Transparent and inflatable, Eddie Izzard’s sofa is not so much a piece of household furniture as a plaything in a crche. It’s a bouncy sofa. A comedy sofa. One that makes rubbery squeaking noises whenever you move. I’ve been invited to sit on it by the enigmatic blonde who answered the door, explained that ‘Eddie is running late’ and then left. As I’m waiting, I try to work out a technique for rising from the sofa with dignity. There isn’t one – you’re either pitched violently towards the floor or wobbled sideways – so I move to the inflatable armchair opposite. It envelopes me. And with arms forced up and forward looking like a no-necked sleepwalker, I take in the interior with eye movements only. The walls are painted silver. The phone is in the shape of Mae West’s lips. There is a guitar, a packet of Rizla papers and a curtain of beads on strings hanging from the doorway through to the kitchen. All as you’d expect really.
Inky afternoon rain is sluicing down in Soho and Eddie Izzard, the 35-year-old comedian who looks 25 and acts 15, emerges from it bedraggled and drenched. He has a few day’s stubble on his face but no make up. His normally tousled and fluffy Meg Ryan haircut is lying flat and lank against his scalp, roots defiantly exposed. While I’m still struggling to rise, he slips off his leather trenchcoat, gives it a shake and lopes across the room to proffer a hand in greeting.
You have to be careful how you press the flesh with Izzard. He hates – no, hates is too strong a word for this amiable man – he isn’t particularly fond of those crusher handshakes, the ones you’re never expecting and that etiquette dictates you’re not allowed to react to. Izzard thinks that the world’s hand-crushers should be taught a lesson – whenever you encounter one, you should either scream or collapse silently to the floor, getting a friend to point out to the horrified crusher that you suffer from ‘hand-squeezy death’.
Apparently satisfied that my shake is equidistant between firm and limp, Izzard flops on the sofa, dangles his black spiky-heeled boots over the end and talks about the party Tony Blair threw at Number 10 this summer [1997] for his coolest, grooviest supporters. Izzard, the hippest pussy-cat with the shiniest PVC trousers of them all, was there. And to prove it, the next day, the Daily Telegraph ran a picture of him arriving. The deliriously terse caption under it read, TRANSVESTIT: IZZARD. And, human nature being what it is, one can only assume that this haiku-like summary of a complicated life will appear on his gravestone as well.
That there is more to Izzard than his transvestism – and his gift for reducing his clucking audiences to jelly – is the point he’s trying to make by taking on more serious roles (having already played three on stage, Edward II among them). Then, again, even as he tells you this, you can’t help but smiles. ‘Yeah. Well,’ he says, languorously contorting his vowels, ‘I can do both comedy and serious. I’ve got spare energy. It’s some sort of “I’ll show you” thing. Not wanting to be pigeonholed. Because then you become a pigeon. And even pigeons don’t want to be all put in the same hole. They want to be, er, um …’ He pursues this feathery theme for perhaps 20 seconds, grinds to one of his familiar ‘mumble, rumble, scrumble’ halts and then grins impishly.
‘Hey!’, he blurts, as if just struck by an Archimedean revelation. ‘Don’t you think these sofas are great? You can just sort of slide off them.’ He just sort of slides off the sofa, springs back up on his stacked heels, sits and just sort of slides of it again.
Watching his performance – the uninhabited, hyperactive child at play – reassures you that, for all his aspirations as a serious actor, Izzard means it when he says he will never be able to give up live comedy. He clearly derives far too much pleasure from making himself laugh. And for us as well as him the real appeal of his comedy lies not in the subtlety and sophistication of his allusions but in its exuberant, sniggering puerility, his cheerful cartoon land of talking animals and pre-teenage innocence, his ability to talk to the child in us all when he says that people who consume too much calcium should tell their doctors they feel ‘all cheesy-bony’.
But what might otherwise be just endearingly childish flights of fancy are rendered irresistible by Izzard’s appearance: with his footballer’s legs, sturdy body and square head he looks like a giant toddler, or a seven-year-old who has found an unguarded bottle of steroids. As it happens, the comedian remembers his wild, seven-year-old self vividly. ‘He was a very bad loser,’ Izzard says with a thoughtful scratch of his stubbly chin. ‘Always throwing tantrums. Tennis rackets through windows. Ridiculously competitive. But my dad was a live-and-let-live kind of guy and I suppose eventually I got on board with that.’
Izzard grew up in Bexhill-on-Sea which, he admits, doesn’t sound all that exotic but – as he was born in the Yemen, is descended from Huguenots in the French Pyrenees, has one grandfather who was a shepherd, another who was a bus driver, and a German grandmother – he feels that exotic has been taken care of. His father aspired to a ‘middle-class sort of thing’ and became an accountant with British Petroleum, sending Eddie and his brother to a minor provincial boarding school where pupils were taught to vote Tory. Although his father gave him ‘space to take risks’, he also impressed upon his son the motto ‘be happy, but preferably as an accountant’. The young Izzard flew various flags of convenience, such as Civil Engineering and Accountancy, but, eventually, after dropping out of a degree in Maths and Financial Accounting at Sheffield University, he came clean with his father and spent the second half of the Eighties as a street performer in London and Edinburgh.
Upon reflection, the comedian sees his father’s reluctance to put pressure on him to get a proper job as having a lot to do with the bond the two struck when Eddie’s mother, a nurse, died of cancer. He was six and he says he cried continually until he was 11, and after that he never really cried again. The fact he was sent off to boarding school may well have had something to do with it. ‘The only way to survive being a boarder is to get rid of your emotions, basically,’ he says with a shrug. ‘The whole atmosphere is geared towards convincing you you have to be a captain of industry. That you have to run things. They don’t say, ‘You’ve all got to go away and become transvestites’. They wouldn’t even say the word. People never say the word. They would say instead, ‘he’s one of those’.’
Remembering the caption TRANSVESTIT: IZZARD, I have been trying to avoid the subject. But it’s not just because it pigeonholes him, it’s because, well, it feels like we’ve heard a little too much from Eddie Izzard over the years on his right to express himself through his clothing. That Izzard feels the need to bring it up himself, though – and in such an abrupt and clumsy way – seems to point to some lack of resolution in his own feelings towards being ‘one of those’. And judging by the say he equates his being a transvestite – rather than his being a comedian – with other people’s sense of themselves as lawyers, doctors or teachers, his urge to cross-dress seems to have become the skeleton on which he has fleshed out his whole self-identity.
Although he may describe himself as being two lesbians trapped – but cohabiting happily – in a man’s body, Izzard actually takes his heterosexual brand of transvestism most seriously. At one point there was rumour of a steady girlfriend, Vanessa Jones, the beautiful daughter of the Bishop of Sodor and Man, but at the moment Izzard says, ‘I’m kinda loose. Which is fun. At some point I’ll settle down, but not tonight.’
He wears lipstick and skirts, he says, because it makes him feel comfortable. ‘I don’t choose to look this way. It’s a built-in thing that tells me to head down this direction.’ And he isn’t particularly fond of the expression ‘women’s clothes’ because, he says, they are his clothes. He has bought them, not borrowed them.
Even when he talks about being ‘TV’ – his preferred expression – as part of his stand-up routine, he does so only to make a serious underlying point. The ‘dick-head men’ on the building sites who shout out ‘bloke in a dress’ when they see him coming, and continue shouting it as he walks past, should, he believes, show more respect for other people’s inclinations. They should, as his father taught him, live and let live. Does it follow, then, that Izzard should also show some tolerance for those people, even the dick-head men, who simply find it odd that a bloke should want to wear a dress?
‘Oh yeah,’ he says, with a slurring, public-school delivery. ‘I totally understand it. Perhaps they feel threatened by it. Perhaps they are suppressing a desire to do the same. But I think basically there are those people who hate themselves and those who feel good about themselves. If you feel good about yourself, you have to take the risk of giving out positive energy in the hope that people who hate themselves will give something positive back. I wanted to like myself. I didn’t want to be a coward. I wanted to be able to walk down the street as a TV and, if I got beaten up, I wanted to be able to stay on my feet and afterwards take them to court. I wanted to be the person who wasn’t scared.’
Earlier this year, Izzard did get into a fight, in Cambridge. And he did stand his ground and, for the first time since he was 12, he did exchange blows. Afterwards he went to court and the man who fought him was fined £370. Like many people who have taken strength from facing their fears, though, Izzard seems to have become addicted to the scary challenges he sets himself. Almost masochistically, he defies his fear of drying up on stage by improvising much of his material (when I ask him how much, he gives me a look you would give a village idiot and says, ‘Er, exactly 72 per cent’). But he takes his therapy further. He does gigs in Reykjavik just to see if his sense of humour can cross cultural barriers. He is a passionate pro-European who speaks French and German (and Latin) but not fluently. That doesn’t stop him testing his courage, though, by doing his Paris gigs in French. And, though he can fill London theatres almost indefinitely, he likes to do gigs in Bexhill-on-Sea, scene of his most humiliating and painful adolescent moment, because, he says, it helps him put ‘a large ghost in pink lipstick to rest.’
When he was 15, he was caught stealing make-up from the Bexhill-on-Sea branch of Boots. Thinking he might get asked awkward questions if he bought some lipstick he hid it under a loaf of brown sliced bread instead and walked out. That way, he says, no-one would know – apart from the police and the judiciary system. He was let off with a warning from the chief constable which, in his fevered imagination, became: ‘That eye-shadow is never going to work with that lipstick. You want more russet colours. That’s light blue, that is. A death colour for an eye shadow. No-one could get away with wearing that…’
That Izzard keeps stressing the ‘whatever else I might be, a coward I am not’ point is curious. It’s a manly aspiration. And he reinforces it constantly by slipping into the high-testosterone language of the rugged, outdoor type. He will tell you that he was a fanatical footballer at school: ‘You know. First 11. Right half. Played 13. Won one. Lost one. My main thing was football. And make-up.’ Then, talking over his shoulder a few minutes later as he makes some fresh coffee, it’s: ‘I wanted to be in the Army, you know. I really did. The only reason I was put off is that they always eat potatoes. Remember those films? ‘Stephens! You’re on potato duty! Peel those potatoes!’ But I love the climbing trees and jumping over rocks side of soldiering. Invading counties and the shooting people dead stuff I skip over.’
He pauses for a second to emit a thoughtful, sighing ‘Yeah’ and then he’s off again, telling you about his time in the Scouts, and giving vent to a deliriously juvenile stream of consciousness. ‘We had this Scout master who was an incredibly energetic organised and listy type person, and he drove around in an MG and came from Mars really. Or Kenya. We were 11 guinea-pig kids to him and we did everything. Going down waterfalls, and lead mines and potholes. Outward boundy-type things. Loved that. Want to get back into all that.’
In fits and starts, Izzard chatters away on these masculine topics for a good 20 minutes. He does so charmingly, amusingly and largely unprompted, unspooling anecdotes in the same free-form style that he adopts on stage. He is dyslexic, which may account in part for his babblingly rhythmic speech patterns, padding out hesitations with ‘dum-di-dums’ or ‘bingy-bongy, dingly-danglys’ when he can’t find the right phrase. Then again, it could be that, with all that febrile energy and those highly charged hormones, he is simply too impatient to wait until the right word comes along.
He doesn’t agree, though, that he possesses any unconscious urge to prove that he has all the normal red-blooded aspirations. ‘Do I find I need to mention them? Well, not really. Because it’s not very hip to say you wanted to be in the Army.’ It is a refreshingly unpretentious answer to a pretentious question and it reminds you that Izzard’s comic persona does not hide – as those of Tony Hancock, John Cleese and Stephen Fry did and do – an introspective, self-punishing and melancholic alter ego. But that’s not to say Izzard cannot relate to the comedic tradition of looking to childhood for certain blame associations. He talks, for instance, of the links between his craving for an audience’s approval and his mother’s death. ‘There really are,’ he says. ‘It’s the strongest thing. I love that rush of endorphin off the audience. It’s an affection fix, which I analyse back to my mother dying. A lot of people think the TV thing is linked to that, too. But it’s not. I knew I was TV before she died. I haven’t really sorted out my feelings towards my mother though. Never had therapy. There’s still emotion there.’
What his transvestism did give him, of course, was a ready explanation – an excuse – for the times when he felt unpopular. And he took this safety mechanism further with the theory that ‘people won’t reject you if you appear not to give a damn whether they reject you or not’, As his confidence in his own popularity has grown, however, his appearance has become more compromised and ‘acceptable’. When, in the early Nineties, he first came out as a transvestite on stage, his look was, by his own estimation, frumpy. Now he has acquired a much more sophisticated and androgynous look; shiny black PVC trousers, burnt orange velvet frockcoat, spiky stilettos and a swagger that reminds you of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. It suggests that what he has really come out as is not a cross-dresser but a narcissist.
‘Oh yeah,’ he says. ‘But it depends how you define narcissism. I found by looking in the mirror that my posture was terrible. I was all bent over. Now I’ve corrected all that by doing Pilates and stuff.’ He demonstrates straightening his back. ‘Because I wasn’t caring what I looked like-because comedy is a mind/speed thing and I thought it doesn’t matter what you look like – but it’s better if you get the whole visual thing working.’ Pause. Scrunching of eyes in attempt to pick up thread again. ‘What were we talking about?’
The psychoanalyst Heinz Kobut says that for a healthy self to develop, to gain balance and cohesion, the infant needs to feel affirmed, recognised and appreciated, especially when he displays himself. If those needs are unsatisfied, mirror-gazing in adulthood is a belated attempt to obtain the reassurance that he’s there, whole and in one piece.
We were talking about narcissism, Eddie.
‘Yeah, narcissism,’ Izzard says. ‘I feel more confident when I look kicking. I started out in Jesus sandals and combat trousers. They had lots of pockets that I couldn’t help stuffing full of things. It made me look like a weird hamster whose jaw had slipped. The Italians have the right idea. Lots of pockets. But sew them up because if you put things in them it will ruin the line of the suit.’ He stands up and runs his hands over his hips to demonstrate what he means by the line of a suit. The interview continued in this vein for three hours, filling up two C90 audio tapes. When, a few weeks later, I came to transcribe them, I discovered that one of the tapes, the first, had gone missing. I searched everywhere for it, accused everyone, but eventually consoled myself with a remark that Mother Teresa made to Sir Cliff Richard after he returned from recording an interview with her only to find the tape was blank: ‘God must have had a reason for not wanting the tape to be heard.’
Perhaps I was going to misquote Izzard and he was going to sue the Sunday Telegraph for libel. Perhaps it was destiny. Karma. A Zen thing. And, come to think of it, these were some of the things Izzard talked about on the missing tape. He’s a big believer in being ‘centred’, he told me. It’s something that practising yoga has taught him. It’s what enables him to Flow rather than Struggle, to feel his way through one of his elastic, improvised stories on stage, rather than worry about where it is going or whether it is about to snap.
I suppose I could have asked Izzard to go over the areas covered in the missing tape. He is, after all, extremely accommodating and friendly and he loves to natter. On stage he will meander from subject to subject, occasionally giggling at his own jokes. He will doodle and embroider with words, spinning shambolic webs around random thoughts and surreal juxtapositions. He will give you a rush of cerebral vertigo one moment and grind to a standstill the next. ‘I’ve forgotten what I was saying,’ he will say typically, with a smile of such innocence it must have been calculated to beguile.
His comedy washes over you, sweeps you along in its undercurrent and afterwards, when you come up for air, it leaves you feeling almost melancholic as you try to recall quite what it was he said that made you laugh so much. When I tried to describe this post-performance tristesse to Izzard, he gave me a hurt look. When the lights come on after a show, I said, digging myself deeper, you feel sort of deflated, leaden and unfunny. He described a figure of eight with his head, half nodding it and half shaking it in a pantomime of wounded confusion.
And that’s the main reason you can’t do justice to Izzard in a written profile, and why it doesn’t really matter about the missing tape. He’s an inspired mime artist. He can conjure up a queue of murderers at a petrol station simply by walking backwards and giving occasional flicks of his hips and a shrug of his shoulder.
He demonstrates it to me now. If you have one imaginary character talking to another, you have to spin yourself a full 180 degrees to face them. As he swivels back and forth, one character standing behind and above the other, his inflatable soft squeaks against the seat of his black denim jeans.
Beneath all the garrulous vagueness there is a certain cunning, a certain technique, then. Off stage, too. He produces his own videos. He gives exclusive interviews to rival papers. He stands in for Paul Merton on a whole series of Have I Got News For You and then insists that he never does television. Like a child who has learned how to get his own way with adults, Izzard is a skilled manipulator.
And, however random and rambling his routines may seem, they always come to a neat full circle. As the interview draws to a close, we find ourselves back on the subject of Bexhill-on-Sea. I ask if he thinks the town will ever put up a statue to its most famous son.  ‘No,’ he says, widening his eyes. ‘You must never have that. Because pigeons will poo on it. Pigeons understand the vanity of humans. They say, “Oh here’s another trophy to a human ego.” And they never poo round statues, they poo on them. No matter how high the pedestal is. That’s the pigeon’s job in life…’ And so on.


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.