Forget the ‘X-Files’: Gillian Anderson, one-time ‘world’s sexiest woman’, is about to tackle Ibsen in a new West End production of ‘A Doll’s House’

The first surprise is Gillian Anderson’s accent. I have heard about how she can slip from English to American as effortlessly as silk runs through fingers. Indeed, by way of research, I have watched her being interviewed by Jay Leno (for whom she adopted an American accent) and Michael Parkinson (an English one). I even know how and why she does this – she lived here until she was 11, moved there until she was 35, then, five years ago, came back to live here. Still, nothing quite prepares you for sitting opposite FBI Special Agent Scully and hearing the head girl of Cheltenham Ladies’ College.

The second surprise is how insouciant and unguarded she is. She has a light and breathy laugh, more a catch in her voice, and a friendly and confiding manner, again in contrast to the humourless and sceptical Scully. This guilelessness is also unexpected because her relationship with the press has not always been cordial – the paparazzi in LA used to ram into her car deliberately so as she would have to get out and exchange insurance details. Yet here she is sitting in a London bar at eight o’clock at night telling me about where her 14-year-old daughter goes to school, how she has been enjoying taking the bus to rehearsals for her new play and, well, how she had to cajole her partner into having sex with her. No, really.

Also, I ought to describe her. She is much shorter than you imagine, 5ft 3in, and yet not short looking – in proportion, I mean. She has slightly sad, downturned eyes, a mole above her puffy top lip (one that they used to cover up on The X-Files) and a tattoo on the inner part of her wrist, Asian lettering that is something to do with yoga. With her long, blonde hair tumbling down against her black top (she is also wearing a black skirt and black calf-length boots which she tucks under herself as she sits) she looks immaculate – half a pint of velvety Guinness.

You would not guess she was a 40 year-old with three children, the youngest six months old. And yet she says other mothers in the park aren’t intimidated by her appearance so much as appalled at how scruffy she is. ‘They look at me like, “Doesn’t she have mirrors in her house?”’ Yeah, right. I should say something about her work, too, or rather her reinvention from the glamorous star of a hugely popular and long-running TV show about alien abduction to a highly respected stage and film actress. Although she returned to TV for her Bafta-nominated performance in the BBC’s Bleak House (and, if the rumours are true, will do so again as a villain in Doctor Who), she has also been discriminating in her choice of film roles, favouring the intelligent and stylish, such as A Cock and Bull Story and The Last King of Scotland, over the commercial (even if she did manage to slip in an X-Files movie last year).

The rehearsals, by the way, are for Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, a new version that opens at the Donmar Warehouse later this month. Anderson plays the lead, Nora; a woman who leaves her husband and children after having her feminist consciousness raised (when first performed in 1879 it caused a great scandal). While Anderson cannot empathise with that aspect of the play, she says she does appreciate the feminist arguments and understands the emotional journey Nora takes. Also she does know what it is like to be patronised and objectified by men (as Nora is in her Doll’s House) and she knows, too, all about the responsibilities of motherhood.

Her first child was with her first husband. She divorced him, married someone else and divorced that one 16 months later. Her two youngest children are with her partner, the British businessman Mark Griffiths (he made his fortune working in the private parking and wheel-clamping business). Earlier tonight she was having a battle of wills with her two-and-a-half-year-old son Oscar, who didn’t want to eat his supper. And thanks to her six-month-old son Felix, she was, as usual, up at 5.30am this morning.

‘He wakes three times in the night and once I’ve settled him, it is more or less time to get breakfast ready for Oscar. I used to do yoga a lot but I don’t seem to have time anymore. You would think that I could work in an hour somewhere, but I can’t. I don’t want to eat into the time I spend with the children. Then I have to be out of the house by 9.15 to get to rehearsals for 10.’ A pause. ‘When I start work on a play I do behave as if I’m about to fall off the side of earth. Sometimes my heart stops. It’s absolutely terrifying. It’s a big play and I’m in every scene but one.’

She keeps her energy levels up by taking a nap at lunchtime, she says. ‘I used to find it impossible to sleep during the day but… I’ve never done a play with little ones before. I did film very soon after my first child, 10 days, after a c-section, five days after coming home from the hospital. It seems crazy but at the time I thought, “OK this is my penance for having got pregnant when they had invested so much in the show and me”.’

That was in 1994 when The X-Files had only just completed its first season. She thinks if it hadn’t been for the chemistry between her and her co-star David Duchovny (who played Agent Mulder) she would have been sacked. ‘They would have loved to have punished me but they realised there was steam picking up. I thought they were overreacting but now I see it from their perspective. I would have been bloody p—ed if I had been them and had cast a girl, against my better judgement, who got pregnant after the first season.’

They got the green light for the play a year last February. ‘I had decided I wanted to get pregnant in February… oh my God, I’d forgotten about this! I’d just got back from India and was going straight into filming The X-Files movie. I knew that I wanted to have the baby at a certain time because there was another film I wanted to do after that. Yeah, so the perfect time was February and…’ She puts her hand over her mouth. ‘I was bloody lucky, but I was also determined because I didn’t want to be too nauseous by the time we had finished filming The X-Files. And I’d worked out the amount of time it took me to get big last time.’

So she’s not a control freak then. ‘Oh dear, I am aren’t I?’ She laughs. ‘The first two weren’t planned.’

Did she and her partner synchronise diaries for when she was ovulating? ‘Not quite, but it is hard work when you decide to plan it. It can get very unromantic, especially when you are working 16-hour days. You get home at 3am and say, “OK, we have to do it now.” “But it’s three o’clock in the morning!” Then when you wake up it’s: “What? Again? Before I go to work? Oh no”.’

Having had a peripatetic childhood herself, with all the insecurities that come with that, does she worry about her children having the same? ‘I moved a lot for university and work. But I never thought it was a negative thing. I thought how lucky I was to have had formative years growing up in London. A lot of Americans never set foot outside America. It can be an inward-looking country.’

Gillian Anderson was born in Chicago and, on balance, she feels more American than British. ‘But even on the phone my accent will change. Part of me wishes I could control it, but I can’t. I just slip into one or the other. When I moved to the States I tried hard to cling on to my British accent because it made me different.’

But presumably by then she was getting noticed for her looks? Wasn’t that difference enough? ‘Not in my teens. I was either a nerd or… I never thought about clothes until I was 15, when I dyed my hair and wore pointy red shoes to be different. I was never the pretty girl. I was always somewhere at the back.’

So when did she start to feel confident about her looks? ‘It took until the sixth season of The X-Files, when a new hair person came on and said, “Are you sure you want to look like that?” and I said, “What’s wrong with it?” She said I think we need to straighten your hair, you look dowdy. The pastel suits. The plaid suits, the horrible hairstyles. It had never occurred to me. To go from that to the cover of magazines made no sense to me. In my twenties and thirties I just kept thinking “I am really pulling the wool over people’s eyes. When am I going to be found out? I’m not good enough”. All that self-depreciating stuff. I remember a cover shoot for Jane magazine, feeling such low self-esteem, so much self criticism that I wasn’t able to get out of myself and join in. Last year I came across that photo shoot and saw this really pretty young girl with short hair who was toned and thin and I know I was thinking I was too fat at the time, tormenting myself. And yet there were these lovely pictures. I thought “how much time have I wasted in my life beating myself up about how I look?”’

In 1996, she did a cover shoot for FHM which proved to be something of a landmark in the lad’s mag market. The editor came up with the idea of having a cerebral woman posing provocatively on the cover. Sales broke all records and the approach has been much imitated since. When I tell her about this ‘Gillian Anderson factor’ it is news to her. ‘Really? But now I’m 40 that is nice to hear. I remember doing that first interview for FHM – I was in Vancouver wearing flannel pyjamas with cowboys on them. My hair was messy and I didn’t feel sexy at all. I felt exhausted, my daughter was downstairs and there I was being told I was a sex object. I laughed out loud. It’s an odd one. I can see the funny side of it now but part of me, the feminist side, did worry about how I could justify it.

‘In my younger years I was very naïve. I did a lot of shoots. I probably shouldn’t have because they were embarrassing or in bad taste. It took me a long time to be able to step back and say “that didn’t feel right inside. I didn’t realise I had the choice”.’ The year of that first FHM shoot the magazine’s readers voted her ‘World’s Sexiest Woman’. But this also led to insecurity and a need for reassurance. ‘I was always being asked why I got that job? Fox Television wanted a buxom, leggy blonde and they got me. I never thought about it till this minute, but it must have added to this feeling of being found out.’

I ask about the time she dug her heels in when she discovered the salary of her male co-star on The X-Files was twice hers. ‘It made sense at the beginning because he had been cast first and had a body of work already whereas I was plucked from obscurity. Also I was being paid more money than my parents or I had ever seen in our lives. [Her father worked in the film industry on the production and editing side.] So I felt very lucky, then after three years I was like, “Know what? This isn’t working for me anymore”. I made a stand and the gap in our pay closed. Was it sexism? Maybe. It’s like the way we were directed by the studios, I was to walk behind him, never side by side. I mean, that is f—ing priceless when I think about it now. When we would get out the car and walk towards the house I would have to be behind him, even though I had equal dialogue.’

She also says now that she feels she didn’t allow herself to enjoy her fame as much as she should have done. ‘For the first five years of the series we were up filming in Vancouver and I was hardly ever in LA. I didn’t really know anyone. The first year, I married a Canadian and had a child. If things had happened differently I might have gone to the fashionable parties in LA, might have ended up with a different life. But I didn’t, I ended up with a responsible life very quickly, and my only priority when I wasn’t working was to make time to be with my child. I got hugely controlling and hugely anal. All my spare time was spent either exercising, painting our house, or being with my child.’

Was the time she spent with her daughter relaxing? ‘No, it was pretty intense. Whenever we were together my brain was going at a thousand miles an hour in other directions. It trained me to be vigilant with my down time. I still have a hard time with it… Everyone in my life…’ She trails off. ‘It’s a joke. I have to work hard to be relaxed.’

Might there be aspects of her character that would make her difficult to live with, even if it weren’t for the demands of her work? ‘Oh, oh I see, I’m sure, yes, I can’t pin it all on work, yeah, I could make a huge list of things that make me difficult to live with.’

She has described herself as an angry teenager, one who pierced her nose, had a Mohican haircut, and was voted ‘Most Likely To Be Arrested’ by her classmates at high school. It was prompted by the move back to the US, which left her feeling lonely and the odd one out. It also created an abiding sense of impermanence, as though nothing in life was dependable. She began seeing a therapist around that time and has continued seeing them off and on all her life. ‘Yeah I still see a therapist. Not as regularly as I used to, but yeah. I find it essential to have someone out there who is not interested in saying the right thing, someone who is blunt and honest with me about their perception of my behaviour. Otherwise I’d just rely on my own opinion of myself, or what my partner said, and that would be too close to home, especially if he said things that were painful to hear.’

She thinks her anxieties are rooted in her childhood. ‘There are patterns in my life, aspects of my personality that are still there and were there as a child, my mother always said I was single-minded. There was no compromise with me, she felt powerless as a parent.’

Meaning? ‘I don’t think I ever needed parental approval. I want to do this NOW and I am going to do it. My mum says she didn’t know where I got this attitude from, this idea that I could do anything I set my mind to. Now I am more aware of my own fallibility. When I was 16 I directed a play and I wanted to do everything, from the lighting to designing the programme. Now I have taken a play on and I am scared s—less. I tell myself everything will be OK then my brain will start asking “but what if it’s not OK? What if you go blank on stage? After all, I am 40. Will the lines still be there? What if my memory goes?” I have anxiety dreams where I show up for the first night of a play and I haven’t been at any of the rehearsals. I feel like I’m not prepared enough.’

Blimey. But fair enough. She has experienced panic attacks during performances, and once nearly had to walk off the stage at the Royal Court. Yet she seems to be drawn to that which frightens her the most. Rather daffily, she now hunts around for some wood to touch because she has said she thinks the play will be OK. ‘F—! There has got to be some wood I can tap… Some wood… Tap.’ Her hands flap like trapped birds until she finds a wooden window ledge. ‘Sorry,’ she says, looking relieved. ‘Tapping wood is a big deal for me.’


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.