His show bombed whereas mine was the number one rated. The Apprentice has just been renewed for two more years.’

What about Sir Alan Sugar? Hasn’t his British version of The Apprentice done as well as Trump’s?

‘He does a good job over there. I chose him with [the producer] Mark Burnett. We have tried this format in lots of countries with different entrepreneurs and Alan has done it best.’

I heard there was tension between them, especially after Sir Alan described Trump as being ‘full of himself’ and ‘loud and garish’.

‘You mean early on? Well, if there was tension it was because he said he was going to top the rating in the United States, relatively speaking, and I said that was hard because I had the number one show. You want a Coke? Two Diet Cokes please, Kelly!’

The Washington Post once said that, ‘everything in Trump world is fabulous, or in first place, or better looking, or richer, or taller, or it has bigger breasts.’ Other papers have not been so kind, one arguing that with his taste for gilt and marble and overstatement, Trump has all the style and subtlety of a latterday Liberace.

There has been much speculation about how much he is worth. Manhattan seems to be his own personal Monopoly board, it’s true, but some of the properties associated with him around the world are not necessarily owned by him.

He sued Timothy O’Brien, a New York Times reporter, over TrumpNation, a book that claimed he was worth considerably less that he said he was.

Does he, I ask, know how much he is worth?

‘I may be worth approximately $10 billion.’

Presumably, the goalposts keep moving, I say, and he finds himself competing with other billionaires.

‘You keep going forward. I think if you love what you’re doing, that’s what you do. I have a choice. I could stay home and relax but I chose not to do that. If you like what you’re doing, you keep going forward.

By the way, I know plenty of very rich people who are not happy people. Money can be a negative. I know people who became unhappy after making their money. Equally I know people without much money who are very content. So it’s a mindset.’

Is he happy? ‘I think so. Content.’

Kelly’s voice comes over the intercom. ‘It’s Ivanka.’

Trump looks at me knowingly, and says, ‘The famous Ivanka.’ He presses the speaker button on his phone.

‘Hi, honey, I have a powerful man in my office, from The Sunday Telegraph.’

‘Is he treating you nicely? Am I gonna have to come up there?’

‘He’s gonna treat me nicely until I read the story, then I’m going to say, “That sonofabitch, I should have never wasted my time.” How you doing, honey?’

‘Can you pick up?’

Father and daughter discuss diaries. Can she do London? He’s going to be in LA that day, etc. The famous Ivanka is his daughter by the equally famous Ivana; she of the blonde beehive who once said: ‘Don’t get mad, get everything.’

Their messy divorce in 1992 came after Ivana discovered Donald’s affair with American beauty queen Marla Maples, whom he went on to marry, and later divorce. He is now married to Melania Knauss, a former model from Slovenia 24 years his junior.

Ivanka works for the Trump Organisation, as do her two grown-up brothers. He puts the phone down.

‘That was about Dubai. Go ahead.’

We talk about how inheriting wealth can undermine children. ‘I think it can be tough, but it’s hard to not give them these things because they grew up in Mar-a-Lago [Palm Beach] or Trump Tower, so it’s easier said than done.

But you want to keep your children grounded, so mine work. Three out of five of them have come into the business – the others are too young – and they are doing a great job, Ivanka, Don and Eric. The fact they are working keeps them grounded.’

Does he assume most people are motivated by money?

‘I don’t think I’m motivated by money. I’m motivated by enjoyment. I do what I do well. If I was motivated only by money I would have stopped working.’

Trump himself was born into wealth, the son of property tycoon Fred Trump. After gaining an economics degree in 1968, he joined his father’s company and worked with him for five years. Would he have made it without his father’s fortune? ‘My father built in Brooklyn and Queens, and I learnt a lot from him in terms of how to negotiate. The biggest thing I learnt was that my father worked hard and was happy. I figured that is the way to be happy.’

A rare moment of reflection is upon us. When his father died 10 years ago, he says, it made him wonder what it was all for. ‘When you lose your parents you are an orphan all of a sudden, however old you are. It tells you that time is not something you can discount.

‘I had loving parents. My father always showed great confidence in me. Even before I was 20 he would send me out to do jobs. He praised me all the time. I’ve always had great success and it had a lot to do with that. If you sink your first 3ft putt, you know it’s going to go well for you for the rest of the round. So go ahead.’

I say the picture I have of him is of an optimist, a bullish one with a can-do spirit, but is there a melancholy or reflective side the public doesn’t see?

‘I think I have a lot of thoughtful moments, but I don’t think I’m always optimistic. I was the first to call the recession two years ago on CNN and NBC and everyone said I was kidding. That’s not an optimist. It’s a realist. I prepared very nicely and went to places that are booming.

Other people are in places that are dying. Either I was intelligent or lucky. I used to tell people not to take exploding mortgages because that’s what they do, explode in your face. You know, sub-prime. Two years ago I was saying don’t buy real estate because the price is too high. Now I am saying buy real estate because this is going to be a great time.’

During the property slump of the early Nineties, his business was a staggering $9.2 billion in debt. How did he deal with it? He called a meeting with his creditors and, after warmly welcoming them, pitched for more time to repay them. Within hours they were on side – but only on condition that Trump stopped spending like a man with unlimited resources.

Trump disagreed. Unless he behaved like a billionaire, how could he expect the business world to treat him like one? Within a year of this meeting, he had proved himself right. Not only was he able to repay the debt, but he was back in healthy profit.

In one of the 14 how-to-get-rich books he has published, he writes that a low point came when he passed a beggar on the street and realised ‘the beggar was worth $9.2 billion more than I was.’ How did he keep his nerve when he owed that amount?

‘Many people I knew were going bankrupt and I didn’t go bankrupt. I learnt a lot about myself. I learnt that I could handle pressure. I know a lot of people who are smart, but who can’t handle pressure, and they might as well not be smart.’

A man in a suit pops his head around the door and says: ‘Money’s in. Came in 2.30.’

‘Congratulations.’ ?Then to me: ‘Just did a big deal. Lot of money, and there were questions as to whether those involved would be able to come up with the money because it was agreed in better times, hundreds of millions. Go ahead.’

He talks about the successes in his public life a great deal, but what about the failures in his private life, namely that two of his marriages ended in divorce?

‘I find business a lot easier to understand than relationships,’ he says candidly. ‘I know some people who have a great relationship but can’t add two and two. Business for me is a natural thing. Relationships are not natural to me. I don’t blame myself.

I was married to two very good women before my third marriage but it was hard for them and unfair for them to compete against my business. It takes a lot of time. But look, there are lots of advantages too.’

Such as?

‘The money.’

Is he a difficult person to live with?

‘I think I am a very easy person to live with for the right woman. A person who gives you space. Takes the heat off. For the wrong kind of woman I am impossible. But the time-competition is tough for a woman. I don’t think it is easy being married to me, frankly.’

Does he have a strong sex drive? ‘Marla [his second wife] spoke about my sex drive but I didn’t. That’s all a personal thing. Generally speaking, I think a strong and successful person will have a stronger sex drive than someone who isn’t successful. History has proved that to be a fact, right?’

I presume this means he has no need of Viagra? He has big curling lips like Elvis and these now pucker as he mouths the word ‘No.’

His youngest child is two, he is 62. What’s it like being a father at that age?

‘I cope. I really like him, he’s a great kid with a great personality. I have a wife, Melania, who really takes care of the baby. She doesn’t put any pressure on me to do the things a lot of fathers have to do. She is totally content to really take care of that baby.’

We have been talking for an hour by this stage, and I can sense the time has come to wrap things up. He shakes my hand again. Afterwards, downstairs in the cool of the lobby, I feel slightly dazed.

He is exhausting company. Even here you can’t get away from his neurotic energy. The rose marble floors are teeming with tourists come to worship at this shrine to capitalism.

As souvenirs, they take away Donald Trump Signature Collection shirts, cufflinks and ties. For the budget-conscious there are baseball caps, key rings and mugs emblazoned with his name. In the gold-plated world of Donald Trump, it seems, everything is for sale and everything has a price… especially his name.


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.