The drive to Louth in Lincolnshire has taken me five hours. I’ve come to interview Graham Fellows – comedian, actor, one-hit wonder – but it isn’t going well. His mind keeps wandering. As do his legs. He lives in a rambling old house – a former veterinary surgery – and seems unable to stay in the same room for more than five minutes. As he lopes distractedly from his ping-pong room to his kitchen, his mongrel dog, Molly, follows him. His seven-year-old daughter, Alice, who is off school because she has a cough, follows the dog.
An egg-timer rings, and Fellows wanders off to collect his other daughter from school. He won’t be long, he says. Would I mind babysitting for a while? Alice offers me a mince-pie and leads me over to the window to show me three brown hens pottering around the garden. These, she says, are named after her father’s three sisters: Lorna, Sally and Clare. Two of the sisters are older than Daddy; Clare is younger, and is married to Ainsley Harriot, the television chef.
We move to the drawing-room. I sit on the sofa, and Molly ambles over to lie across me. Molly is three, Alice points out. And she is a cross between a Labrador and a sheepdog. There is a lodger in the house called Rachel who works with difficult children and she, too, has a dog, called Pye. Alice spells it out for me: p-y-e. She now starts bringing me class photographs from her school, Kidgate Primary. ‘That’s Mrs Hall. That’s me. This is our teacher, Mr Bean. I’m in class 2H and that stands for Mrs Haughton’s class in year two. This is my sister Suzannah (s-u-z-a-n-n-a-h). She’s five and was born in a swimming-pool. My mummy is called Kathryn and she is a teacher. That’s Daddy’s mummy on the wall.’ She points to a black-and-white photograph. ‘She died ten and a half years ago. You can tell it’s an old fashioned picture because of the colours.’
Alice plays ‘Chopsticks’ on the piano for me and talks over her shoulder: ‘I once listened to one of Daddy’s shows, but not all of it, because it was my bathtime. My favourite television programme is Cow and Chicken.’
In the world of Graham Fellows – as in that of his comic alter ego, John Shuttleworth – all is not quite as it seems; the axis is at a slight tilt. It is appropriate that part of this interview should be conducted not with Fellows but with his seven-year-old daughter; and that this part should be the most coherent.
As the 39-year-old comedian points out, such success as he has enjoyed has been soundly based on failure. As a 19-year-old drama student at Manchester Polytechnic, he created the anorak-wearing punk-rocker Jilted John. His one hit – with its memorable chorus ‘Gordon is a moron/Gordon is a mo-o-ron’ – reached number four in the charts. He can still remember the three acts that kept him from the number one slot: 10 cc with ‘Dreadlock Holiday’, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John with ‘You’re the One That I Want’, and Boney M with ‘Brown Girl in the Ring’. Jilted John was once the prize in a tabloid competition. The girl who won got to have a fish-and-chip supper with him in Leeds.
For the next 15 years, Fellows was partially successful as an out-of-work actor – his record of failure being broken briefly when he was cast in a bit part on Coronation Street. After this, he become an out-of-work musician, only to botch things by landing himself a recording contract in the late Eighties. To defuse the formality of the signing ceremony, the producer played some of the awful demo tapes sent in over the years. Inspired, Fellows recorded similar demos for his own amusement and began sending them in, anonymously, to the producer, who guessed who was behind them and insisted that Fellows forget about his serious song-writing and take up comedy instead.
So it was that ‘John Shuttleworth – versatile singer/ songwriter’ was born. Shuttleworth, a 56-year-old Yorkshireman, used to work demonstrating audio equipment for Comet, but now – dressed in his trademark turtleneck, leather car-coat and National Health glasses – he tours the northern cabaret circuit with his Yamaha organ. His dream is to persuade Norway to perform his love song ‘Pigeons in Flight (I Wanna See You Tonight)’ as its Eurovision Song Contest entry.
What Fellows tries to do with Shuttleworth, he says, is celebrate the mundane by showing it in relief. He is good at this, having Mike Leigh’s ear for naturalistic dialogue, and Alan Bennett’s for folksy pedantry. John Shuttleworth never just eats a chocolate, for instance: he has a Wagon Wheel from the vending machine at the swimming-baths. He goes on mini-breaks, shops in garden centres and eats in carveries. Shuttleworth, explains Fellows, doesn’t realise he is funny. He would never understand, for instance, why Jarvis Cocker and Reeves and Mortimer are his most devoted fans.
While John Shuttleworth has proved a hit with theatre audiences, as well as with Radio 4 listeners (he has a half-hour show on the station), his series for BBC2 (500 Bus Stops) and his one-off television special (Europigeon) were, according to Fellows, both pretty hopeless. And, consistent with his pattern of partial success, when Fellows (as John Shuttleworth) was nominated for a Perrier Comedy Award at the Edinburgh Festival in 1992 he found himself up against Steve Coogan (as Alan Partridge). Fellows has never quite achieved the transition from comedy cult to commercial success, partly because he hates to play the publicity game. He says he’s often asked to appear on such programmes as the Des O’Connor Show, but just can’t bring himself to do them.
Fellows’s predicament can best be summed up in a line from a Bob Dylan song: ‘There’s no success like failure, and failure’s no success at all.’ His character, meanwhile, can best be defined by recasting his own lyrics: ‘Graham Fellows is like Manchester, he has strange ways.’
When he returns from the school run, he makes a lemon-curd sandwich for Suzannah and takes me into his makeshift studio. It’s like a Yamaha organ graveyard. Aged keyboards are propped against all four soundproofed walls. The floor is carpeted with electrical cables and yards of quarter-inch tape, unspooled and tangled like brown spaghetti. There is a multi-track tape recorder, several full ashtrays and dirty coffee mugs, a mastering machine and hundreds of DAT tapes.
‘I don’t know what I’m doing half the time and I wish I had a script. This last series of Shuttleworth completely did my head in. These voices in my headphones. In my head.’ Fellows is feeling edgy and paranoid. He says he hasn’t slept for 38 hours. He rubs his face and adds, in his unhurried northern burr, that he is also feeling numb and disorientated. He has what he describes as a period face – dimpled chin, insomniac eyes and a dirty-blond fringe. On the strength of these features, his ambition is to be cast in a television period drama: an angry medieval peasant in an episode of Cadfael, perhaps.
He hasn’t slept because he’s been up all night editing the latest episode of Radio Shuttleworth (‘serving the Sheffield region, and a little bit further even’, as its jingle goes) which is due to be broadcast on Radio 4 at 6.30 this evening. It’s not that it’s a topical comedy show, just that its creator is a perfectionist who can’t resist making last-minute changes and so produces it later and later each week. Today, he has sent the recording of the show to Broadcasting House in a car. A friend happened to be driving to London, and anyway Fellows doesn’t trust the technology that would allow him to transmit the programme ‘down the wire’. His producers at the BBC will just have to hope the traffic isn’t too bad.
As he waits to hear if the tape has arrived in time, Fellows experiments with a Latin rhythm on the keyboard. Then a techno sound. Then a harp, and a steel drum, then a country-and-western slide guitar. He slips into the lugubrious, pancake-flat vowels of John Shuttleworth: ‘It seems simple, single finger playing, but you’ve still got to know which finger to put down.’ Molly walks in and starts barking. Alice follows and starts singing. Fellows finds a switch which produces the sound of a rap singer saying, ‘Peace’. He hits it several times and looks delighted. ‘Oof! Very good sentiment, that.’
Although he is not married, Fellows refers to Kathryn as his wife. Petite and dark, she arrives home and asks him if he got his programme away on time. When he says he is still waiting for the BBC to ring, she says: ‘Couldn’t they just use one of your old programmes?’ He gives me a look which says: my wife doesn’t understand me.
A few hours have passed, a phone call has confirmed that the tape arrived in London and Fellows, now in a much jollier cast of mind, is on his second pint. We are sitting in the Masons, a pub he likes because it reminds him of a waiting-room in a railway station. He enjoys watching the locals. ‘Here’s Norman,’ he whispers, ‘the travel agent. In a moment he will turn round and say hello.’ Norman does so. ‘Hello, Norman,’ Fellows replies and then adds in a whisper again. ‘See? One big happy family, Louth.’ The estate agent tells me that he has just been listening to Fellows’s programme on the radio. He adds that Louth is home to another celebrity, Barbara Dixon.
As Fellows gives a running commentary about the lives of the people in the pub, it becomes clear that he regards them as extras in the film of his life – which probably has the working title The In-Joke. I realise from the enigmatic half-smile that he has decided I, too, should have a cameo for the day. ‘The drama there is in every single moment of your life…’ he trails off wistfully. ‘I love watching characters like John Shuttleworth. Steady, practical older men who sit on their emotions but want to embrace life at the same time.’
Before this theme can be explored, he’s off on another tangent. After his mother’s death in 1987, Fellows says, he became clinically depressed – convinced that his life was futile. He saw a psychotherapist, and decided to become a milkman with Express Dairies. ‘I waxed lyrical in the interview about how I wanted to serve the community. They turned me down. I was really offended. So I applied to another dairy instead.’
Graham Fellows enjoyed the milkman’s life at first. ‘It was the golden age of milk delivery because it was just before people started buying from supermarkets. I went on a week-long course with 40 other prospective milkmen and we had to sit in front of a man with a baton who pointed at a blackboard and said things like, ‘Red top is the homo, got that? Homogenised. What’s the fat content of semi-skimmed? You there, at the back.’
His days as a milkman weren’t an unqualified success. He took to drinking the milk and, because he was never given his own regular round, he couldn’t strike up a rapport with the customers. ‘My money was 50 quid short each week because some of the regulars had some fiddle going which I could never work out. They would dock it from my wages.’ Hmmm.
It is difficult to get a hold of where Fellows’s comic personae end and he begins. With a straight face he will tell you things about himself which sound plausible enough at the time, but afterwards you wonder if he was indulging in self-parody. Jilted John wasn’t his first brush with fame, for instance. As an infant, Fellows won a pretty baby photograph competition. The prize was a fridge. He had an advantage over the other entrants because his father was an ‘incorporated photographer’. That, at least, is what the nameplate outside the family home in Sheffield said.
‘I often wondered what it meant but it was only when my father retired that I thought to ask him. It simply meant that he was self-employed – but he thought it sounded more impressive. He sort of pottered along, my dad. He was a bit weird because nothing really touched him. He could watch news coverage of some horrific disaster and be completely unmoved by it. As though he were a Martian. I’m a bit like that. An observer rather than a participant. Disengaged.’ His father is still alive, and Fellows says when he rings he never asks directly how he is. ‘He will say something like, “How are those hinges I put up on that door?”‘ His father’s main pleasure in life now, says Fellows, is naturism. He has a caravan in the East Midlands which he goes to with his new girlfriend, Graham’s old English teacher.
Really? Fellows doesn’t explain why, but he adds that his grandfather used to go to auctions and come away with a thousand bars of Fry’s Chocolate Cream or 500 bottles of Camp Coffee. These he would give to the young Graham to sell to the other children at school. ‘I was a bit of a bully at infant school,’ Fellows recalls. ‘Nasty. I used to extort ginger biscuits from the other children. I was demoted from the Cubs, from being a sixer to nothing. For bullying. My position became untenable. I had to leave.’
He went on, he says, to breed fancy mice for competitions in Yorkshire; for much of the rest of his leisure time he would tape his voice and play it back at odd speeds. At comprehensive school he became introspective but discovered a talent for fighting. ‘I was best fighter in school. No, second best. Kevin Scott was best. His dad used to beat him daily with a belt. I’m a shy bully. That’s why I only feel confident after a couple of pints. And why I can only perform when I’m hiding behind a character.’
Because Fellows’s mother was a marriage guidance counsellor, she was always asking him how he felt about things, trying to analyse him. The trouble was that she, like his father, was emotionally repressed. And this was why Graham didn’t feel particularly close to her. ‘She died of liver cancer, which is a horrible way to go because you shrivel up and go yellow. It was the first big death in our family and we weren’t very open about it. I certainly didn’t talk to her about her dying. Kept saying, “You’ll pull through, mother,” so it meant I didn’t get to say goodbye. I was playing my guitar and singing to her when she died: “Golden slumbers kiss your eye”.’
Here, I think, he is being earnest. But when he adds that the pain of his mother’s death was rendered worse because it followed two months after the death of his dog, a Great Dane, I’m thrown into doubt again.
Fellows’s manager, Richard Bucknall, tells me that his client has a morbid fascination with cemeteries. He wanted to buy a house alongside one, but Kathryn put her foot down. The humour of some of the Shuttleworth songs is certainly very black: the chorus to one jaunty tune is, ‘My wife died in 1970/ Peacefully in her sleep/Though she’s just a distant memory/Occasional tears I weep.’
When I go to buy the next round, Fellows talks into my tape-recorder. He records a little flight of fancy – I discover later – about my being a keen fellwalker and a DIY enthusiast. He suggests we go on for a curry, because he doesn’t get many visitors from London and he wants to make the most of me. When I protest that I have a five-hour drive back, he goes to the pay phone and orders a takeaway to collect on his way home.
But he can’t bear to let me go away hungry. Just as I am leaving he asks: ‘Do you keep chickens?’ I shake my head, he disappears back into the kitchen and reappears carrying an egg for me to take back. It is carefully wrapped in clingfilm.


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.