Dustin Hoffman is a Hollywood legend but is jealous of Hugh Grant. What other insecurities does he have? Nigel Farndale meets him

On a cloudy afternoon in London, I show Dustin Hoffman a newspaper headline. He feels in his pocket for steel-rimmed glasses, slips them on and tilts his head back. ” ‘Hugh, you’re a prick,’ ” he reads out loud in that chewy, gravelly voice.

“I hadn’t seen it. Does it hurt me?” he says.

The news story is about how Hoffman insulted Hugh Grant at the Empire magazine film awards – calling him “a real prick” when he seemed to suppress a yawn during Hoffman’s acceptance speech for a lifetime achievement award. Hoffman’s reaction to the story seems chillingly self-centred, given that the insult was meant affectionately.

“I guess they took it out of context,” he says, folding his glasses away. “I just meant Hugh is so good-looking he didn’t have to get into acting to pick up girls, like I had to. All my painful adolescence I dreamed of looking like he does.”

That sounds a frivolous reason for becoming an actor, I suggest, considering that Dustin Hoffman is famously serious about what he does: the fretting over rehearsal time, the method acting, the demands for retakes. By way of an answer to my point, he embarks on a 10-minute, free-associating anecdote about a proctologist he knows, who examines rectums for a living because it pays better than any other branch of medicine.

So, I ask when he has finished, Hoffman was drawn to acting by the money, not the girls? No, that’s not it either. And off he goes on another tangent.

On the set of The Marathon Man in 1976, when Hoffman was insisting on “total immersion” in his role, an exasperated Laurence Olivier was driven to ask: “Why doesn’t the boy just act? Why does he go through all this sturm und drang?” And when the director Sidney Pollack was congratulated for winning an Oscar for Tootsie in 1982, he said: “I’d give it up if I could have back the nine months of my life I spent with Dustin making it.”

It occurs to me that one reason directors and fellow actors have found him difficult to work with over the years is that he can’t stick to the point. He has a desultory mind. He fusses over his answers, deviating, qualifying pointlessly, making even a sympathetic listener feel impatient.

“How did we get on to this?” he says eventually. I remind him.

“Right, right.” He grins. “That was why I was a bad student. I would never concentrate. Always staring out of windows, daydreaming, drifting off. You used the word ‘frivolous’ earlier. The real reason was even more frivolous than girls.

“I barely got through high school. At junior college a friend suggested I take acting class just to try and get the grades I needed, because no one ever flunked acting. It was either that or end up working at a fast food joint, or joining the army.”

So it was neither the girls nor the money, but the grades? “Grades and girls,” he corrects. “I was shy, short, had bad acne and suddenly, when I was acting, girls looked at me differently. They noticed me, for one thing. I was assigned an attractive girl to act a scene with and she gave me a look I had never gotten before. She looked at me like I was attractive. That felt good. I’d never felt attractive before.”

At 65, with his thick hair frosting at the temples, his laughter lines, his kind eyes and his warm grin, Hoffman is not, in fact, an unattractive man physically. And his personality is attractive enough: he’s friendly to the point of being ingratiating, he tells funny stories and does animated impersonations.

But before he became a Hollywood star, the first things women would notice about him were his puffin nose, his height (5ft 6in), his pitted skin – superficial things. I think that’s his point. Has he been suspicious of beautiful women who have been attracted to him since he became famous?

“Parts of it never changed for me, because if I was at a Hollywood party in my heyday, after The Graduate, say, and people like Jack Nicholson or Warren Beatty were there, men who were much more handsome than me, the best-looking girls, the models, gravitated to them first. Believe me.

“The feeling I got was the same as I had in school. I would only ever attract female versions of me. Female celebrities like Janis Joplin, who no man found attractive before she became famous.”

In fact, Hoffman has said in the past: “If anyone thinks that I got laid less than Warren Beatty, they’re wrong.”

Given that he felt insecure about his looks, wasn’t it masochistic of him to want to be scrutinised on a big screen? “Absolutely, that’s why I didn’t want to be a film star, I wanted to be a stage actor. That’s why Gene Hackman, Robert Duvall and I all fled to New York [where they lived together as young, undiscovered actors].

“We didn’t believe we had a chance to make it in movies, not against all those walking surfboards. We were on the stage as character actors, so it didn’t matter what we looked like.”

Dustin Hoffman has often drawn on his own experiences for his roles. While making Kramer vs Kramer, for which he won his first Oscar in 1979, he was going through a messy divorce, as was his character in the film. He won another Oscar for Rain Man in 1988, and to prepare for that role he spent a full year getting to know autistic people.

In Moonlight Mile, his first film for three years, which is out this week, he plays a man whose daughter dies in a random shooting. I ask whether he drew on his relationships with his own children (he has two from his first marriage, four from his second) for that role. Did he try to imagine how he would feel if one of his children was murdered?

“Sort of. I’m not a physically violent person. Out of practicality. I’m no dummy – I knew I wasn’t going to win many fights. But a few things have given me the feeling that I could kill, and it’s always to do with protecting children.

“When I see a car speeding in a neighbourhood full of children, I start screaming, ‘Slow down!’ If I had a baseball bat in my hand I would be capable of whacking the driver with it. It infuriates me because bad drivers are really fucking around with the lives of children.

“And I’m aggressive verbally in Central Park. Sometimes when I see parents pull their children up by the hair, say, I find myself shouting, ‘Hey! Hey! Hey! Stop that!’ ”

I ask about a scene in Moonlight Mile in which his character breaks down and cries – it was very convincing. How did he do it?

“It was an accident. It wasn’t written like that. We were waiting for the next set-up and I was talking about a time two years ago, when my son Max, then 16, suffered his first bereavement. A friend of his had been killed in an auto accident. It devastated Max. I don’t think he has ever gotten over it. Even now I feel emotional thinking about it.”

Hoffman pauses. He sucks in air between gritted teeth. His eyes fill up. If this were the cinema I, too, would be blinking back tears. But face to face, it is an oddly unmoving performance, as if this old pro, this skilled seducer, is tweaking his one-man audience with practised fingers.

“The thing I hate most about war,” he says abruptly, his voice still wavering, “what really frightens me, is that it has become such an abstraction. You have to have gone through loss yourself to understand what happens when one country drops three thousand bombs on another country in 40 minutes.

“It kills all the powerless sacrificial goats. It is stunning that, as human beings, we can’t take that reality in. We have that mental block in order to survive. I think there is something else afoot. I think America’s collective grief over September 11 is being manipulated and politicised for nothing more than hegemony, power and oil.”

In the past couple of weeks Dustin Hoffman has become Hollywood’s most high-profile campaigner against the war in Iraq. I ask if he feels ashamed to be an American. “You can be pro-American and anti its administration.”

Hoffman’s father, Harry, the Chicago-born son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, wasn’t anti-American either. In fact, he tried to realise the American dream. Indeed, when Dustin Hoffman played Willy Loman in a celebrated stage version of Death of a Salesman in 1985, he based the role on his father.

“My father moved out West in the 1930s with $50 in his pocket and at first he dug ditches – shirt off, shovel in hand. But he was ambitious and got a job as a props man in a film studio, hoping to become a producer. Then he was made redundant at the time I was born. We had cornflakes for dinner a lot.”

Does Hoffman think his childhood poverty coloured his attitude to money when he became a wealthy adult?

“The first big lump sum I got was $150,000 for Midnight Cowboy in 1969 and I remember walking down a street and looking at shop windows full of stereos and cameras and realising suddenly I could buy them all if I wanted to. That was an extraordinary feeling.”

Did he feel guilty about earning a lot of money when his father had to work so much harder for so much less?

“No.” He shakes his head and purses his lips. “No, because I still bought my father’s lie then that he was successful, which he had never been. It took me years to find out that he would borrow money from friends and give it to other people just so as people would think Harry Hoffman was rich.”

The actor does think, though, that his father felt impotent when usurped by his successful son as the family breadwinner. “I remember he was very angry at me for one reason: he wanted to be my business manager when I became successful, and I refused because I knew that would be a doomed project. I don’t think he ever forgave me for that.”

Ahard edge creeps into Hoffman’s voice when he talks about his father, and this is much more affecting than his actorly tears. “My father had been a bankrupt a few times,” he says slowly. “We were always moving house, every year or so. He would start a furniture store and it would go bust, but I never heard him use the actual word ‘bust’.

“There was once a bailiff came to the house and my mother started crying and my father found out. He was a little guy, 5ft 2in, but he went down to the repo company and beat the shit out of the boss there for going to my mother and not to him. He was a proud man. Tragic, in a way. The funny thing was, it didn’t hurt his pride to accept a Rolls-Royce from me or to go on cruises which I had paid for.”

Does he ever catch his father’s reflection in the mirror? “All the time. We mock what we are to become. God, yes. I was born on his birthday. When he was 80, I was 50 and we went for a walk on a beach, and he said: ‘Half a century, kid.’ And then he said: ‘I have to leave you something.’ I said, ‘You gotta stop worrying about me, Dad, just enjoy the time you have left.’ But he had this fantasy that he would leave a million dollars to his kids. He never did, of course. He died soon after that.”

I suspect that Harry Hoffman did leave his son a legacy – his insecurity. That and the ambition of a short man who has to push himself forward; who never feels he is attractive enough, or successful enough; who, despite being a Hollywood legend, worries still that a silly newspaper story might hurt him; a perfectionist who fears being exposed as a fraud if he turns in what he believes is a second-rate performance; a man who is genuinely, not just jokingly, jealous of people such as Hugh Grant who have the natural advantages in life he never had.

I ask if his father ever did stop worrying about him. “Not really. That day on the beach, when we finished our walk, we sat down on the sand. My kids, his grandchildren, were running around. He should have been happy, but suddenly he said: ‘Dusty, old boy, it’s all bullshit. It’s all bullshit.’ A whole lifetime had come to that.”

Does he feel the same, 15 years on? He grins, shakes his head and mouths the word no. “But ask me again when I’m 80.”


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.