For the third time in five minutes, as we sit drinking coffee under an awning in Brick Lane, London, Helen McCrory and I are interrupted by the same man. That he is the owner of the café doesn’t make him less distracting. This time he wants to show us his new mobile phone. He disappears again only to reappear with two mugs of mint tea we haven’t ordered. He wants us to try them. See what we think. He disappears again and re-emerges to tell us that, though we can continue sitting outside, he is going to have to close the café down for ten minutes because there are ‘some nutters around’. The actress and I give each other the sideways glance. When he returns it is with a family photograph he wants to show us. The photograph shown, he potters back inside the café and, out of the corner of her mouth, McCrory says: ‘Quite high-maintenance, isn’t he?’
Her sense of humour is pleasingly dry. When she found out she was pregnant two years ago she delayed her wedding to the father, the tall and brooding actor Damian Lewis, because she said she would rather walk down the aisle ‘skinny and drunk than fat and sober’. But she didn’t get round to it then, and is now fat and sober again. Well, not fat exactly, but she does have a noticeable bump. This time, this pregnancy, she decided not to wait. In fact, when I meet her, barely two weeks have passed since she got married. Shouldn’t she still be on her honeymoon? ‘I did have a honeymoon. It lasted an evening. It was very short, but very lovely. We got married in the Kensington and Chelsea registry office, then walked down the King’s Road and had lunch in a nice restaurant around the corner with 11 people. A very romantic day.’
The couple had met when playing lovers in a 2004 production of Five Gold Rings at the Almeida. The play suffered vicious reviews but, as ever, McCrory was singled out for her ‘electrifying’ performance. Her career is littered with award wins and spans an extraordinary dramatic range (she has played everything from Margaret Peel in the comedy Lucky Jim to Anna Karenina). But, though she is lauded as one of the best Chekhovian actresses of her generation, and is a fine interpreter of Ibsen and Shakespeare — her Lady Macbeth made one critic write, ‘I wish Shakespeare had written her more scenes’– she is probably best known for playing opposite Sienna Miller in As You Like It at the height of the Jude Law nanny scandal, and for Cherie Blair in The Queen (2006), the film for which Helen Mirren won an Oscar. She captured not only the slightly scurrying walk and the adoring gazes up at her husband but also the feistiness. The way she backed out of her audience with the Queen was a masterclass in repressed sarcasm. ‘Cherie cricks her neck because she feels defensive and vulnerable,’ McCrory says. ‘It’s also because she feels she has to smile constantly, an odd mix of awkwardness and confidence.’ McCrory demonstrates the contracted neck and the letterbox smile. ‘When she cricks her neck like this you realise that she is trying to keep things in. She often has tension down her arms because she wants to react physically to what is going on. It’s all about repression. I found some footage of Cherie before Tony Blair became an MP and she was a different person: so direct, the opposite of simpering. It was clear she was the more politically committed and driven of the two, so I tried to capture some of that as well.’
Has she bumped into Mrs Blair since making The Queen? ‘No, she must have seen it. I hope she wasn’t offended. When I first read the script [by Peter Morgan] I thought we were in a broad comedy, and I was horrified when I saw the rest of the cast being subtle in their interpretations. Stephen [Frears, the director] kept shouting ‘Less, Helen, less!’ All my Norman Wisdom moments were taken out. I tell you, I was robbed.’
Presumably, being actors, she and Lewis didn’t get nervous about the exchange of vows and the speeches at their wedding? She rolls her eyes in mock incredulity. ‘That’s right, actors and actresses have sensitivity bludgeoned out of them at birth. We are that rare combination of vanity and self-obsession.’ She gives a short laugh and dunks and re-dunks her bag of herbal tea in her cup. Actually — at least today — vanity is not something she can be accused of. She is not wearing make-up and, in defiance of the hot weather, is wearing a heavy, shocking-pink coat-cum-jacket. As she is also wearing flip-flops, I’m guessing the coat was the nearest thing to hand as she was leaving the house in a hurry. While McCrory is not tall — only 5ft 3in — she does have considerable presence: dark hair and equally dark and expressive eyes. She also has a disarming way of pronouncing the letter R as W, ever so slightly, a trait I have never noticed in her performances.
‘Actually, I don’t know about Damian,’ she continues, ‘but I do get nervous, especially when speaking in public without a script. I had to present the prizes for an under-12s poetry-reading once. I was performing in three plays at the Olivier Theatre, back to back, 17 hours with no nerves whatsoever, but I stood up to say a few words and my voice wavered and I became self-conscious.’
How curious. Why does she suppose that is? ‘Well, my trouble is I make no connection between myself and what I do on stage or in front of a camera, so when I am being myself I get very, very nervous and take tranquillisers.’ As she says this it occurs to me that her relentless jokiness today may be to do with nerves, too. So did she fluff any lines at her wedding? ‘No, but it did make me nervous, even though there were only a handful of people there, because Damian and I are very private people. I think I would have found it hard to do it in front of a lot of other people.’
They had a ban on children at their wedding, a ban that included their own daughter. ‘She came for the meal instead. It was more a matter of not wanting babies there. You see, the way I figured it, it always looks bad if you start staring daggers at a screaming baby. It gives the wrong signal to your future in-laws. Besides, I wouldn’t want to be distracted, because they were the most serious vows I had ever exchanged.’
A church wedding was ruled out because it would have felt hypocritical. ‘When we told people we were getting married in a registry some said, ‘Why not a church?’ and we thought, ‘Hello? When have you ever seen us in a church?’ I would have felt hypocritical saying I meant the bit about staying together but not the bit about the Holy Spirit.’ She sounds unusually earnest for a moment, but her droll side cannot be suppressed for long. ‘That said, an atheist who gets married in a church does have a get-out clause. You are practically not married. You can say, ‘Ah yes, because I meant that bit, but obviously didn’t mean that bit, that means the whole contract is invalidated.’’
Does being married to someone who does the same job make for rivalry? ‘It gives you a shorthand about your job — makes it easier to relate. Also, you know the realities. Some people think acting is all about laughing as you sip champagne from a slipper at a premiere. But actually most of it is unglamorous.’
Unusually, McCrory is an actress — she doesn’t use the PC term actor — who manages to avoid sounding pretentious when talking about her trade. Perhaps it is to do with being pregnant, but she talks about her latest role — as Victoria in Frankenstein — in a frivolous way. In this gritty two-hour ITV drama she plays a scientist who is conducting controversial work in the field of stem-cell research and biotechnology in an attempt to cure her dying son. ‘I play a stem-cell researcher who is obviously meant to be a female Dr Frankenstein.’ Again McCrory says, ‘I thought it would work best if I played it as a broad farce. I see it as a look at the funny side of electricity and stem-cell research. It wasn’t easy but we managed to find the humour.’
Actually, there isn’t a laugh in it. They filmed on location near Dungeness nuclear power station — all grey seas and pebble beaches — while she was in the early stages of her pregnancy. ‘Do you think that was wise?’ she asks rhetorically. She imagines the news stories: ‘And eight months later her own Frankenstein’s monster arrived. …’
Despite the repeated dunking of her herbal tea bag, she seems far from being your stereotypical neurotic actress. She blames her parents. ‘They were always very encouraging. I never felt unloved. They gave me great stability. I think that is why I am so relaxed as a parent myself; they gave me a great blueprint. Besides, parenthood is only a seven-day-a-week job and apparently in 18 years you can stop worrying so much. I’ll have a nice nap and a shandy then.’
Her father, a Scotsman, was a Foreign Office diplomat, which meant that McCrory had a peripatetic childhood, moving between postings in Cameroon, Tanzania, Norway and France. She has described her younger self as ‘a Mowgli’ and still bears a scar from the day she was chased by a rhino and split her chin on a tree. To give her stability she was sent to board at an English school, and later turned down a place at Oxford to go to drama college in London. ‘Coming here to board taught me a lot,’ she says. ‘I learnt that in England as soon as you open your mouth you are judged. In Italy it is all about your shoes.’
She also remembers learning the meaning of patriotism from her father. ‘When I was in my teens I was dragged along to some function with him in Brussels and when the national anthem struck up I rolled my eyes and sat down. He took me to one side and said, ‘Never do that again. The man standing next to us is the head of the SAS. His friends die for Queen and country, so show some respect.’ It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten.’ To this day, she reckons, her perspective on the world comes from her parents, who are still alive. ‘Because we moved around a lot when I was a child, my sense of home and belonging was with people rather than places. My whole identity was grounded in my parents and brother and sister. I don’t think having a daughter altered me enormously in that respect.’
She and Damian Lewis live with their daughter, Manon, who is now nearly two, in Tufnell Park, north London, near to their friend Sienna Miller — or rather they will when they return from Los Angeles in the New Year. Lewis is working on a film there. ‘So we’re going to have the baby out there in November,’ she says. ‘Should be interesting. LA is a city that makes you wash your hands before you go to the supermarket; just imagine how clean the hospitals will be. I’ll have to find out how soon I can bring the baby back on a plane. Is there a minimum age? I don’t want its ears to explode.’
As well as the ITV drama, McCrory was also working on Flashbacks Of A Fool, a film in which she co-stars with Daniel Craig, six months into her pregnancy. But she is planning to take five months’ maternity leave after giving birth. ‘Then I’m going to be doing another Ibsen at the Almeida in April. They delayed it for me.’ Sadly for her they didn’t also delay the filming of Harry Potter V. ‘I was supposed to appear in that but they couldn’t get the insurance because I was pregnant.’ The part went to Helena Bonham Carter instead. ‘They said I can be in the next one, though,’ she adds. Dare I ask which role? Pause. Grin. ‘I play the old Harry, who is 72 and on steroids.’


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.