If Jon Stewart didn’t have his daily show, called The Daily Show, he thinks he would sit around at home all day in his underwear screaming at his television set and occasionally firing bullets at it, ‘like Elvis used to do’. Actually, he has three sets, permanently tuned to Fox News, MSNBC and CNN respectively. The 42-year-old American  ‘anchorman’ of The Daily Show, a satirical current affairs show that has won five Emmys and a Peabody award, watches the news addictively, he explains, all day, looking for comedy material in order to produce ‘a nightly half-hour series unburdened by objectivity or journalistic integrity.’
The show, which can now be seen on our screens, on the recently launched More4, starts with Stewart tapping his papers on his desk and saying in his deadpan way something like: ‘Good news for war buffs tonight. The Middle East peace talks have ended in failure.’ He often shows clips from his bete noir, the right-wing Fox News, and follows these with a sceptical lift of his eyebrows, or an incredulous rub of his eyes. When Condoleezza Rice admitted to the Senate that she had seen a presidential daily briefing in August 2001 entitled ‘Bin Laden Determined To Attack Inside The United States’, Stewart showed the clip and afterwards stared into the camera for 20 seconds. He then buried his face in his hands, lifted his head up and moaned: ‘You’re fucking kidding me, right? Please, please say you are kidding me.’
It is mid morning and Stewart is at home in the Manhattan brownstone he shares with his wife Tracey and one year old son Nathan. A pitbull in the next room puts in an occasional bark. On his show he is always cleanshaven and wearing a sharply-tailored suit, at home he is a jeans, sweatshirt and stubble man: ‘I have a pit crew on the show whose job it is to make sure I don’t look homeless,’ he says in a chewy, Eastern seaboard accent. ‘I put on whatever they lay out for me. Then a make-up artist comes in and spray paints me.’
I ask how, for the benefit of any English viewers yet to catch The Daily Show, he would describe himself? ‘Shorter than you probably thought I was. That is what works on television. That and having a head slightly too large for your body. The closer you resemble a Peanuts character the better.’
Although he is 5ft 7in, he is being self deprecating about his hawkish good looks. He has good cheek bones and thick, dark hair frostings at the temples. His face, moreover, has appeared on the covers of Newsweek and Rolling Stone and, in 1999, when he began hosting The Daily Show, he was voted into the top 50 most beautiful people in the world by People magazine. ‘That is true,’ he says when I point this out. ‘I am adorable. Or at least I was. I had been gradually climbing the ladder of most beautiful people, going from 119 to 78, and then finally I made the top 50. But by 2000 they had decided I was ugly once again.’ Pause. ‘Look, I was never thought of as good looking until I had a television show. In American being on television automatically makes you beautiful. You could put a cantaloupe on television in America and someone would want to fuck it.’
Stewart and a few of his collaborators on the show are coming to London this month for a one night show, essentially a reading of his bestselling book America (The Book) A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction. ‘It will be a chance for British people to turn up and get any question answered about America that they want. Any question at all.’
I ask about the claim he makes in the book that America invented democracy. ‘Sure, we did,’ he says with a shrug. ‘That and teabo.’
Will he also be discussing Britain’s special relationship with America? ‘Yeah, I think for the purposes of the discussion, though, it would be easiest just to merge Bush and Blair into one, Primesident Blush.’
Though Stewart says he is not comfortable being more than two minutes away from a joke on the Daily Show, he does secure interviews with political heavyweights, who have included Bill and Hilary Clinton, Henry Kissinger, former Republican presidential challenger Bob Dole, General Wesley Clark, and counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke. John Kerry bantered with him in a bid to seem more human. Vice-presidential hopeful John Edwards announced his candidacy on the show. Stewart’s response was: ‘I have to warn you, we are a fake show, so you might have to do this again somewhere.’
He is polite and mildly mocking with his guests, rather than scratchy. ‘I don’t think we are partisan. I’m curious to know what makes these people tick. I mean, I have five minutes and if you can’t find out exactly what makes a man tick in five minutes then…’ He’s joking again. You have to wonder, though, why these politicians come on. ‘I think it’s because they think no one they know is going to be watching,’ Stewart says. ‘We exist outside the world of politics. Also politicians are salesman and they think we have a captive audience of disaffected youth who they can market to. The only demographic that seems to matter to them is the young people, even though the young tend not to vote. It’s a feeling that if you can tap into their life force then you can be immortal.’
He has a point. The New York Times often refers to the ‘Jon Stewart generation,’ meaning young Americans whose only knowledge of current affairs comes from the Daily Show. He has been credited with energizing an otherwise apathetic youth electorate. (‘A lot of them are probably high,’ Stewart says by way of explanation.) The politicians are trading on his cool image, clearly; does that, I ask, make him feel used? He laughs. ‘I could give a shit. Look, if you are going to have good sex you might as well satisfy both parties. People think we have a political agenda on the show, but if we do, it isn’t working. Since we have been on these past five years the world has gotten worse. So, if anything, we have a corrosive effect. We thought we were helping but as it turned out The Daily Show has destabilised the Middle East.’
His debut on the show coincided with the dimpled chad election of 2000 and, with George Bush in the White House — a man not to be misunderestimated — he has not been short of material since. He must, presumably, consider this the best of all possible worlds in which to be a satirist? ‘I wouldn’t wish ill on the world for my own personal showbiz gain,’ he says. ‘Then again I’d like to have a pool.’
He is contracted to stay with the show until election 2008, who does he think that will be between? ‘Well I image it will be Hilary Clinton and Jed Bush, the House of Clinton versus the House of Bush. As you in England move away from a monarchy we move toward it.’
Since 9/11 the Bush administration has made much of the concept of American patriotism; does Stewart consider himself an American patriot? ‘Patriotism is an antiquated term that they have tried to rebrand, like New Cola. I think they use the patriotism charge against dissenters because they are not keen on having their record dissected. There are lots of ways to dismiss your critics and in a post 9/11 world probably the most visceral one is to say you are a traitor. That seems an extreme and artificial viewpoint to me. Michael Moore is celebrating his ‘subversion’ with great wealth and fame, he is not sitting in a gulag.’
The reference is telling. Stewart may be a staunch Democrat — his nickname is Lefty — but he is a much more thoughtful and witty man than Michael Moore, with whom he is sometimes compared. Whereas Moore is irritating and smug, Stewart is dry and droll and offers a more charming, warm and acceptable face of American liberalism. Asked to compare his work with Moore’s, Stewart says simply: “He’s an activist. I am a more passive editorialist.’ Frown. ‘I always find it odd when asked about my political views; where I come down on certain issues. The truth is, I wish I were ideologically strong enough to understand whatever position I have, but it changes quite frequently. If anything, I’m a confusedocrat. Some days I feel clear about what we should do, other days I’m as baffled as the next guy. My views are usually coloured by the last person I talked to, which makes me shallow but probably very typical. I still find in my heart I can be persuaded and that is a nice place to be. If I hear a cogent argument I am open enough to add that to my viewpoint. I would hate my mindset to calcify.’
Has he ever been tempted into politics himself? ‘There are pictures I have of myself in a shoebox here that would preclude me from working at the post office, let alone Capitol Hill. I can basically write the negative campaign about myself right now.’
If he were in charge, would he bring ‘the boys’ in Iraq home? ‘ I don’t even know what that means. It’s like ‘would you prefer people didn’t die?’ I don’t think we should have been there in the first place. To me it made about as much sense as attacking Australia after Pearl Harbor. I’m not sure what Iraq had to do with the War on Terror.’ Pause. ‘Bush and Cheney say we shouldn’t criticise the war in Iraq right now because it is bad for the morale of the troops. No. Improvised explosive devises left around by insurgents are bad for the morale of the troops.’
‘Dude, I totally want to smoke a bong with you,’ Stewart told a Christian fundamentalist guest on his show who had been explaining the theory of creationism. It seemed like a clash of cultures. I ask whether, from his home in liberal New York, the conservative, moral majority heartland of the Mid West looks like a different country? ‘Yes but the people of Kansas must look at our gay pride parade and think we are a different country. I think most people in the world could find common elements if they tried, but most of the world is run not by moderates but by extremists, because extremist kill more, the moderates have lawns to mow.’
Stewart always seems relaxed and nonchalant on television, is that all a front? Is he a screaming tyrant as soon as the cameras are off him? ‘Yeah, Thorazine takes the edge off. What you see on television is a post medicative state.’
Has he always been a joker? ‘People don’t go into comedy because as a child they were morose. I think it’s a brain tick. As a youngster it’s more obnoxiousness. All it was good for then was getting my ass kicked and getting suspended. As you get older you hone it, learn to make points. Like most things in life, making people laugh is about being liked and, ultimately, about getting laid.’
Jonathan Stewart Leibowitz, as he was then, grew up in suburban Larenceville, New Jersey. His was a middle-class household: his mother taught gifted children, his father was a physicist who worked in laboratories developing x-rays and lasers. Was he under pressure to follow in his father’s academic footsteps? ‘My family was aware early on  that I was not going to be following in anyone’s intellectual footsteps. My older brother is quite brilliant in those matters. At table, he and my father would be drawing graphs on napkins while I would be rubbing pizza on my forehead. As Rummy would say, you go to war with the army you have.’
Stewart nevertheless attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, where he was something of a soccer star. ‘Soccer took up most of my time but I did come away with a psychology degree,’ he says. ‘I started out doing chemistry but they kept wanting the correct answer rather than the long answer. In psychology you can give any answer as long as you do it in ten pages or more.’ He started using his middle name as his surname when he began as a stand up comedian in 1987. ‘Leibowitz sounded too Hollywood,’ he says. No, really, I press, why did he change it? ‘No, really. To pretend I wasn’t Jewish.’ He keeps his face straight. Why is it, does he suppose, so many of America’s greatest comedians have been Jewish? ‘If you had our history wouldn’t you try to be likeable? Might as well be funny.’
When I suggest that his constant funniness might make him difficult to live with he says: ‘Hey buddy, I bet you’re no picnic either!’
Fair enough, but I don’t have a compulsion to make people laugh all the time. ‘I think I am probably hard work, but not for that reason. I spend all day writing jokes. When you do that for a living it scratches the itch. I am like a dog after you have thrown him a ball. Earning a living from jokes means I don’t have to be the centre of attention. Away from the show I cocoon myself. At dinner parties, friends don’t await my witty repartee. They are aware what a dolt I am, their expectation are very low.’ He thinks he would be considered neurotic were he not on television. Instead his self-loathing is considered endearing self deprecation. ‘I don’t think I’m a crying on the inside clown. I’m quite optimistic, though I do have a permanent look of exhaustion.’
He says his one year old son has inherited that look. ‘He has bags under his eyes. People think he’s tired but its genetic. In other ways Nathan is the antithesis of me. He doesn’t understand that I am a night person. He hasn’t gotten that yet. He would be Finland to my America. The timing is completely off.’ Stewart’s wife, a vet, is pregnant again, a girl due in February. When I ask how they met he says: “You mean how did a comedian come to meet a vet? Well I met her on a blind date, but I imagine you could meet one just by carrying a sick dog around.’
A happy image on which to end.
The Daily Show is on More4 every night at 8.30. America (The Book) is published by Penguin. Jon Stewart will be at the Prince Edward Theatre, London, on December 11.
‘It is often said that America ‘invented’ democracy. This view is, of course an understatement; American invented not only democracy, but freedom, justice, liberty and ‘time-sharing’
‘The human race is by nature brutal, amoral, unreasonable and self centred, but for the first few hundred thousands years of our existence as a species, we were way too obvious about it.’
In 1300BC God gives Ten Commandants to Israelites, making them His Chosen People and granting them eternal protection under Divine Law. Nothing bad ever happens to Jews again.’
‘The fact that Magna Carta was written in 1215 is, by law, the only thing you are required to know about it.’
‘thanks to blessedly isolated geography, a can-do spirit and an indigenous population with primitive weapons and surprisingly weak immune systems, the United States has experienced consistent growth and expansion over its entire history.’
‘The story of Africa in the modern age is one of war, disease, corruption, repression and poverty. On the upside, there are tons of monkeys and you never need a jacket.’
“Which of the following is the best combination of reasons to vote for a candidate? a) Issues and eyes; b) Party affiliation and hair; c) Background and teeth; d) Religious zealotry and tits.”


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.