In Rome the souvenir shops reproduce Gina Lollobrigida’s face on keyrings, pens and mugs, even now. They are movie stills, mostly, from the 1950s and 60s, a time when she was as much an Italian icon as the Vespa — Gina the bare-foot gypsy girl, Gina the wasp-waisted trapeze artist, Gina the coquettish queen of Sheba. And on the Appian Way, the Roman road leading out of the capital, there is a shrine to her. It is a three-storey pink villa she bought in 1954, with high walls, an electronic gate and sprawling lawns populated with statues, peacocks and lemon trees. Her house.

A maid answers the door and leads me inside to where she is waiting, standing straight spined on a mosaic floor surrounded by vases, old masters, and sculptures. At 81, she is still unmistakable — the red dress, the dark eyes beneath thick mascara, the big, auburn ‘tossed salad’ hair. (So much of a trademark did this hairstyle become, the Italians named a type of curly lettuce after her, the lollo.)

I say the house is a shrine to Gina Lollobigida because there are marble sculptures of her everywhere, ones she has made. As a sculptress she represented Italy in the 1992 Expo in Seville and in 2003 there was an exhibition of her work at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. (It is quite sentimental and kitschy, it has to be said, and has been compared to Jeff Koon’s ‘only without the irony’.) There are her awards here too, including the lifetime achievement award she was given last autumn by the National Italian American Foundation. And there is an entire wall of photographs of her with, well, everyone: Fidel Castro, Henry Kissinger, Indira Gandhi, Salvador Dali, Vladimir Putin, Mick Jagger… And Marilyn Monroe (‘Marilyn told me she didn’t sleep the night before she was photographed with me,’ she says, speaking English with a thick Italian accent, ‘because she was so afraid, so in awe.’) Also some of her leading men, such as Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra and Yul Brynner.

One of her most popular films was Come September (1961). Her co-star in that was Rock Hudson. He’s on this wall too. Was she surprised when she subsequently heard he was gay? ‘I tell you, he was not gay! He changed. He was normal. He was adorable. He was one of the person I had most joy to work with.’

She leads the way through to a sitting room dominated by a baby grand piano — as well as more vases and marble cherubs — and here she perches on a velvet sofa. I ask if she ever fell in love with her leading men. ‘I liked directors and cameramen more; actors were like my sisters because we would gossip and we were in the same profession. One exception was Yul Brynner. When we kissed in Solomon & Sheba we lost our heads and we couldn’t stop. The director says, “stop!” but we continued and we were very embarrassing. But it is something that can happen in life. You can get physical and get carried away. We didn’t hit it off at first but something happened on the love scenes. It never normally happens in the movies because it is so technical.’

Did the men she slept with consider her a trophy? ‘No, I was the one who choose all the time. I knew what I wanted. And if they didn’t want me that made me worse. I was like a man, seducing them. I was very independent. I was not waiting for someone to choose me. Obviously, at that time I could have who I wanted.’

It was reported last year that she was considering marrying her long term partner, a Spanish estate agent 34 years her junior, was that true? ‘Yes, I changed my mind though. That is what women do.’

She did get married once, to a Yugoslavian doctor. That was in 1949, just before her movie career took over. They had one son, in 1957, and divorced in 1971. In 1956, meanwhile, when she was featured on the cover of Time magazine, Humphrey Bogard was quoted as saying that ‘Gina made Marilyn Monroe look like Shirley Temple.’ That cover is now one of thousands she has collected over the years. ‘I have 6,000 with my face on. I stopped collecting after that.’ Yet she claims she does not like to be photographed. ‘I don’t feel comfortable. I don’t like being photographed. Behind the camera, I am a different person.’

She gave up acting in favour of photography and sculpture back in the 1970s, and she shows me some of the giant black and white prints of Fidel Castro she is preparing for a major retrospective of her work in Rome this June. ‘Castro trusted completely me. He was like a child. Not aware of the camera.  That was in 1974. He was more anxious to see me than I was to see him. He was very private. He took me to see his brother Raul and Raul was angry saying: “Oh because Gina is here, now you come to see me! It was been five years, Fidel!’

Her photographs of Paul Newman will also feature in the exhibition. ‘It was quite funny Paul said, “OK you can photograph me in the sauna on one condition, that you come in the sauna with me and you are also naked.” So I said yes because I had worked out a way to cut the photograph so that it only showed my shoulder. I thought I could make it decent. But my agent said, “You are 50, you are crazy to do that!” And so we decided to do it in winter in his home near New York instead. There was a little river and he broke the ice and then, wearing just his little pants, he went down through the ice and even put his head under the water. Someone else might have died. He just came up smiling. And then I had an interesting photograph with his blue eyes. He had a very masculine beauty.’ Pause. ‘He was faithful to his wife.’

Gina Lollobrigida has the most robust ego I have ever encountered (and I have encountered Julie Burchill). Her anecdotes usually end with someone telling her how beautiful and talented she is. Vainglorious, yes, but perhaps only because this is what people expect of her, of a diva, of a legend. And she is sweet with it, funny and mischievous too, rolling her eyes suggestively. She is, above all, a good storyteller with some good stories to tell. ‘I am like an icon,’ she says, ‘a legend and even now if I go to the most remote place in the world they recognise me. Yet at the same time I am very unknown because they don’t know the real me, they just know an idea of me from the movies. Some people when they see that I also do the sculptures and the photography they think it is too much. It disturb them. They think this successful, beautiful woman shouldn’t have to do anything else. They think the beautiful woman shouldn’t have a brain. In the end my name worked against me as a photographer and sculptress because people were jealous that I was also to do other things so well. If it had been Mrs So-and-So then my photography could have been recognised for how good it is.’

She grew up in Subiaco, a medieval hilltop town not far from Rome, the second of four daughters. Her father was a carpenter. Hers was a strict catholic upbringing. ‘The priest where I was born was more important than the mayor. We could not have sex before marriage. Even when I was singing for the soldiers that was thought too much. I couldn’t even wear the trousers.’ She used to get about on a donkey, an image she made famous in her first big feature film, Luigi Comencini’s Bread, Love and Dreams (1953).

She says she became an actress by mistake. ‘I had won a scholarship to study art and sculpture at the Academy of Fine Art in Rome and wanted to continue with that, but then I was spotted in the street and asked to be an extra. They paid me 12000 lire, about 12 dollars. I bought a coat and an umbrella and I couldn’t sleep that night because I was so happy, and I remember when I bought my first diamond necklace I could sleep because it didn’t mean as much to me as that umbrella. After that they asked me to be in another film. I said no thank you because I wanted to be an artist not an actress and after ten days they came back and they persuaded my mother instead. I said OK I’ll do it, but only if you pay me one million lire. I thought this would make them stop and go away, but they said yes.’

How did her husband feel about being married to a sex symbol? ‘ I wanted him to be jealous but he wasn’t, he was Yugoslavian, you see, not Italian. Perhaps he just pretended he wasn’t jealous. Anyway, an Italian man would not have been able to hide his jealousy. Howard Hughes was the jealous one. When he saw me in the movie that I got one million lire for he wanted me so badly that he had me flown out to Hollywood. I stayed there two months and a half and saw him every day. He gave me the use of a chauffer driven car and when I wasn’t with him he would have his secretary keep an eye on me. He was very possessive. And secretive. He wanted to marry me but I was already married and divorce was not possible for me. It was not in my head. For me at that time marriage was forever. But he was so persistent. He probably wanted me more because he couldn’t have me. He didn’t stop wanting me for 13 years. He was the most persistent man in my life. He wasn’t used to a girl who didn’t care about money like me. The difficulty for me was that he was too rich. I didn’t like the imbalance.’

I ask about the crowds who used to mob her at Cannes and New York. ‘When I did the New York premiere of Bread, Love and Dreams there were 1,000 photographers waiting for me at the airport. The flashbulbs. It was unbelievable. the photographers were so excited to get me. One photographer even managed to bring along a donkey. In New York! Do you imagine! It was even more crazy when I went to see Peron. There 60,000 people were waiting for me at the airport.’

Did the adulation go to her head? ‘No, it was more that I was afraid that someone would be killed. Big crowds are dangerous. I never got used to the popularity. I didn’t like the publicity, but you had to do it. The first time I went to a theatre in Buenos Aires there were 30 arrested, nine wounded, that is frightening. Another time I went to open a casino with Peron on a private train and we couldn’t get off because there were so many people and the train had to go one kilometre back so as we could get out. There were 700 bodyguards, but the trouble was they wanted to see me as well so that caused trouble.’

I ask about her most controversial film, The Dolls (1965) in which she appeared to be naked during a love scene, a cinematic first in Italy. She claimed she wore a flesh coloured body stocking. Nevertheless, she and the director were charged with an offence to public decency. Both were given a two month suspended sentence. ‘We wanted to make a point, not only the director but the actors. The scene was nothing compared to what you see today in the movies but it was considered too sexy, then. Too daring. Movies today go too far. They are not subtle. I like a gentle suggestion rather than something vulgar. The imagination is the most erotic tool.’

What does she make of actresses today who have plastic surgery and breast implants? ‘I think if they feel better about themselves after the surgery that is their business. For me it would be the opposite because being with a man, if instead of touching you he touch a piece of silicone that would be disturbing. The real trouble with actress today is they all look alike. You don’t know what is real, what is silicon. In my day we were different one from the other. And we were natural, our breasts were natural.’

Stories of her feuds with other sex symbols were legendary. Whenever she was in the same room as Anita Ekberg or Sophia Loren, for example, the hisses could be heard all over Italy. When I ask about this she gives me a steady look. ‘No, I had no rivals because I was number one all over Europe. To be the rival of Gina Lollobrigida was a fashion. Everyone claim they were my rival but it was silly because I was the symbol of Italy. I was an icon. I was Gina Lollobrigida.’



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.