There are many reasons to feel queasy at the prospect of interviewing Geoffrey Boycott – but the most obvious are that he’s rude, obnoxious and, when he’s in a good mood, charmless. Such a pity he has to be morbidly fascinating as well. Or at least that’s what I tell myself as I approach Wakefield station. The clouds over the taxi rank are inky black. Boycott has insisted on being interviewed by a man. I’m a Yorkshireman as well, but this doesn’t necessarily mean I’m obsessed with cricket or proud that Boycott is the county mascot. As it happens, I do recall queueing for half an hour to get Geoffrey Boycott’s autograph (and Chris Old’s) when I was 12. And I did get goosebumps watching him score his 100th first-class century against Australia at Headingley in 1977. But that doesn’t mean anything. Call it denial if you like but I do not believe, as many people seem to, that this boorish, pantomime northerner is the archetypal Yorkshireman.
The conference hotel where we are to meet is a few miles from Boycott’s house. According to one chambermaid, this is where Boycott ‘brings his womenfolk’ (but she may have been pulling my leg). The demagogue himself arrives late – dressed in a pastel-blue jacket, fawn slacks and pale slip-on shoes which may well be snakeskin. He applies some Lipsyl and is soon telling the photographer to stop ‘arsing about’ and get on with it.  I cross myself and prepare for the interview that is to follow. At least I’ve got a panic button I can press if things get too ghastly. I can mention Margaret Moore, Boycott’s former girlfriend. If I do this, Boycott will walk out – or so I’ve been warned in a fax from his publicist. The 58-year-old former England batsman allegedly beat Moore up in an Antibes hotel room in 1996. In January last year a French court found him guilty of the charge, fined him £5,300 and gave him a three-month suspended sentence. He didn’t turn up for the trial, though he did deny the charge, adamantly. Indeed, he launched a bizarre charm offensive intended to show he wasn’t an aggressive man – then rather undermined the thing by losing his temper and saying to one reporter: ‘Shut oop, this is my press conference, not yours.’ Boycott appealed, attended the second trial last October, complained it was ‘all in bloody French’, and lost again.
I sit down on a low sofa. Boycott orders tea with honey and sits opposite me in a high, upright chair – barrel-chested, stiff-backed with his jacket buttons done up, looking down his nose. He has a mobile face: eyebrows that arch and dip; a recurring blink; a mouth so lopsided it’s as if he’s chewing his left cheek. He has mad, starey eyes, the sort you imagine Rasputin must have had. They are a cold, cobalt blue (but this is not, contrary to folklore, because he wears coloured contact lenses). There are no awkward silences when Boycott is on the subject of cricket. He rarely draws breath and when he runs out of things to say he just repeats himself. Loudly. Flat-voweledly. With a frankness that is exciting and dangerous. I find myself wondering if there is an element of self-parody to his manner. Mistake. ‘I don’t know what that means. Self-parody. I don’t have your words.’ I explain. ‘What are you going on about? I’m just being myself. I haven’t changed for anyone. I only know about creakit. I love it. Self-parody.’
Actually, he’s not as intimidating as you expect him to be. Over the next two and a half hours he reveals himself to be an animated storyteller and we have, to my surprise, a few laughs. But for Boycott there is little difference between a conversation and a contre-temps. And so we also have – again to my surprise – two full-blown arguments. These help me appreciate Boycott’s genius for making enemies. His worst feuds have been with his fellow Yorkshiremen, notably Fred Trueman, Brian Close and Ray Illingworth.  ‘I suppose it’s because Yorkshiremen are strong-minded and individualistic,’ Boycott says when I ask why this is.
Boycott is a private man, self-contained to the point of introversion. Before he appeared on In the Psychiatrist’s Chair in 1987 he told Dr Anthony Clare, ‘You’ll get nowt from me, Mister.’ After the programme, a gibbering Dr Clare said he had had to revise his opinion that no man is an island. I suspect, for all his protestations to the contrary, Boycott simply doesn’t care if he rubs people up the wrong way. He doesn’t crave approval. And surely even he would be able to curb his pathological rudeness if he did. It is clear, too, that he hates having to woo the media. And that he only attempts to because he loves making money. His main motive for trying so hard to clear his name last year was, I bet, that he wanted the BBC to renew his lucrative contract as a commentator. It didn’t.  (And Channel 4, which is taking over Test coverage this summer, has boycotted him too.)
This week, Boycott is trying to charm the media again because he has something to sell, a book on cricket called… Geoffrey Boycott on Cricket . In it he gives his version of the various spats he has been involved in over the years. With a characteristic lack of pretension, he tells me about his writing process: he records his thoughts on to tapes which he gives to his ghost writer, John Callaghan, ‘to be tarted up’. Geoffrey Boycott on Cricket is a self-serving book, of course, and could be subtitled ‘Everyone Else Is To Blame’. But it is also entertaining, especially in his account of the internecine warfare that followed his sacking from Yorkshire County Cricket Club in 1983. Does it occur to him that his own bloody-mindedness is the common denominator in all the feuds he writes about?
‘Of course it is me. It’s my character. But it’s their character, too. Take Fred Trueman. He started it. He was a hero of mine. As a cricketer he still is today. But as a person he went down in my estimation because when the club decided to dispense with my services he slagged me off. He couldn’t even bring himself to say I were a good player. He said, “If I get back on the committee I still won’t give Boycott a contract.” Well that was tantamount to saying, “Fuck you, then.” I’ve never spoken ill of Fred. He caused his own downfall, not me. He had to belittle me. I was hurt. He didn’t have to say I couldn’t bat. It was dirty tactics, that. But he didn’t convince the Yorkshire members. You can’t patronise them. They can think for themselves.’
Throughout his Test and county career Boycott has been criticised for being a slow, blocking and, because of all the people he’s run out, selfish batsman. Can’t he see there was some truth in this caricature? ‘Was Trueman trying to say that all those hundreds I got were just for me? Me, slow? Look in the record books.  Some innings I was slow but others…’ He leans forward and fixes me with his beady blue eyes. ‘Who got the fastest ever Gillette Cup innings? Eh? In’t final. Me. 1963. Still the biggest today. On an uncovered pitch. Wet. I could go through it…’ He does, his batting averages over his 25-year county and Test career, chapter and verse from Wisden. My hand hovers over the Margaret Moore button.
He’s a great one for facts and figures, our Geoffrey. He usually carries a bag around with him full of ‘papers’ – phone records, dates, lawyers’ letters – ammunition with which to settle arguments. A recurring theme of his book is that nearly everyone who has attacked him over the years has been motivated by financial greed. ‘We all knew Botham’s hand was on his wallet rather than his heart,’ he writes about Ian Botham’s decision to pull out of Boycott’s ill-fated ‘rebel tour’ of South Africa at the height of apartheid in 1982. ‘All he could see were the pound signs,’ Boycott writes in reference to Trueman’s offer a couple of years ago to end their feud and host a series of cricket lunches together. ‘Now with his eyes on the pound-note signs with regard to his book sales and newspaper serialisation…’ he writes of Henry Blofeld, the commentator who refused to sign a testimony last year to the effect that his former colleague, Boycott, did not have a violent nature. (Boycott believes Blofeld only refused because he wanted a controversial story to put in his autobiography.) Given that Boycott, a millionaire several times over, is notoriously stingy – former umpire Dickie Bird has a number of anecdotes on the subject – it seems reasonable to assume that he is judging everyone else by his own standards.
‘Assume? But I didn’t have a row with Botham about the South Africa tour. He decided to pull out because he got two [other] contracts for money. I don’t assume. It was a fact. Botham said that at the meeting. I have recorded everything that went on. How can I assume with Trueman when it’s a fact? I’ve got the papers. It’s you that’s wrong. Why do you assume? The lawyer has seen the papers. You can ring him up.’ He spells out the lawyer’s name for me before resuming his Pinteresque monologue. ‘Fred Trueman only wanted to work with me for the money. Fact. With Blofeld it was a fact that the Daily Mail only ran the extract about me. Nothing else in his book was interesting enough for them to pay for. I have the papers. I have it in black and white.  “Fred’s going to contact you.” I haven’t fucking spoken to him in ten years and he’s been slagging me off and now he wants the money. Fifty grand. I don’t know why you assume. I have the papers. I have the papers.  Believe me, I have the papers.’
It is telling that, when Boycott describes his old feuds, he slips into the present tense. He does it when he talks about his batting, too, even though he retired 13 years ago. I have a horrible feeling that I may have started a fresh feud by quoting Dickie Bird to him.
‘I am a wealthy man,’ Boycott says. ‘I think I’m far wealthier than any of those you mention. Very few people know me. Dickie doesn’t know me. He lives two miles away but he’s been to my house once. Once. I’m not that close to him. I’m a very private person. Things become folklore, legend, myth.’
So let’s set the record straight, then. He’d describe himself as a generous man, would he? ‘I don’t describe myself at all.’ I suppose that’s why he’s so fascinating to psychiatrists. ‘I don’t know why. I’m not so bothered about myself. Not fussed. Not interested. I get on with my life. Good times you enjoy. Bad times you can either crawl away and die or pick yourself up and get on with it.’ Bad times being when exactly? ‘I used to get really down when I got a nought. But you can’t mope about. You have to show character.’
According to folklore, legend, myth, Boycott used to put a towel over his head and cry whenever he got a duck. He cried inconsolably when he had to give up football because he needed glasses – he played for Leeds United under-18s. Does he think he’s attuned to his finer feelings, then? Does he find it easy to cry? ‘No, not easy. But if I did I wouldn’t show it. And I wouldn’t tell you. It’s a bit like a bowler. If he got me worried, I wouldn’t show it. If I felt depressed, I wouldn’t ignore it, I’d try and solve it. Christ, I get cross with people like anyone else. People who won’t pay up. People who do you a bad turn. Say one thing and do the bloody opposite. I don’t sit in a corner and weep and moan. I think there is a weakness in people who aren’t straight and fair. You need to get everything in writing because for every eight people that is good there are two buggers out there who are bad. I expect people to be straighter than they are.’ So he sees himself as a man of honour? ‘No, I’m not bloody perfect. But I like to think I’m pretty straight. I’ve never done bad things to people.  Haven’t stolen money or kicked anyone in the balls. I’ve just made judgements. Nothing I’m ashamed of.’
For all his lack of humility, there is an endearing naivety and vulnerability to Boycott. He seems genuinely baffled by his unpopularity. Does he have a persecution complex? ‘I don’t have your words but there is a saying in Yorkshire that you can’t do right for doing wrong. But I don’t have a complex. I don’t think I’m always right – even in my creakit commentary. Most times I keep my mouth shut – but you get to the stage where you’re sick of being pilloried. Blofeld did his book in the Mail and the only bit they ran were about me. Me!’
Boycott seems such a joyless man. Humourless. A real misery. Does he ever have fun? Is he happy? The cricketer exhales and shakes his head. ‘What’s contentment? What’s happiness? I’m living my life. I’m getting on. I’m picking myself up. I’m working in a game I love. Creakit.’ Life for Boycott is analogous to cricket in every particular. In a shift from Pinter pastiche to Becket he tells me: ‘Creakit mirrors life, if you think about it. Life, death and change in the middle.’ Certainly, no game is richer in symbolism than cricket. When a man is honest he is said to play with a straight bat, when dishonest his actions are just not cricket. For Boycott there is only one virtue worth having and that is being straight – it is far more important than being tactful. It’s the reason, I imagine, why so many of the newspaper reports about his court case last year took his side. He’s so eccentric and guileless, the logic goes, if he really had battered Margaret Moore he would admit it. He’s that perverse.
As it was, he seemed genuinely outraged at the suggestion. And, as he pointed out, indignantly, to anyone who would listen, there were other factors in his mitigation. He has no history of violence against women, indeed, if his monk-like batting style is anything to go by, he has preternatural self-control. Moore was £800,000 in debt. And before she took Boycott to court she had approached Max Clifford to see if he could get £2 million for her story. When Clifford declined to take her on as a client, she approached Boycott and offered to settle out of court for £1 million. (Fact. Boycott has the papers. Et cetera.)
I realise that I have inadvertently pressed the Moore button. How did he feel last year when nearly all his former friends and colleagues in the world of cricket declined to stand by him? ‘I felt sad that Blofeld let me down. I stuck by him when he were down on his luck. And I’m sick of Trueman attacking me. If he walked through the door now I’d say, “What have I ever done to you?” But he’d ignore me. The press was very fair to me, though. There are warts and all when people write about me and I don’t mind that. The only people who really let me down were the Sun.’ (The paper had promised to keep Boycott on as a columnist no matter what the verdict in the Moore trial. They reneged and Boycott is now suing them for breach of contract.)
Geoffrey Boycott’s bachelordom is complicated, to say the least. He lived with his mother until she died 22 years ago. He has had a relationship with Ann Wyatt for the past 40 years (they met when he was a clerk and she was a supervisor at the Ministry of Pensions in Barnsley). They started living together when he was 43, but she now spends most of her time in their second home in Dorset. He has also had a long-term relationship with Rachel Swinglehurst, the mother of his ten-year-old daughter, Emma. She lives a couple of miles away from him in Wakefield. He has had other long-standing relationships and, in his touring days, plenty of one-night stands. As became apparent in the French court last year, he inspires great loyalty in his ‘womenfolk’. Several turned up to speak in his defence. When I ask if he thinks this helped, he stares into the middle distance. ‘Aye, it showed that things didn’t square oop.’
Boycott’s cricketing nickname was Fiery because he was so remote and cold. Ann Wyatt’s nick-name was Fiery’s Mum because she was 12 years his senior. Is he attracted to mother figures? ‘No. My mother was my mother. I find I get on better with women than men though. In general. They are more decent. Men can let you down.’ Which of his women will he leave his millions to? ‘The people closest to me. Ann Wyatt. My daughter. People closest, Ann Wyatt. My daughter and her mother. People closest.’
Boycott himself was born into poverty. He and his two younger brothers grew up in a two up, two down in the Yorkshire colliery village of Fitzwilliam. Geoffrey went to Hemsworth Grammar and wishes he could have gone on to university. ‘But we couldn’t bloody afford it.’
His father, Thomas Wilfred Boycott, had a mining accident when Geoffrey was ten – and died 17 years later. He was in the middle of a match at the Oval on the day his father died, and to ‘show character’ Geoffrey went out to bat – scoring 70-odd – before going home for the funeral. ‘My father was 6ft 1in but walked with a stoop and a limp because his knees were crushed and his back was broken and his insides were mangled up. He was a ruined man.’
Growing up, Geoffrey Boycott didn’t see much of his father. He believes his values come from his mother, ‘She was quiet strong and determined. We were brought up properly. Clout round the earhole if you did owt wrong. But plenty of affection. She got arthritis 1968.  Six months after my father died. It was the shock that did it. She got cancer in 77, at the same time I got my 100th hundred. She was dead in a year. I saw her suffer. There was a hell of a vacuum when she died. But you deal with it. Just because you don’t sit in a corner crying doesn’t mean you don’t feel pain and hurt.’
In times of adversity Boycott takes no comfort from religion – although he does believe in Chinese horoscopes and spiritualism. ‘When you’re drowning you turn to anything. When Yorkshire sacked me I didn’t know what to do with myself. The medium said I would play for Yorkshire again. I thought she were crackers but she were right.’
Boycott is wanted on the phone in reception. There is a crooked Popeye grin playing across his face when he walks back across the foyer. He has just been told by Talk Radio that he has won the contract to commentate on the Cricket World Cup. I congratulate him and ask if he thinks his second career as a commentator has filled the void in his life left by cricket. ‘I felt a sadness when I stopped playing. Something had come to an end.  Something wonderful. I just thought, “This is it then.” It was 12 September 1986. I walked off the pitch and waited for the ground to clear. Then I wandered around on my own among all the newspapers and food wrappers and tin cans. It didn’t feel like a death exactly but I did think a part of my life was finished.’ But he has never picked up a bat since. ‘I wouldn’t even do it for the Queen of England. Not even the Queen of England.’
What about for a million pounds?
‘No. I’d just make a fool of myself. I have no intention of doing that. I have too much respect for the game. That would be taking the money for the fucking hell of it. I couldn’t live with myself. It would just be shit.’
He says goodbye and runs off across the car park, his shoulders hunched against the rain. As I watch him get into his silver BMW a child’s voice in my head whispers, ‘I’ve just met Boycott. The Geoffrey Boycott.’ Folklore, legend, myth.


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.