Imagine trying to write an obituary for Jane Fonda. Where would you start? Is she best known as the archetypal 1960s sex kitten Barbarella, or the clench-fisted 1970s political activist Hanoi Jane? Or did her defining moment come in the 1980s when she pulled on a leotard and persuaded half the planet to join her in feeling ‘the burn’? And then there’s the husbands to consider (three), and the Oscars (two) and the famous father and brother (one of each)… Well, perhaps we should ask her. What does she think the opening line of her obituary ought to be? A long, long pause. ‘Jane Fonda was loved and reviled.’
I like her for saying that. It suggests a certain self awareness and sang-froid. Anyway, it looks as if it will be many years before the obituary writers get to practice their dark art on her. She may be 68 now, and she may have to walk with a stick — she has just had two operations on her hip and one on her knee — but the years of fitness training have left her looking supple, and her good cheek bones still give her face a sculptural quality, even without the inevitable Hollywood airbrushing. Her remarkably frank autobiography —  My Life So Far — is published in paperback this week and, judging by its title, Jane Fonda thinks she has a few years left in her, too.
She’s not kidding about being reviled, by the way. At a book signing recently a Vietnam veteran walked up to her and spat in her face. The cold fury that the words ‘Hanoi Jane’ provoke has not wearied with time. In 1972, it will be recalled, she visited Hanoi on a one-woman peace mission and was photographed wearing a military helmet while sitting at the trigger end of a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun, a publicity stunt that looked worse than it was. She also made radio broadcasts to US Servicemen, telling them they were guilty of war crimes. A 20,000-page dossier was compiled on her by the US intelligence agencies and US congressmen called for her to be charged with treason. I ask her if, after all this time, the spitting incident surprised her. ‘No, because we’ve not come to terms with the Vietnam war still. It was such a traumatic experience for the men who fought it and for the people who stayed home. It divided the country. No wonder the myth of Hanoi Jane lives on and is bigger than me. I was a lightning rod, someone for American vets to blame for losing the war. Even today it provides right-wingers with material to keep people from protesting about Bush and the Iraq war. Better not do that or you’ll become like Jane Fonda. Look what happened to her. Well, that would be what now? What? Huh? What happened?’
Well, she was hanged in effigy from a tree — but we shall come to that. For now it is worth considering what happened to her before the Hanoi Jane period. Her formative experiences were coloured by her distant relationship with her mother, Frances. ‘I didn’t like her to touch me,’ Fonda says. ‘Because I knew she didn’t love me.’ When Jane was 12, her mother, a manic depressive, committed suicide by cutting her throat with a razor. I ask the actress if she ever worried that she might have inherited her mother’s mental illness. ‘Very briefly. Not for long.’ Her relationship with her father, the Oscar-winning actor Henry Fonda, was similarly icy. ‘My father was remote,’ she tells me. ‘I wanted him to like me but circumstances early on taught me that he wasn’t going to like me as I was so I had to become what he wanted me to be. That doesn’t disappear when you grow up. It effected my relationships with men, my husbands, I mean.’
The first was the French film director Roger Vadim. He was a domineering man 10 years her senior and, when they met, he had just separated from his first wife Brigitte Bardot. He coerced Fonda into having threesomes with prostitutes. She went along with it, but now admits she hated it. Could she really not have said ‘no’ to him? ‘No, I couldn’t. Well, I could have but I was psychologically unable to. That is not uncommon in women who depend on a man to support them. But that wasn’t the case with me. By that time I was famous.  I was a movie star. I was earning my own living, yet even so I wasn’t able to say, “I don’t want to do this”. Unless we do what the man wants, he is going to abandon us. It shows how deep misogyny goes, this sense women have of being worthless.’
The way she describes it, she was almost as much a misogynist as he was. ‘Why’s that?’ Ah. Her tone is suddenly cold. What I mean is, um, she had been bullied into believing that women were inferior to men. ‘I don’t think that made me  a misogynist. One thing that set me apart from other women was my drive to get to know the women he would bring into our bed. I needed to humanise the situation by getting to know who they were. It was an antidote to objectification. I still have friendships from that time. Even now when we talk about those years it is painful. It still hurts me to think that a man who I loved and who loved me was not able to sense the pain it caused me.’
She became bulimic, an illness that had its roots in her father always telling her she was fat. ‘As a child I was always made to feel not good enough. That feeling attaches itself to the body around adolescent and a numbness sets in. I numbed the pain through my eating disorder.’
Presumably when she reached her early 20s and people started telling her she was a sex symbol she didn’t believe them? ‘Yes, it was like they were talking about someone else. I was looking over my shoulder to see who they were talking about. It was a strange and not pleasant feeling. I felt out of focus.’
So even after becoming a model, and an actress men fantasised about, she didn’t see a beautiful woman when she looked in the mirror? ‘No. No, I didn’t.’
And when she looked at herself naked did she see the body of fat woman? ‘For many decades I did, yes.’
When she looks back at those pictures now can she believe she ever thought that? ‘Um. Yeah. I can go back and understand exactly how I felt then. I can’t claim to be 100% over it. I grew up thinking that if I wasn’t perfect no one would love me.’
But men did fall in love with her, despite her perceived imperfections. Her next husband was Tom Hayden, the civil rights and anti-war campaigner who later became a senator. Is it fair to say that, with him, her personality changed from being a submissive sex kitten to a feisty political activist? ‘I’ve always been feisty. The only time I wasn’t feisty was in the bedroom.’
Did she feel an intellectual equal to him? She laughs. ‘How to put this? I had become an activist by the time I met Tom, but he was the one with the experience and knowledge. So I became an acolyte. I was in awe of him. Next to him I felt so stupid. I’ve been rereading some of my speeches from that time, the FBI helpfully recorded them for me, filed everything away, and they are not bad. But I could never speak when Tom was there. I was tongue tied.’
Does she regret the fateful trip she made to North Vietnam? ‘No. It changed my life. I think it was important for someone to go there and expose what the Nixon administration was doing. The only thing I regret is that picture on the anti-aircraft gun. It was a lapse of judgement that will haunt me until I die. They had sent me an itinerary that included a visit to a military site and I wrote back and said ‘no’, but once I was there I kind of lost my voice.’
So the North Vietnamese used her? She sighs. ‘You know something? I was 32 years old. I was a grown up. I take responsibility for it. If I was used, then why not? Who can blame them?’
She says she only regretted the picture but what about the radio broadcasts, surely they were much more regrettable? ‘Not at all. Not at all, no. I’m proud of those radio broadcasts. There was nothing treasonous about them. As someone with military intelligence actually testified at the House un-American Activities Committee: all I did was ask the servicemen to think.’
And what she was asking them to think about was whether they should disobey orders for fear of being prosecuted for war crimes. When she returned to America she famously asked: ‘What is a traitor?’ I put it to her that a traitor is someone who gives comfort and aid to the enemy — and that was exactly what she did on that trip, especially in the way she tried to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of US bomber crews. ‘Um.’ She pauses. ‘The fact is, the North Vietnamese did not need any comfort from us. They knew what they wanted to do and they were succeeding. If I said anything treasonous I would have been tried. I wasn’t. Instead they tried to convict me in the court of public opinion. It opened me up for attack. But you have to remember we were being lied to. It was a desperate time. You did desperate things.’
On her trip she met some American PoWs who told her they were anti the war. When they returned to America they claimed they had only said that to her because they had been tortured. She said they were lying. But why, I ask her now, would they have lied about that? What possible motive could they have had? A longer pause. ‘The Nixon administration wanted to damage me any way they could. They used one particular PoW, David Hoffman. He didn’t want to get into trouble for telling me he was anti-war so he decided to say he was tortured into saying it. I think he is probably suffering from that because you can’t get in touch with him at all.’
She’s tried? ‘Yes. He’s separated from his wife and you can’t get a hold of him. I knew he hadn’t been tortured because the North Vietnamese stopped torturing PoWs in 1969. It was well documented.’
But those documents have only emerged in recent years, how could she have been sure at the time that Hoffman wasn’t tortured in 1972? ‘I’d talked to PoWs about it. I knew Hoffman hadn’t been tortured. I generalised when I said they were all liars, hypocrites and pawns, but I had him in mind.’ And that was when Vietnam vets hanged her in effigy.
As the right wing pundit Ann Coulter has noted: ‘Axis Sally was sentenced to twelve years in prison. Tokyo Rose got six years. Hanoi Jane makes aerobics videos.’ How did Fonda square such anti-war serious mindedness with the frivolity of wearing a leotard and making the Jane Fonda Workout? Did she not worry that it would undermine her serious message? ‘On the outside it did seem like two different people, but Hanoi Jane was a myth created by the right wing. I was in a leotard from the age of 20 because I always danced and did ballet. Besides, the workout was a way of raising money for Tom’s political movement.’ She donated £8.5 million of the profits from the video to her husband’s quasi-Marxist political organisation.
Another paradox, by then she had become an outspoken feminist. She had also been the star of ground-breaking films such as Klute, Coming Home, and the searing They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Yet when she married Ted Turner, the multi-billionaire founder of CNN, she abandoned her distinguished acting career to become a trophy wife. Is that how it felt? ‘I worried about being a trophy wife in the beginning but as I got to know him, it wasn’t the case. Ted is not cynical. He lives modestly, apart from the private plane. The trappings of huge wealth were not part of his life. We spend most of our time fishing and riding. He could be quite insecure, like a child. But he changed when he was with me. I think I gave him confidence. He became an easier person to be with.’
Is she a difficult person to live with? ‘No, I’m an easy person to live with. All pleasers are!’
It can’t be the whole truth, you suspect, given that her marriages ended because her husbands had affairs. Now divorced, Fonda lives alone in Atlanta, near to one of her two grown up children. The woman who comes across from her autobiography is sympathetic, cool and measured, if not necessarily loveable. In person she seems somehow softer, even though she claims her years of bulimia have left her with brittle bones. She seems more at ease with the world; more reconciled to being loved and reviled. I ask her if she is still angry. ‘I feel angry with Bush. And scared. I feel angry and scared and disbelieving about what our country is like now. But I’m not as angry as I once was, no.’


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.