Thirteen years after writing Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh finds David Cameron ‘attractive’ and admits some of the nicest people he’s ever met have been middle class. Blimey, says Nigel Farndale

As he sits down for lunch, Irvine Welsh places two mobile phones on the table. Noticing me noticing them, he points out, in his lethargic way, that they aren’t meant as symbols of his importance, it’s just that he can’t get a good signal here in London with the one he uses at his house in Dublin.

Having heard him speak, or rather mumble, I would have thought his own signal strength was the real problem. He barely opens his mouth, and the words come out slurred and monotonal.

Edinburgh permeates his every syllable – not genteel, shortbread Edinburgh, but hard, council-flats-and-discarded-needles Edinburgh – even though, since finding fame 13 years ago with his debut novel, Trainspotting, Welsh has divided his time between London, Dublin and San Francisco. But that seems to be the only echo of his former working-class self.

Gone is the pasty pallor of early photographs. Instead, he is tanned, in a flowery shirt, comfortable – perhaps complacently so – in the literary salons of the world. True, his head is still a large lightbulb screwed into his neck, but, at 47, this is more to do with hair loss than his early incarnation as a skinhead.

He raises an eyebrow, a perfect circumflex, and asks if I have read his sixth and latest novel, The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs. I have, I have. It is about a hard drinking, sex-addicted young Environmental Health Worker who tries to establish the genetic origins of his crippling compulsions.

The experimental prose style is not for the faint-hearted. What did I think of the scene where the young man has sex with the 85-year-old woman? Strong stuff, I say. He seems a little disappointed. OK, it was disgusting. He grins lopsidedly.

The scene begins with the old woman struggling out of a series of cardigans, pinafores and vests. ‘Lying on the bed, she looked smaller but still monstrous, wrinkled rolls of flab spilling over the mattress…’ Oh, trust me, it is disgusting. Has he included the passage for its shock value?

‘No, for me it comes out of the characters and the situation. And once I’d written it, I couldn’t delete it because it would have felt false.’

But did it shock him, when he re-read it?

‘Not at the time I was writing it, because I was seeing it from a crafting point of view, making it as strong as possible stylistically. But when I read that passage back to an audience in Aberdeen, I realised I was becoming uncomfortable and everyone in the room was becoming ashen-faced. Some started to walk out. I felt the twisted power of it for the first time.’

He is proud of it, clearly, and he can justify it to himself as an intellectual exercise, but does he worry about what kind of a mind can imagine such things; that he might actually be a sick man?

‘It’s weird because I don’t. Maybe I should! Ha ha ha!’ He rocks back in his chair as he sprays the room with a nervy, machine-gun laugh, delivered Popeye-like from the side of his mouth.

‘Maybe that’s part of the lunacy. You need an almost psychotic disengagement from the world to be able to write certain things. You go into a zone, like diving into the centre of the sun and finding it cold. It’s a very selfish, one-dimensional place to be. I become hell to be with when I go there, so I try to limit my journeys.

‘I do sometimes worry about the sick side. I’m not going to go out and axe-murder someone, but it is like being a psychopath because you have no sense of your own self, your own humanity.’

Last summer Irvine Welsh married Beth Quinn, a 25-year-old American student he met when giving a talk to a creative writing class in Chicago. Does he let her read his works in progress?

‘Oh aye.’

Does she ever feel embarrassed by the lurid sex scenes?

‘No. Though she will sometimes kindae look at me and.… He pulls an appalled face. ‘But it’s just for a laugh. She will back out of the room and then I’ll hear the suitcase being pulled off the shelf. “My mother warned me!”‘ He shakes his head. ‘Actually her mother did warn her.’

There was much to warn about. It was Welsh’s second marriage, the first having been contracted during his wilderness years – the 1980s – when he was living in squats, on the dole, being a heroin addict.

To be fair, he was a product of his upbringing. He was born in Leith, the port town which gives Edinburgh its route to the sea. His father worked in the docks there; when he was relocated to a housing estate at Muirhouse, up the coast, he became a carpet salesman.

Irvine left school at 16, without qualifications, to work in a television repair shop. He gave that up to do clerical work for the local council; that and laying paving slabs.

At that stage, Welsh could never have imagined he would become a bestselling author. Novelists were middle-class and well-educated. ‘Back then I didn’ae have ideas above my station,’ he says with a laugh.

‘The idea that working-class people wrote books was absurd in my family. The only books in our house were Catherine Cookson novels passed down via aunties. There was nowhere to put books anyway, no shelving. Besides, I could barely write my name to sign on the dole when I was 21…’

His metamorphosis occurred almost by accident when he discovered one day that he actually enjoyed reading books; not least because they offered him a means of escape. After that he read voraciously and eclectically: Jane Austen, Sir Walter Scott, Salman Rushdie.

Indeed, he become an autodidact, ending up with an MBA: as he says, ‘I’ve gone from one extreme to another.’ Then, in the early 1990s, he found some diaries he had written 10 years earlier, when he was a junkie. They became the inspiration for Trainspotting, a darkly comic account of the Edinburgh heroin culture of the 1980s.

It was subsequently made into a film starring Ewan McGregor as the disreputable but lovable Renton, and Robert Carlyle as the sociopath Begbie. John Carey, Emeritus Professor of English at Oxford University, was among the first to recognise how innovative the novel was.

Other reviewers praised its rawness, authenticity and energy, one calling Welsh ‘The poet laureate of the chemical generation.’ The book sold nearly a million copies and was translated into 30 languages.

In Trainspotting, Renton attempts an unorthodox self-cure for his heroin addiction: he nails up his own door from the inside and sits down with several cans of soup, a blanket and a sick bucket. It was more or less based on Welsh’s own experiences. Most young people who experiment with drugs draw the line at heroin, I suggest. Why had he no fear of trying it?

‘For me, it was stupidity. I didn’t give it any thought. Back then there wasn’t the knowledge about it that there is now. Such drugs education as there was actually encouraged you towards taking it, because your parents and your teachers didn’t know much about drugs.

‘They would tell you: “One puff from a joint of marijuana and that’s you dead.” So once you saw someone smoke it and saw they didn’ae die then you give it a try and you don’t die either.

‘Then it’s like: “If you do one line of speed you’ll die.” Again, not the case, obviously. “Tab of acid. Die.” Not the case. And so next came: “If you shoot up heroin you’re going to die.” They had cried wolf so often I was disinclined to believe them.’

He says that nowadays he has ‘no problem’ with cocaine and ecstasy but that he has come round to the view that long-term cannabis use – by which he means 20 years – can be damaging.

But he is tired of being called upon as an expert witness on drug culture. ‘Even when I was a drug addict I never saw myself as a junkie,’ he says. ‘In the same way it took me a long time to admit I was a writer.’

Was this, I ask, because he thought that there was something fey about writing; not a job for a real man? ‘A bit, but actually I think that is more an English working-class thing than a Scottish working-class thing. In Scotland there was always a manly tradition of subversive writing, expressing yourself in writing. You know, going back to Rabbie Burns.’

Welsh first realised he was a proper writer when he saw a bestseller chart at the time the film of Trainspotting came out. ‘I had more than one book in the Top 10, and I couldn’t believe my name was alongside writers I’d read, like Julian Barnes and Martin Amis.’ Did he still feel an impostor, though? ‘I suppose the others were all middle-class and Oxbridge educated.’

Actually, I suggest, they probably envied his natural way with dialogue, especially his experimental use of phonetically spelt, working-class dialect. Trainspotting, for example, starts with the unforgettable line: ‘The sweat wis lashing oafay Sick Boy; he wis trembling.’

When the film came out in America, it had to have subtitles. ‘I had given some thought to the plotting and had tried to write it in standard English initially,’ Welsh recalls, ‘but it didn’ae make any sense. It felt sterile and pedestrian. It seemed almost pretentious to do it. The characters wouldn’t talk like that. The humour didn’t work. The engine that drives it is the language.’

All his novels since, which include the bestsellers Filth and Porno, have used the Scottish, expletive-filled vernacular and, as such, they can seem like self-parody, with Welsh, the addled seducer, goosing his passive, middle-class victims. Perhaps it is the curse of creating your own genre.

‘It’s weird to see academic books being published about me,’ Welsh says, taking a sip of red wine. ‘There’s one guy published a book about me for Manchester University Press. Another guy at a Texan university. Just bizarre. I almost, as a survival mechanism, have to dismiss such analysis of my work as hollow. Otherwise I would become self-conscious. Paralysed. You have to trust sales more than critics.’

Spoken like a true capitalist… and on the subject of politics I wonder what Welsh, a hardened socialist by reputation, makes of David Cameron. His answer is not what you would expect.

‘What’s attractive about him, for me, is he is very much another Blair, but without the weariness and baggage. With Cameron, things feel very much like they felt when Blair was coming up to take over from Major. Just as Blair did for socialism so I think Cameron is doing for traditional Toryism, or at least Thatcherism.’

Blimey. This endorsement prompts me to ask whether, in retrospect, Welsh considers that he himself might have been something of a Thatcherite, or at least a product of Thatcher’s pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps ethos?

‘I’m a product of Thatcherism in many ways,’ Welsh says, tilting back his head, ‘and I’ve benefited from everything I detested. I’ve had to come to terms with it.

‘My whole family background was a socialist one. I didn’t consciously embrace those changes in the 1980s, but they did help me personally. My dislike of Thatcherism is very much a class-based thing. I really had a problem with the middle and upper class.

‘Basically, I thought how can a Tory be nice? Now, some of the nicest people I have met have been middle and upper-middle class and some of them, I suppose, must be Tories.’

Blimey again. But actually there is an almost yuppy brashness to Irvine Welsh. He is not shy about telling you how in demand he is at the moment. ‘I’m planning to buy a place in California,’ he says, ‘because I need to have light all year round. I have so much work lined up at the moment, I’m going to have to have more hours in the day, you see.’

Part of his new novel, a Jekyll and Hyde parable, is set in San Francisco. It includes a line about how, when the Scottish anti-hero is in San Francisco, he wishes he were in Edinburgh, and when in Edinburgh he wishes he were in San Francisco. That has to be autobiographical; does Welsh ever feel settled anywhere?

‘I always feel that the big party is somewhere else,’ he says, scratching his blobby nose. ‘I’ve been spoiled because I’ve got the kind of job where you can write from anywhere and I have the money to live anywhere. I don’t mean this in a “poor me” sense, but sometimes opportunity and choice can cost you because you are always thinking: “I wonder if I would be better off somewhere else?”

‘Sometimes I think I should become a proper writer and have a study overlooking the sea and write big historical novels.’

But maybe, I suggest, he needs to feel ill at ease with his surroundings, to give his writing a sheen of underclass edginess after all those years of material comfort. ‘Yes, when I write I have music blaring, or I sit in cafes, or on the Tube with my laptop and people banging into me.’

Frankly, it shows, at least in his latest novel. But Welsh seems to think this is a good thing: ‘I like the commotion. I’ll go around the Circle Line five times and then, 10,000 words later, I will look up and realise I haven’t seen a single thing going on around me.

‘It’s always good when I write like that. You’re in the pace of real life. I know if I am distracted by people, it’s not working.’ He splays his fingers out on the table – a demonstration. ‘When I’m in the mood I bang really hard on my keys. I do actually go through keyboards.’

It is a romantic idea, the novelist as lost soul wandering the earth, never feeling at home, only able to find his muse on a Tube going round and round, but never arriving. Maybe if he had children he would feel more settled.

‘I think it would affect me as a writer. I would worry that they would read what I was writing. It would make me self-conscious. You know, I’d have to tell them: “Don’t you dare read those disgusting books!”‘

He isn’t even open to the idea of children: ‘Not really. I’ve gone through that phase in my life. I always felt I was too young to have kids and now I feel I am too old. There was about 10 minutes in between and I missed it. My wife is a lot younger than me so it is not entirely going to be my decision.

‘I’d hate to be the weird old guy at the school gates picking up the kids. You know: “Who’s that weirdo?”‘

Isn’t he used to that? ‘Yes I am, aye,’ he says with his clattering, Popeye laugh. ‘I’ve always been thought a weirdo.’


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.