Ewan McGregor has been involved in no fewer than six films this year. But that doesn’t stop his fellow countrymen telling him: ‘You’re not as good as Alec Guinness.’ Interview by Nigel Farndale

Being Ewan McGregor, that must be a laugh. I don’t just mean the being paid millions to act out male fantasies – firing a 50-cal machine gun in a war zone one day, sharing a bed with Nicole Kidman the next – because that applies to other Hollywood actors, too. I mean the being him particularly: having his temperament, his restlessness bordering on immaturity.

Take this comment, made over lunch in London as he vigorously saws his way through a rib-eye steak. ‘I was climbing a tree the other day and …’ Hang on a minute. Climbing a tree? Why was he climbing a tree? ‘Because it looked like a good tree to climb.’ He chews, swallows and starts cutting again. ‘Anyway, I was about three-quarters of the way up and I bottled. When I was younger I would have kept going until I could stick my head out of the top branches, even if it was swaying around. I was fearless, then.’

And at the age of 35 he’s lost his nerve? ‘Well I did get frightened up there. Maybe it’s to do with being a father, having responsibilities.’

But, hang on again, he’s about to set off on another of his motorbike rides with his friend Charlie Boorman, this time taking ‘the Long Way Down’ to Cape Town, a distance of 14,000 miles through countries where they have coups every 10 minutes and like nothing better than a good kidnapping before breakfast. ‘Yeah, yeah, but I’m not losing sleep about it. In fact I’m blindly optimistic about the whole thing. We’ll try and be careful about the route.’

Blind optimism has served McGregor well. He went the Long Way Round two years ago, 18,000 miles that time, over three months, largely because he felt he needed to get out of his comfort zone. What may have started as a premature mid-life crisis turned out to be a sound career move. They took a cameraman with them. The subsequent documentary and book were both huge hits. He was also able to raise funds for Unicef – he is a UN goodwill ambassador – something he intends to do again this time, stopping off to visit African orphanages as he takes the Long Way Down.

Part of the appeal of Long Way Round was in seeing a Hollywood star removed from the trappings of fame, bonding with his mate, enjoying his anonymity (he grew a bushy Viking beard). McGregor came across as being unaffected, open and likeable. Unusually for an actor, he is unpretentious and has little interest in talking about acting, though he will, out of politeness. His watch has a big face. Circling his ring finger there is a big band of gold. Today he is in ripped jeans and a white T-shirt, which shows the big red-and-blue tattoo on his right bicep. There is a bigness to his personality, too. He has a room-filling laugh.

I wonder if, on Long Way Round, he ever caught himself playing Ewan McGregor? ‘No, but I did learn some things about myself. There were times when I felt isolated in those vast landscapes. I become much more dark and moody than I thought I was capable of being. We were very undisciplined about eating. We would get so into our riding that we wouldn’t stop for lunch and sometimes by five I was so empty I started getting depressed. We won’t repeat that mistake on the Long Way Down.’

McGregor is – how can one put this? – promiscuous as an actor. This year alone he has been involved in six films, and he often seems to have two out at a time, as well as the odd musical on stage. The last time we met he had a darkly existentialist art-house film out, Young Adam, as well as a fluffy 1950s-style Doris Day romp called Down With Love. This time the contrast is just as great with Scenes of a Sexual Nature, in which he plays a homosexual man in a long-term relationship, and Miss Potter, a partly animated family film about the life of Beatrix Potter (played by Renée Zellweger). In that, he plays Norman, the doomed love interest.

I suppose when you consider that McGregor is best known for playing a junkie in Trainspotting and a Jedi knight in the Star Wars prequels, this odd mix of roles is not so surprising. But what is behind this scattergun approach, and the uneven quality of his work? Is it boredom? ‘It just sort of happens because I’m quite easily pleased with scripts, I think. I’m impulsive. I don’t plan.’

He and his wife, Eve Mavrakis, a French production designer, have two daughters, Clara, 10, and Esther, five, and have just adopted a third, a four-year-old girl from Mongolia. (He came across her in an orphanage while on the Long Way Round and managed to sort out the bureaucracy of adoption with much less fuss than Madonna.) He often reads the Beatrix Potter books to his youngest children. ‘Some of the stories are quite bizarre,’ he says. ‘My kids love them. We’ve got the box set. That was part of the appeal for me of doing the film.’

There is a sentimental side to him, then. But also a laddish side. McGregor has appeared naked in several of his films, never passing up an opportunity to show off his appendage. I tell him I was quite surprised he didn’t find an excuse to get it out in Miss Potter. He grins broadly. ‘I did try to. They said, “It’s nice Ewan, but we don’t think it quite works with this film.” They tried animating it: put Peter Rabbit’s face on it and it spoke to Beatrix, but they didn’t think it was tasteful enough in the end.’

So one day he was playing a staid and virginal Victorian gentleman with a big moustache, the next a gay man on Hampstead Heath. I ask if he needed to empathise with these characters in order to play them. ‘Yes, but essentially you must play the words on the page. In Scenes of a Sexual Nature I have to tell another man I love him and at first I thought it doesn’t matter whether it is a man or a woman, but actually it does – because the themes they are discussing are absolutely informed by the fact that they are gay men.

‘Discussing infidelity is different for these two gay men because in their relationship it is allowed. However, I didn’t want to try and play gay, as in camp, because there are as many different types of gay men as there are heterosexual.’

He has played a gay man before, in Velvet Goldmine. ‘That was more in your face because I had to French-kiss Jonnie Rhys Meyers. It was no coincidence that the entire electrical department walked off the set next day. I think they found it too uncomfortable. I was harangued on set for wearing my platforms and my spray-on jeans and make-up. Technicians were shouting: “Oy! Facking pretty boy.” It was a weird insight. I very much enjoy the company of gay men.

‘I have a fun time with them but because of the theatrical circles I move in I don’t often see the other side of the story, which is the bigotry and the homophobic stuff. I was subject to homophobic anger and that in turn made me feel angry. I said: F— this! This is my work. I don’t come and harangue you when you are doing your work. I don’t slag you off for being sparks plugging in lights.’

Can he look after himself in a fight? ‘Probably, if I was angry enough my inner Scotsman would come out. But I’ve never had a proper fight with anyone apart from silly scraps at school.’

School was in Perthshire, the private Morrison’s Academy. He left there to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and immediately afterwards, in 1993, won his first starring role, in Dennis Potter’s Lipstick on Your Collar. He returns to Perthshire regularly to see his parents, who are teachers, and his older brother, who is a fighter pilot. He has always been conscious that what his brother does for a living is manlier than what he does. ‘I can’t think of two more diverse professions than what my brother and I do. He does a proper job. He flies at 500 miles an hour 200 feet above the ground. F—ing incredible. Whereas I wear make-up for a living.’

McGregor has sometimes fantasised about being a soldier. He revelled in training with the US Rangers for the film Black Hawk Down, a dramatic reconstruction of the American assault on Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993. ‘One of the reasons I was desperate to be in that film was that I wanted to try and work out how I would cope. It made me question how brave I might be in the same circumstances. My brother has flown in the Gulf many times and it fascinates me. Men and war and how they cope. I read books about it. I can almost imagine myself dealing with it once you’re in the situation but not before, when it is building up; I think I would go to pieces then.’

That said, there was an accident on a set once when a dolly fell on a grip and split his head open. ‘I became absolutely calm saying: “Right, let’s do this, he’ll go to hospital and be stitched up and everything will be fine.” I quite surprised myself by that.’

He also finds he is like that when anything happens to his children. ‘It’s horrible when your kids hurt themselves but if one of mine falls, or something, I do stay calm. My youngest one has a nice boxer’s scar here…’ he points to his face. ‘And one down here.’ He points to his ear. She’s a high-spirited child who seems to cut herself a lot falling over.’

The family live in St John’s Wood, where McGregor likes to do the school run. He is protective about his children, refusing to allow them to be filmed or photographed, and threatening legal action against the paparazzi who try. He has become more relaxed about being papped himself, though, he says. ‘When I was dressed up as a tomato in Trafalgar Square for the Film 4 campaign there were paparazzi everywhere – and who can blame them? I mean, I was dressed as a tomato in Trafalgar Square – but I thought I can either let this ruin my day or I can have a laugh.’

He learnt that attitude from Woody Allen, whose next film he is in. ‘In New York no one has the power to stop these people so you just have to get on with it. I watch Woody and he just doesn’t give a shit, he wanders around.’

When I ask whether there are any chinks in his armour of positivism, other than that he gets depressed when he doesn’t eat, he says, ‘Yeah, I can’t stand cynicism. And I do resent it when people come up just to be rude about my work. You know, why do they feel the need to tell me: “That film was shit.” You can think it but don’t come up and tell me. It happens quite a lot in Scotland for some reason. “You’re not as big as you think you are, McGregor.” I think it’s because they have this attitude that: “He is one of us and we have to keep his feet on the ground.”

‘I was with my mum and my daughter the other day and I watched this guy get up and walk over and say: “I’ve got to tell you this. Got to say it. You’re not nearly as good as Alec Guinness.” I went, “Thanks.” Then he walked away and I was left thinking: “Oh great, now I feel pissed off and my time with my daughter has been ruined”.’

He is on location in New York at the moment, filming a thriller called The Tourist. His family usually join him on location but this time it would have meant his children coming out of school, so he has gone on his own. ‘Being away on location is part of being an actor. I do miss my wife and children though.’

He lights up a cigarette. ‘But there are two sides to it because it is easier for the work when there are no family distractions. You have to be selfish because of the unsociable hours and the intensity of the work. In that respect it is better to come home to an empty apartment and just learn your lines for the next day and go to bed. But the other side is your heart. Your kids aren’t there and your wife isn’t there. This time we have sorted out some video conferencing, having dinner together with your laptops either side of the Atlantic. Nice idea. The sexual possibilities are endless.’

When I tell him to be careful it isn’t recorded somewhere, he looks worried. ‘Is it?’ Well it has to go somewhere. ‘I’ll bear that in mind.’ He shakes his head and grins. ‘Thanks.’


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.