There is a photograph of Jo Brand as, I would guess, a nine year-old, wearing a floral dress and looking slim and pretty. No, more than pretty. With a plait of hair over one shoulder and, with her big eyes and big smile, she looks adorable. It is reproduced in her new memoir, Look Back in Hunger, and the caption reads: ‘Yes, I was a nice little girl once.’ How poignant is that?

She is 52 now, with a long and successful career in comedy behind her. She has, indeed, a valid ticket to ride on the celebrity memoir gravy train, which has seats still warm from Paul O’Grady, Dawn French and Julie Walters, the top three best-sellers of last Christmas.

But her motivation, you suspect, was more than mere avarice. She wanted to work out for herself how she went from being that adorable child to her first incarnation in the mid-Eighties: The Sea Monster, as her act was called, a Doc Marten-wearing, spiky-haired, overweight, alternative comedian who, with her aggressive, scatological, gynaecological and, generally, feminist comedy, delivered in a bored monotone, scared the bejesus out of a generation of men.

It was often assumed that she was a man-hating lesbian, an assumption she did nothing to dispel (despite being a man-loving heterosexual). For the record, she is married to Bernie Bourke, a psychiatric nurse, and they have two young daughters.

She became a mother at 43 and was funny on the subject. ‘They say men can never understand the pain of childbirth. Well, they can if you hit them in the testicles with a cricket bat for 14 hours.’

The impression I get, as we sip coffee on a rainy morning in the bar of the British Film Institute, is that it really was all an act. In person there is a gentleness to her which takes you by surprise. And the impression you get from her memoir is that her defining characteristic was, and probably still is, kindness. After all, for almost a decade she worked as a psychiatric nurse herself.

‘It’s such a stressful job you shouldn’t do it all your life,’ she says in her lugubrious, slightly nasal voice. ‘After a certain amount of time you become blunted to people’s needs, or cynical, or in some cases rather sadistic. People do snap and they’re the ones who make bad nurses.

‘You need patience and empathy. Sometimes you only need to give the illusion of control, because if someone is waving a machete, as happened to me once, the worst thing you can do is be a weak, heap of begging, because that feeds into their feelings of being out of control. They behave worse if they feel they’ve created chaos.’

Because they sometimes seemed so happy when they were in the manic, or ‘up’ phase of their illness, Brand used to feel strangely envious of her bipolar patients. ‘They do all those things that you would quite like to do yourself but you don’t because you lose your nerve.’

Such as? ‘They react to every impulse. If they want to throw their house keys off Waterloo Bridge they do it. But however strange their behaviour, a good nurse has to always remember that her patients are still paid up members of the human race.’

She sips her coffee. ‘You just have to see through the abuse – and sometimes the smell – and treat them with respect. What matters is not degrees in psychiatry but whether you are a warm human being who wants to help people who are suffering.’

As it happens, Brand did also have a degree, in social sciences. And in recent months she has been able to put her experiences of working for the NHS to good comedic use, co-writing and starring in Getting On, a darkly satirical, three-part drama series for BBC4 about life on a geriatric ward. It does for the medical profession what The Thick of It did for politics (and it is no coincidence that Peter Capaldi directs it). A further six series have now been commissioned, and yay to that.

As for Brand’s empathy with her patients, she thinks that may have had something to do with her family background. Though her father, a structural engineer, was not diagnosed at the time, he was a depressive, one who would fly into uncontrollable rages.

‘At the time I just thought he was a grumpy old sod. Whatever situation you are in, that is what is normal for you.’ At one point, when she was 16, this anger led to her father piling up all her clothes and burning them. Is her father embarrassed by the portrait of him in her autobiography?

‘Not really. I think he would have been 40 years ago because there was more stigma about depression then. At the time I wasn’t aware of how ill he was, so I thought he was just being sadistic and nasty. You try and protect yourself as best you can. I would just lie about what I was up to with my friends and so on. I got away with it most of the time.’

If there was a moment when the girl in the photograph began to transform herself into the Sea Monster of her early stand-up career it was when, after her O-levels, she was taken out of the grammar school in Tunbridge Wells that she loved and sent to a sixth form in Hastings that she hated. It was a huge upheaval that left a core anger.

‘I knew at the time I was angry. At my new school I deliberately picked bad girls as my friends. Skivers. We played truant most days. I suppose I was punishing my parents by harming my own prospects.’

Things became so bad, she was kicked out of the family home. She went to live with her boyfriend, a ‘posh’ junkie four years older than her: ‘I thought Dave was the most magnificent person to fall in love with because you don’t want a conventional nine-to-fiver at that age. Wild men are so enormously attractive. He was Heathcliff. Mr Rochester. He was enormously bright and unpredictable and funny.

‘Other people thought he was a knobhead and I quite liked that about him as well. He never did heroin in front of me so he was being slightly responsible in that sense. But we did smoke joints and do LSD.’

So she never tried heroin?

‘I have tried heroin, but it wasn’t what I was looking for.’ What happened next gave her one of her most memorable stand-up lines. ‘I went on the pill when I was 16, put on four stone… so that proved to be a very effective contraceptive.’

Actually, she says now, it was three stone in six months, which must have been a huge blow to her confidence. But there is no denying that the subject gave her some funny material.

Her early stand-up routines would begin with her putting her mic stand to one side, so the audience could see her. She would then say something like: ‘I must be an anorexic because an anorexic looks in the mirror and sees a fat person.’ Or: ‘I was the child who was asked to play Bethlehem in the school nativity play.’

The jokes made audiences laugh, but did they also give them permission to bully her? ‘I didn’t see it that way. If anything, it was a shield. I was saying: I know I’m fat but I’m funnier on the subject than you will ever be, so why bother heckling me about it.’

As a child she was always told by her parents to think of the starving Africans and ‘finish her plate’, and she thinks that may have had something to do with her attitude to eating. Certainly, she doesn’t tell her own children to finish their plates.

‘I’m not a flag waver for obesity,’ she says. ‘It’s not healthy and you have a crap life because there is such a downer on it.’ I ask what effect her dramatic weight gain had on her psyche. She did, after all, find herself drawn to that which should have frightened her; you don’t need to be told by a heckler, as she was at her first gig, to ‘F— off, you fat cow’.

‘Yes, but it wasn’t as if I had never had comments about my weight. And I also felt that no one in an audience could abuse me worse than the sort of abuse I had had at work as a psychiatric nurse. People in a manic phase of bipolar are enormously eloquent and their abuse is focused and personal and raw.

‘So to go on stage and have someone shout “F— off, you fat cow” was almost a pleasure. A lot of them were just showing off in front of their mates. But sometimes I would get heckled and I could tell there was real hatred in it. I don’t know what that was about, perhaps common-or-garden misogyny.’

Brand believes crowds can take on an aggressive mob identity and become sadistic. ‘You get a sense of what the Coliseum in Rome must have been like. If the atmosphere turns against you they go for the kill. Usually though, an audience has booked to see you and that is fine.

‘But sometimes I will do a corporate gig where it isn’t me they have come to see and you will sense there is a sigh of despair when I come on. Then it becomes a challenge and it really feels like a victory when you get them laughing despite themselves. I like the purity of stand-up because it is all about whether people laugh at your jokes. Either they laugh or they don’t.’

Sometimes, when they didn’t, she would come off stage and cry.

‘Yes, the dressing room can be the loneliest place in the world when you have just died on stage.’ She shakes her head. ‘No, actually, the loneliest place can be in the car afterwards, when you are sharing a lift home to London from Manchester, say, with three other comics who stormed it while you died. They are embarrassed on your behalf. The etiquette is that no one mentions it.’

And here is another paradox, one that reveals a pattern in her life. Jo Brand was the aggressive feminist who turned out to be kind and gentle in person. She was the passive, self-sabotaging person who hoped to find lasting love from boyfriends who were incapable of being faithful to her (she split up with Dave after he cheated on her).

But her most contrary act was to try to get whole audiences to love her, as a form of self affirmation, of filling the emotional void left by her parents. She did this even though she knew they would attack her, and she would have to attack them, at least at first.

We seem to be in the realm of sado-masochism here. ‘Well, the more scary the gig,’ she says, ‘the greater the satisfaction if it works. And I did want to be liked by an audience. Feminism was not a fashionable school of comedy. I wanted people who hated feminists to realise we could laugh at ourselves, and be funny as well as serious and boring.

‘A lot of men after gigs will come up to me and say: “You were quite funny.” They never go: “You were very funny.” But quite funny is the ultimate praise from a bloke who would originally have hated me. I was happy to settle for grudging respect, I suppose.’

I ask her why she played up to the tabloid assumption that she was a lesbian.

‘Well, in terms of my dress sense I would have looked like that anyway if I was going out. But the whole black, baggy top and trousers look was because I knew a lot of women comics who would dress up in a glamorous way for a gig and that became a huge focus for the male elements of the audience. I would rather have men shout: “F— off, you fat lesbian” at me than “Get your t— out”. Men used to say the most awful things to attractive female comics.’

Did she enjoy the thought that some men were scared of her? ‘Yeah, I rather revelled in that. I had garnered a reputation for chewing up and spitting out hecklers and that served me well. But actually the toughness was all front.’ She is afraid of heights and the dark, she adds. And there is a vulnerable side to her which the public doesn’t see.

‘But I don’t cry easily and I deliberately don’t cry when people want me to, for documentary programmes and so on. Like when I did my Vera Brittain documentary and we visited her grave. It was p—— down and the crew were clearly hoping I would cry, like they always do on these programmes. But I think crying on those occasions, in an exhibitionist way on television, reduces the value of the emotion.

‘Crying should be a private thing. Of course I do cry from time to time, but I would never want to have an audience for it.’


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.