In her only British newspaper interview, Hillary Clinton admits she has had to take ‘a long, hard look at her marriage, my husband and myself’. Does that mean she is now ready to run for President? She talks to Nigel Farndale

(Telegraph 18 Jun 2003)
On a humid June morning in Washington DC, Hillary Rodham Clinton barrels into the hotel suite where I’ve been asked to wait for her, starts pumping my hand and says, somewhat unnecessarily, “Hi, I’m Hillary Clinton, howareya?”
She is wearing a pastel-green trouser suit, a stars and stripes lapel pin, and a fixed, politician’s smile. As she shakes my hand, she beams, then she shakes my hand some more.
The 55-year-old Senator of New York, former First Lady, and (as of last Monday, when her autobiography, Living History, broke all records for first-day sales of non-fiction) best-selling author, is much more hokey than I had imagined. More animated, too. But not nearly so, um, airbrushed as she is in photographs.
She sits down on a sofa, takes a sip of iced tea and raises her eyebrows, two fiercely plucked arcs. As she talks, crisply, articulately, unspooling long sentences that contain clause after clause, it becomes apparent that she has two distinct, all-purpose facial expressions, both involving her piercing blue eyes.
She either widens them, almost flirtatiously, when she wants to emphasise a point, or she half closes them, a slightly peeved pout playing on her lips. This is her serious face – really quite sultry, or haughty, I can’t decide which.
After her eyes, and her swollen cheekbones, her most striking feature is her bottle-blonde hair. Her ever-changing hairstyles are a running joke in her book, a metaphor for her inability to work out her political identity over the years. Now that she is a senator, I ask, will this be her final hairstyle, or is there room for more personal growth?
The eyes widen. “This is going to be one of the final ones. My hair presents me with enormous opportunities because it is the only part of my body I can change at will. You don’t have to go to a plastic surgeon. You don’t have to exercise and diet. You just go change your hair.”
I ask about what has already become the most famous passage in her memoirs, the one in which she describes her dramatic reaction to being told by her tearful husband that he had, after all, had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky (having lied to her that he hadn’t, eight months earlier): “I could hardly breathe. Gulping for air, I started crying and yelling at him . . .” and so on.
What surprises me, I say, is that she was surprised, given that, by then, Bill Clinton had already confessed in a court deposition that he had had an affair with Gennifer Flowers (though Hillary doesn’t mention this in her book). She was in denial, right?
Serious face. Half closed eyes. Manicured fingers crooked neatly in lap. “Well, there were many reasons I had believed my husband, including the experiences I had personally had since being in the White House.
“There had been so many accusations against me which were totally false and yet there they were on the front pages of the newspapers. So by January 1998 [when her husband lied to her about Lewinsky] I was quite accustomed to these outrageous stories being hurled against either one, or both, of us. When he told me it wasn’t true I just thought it was one in a continuing series of efforts by Ken Starr [Special Counsel] to try and end his presidency.”
By December of that year, Bill Clinton faced impeachment, charged with perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with the cover-up of his relationship with Lewinsky. It was the culmination of a long-running Federal investigation into the various Clinton sleaze scandals, from the Whitewater land deal to all those gates – Troopergate, Travelgate, Filegate, Zippergate.
The investigation was intended to show that Clinton was morally unfit to hold office. He was later acquitted, though his serial philandering was never in doubt. So, I put it to his wife again, was she in denial?
A taut, lapidary smile. “Well, I didn’t read the newspapers. I didn’t watch the television coverage because to do so would have been so debilitating. I wouldn’t have been able to go on from day to day doing the work I thought I was there to do. So when he told me months later I was . . .” She pauses.
“Shocked. Shocked because I couldn’t believe he had done it. And I couldn’t believe that he had misled me, and everyone else, for all those months.”
Her version doesn’t quite tally with those of other people, such as her friend Sidney Blumenthal (author of The Clinton Wars). Was it not the case that she had been given clear intimations by her lawyers that her husband really had had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky before he confessed it to her?
“The night before Bill told me, one of my lawyers [Bob Barnett], who is also my friend, said ‘What if you find out there is more to it?’ And I just said I wouldn’t believe it. I don’t believe it. Because I couldn’t imagine that Bill wouldn’t have levelled with me. That was why I was shocked. Bill will have to talk in his own book about what was going through his mind at the time.”
Yet in her book she describes how, when it first surfaced, she questioned her husband “over and over” about the story; so, clearly, at the time she was deeply suspicious.
“Yes I did question him,” she says, nodding, wide-eyed. “I didn’t want to just ignore the accusation. I wanted reassurance and what he described to me was perfectly plausible.
“He is a very charismatic human being and he provokes very strong feelings in people and I’ve watched that ever since we were law students. And I had enough first-hand knowledge of people who loved or hated him, and lived out all kinds of dreams and expectations through him, to believe that that was what this [the Lewinsky story] was all about.”
I say to her that, reading between the lines, she seems to have been hurt and angered as much by her husband’s lying as by the act of infidelity itself.
“I don’t know that you can separate it out. It’s very hard to parse it, especially in the moment. Obviously it was very personal. Very painful.
“But it was forced into the public domain and so I had to write about it. To ignore it would have been totally inappropriate for a memoir about our eight years in the White House. So I tried to convey the immediacy and shock of the moment – and I wasn’t very rational about what percentage was anger at the lying and what at the infidelity.”
Has she completely forgiven him now?
The hooded eyes. “I have. I have. It wasn’t easy and I don’t pretend to be any kind of example of forgiveness. I think we all do things to people, sometimes deliberately, sometimes inadvertently, that cause pain”. She pauses.
“It was a very long process for me.” A longer pause. A wan stare out of window. “I can only speak to my perspective, having gone through it, which is that a wrenching personal problem like that can really derail your life. It can make a person bitter, angry and fearful.
“You can either go down that road or you can ask yourself, what is it that I want to achieve, and be, at the end of this process? Do I want to stay married? That is why we went into counselling and why we worked at it. I take marriage very seriously, as does my husband. I highly recommend forgiveness.”
Theirs is certainly an enigmatic marriage: closeness for them these days, it is said, means trying to be in the same city once a week.
Hillary says she still loves Bill, partly because he makes her laugh, partly because he has been a good father to their daughter Chelsea, and partly because, as progressive liberals, they share an intellectual bond. Also, you suspect, they still need each other politically; he is a great fund-raiser, while her loyalty to him, despite everything, makes him look less of a cad.
Does she, I ask, blame herself at all for Bill’s infidelity?
“You know, I think I’ll keep that to myself, except to say that in a marriage it is always two people. Not one. It’s very hard work because we all come with insecurities and fears and senses of inadequacy. I had to not only take a hard look at my marriage and my husband: I also had to take a long hard look at myself.”
There were all manner of rumours about her, most notably in relation to Vince Foster, the White House lawyer who shot himself in 1993 in the midst of the Whitewater land-deal scandal. Was she ever tempted to stray in her marriage? “No.” Raised eyebrows. Short, ambiguous laugh. “No.”
It could be that she is telling the truth. She and her two younger brothers were, after all, brought up by a frugal, highly moral, disciplinarian father (in Chicago; he owned a fabric store). And in her book she describes how her mother had suffered from her parents’ divorce and so she, Hillary, had been determined to “marry for life”.
One of the most telling admissions in the book is that, for some of her time at the White House, she felt lonely and even, on one occasion, racked with self-doubt. Is it true, I ask her, that she doesn’t even take her close friends into her confidence?
“Before the White House I thought I had lived a normal life. I had friends who I confided in and kidded with and had wonderful times with. Then, all of a sudden, our lives became this political target range. It was very disconcerting. I quickly learned that nothing was off limits to the Special Counsel and his [Ken Starr’s] relentless, partisan investigation.
“Friends of many years standing were being pursued and asked intrusive questions in order to find anything that would discredit Bill and me. And I was advised by my lawyers early on that the only people I could talk to were them and my husband.
“That was one of the most painful aspects of those years. I could stand on the sidelines and see people I loved being abused and mistreated . . . It was a very sad sight. And it was for nothing.”
She has referred on a number of occasions to a “vast right-wing conspiracy”. Surely it can’t have been a conspiracy because it was completely open and overt?
“Well, yes, you are 100 per cent right. I have to admit ‘conspiracy’ was not the right word because there was a well-organised, well-financed, open agenda being pursued by the radical right. It became a conventional wisdom. ‘We aren’t sure what she has done but she must have done something.’
“That became really frustrating to me. Investigation after investigation proved there was no wrongdoing: yet there we were with decent people on the outside looking in saying, ‘Well, my gosh, why would this be happening if there wasn’t something?’ ”
Did she become paranoid?
“I tried to fight against paranoia because it is no way to live. It wouldn’t do me any good if I was, all of a sudden, in effect, trapped inside this machine that they [the radical right] were creating. But there were many moments when I would just slap my forehead and utter, er, [she laughs, her eyes widen] some words of amazement at their lies.”
Lies such as? “There was one absurd claim that I knew the mother of this young man who worked in the White House, and I had hired him to obtain FBI files which he used to do something nefarious to our political enemies [what became known as ‘Filegate’]. It was a totally made-up story . . . but it became a cottage industry resulting in investigations and lawsuits.
“And then I discovered to my horror that these rogue FBI agents were literally making up evidence and sticking it in FBI files. That scared me. I thought, wait a minute, how far will these people go? What is this really about?”
What was it really about?
“What it all came down to, as Shakespeare knew, was power. How to attain it and use it. A lot of the people were out to delegitimise the Clinton presidency. It became a very Shakespearian drama.”
Surely she, more than anyone, appreciates what an addiction to power means?
“Yes, and that is why you have to be careful and self-aware about the means not justifying the ends. In a democracy, power is a gift. It is certainly not a birthright, nor a legacy to pass on.
“I have no problem with people who disagree with me. I think President Bush’s tax cuts are disastrous for the American economy. There are those who disagree. That’s fine.
“But I draw the line at using levers of power to personally destroy people for their political beliefs. What happened in the Nineties is what I call the politics of the personal, largely aimed at Bill and me.”
But the personal can be political, can it not? A man who cheats on his wife might be capable of betraying his country. She shakes her head.
“There is no historical evidence for that. A correlation between that kind of personal behaviour and public performance has never been proved.
“You know, Nigel, if you retroactively wired up every past American President and every past British Prime Minister to lie detectors you would have lots of lights flashing. But that doesn’t determine what kind of public official they were or what kind of leadership they provided.”
A pause. Half-closed eyes. “I have this unique perspective, having been on the Nixon impeachment staff in 1974. We had to see whether a President should be removed from office based on our Constitution, and my job, as a very young lawyer, was to research the legal and historical basis for impeachment.
“It was never intended to punish public officials for personal weakness and foibles, unless there was a direct relationship in terms of a betrayal of the public trust.
“In Nixon’s case it was the betrayal of his office. It was a public offence against public good. In 1998 [the year of the Clinton impeachment investigation] it was an effort to subvert our Constitution for political purposes.”
Clinton’s presidency, the journalist Christopher Hitchens has joked, will be remembered as a sexual moment between the Bushes. But is this verdict premature?
There is much speculation that Hillary Clinton, ennobled by humiliation, intends to add a final chapter to the Clinton White House story, a “legacy to pass on”, if you will. Many see her memoirs as a launch pad for a presidential bid.
She has in the past few days said that it is not her intention to stand as President either in 2004 or 2008. Are there any circumstances in which she would change her mind?
She smiles the serious smile. “I am not running in 2004, and I have no intention to run in the future.”
We will take that as a yes, then.


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.