The lift glides to a halt at the penthouse suite on the 13th floor. A butler leads the way along a panelled corridor and into a spacious, glass-walled living-room. Lord Archer is standing in a rhombus of sunlight, his back to the glinting spires of Westminster. He raises his right hand, palm flat, and barks: ‘Stop!’
My first thought is that he has gone mad. Actually nuts. He doesn’t like to talk about it, but he used to be a policeman, spent five months in the Met before resigning in 1960. Now – clearly – the pressure of keeping this chapter of his life quiet has got to him.  He has regressed. Thinks he’s back on point duty.
I remain frozen to the spot. Archer continues to halt the oncoming traffic. He is riding the moment, enjoying the confusion and embarrassment playing across my face. The situation is too weird. Slowly, his Lordship closes all his fingers except for the index. This he tilts 180 degrees until it points to the bathroom scales at his feet.
Now I understand what the pantomime is about. He has remembered a passing conversation we had when we met here, at his London home, three months ago. I asked him how he had lost two stone in six months. He told me he went to his gym at seven every morning and worked out for 80 minutes. During the day he followed ‘Jeffrey’s food-combining chart’. He sent me away with my own laminated ‘Jeffrey’s food-combining chart’. I stuck it to the fridge, tried it for an hour, gave up. I now realise he thinks I’ve asked to see him a second time because I want to show him I’ve lost weight. Oh dear. I want to interview him again because, last time, I learnt a lot about his plans should he be elected London’s first Mayor in May 2000 – enforce bus lanes, a commissioner for dirt, free milk to schoolchildren and so on – and very little about what sort of a person he is, or thinks he is, and why he believes we can trust him.
Still cringing, I decline his offer to stand on the scales and we repair to the squashy cream-coloured sofas that surround a book-laden coffee-table in the corner of the room. Though I’m sure he does the scales routine with everyone he puts on his diet, I feel oddly flattered he has remembered, as I’m sure I’m supposed to. I also feel grateful for the glimpse he has given me of the bully beneath the bluff surface. ‘Wimp!’ he says in a schoolmaster’s voice as he gives me a mock stern look over his half-moon spectacles. ‘Don’t look so smug!’
Jeffrey Archer is obsessed with physical fitness. He’s a sturdy, puff-chested 5ft 9in and though, at 59, there is something of the shocked sparrow about his looks – the bird recovering from moult – he has a strong nose, wide mouth and a firm jawline that is emphasised by a crew cut. But it wasn’t always thus.
At Wellington School, Somerset, he was bullied for being a weed: nicknamed ‘The Pune’, he was the one the other boys held over the lavatory while it was being flushed. Everything changed when Hal Kenny, his PE master, encouraged him to take up body-building and become an athlete. After leaving school, Archer became a PE teacher himself. He was good at it. Turned his pupils into champions. But he was notorious for his bullying tactics. When I ask him if he thinks he is a bully he smirks impishly and answers in a booming but croaky staccato. ‘Yes. Yes. But it’s just enthusiasm, isn’t it? I wake up wanting to do things. And want to encourage others to do the same.’
No one could ever accuse Archer of lacking enthusiasm. Or initiative. Or self-belief. Or nerve… He quivers with the stuff. Not only did he transform himself from a playground weed to a first-class athlete – an Oxford blue who represented his country at the 200 metres – as a student in the early Sixties he helped raise £500,000 for Oxfam by cajoling the Beatles, Harold Macmillan and President Johnson into endorsing his appeal. In the early Seventies a bad investment in a Canadian company, Aquablast, left him nearly bankrupt. He had to resign his seat in Parliament but, instead of sulking, he decided to pay off his £427,727 overdraft by writing novels. He wrote ten. And even though reviews of them have included the phrases ‘a true stinker’, ‘grindingly predictable’, and ‘flatulent banality’, he has sold, he claims, 120 million copies of them worldwide – and earned himself an estimated £60 million.
The trouble is, there is so much else Archer can be accused of. He lacks judgement, he’s vainglorious, he’s a fantasist – or rather, as his wife Mary put it, he has ‘a gift for inaccurate précis’. Everything about him smacks of invention. His whole manner is phoney. He’s like a Donald Sinden of the political world, an actor so actorish he makes your teeth grind. Chief among his accusers is Michael Crick who, in 1995, wrote a biography of Archer called Stranger than Fiction. The book sheds light on the mysteries surrounding Archer’s academic record, his father (a convicted fraudster and bigamist who died in 1956), and all the Archer imbroglios, from the libellous allegations made against him in 1986 (concerning the prostitute Monica Coghlan) to the accusations in 1994 of insider dealing in Anglia Television shares.
Although Archer is obviously insensitive enough to keep bouncing back when life slaps him down, it must have been painful for him to have his private life researched so meticulously and exposed so publicly.  After all, as Mary Archer once noted: ‘He’s not as thick-skinned as people think. Criticism does get to him. He takes it personally and it hurts him.’
Candidates for the job of Mayor of London will have to convince voters they are honest, trustworthy and above reproach. To do this they will have to reconcile themselves to having their private lives scrutinised by the press. Archer says he feels psychologically prepared for the sniggering Private Eye lampoons and the Paxman interrogations that lie ahead. ‘Well, I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t.’ Still. Must be horrible having chaps like Crick pore over every aspect of your past? ‘Horrible feeling? Hadn’t really though of it in those terms. I mean… [pause] that’s the way he makes his money. If you want to represent people on the public stage, you have to face that.’
When I ask Jeffrey Archer why he thinks people should have confidence in him, given his reputation, he gives a politician’s answer. ‘The reason I have worked so hard in the past two years on policy is to show people how seriously I’m taking it. To show I’m not being casual about it. That I’m not taking it lightly. I’m not standing for Mayor because I need a job. I don’t. I want to make a difference, otherwise I wouldn’t be bothering. It would be easier to write another novel.’
He seems to accept, though, that he has an image problem. ‘I am very aware of . . .’ he trails off again. ‘Well, Michael Howard is a good example. I don’t know of a better friend when you are in trouble. I don’t know a nicer man with a more delightful wife. And yet he has a different public image and it’s not fair.’
You have to wonder why Archer wants to subject himself to the torment of press scrutiny when he could so easily retire and enjoy his millions, his fame, his 17th-century vicarage in Grantchester. The obvious answer is that he craves power. Also, as he himself has said in the past, he feels he has been a failure. He wants to be more than just an amusing footnote in the history of the Tory Party. He managed to be a close friend – court jester – to both Margaret Thatcher and John Major. But he never advanced further than deputy chairman of the party, a post he held from September 1985 to November 1986, when the Monica Coghlan story broke.
But is there also a streak of masochism behind his willingness to run the press gauntlet? Those who are bullied often convince themselves they deserve to be. This theory would be consistent with the strong attraction Archer feels toward intimidating women. He worships Margaret Thatcher. And Mary, the chemistry don he married 33 years ago, is famed not only for her fragrance but also for being what the librettist Kit Hesketh-Harvey describes as ‘a fantasy of most Englishmen… It’s that idea of ice in the loins.’
Last summer, as a pre-emptive strike against his critics, Archer wrote an article for the London Evening Standard in which he offered explanations for the extraordinary puzzles surrounding his career. ‘Yes, I was young once, and, yes, I have made a number of mistakes in my life,’ he wrote. ‘I’m neither genius nor saint.’ He acknowledged that his father didn’t win the DCM, as he had previously thought, and that his grandfather was never Lord Mayor of Bristol.
Archer used to boast that he was the youngest GLC councillor in 1967 – and the youngest MP when elected in 1969 – because, he explained in the article, he thought at the time that he was. He did walk out of a shop in Toronto in 1975 without paying for two suits – but only because he had wandered into another shop through an interconnecting passage. On the subject of the Anglia Television shares he bought for his friend Broosk Saib just days before an agreed take-over bid, he claims he did not receive information from his wife, a director of Anglia. There was an investigation. He wasn’t charged.
The answers he gives in the article prompt other questions. Why was Archer dealing in Anglia shares on behalf of a friend who was used to buying his own shares through a stockbroker? I’ve been told by Anthony Gordon-Lennox, Archer’s press adviser, that his Lordship is not prepared to comment on the Anglia shares story or on the recent scandal concerning his offspring. Archer has two sons: William, 27, a theatre producer, and James, 24, who was sacked from an investment bank for allegedly trying to manipulate the price of shares in a Swedish company.
Gordon-Lennox didn’t say anything about Archer’s academic record being off-limits, though. It might seem a trivial issue but, as Michael Crick has argued, we might all do better in life if we went around boasting of false degrees. Archer claimed to have a degree from an American University when he didn’t. On his marriage certificate he was described as a ‘research graduate’ when he wasn’t. He did go to Oxford (to do a one-year diploma in education at a teacher training college affiliated to Brasenose College) but he did not take any A-levels. The archives at both Dover College, where Archer taught PE from 1961 to 1963, and Oxford University show that he had three. In his Evening Standard article he wrote: ‘I did not obtain any A-levels. Nor did I mislead Oxford University in telling them that I had.’ So how did this false impression arise? Archer blinks. A rictus. A look of pain in his eyes. ‘No, I did answer that and, forgive me, I’m not going over it again. I made a decision to answer all those things in one go. I want to be Mayor. I’m doing 19 hours a day, working flat out. By all means read the Crick book and make your own judgement.’
William Archer, aka ‘William Grimwood’, died aged 80 when Jeffrey was 15. In an interview before the Crick revelations, Archer said he went to pieces when his father died, mucked up his exams, felt life unfair.  Now, when I ask what effect his father’s death had on him, he says: ‘That’s 43 years ago so I don’t remember it vividly in that sense.’ Pause. The smile is frozen on his face. ‘My mother was the strong influence on my life. Still alive, God bless her, 86 years old. Saw her last weekend. She’s still in fighting form.’ He doesn’t think his mother, Lola, spoilt him as compensation for losing his father. ‘Hope not. Probably… I adore my mother. Very special lady. I suppose I would have stayed down in Weston-super-Mare if I had been that spoilt.’ Lola wrote a weekly column for her local paper which featured her scampish son ‘Tuppence’. Jeffrey doesn’t think his being put in the spotlight in this way had any impact on his emotional development. ‘I wasn’t aware of it, to be honest. I don’t think at nine I had a clue.’
The phone rings. LBC radio wants to do a two-minute interview, live, about the ‘rolling manifesto’ he is launching today. Archer excuses himself and barrels up a marble staircase to his mezzanine study. As I listen to him on the phone – ‘Yes. It is the most exciting challenge…’ – I cast an eye around the room. A sculpture here, a Monet there, a metallic Gothic chandelier over the dining table, and, on the occasional table beside me, a framed black-and-white photograph of the young Jeffrey in running kit crossing a finishing line first.
Archer seems to have three main tactics for becoming Mayor: behave as if the job is his already; promise that if he’s elected he won’t write any more novels; wear Londoners down with his keenness so that they’ll make him Mayor just to shut him up. Even the Tory grandees behind the ‘Anyone But Archer’ whispering campaign seem to be buckling under the Archer onslaught. They depict him as a ghastly overgrown schoolboy whose graceless, barrow-boy persona offends the propriety of the party. Yet Archer is tipped to win the Tory nomination for Mayor in the autumn. He will, of course, be insufferably bossy and pompous if he goes on to win the election. But even his enemies would have to concede he will probably get things done.
Baron Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, of Mark in the County of Somerset, as he chose to style himself when he was created a Life Peer in 1992, thinks there is a mayor-shaped hole in his life. It is the job he was born to do. But he wants to become the Mayor of London so badly, one worries how he will cope if his main rival, Ken Livingstone, pips him to the post. Archer hasn’t thought about losing, he says, because he’s sure he’s going to win. When I point out he was also sure the Tories were going to win the last election, he laughs and rocks back in his seat. ‘You’ve caught me out there! But I had to say that. We knew we were going to lose. What shocked us was the scale. We honestly thought it would be 70 seats at most.’
An almost palpable air of frustration hangs around Jeffrey Archer. He’s like a spermatozoid, constantly, frantically, selfishly swimming but not getting anywhere. He tells me he is easily bored and feels unfulfilled. When I suggest that it must be dreadful being him – because even if he did become Mayor the goalposts would only move again and the gnawing discontent would return to his soul – he nods gravely.  ‘Yes. I’ll want to be captain of the England cricket team. I’m among that group of human beings who feel they have never achieved anything. One of my great heroes is Thomas Jefferson and he has written on his gravestone: “President… of the University of West Virginia.”‘
Rather grandly, Archer says he admires Jefferson for his intellect and Nelson for his physical courage. ‘Would I be courageous if the enemy was coming towards me? Could I handle it? I don’t know.’ It’s strange, but even when he’s being sincere he sounds fake.
Four years ago Archer did, he says, stare death in the face. ‘I nearly killed the whole family. I was driving down the centre lane at 70mph in a brand new BMW. It turned two circles and went into a ditch. The police found a nail that big [he holds his hands six inches apart] in the tyre. All I remember is that for 30 seconds both boys went silent wondering what was going to happen.’
If the crash had been fatal, would Archer have died a happy man? ‘Am I happy? Not really. But who is?’ He says his money doesn’t really bring him happiness – he’s not even sure how much he’s worth, not that interested. Even being the best-selling novelist in Britain doesn’t seem to give him that much satisfaction.
‘I know I’m no Graham Greene,’ he says, rolling his ‘r’s. ‘I know my limitations. Do I feel being a novelist is a proper job for a grown man? That’s what Mary is always saying to me. Well, it’s not a crime to entertain people.’ He derives more pleasure, he says, from the auctioneering work he does for charity. He raised £3.2 million last year – he writes the figure down on a Post-it pad for me – and when he reflects whether he has been a good person in this life he concludes: ‘I think I’ve put in more than I’ve taken out.’
He says he has no regrets, that it is pointless looking back. ‘When I make mistakes I never feel sorry for myself. I might feel cross. I might think, silly fool. But even when I lost all my money – which was the worst time of my life – I tried to be positive. I hated being in debt. Hated it. Other than illness, it’s the worst thing in the world. When you see a bill come through the letterbox and you know you can’t pay it. I never want that again. I couldn’t see a way out… Did I feel suicidal? No, I was too young. At 34 I knew I was young enough to dust myself down and start again.’
Mary Archer once said, ‘Life with Jeffrey is never dull,’ and this, perhaps, is his saving grace. He is a colourful character in a monochrome political landscape. He has other virtues. According to his friends, he has a generous nature. And he has good entrepreneurial instincts. Margaret Thatcher once described him as the ‘extrovert’s extrovert’. Today, though, there is none of the bluster and bumptiousness you would normally associate with him. He seems reserved.
The intelligentsia can never forgive him his Mr Toad-like resilience and popularity. He’s a rabble rouser, a middle brow, a vulgarian. He has said that he will make an excellent Mayor of London precisely because he is vulgar. But when I ask him about this statement, he recants. Says he meant it as a tease. Perhaps it will take another 20 years before everyone gets the joke and finds him loveable enough to be declared a living national treasure. For the moment, for many, there is still something a little too weird about Jeffrey Archer.
He has a vulnerable side, though, and I see it when, the interview over, an old friend of his drops in for tea. He has known Michael Hogan, a farmer, since they were at Oxford together. He greets him warmly and then, as he walks with me to the lift, Archer whispers, ‘You know, Nigel, that man is one of only three people in the world I trust – my wife, and my friend Adrian Metcalfe being the other two. He’s such a fine man.  Such a fine man. When I nearly went bankrupt he gave me £10,000, half his savings, to bail me out. A dear, dear man.’ His eyes go rheumy at the memory and he stares at the lift doors, lost momentarily in his thoughts. They open. I step in. Just as they are closing, he snaps back into character and shouts: ‘And lose some weight!’
This interview appeared in April 1999. Lord Archer became the Tory candidate for mayor that autumn, only to withdraw, and cause huge, some would say irreparable, damage to the credibility of William Hague, the Tory leader who had backed his nomination. Unable to wrestle with his conscience any longer, Archer’s former friend Ted Francis came forward to accuse the novelist of asking him to provide a false alibi for his 1987 libel action against the Star. In 2000 Archer wrote and starred in a play called The Accused, loosely based on the case. In 2001, just before his trial for perjury opened, Monica Coghlan, the prostitute at the centre of the libel case was killed in a car crash. At the trial he declined to take the stand. His wife Mary did. ‘I think,’ she said when asked about her marriage, ‘we explored the further reaches of “for better or worse”.’ Archer’s mother died the day before the verdict was given. He was found guilty and sentenced to four years in prison.


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.