Thanks in part to his role in ‘Dragons’ Den’, Evan Davis is the first BBC economics editor to enjoy something approaching cult status, writes Nigel Farndale

Three men in suits are sitting by the window in a pizza restaurant near Earls Court. ‘Hey,’ they say excitedly, as they look out on to the street,’ there’s Evan Davis.’ Not: ‘Hey, there’s that bloke off Dragons’ Den,’ or ‘Hey, there’s the BBC’s economics editor.’

The recognition is telling. A strange cult of personality has grown up around the man. Private Eye advertises Evan Davis T-shirts, there is a popular Evan Davis blog called Evanomics, and he is number 49 on the ‘pink list’ – a list of the top 101 most influential gay men and women published annually by a Sunday newspaper.

More significantly, Evan Davis knows our new Prime Minister well, which is a claim few can make.

The men in the pizza place are right, by the way. It is indeed Davis pacing up and down outside, talking into a mobile, looking tall and lean in a pinstripe suit – distinctive, too, with his razor-cut hair.

He is wearing a heavy silver chain around his neck, under his open-collared shirt. The only other visible jewellery is on his fingers: chunky silver rings. I have arranged to meet him around the corner at his top-floor flat, but not for another 10 minutes – because he has also arranged to let in a man who has come to give him a quote for tiling his bathroom.

I pass the tile man on the stairs. I also pass a muscular torso; it is life-sized and silver, modelled on a Greek sculpture.

‘Ev’, as his mother calls him, shares this flat with his partner of five years, Guillaume, a landscape architect, but their sitting-room is not so much Greek as Spartan.

Two plain sofas. Plain ochre walls. A large black fireplace, a television in the corner and a couple of books: Oscar Wilde and Edmund White. The only unexpected feature is a plastic globe of the sort that might be found in a school.

I tell him about the men in the pizza place. ‘Well, the thing that has made a big difference is Dragons’ Den (the hit BBC2 show in which would-be entrepreneurs pitch ideas at would-be investors), which is a departure into entertainment television.

‘That significantly raised my profile. Most people who stop me say, “You’re that bloke from Dragons’ Den”, which is a bit depressing when you have worked for 10 years in news. It’s the only thing I’ve touched that sells itself. Even with news you have to sell it a bit. You have to explain why the viewer should care.’

His right arm snakes up and wraps elastically around the back of his head, so that his hand is clamped onto the left side of his neck, not so much an act of contortion as of shyness. ‘It’s funny. The producers of Dragons’ Den asked my advice on who should present it, and I said you should find someone without too much personality, because you don’t want to distract from the dragons, and two weeks later they came back and said, “Do you want to be the presenter?” I suppose I should be insulted.’

Actually, Davis does have plenty of personality: a crinkly charm and puppyish effervescence that belies his 45 years. An endearing wonkiness, too: his eyes list slightly and he has an off-centre smile.

Treacherously, the Radio Times, a BBC publication, once compared him to Sid the Sloth in the animated film Ice Age. ‘He has the same weird, long rubbery neck, the same jutting mini ears, the same range of facial expressions.’

It is, nevertheless, a fine-looking and friendly face, which may explain why it seems to have become the face of the BBC lately.

In addition to the 10 O’Clock News and Dragons’ Den, Davis also appears on Have I Got News For You and works for Radio 4, hosting the Saturday evening business discussion show The Bottom Line, as well as presenting documentary series on anything from comprehensive schools to the housing market.

But his ubiquity is not just about his face or his personality: he is an economics guru with a first in PPE from Oxford and a masters degree from Harvard – and before becoming a broadcaster he worked as an economist for the Institute for Fiscal Studies. He is brainy, in a word.

And he combines this braininess with an enviable gift for explaining complicated economic issues in a lucid, breezy and intelligible way, without sounding patronising. People who don’t really understand economics listen to his reports on the news and think they do – and they often stop him in the street to pick his brains.

‘People keep asking me if there is going to be a housing crash,’ he says. ‘What is going to happen to interest rates? Should I fix? But they never say: tell us more about the migration statistics. I sometimes, out of devilment, get tempted to whisper something like, “All I’m saying is, buy bottled water”, and give a significant wink.

‘As a rule, though, economists tend not to give advice. My whole pitch is to make people aware of the uncertainties in life. That is the only sensible line an economist can take.

‘You have to decide in relation to your circumstances what the risks are. What interest rates can you handle? What terrifies you? Should you be insuring yourself? Generally, I would say, if your mortgage is small relative to your income, I wouldn’t bother fixing, and vice versa.’

His accessible approach, he says, is partly to do with recognising that a television audience includes hugely different ability levels. This is in contrast to his predecessor Peter Jay, who once ticked off a Times sub-editor who complained that his economics column was unintelligible. ‘I am writing for three people in England,’ he said loftily, ‘and you are not one of them.’ (The three were two Treasury mandarins and the Governor of the Bank of England.)

‘Peter was an inspiration to me,’ Davis says. ‘When I was doing my economics A-level it was at the time when monetarists and Keynesians were battling it out, and he made great sense to me. I see myself as doing what Peter did, only in a more populist way.’

By dumbing down? ‘One newspaper said we had been trained to wave our arms around. Such nonsense. They don’t even tell us what to wear.

‘I think people would be amazed how little training we get before going in front of camera. It’s amazing I’m allowed on. So many egregious nervous tics and looks. I don’t agree with that argument in relation to me. It’s television, for goodness’ sake. You have to compete for attention. It has to be engaging. I never have economically literate people criticise my economics for being dumbed down.’

Does he ever worry that his steer might affect the markets? He gives a gentle, rippling laugh. ‘I’ve never moved markets. There is a natural caution about giving people economic news in such a stark way that it can move markets.

‘The only occasion when I have seriously thought “Oh goodness, this might have an affect on the very thing we are reporting” was after Hurricane Katrina. There were petrol refinery shortages. I did wonder then how I was going to report that without starting a rush for the petrol pumps that would leave the country gridlocked.’

He clearly doesn’t suffer from maths anxiety. ‘I do a bit, actually. I live in perpetual terror of my brain freezing and of being caught out like Stephen Byers on Five Live.’

Six times nine, I say. Silence. ‘It’s absolutely happened! Um … It’s 54.’

It was a cruel question because 54 was the answer Byers, the then school minister, gave to the question: what is eight times seven?

‘Funnily enough, I …I’m not great with numbers, and use fewer than my colleagues. I know what the numbers are doing, but that is different. And, actually, exact numbers don’t matter very much.

‘The correct economist’s answer to your question is “about 50”. If you are looking for the precision of “Is it 53 or 55?”, who cares? The important thing is that it is not 10 and it is not 100. Getting the order of magnitude right is more important.’

See what I mean? I had never thought of numbers – and the economy – like that before. I suggest that this is what makes him such a reassuring figure as a broadcaster.

‘Not everyone likes me. I get a lot of people who disagree with me, not hate mail exactly. They think quite a few of us at the BBC are smug, Blairite, patronising, London-based. The truth is, of all the criticisms, the London one is most valid.’

Speaking of Blair, before he left Downing Street he said the economy had never been better. Was he right? ‘I … I think that would be a simple way of putting it. You can’t discount the possibility that the economy will go bad. It’s uncertainty again. I’m afraid you can’t get away from uncertainty.

‘But, regardless of what may be about to happen, I would say we have had a pretty good run for the past 10 years. Not perhaps as good as the Government says, but pretty good.

‘Not that it’s the Government wot done it, necessarily. World circumstances also favoured us. Societies that consume a lot and have been able to borrow money to buy cheap imports have done well.’

Does he vote Labour? ‘I don’t have any political allegiance now, though I was a member of the SDP at university.’ He grins again. ‘The Eurosceptics often criticise me, saying I am biased towards the euro. I’m not, because I genuinely don’t know how I would vote on it if there were a referendum tomorrow. The conspiracy they see at the BBC is quite beyond the capabilities of BBC management to organise.’

Davis has had a ringside seat for the Gordon Brown chancellorship; is the man a Stalinist? ‘I probably know him better than most, but I don’t know what kind of Prime Minister he will make, that will depend on his instincts, reactions and priorities, not his personality.

‘I haven’t seen him having a tantrum, I … no, I haven’t. I will say what everyone says, which is that he is nicer in private than in the media. I’m not a fan of his interview style. He comes across as more wooden than he is.’

Davis’s parents are from South Africa. They emigrated here a few months before he was born. His father was an electronics engineer and became a reader at the University of Surrey.

He has two older brothers, one who works in the City, the other who runs his own business. He went to a comprehensive. ‘I wasn’t the brightest child and it helped me having parents who were nurturing. I came home with careers leaflets about how to become a police constable and my parents were slightly angst-ridden about whether the school was pushing me enough.’

And now look at him: number 49 in the pink list. Laughter is always just below his surface, and he has the good grace to laugh at this. ‘I did see that list. I was amused by it.’

But here we enter tricky territory. Evan Davis doesn’t mind talking about his private life to me in private, but he is reluctant to do so in print. As he puts it, if he answers one question it invites the next.

Anyway. Here goes. When did he come out? ‘I went to the States and came back and thought I’d better tell my parents. That was the hardest bit. I don’t think they knew. They have been 100 per cent supportive. They like Guillaume and he likes them. Having a landscape architect who knows about plants makes for easy in-law relations.’

He tells me about how he told his brother first, saying ‘I have something to tell you, can you guess what it is?’ And the brother guessed correctly, adding that that is the way he should tell their parents, too.

He decided to do it after Christmas lunch. They didn’t guess, so the brother who already knew pretended to guess for them. At this point, his other brother cracked a good joke, which, alas, Evan would rather I didn’t repeat here.

As a landscape architect, I suggest, Guillaume must hanker for broad acres rather than a roof terrace in Earls Court. ‘Well, we have a place in France together. He’s French. We made the strategic decision about whether to upgrade this flat or buy a place in France where houses are cheaper, and I think it is the best decision we ever made. It is nice for him to be able to have some space to plant things.’

Is a marriage in prospect? He purses his lips. ‘This is all the personal stuff which is verboten, I’m afraid.’

He stretches out on the sofa and looks at the ceiling. ‘We’re happy as we are. But I’ll let you know.’ A grin. ‘I would say that I think those who thought gay marriage would undermine heterosexual marriage have been proved wrong.’

The couple go jogging together along the Thames and Evan ran the London marathon this year in a time of 4 hours 17 minutes. ‘Running is a great way to lift your spirits,’ he says. He gets depressed otherwise? ‘I have sullen moments, not great periods of melancholy. I get anxious. I have short-term stress. A good relationship has helped, seeing eye to eye. We are programmed for companionship.

‘Because Guillaume and I are not in competition at work, it works well.’ His reticence about his private life is understandable. As economics editor of the BBC, he needs to have gravitas and he may well have been asked to tone things down a bit after it emerged that his nickname is Tinsel Tits. His nipples are pierced, you see, and he is said to have a Prince Albert in the trouser department. He will neither confirm nor deny it, sensibly enough, and wryly avoids the question by describing himself as ‘a man of mystery’.

‘I don’t want tattoos and body-piercing to be the dominant thing in interviews,’ he says. ‘I know the world tends to be interested in these things, but I find it better to lie low on them. Gay men tend to live different lives to other people and it would take the tabloids a nanosecond to find out all sorts of horrible things, so it’s better not to make a big deal about it.

‘I’m not embarrassed about it. On a one-to-one basis I am happy to talk to you about it. But I would like to keep it contained.’ Perhaps it adds to his cult status, I suggest. Perhaps viewers of the 10 O’Clock News tune in to try to work out what is under his shirt. ‘Perhaps,’ he says.

I agree to mention all this only in passing at the end, on condition that he pose for our photograph with his shirt off. He is laughing again, rocking back and forth on the sofa. ‘That would spoil everything.’

He wants to remain an enigma? ‘I don’t want to be an enigma, that’s the annoying thing.’ He shakes his head. ‘Actually, I am so superficial, the more you question me, the more you will realise that I am exactly like I am on the telly. There is no more to me than that.’


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.