When Julie Burchill opens the door to her studio flat, a short distance from the sea front in Hove, she is wearing sunglasses, a black top, a black skirt, black tights… and a white and blue foot brace. ‘This? David Beckham had one of these for his metatarsal injury. Mine is for something less glamorous called Charcot’s syndrome. I’ve had it on since Christmas and it comes off in May. I did apply for disability benefit but they said it wasn’t allowed. I wasn’t disabled enough. They must be frigging joking! But I can live with it. I suppose I never was the most active person in the world and I didn’t really need an excuse to sit on my sofa watching Frasier all afternoon. Nice to see you again, by the way.’

This is how she talks, in a rhetorical, breathless, stream-of-consciousness that is so rapid she sometimes runs herwordstogether. In interviews it is traditional to mention that she also has a West Country burr as well as a high, girly register, and that these come as a surprise, what with her writerly voice being so metropolitan and muscular. But, as she says, we’ve met before so I’m used to both. ‘It has meant I’ve had to stop going to the gym,’ she continues, ‘which I can live with. Then the gym burned down, which I took as a sign from the Lord. I have a step machine now. It’s over there.’

And so it is, near a china leopard with a pink feather boa around its neck. On the windowsill there is a Venetian mask and a sculpture of a horse head. On the walls there are a couple of oil paintings. The most expensive cost  £15,000 (she is never reluctant to talk about money, Julie Burchill. It’s a working class thing, she reckons). And dominating the room is a large Bang and Olufsen television. It’s not on Frasier at the moment but Jerry Springer. ‘I love him. I shouldn’t watch daytime television but I do. That cost £7,000. It tilts back. Look.’ She points a remote. The screen tilts.

She makes me a coffee, which is the closest she ever gets to cooking, and hands it to me in a mug with the words ‘Queen of Fucking Everything’ written across it. Since we last met she sold her house for one and a half million. ‘Gave about a quarter of it away, because I’m a Christian. There was one guy…’ She takes a cutting off the fridge about a man reunited with his dog from Iran. ‘He needed £4,000 so I gave him it. I’ve never had such a rush. It was great. Better than drugs. When you give more than you think you should… ‘ She sucks in air between gappy teeth… ‘It’s gorgeous. I was like a sailor on shore leave chucking it everywhere. My accountant told me I was going nuts and I wouldn’t have anything left.’ She holds up her wrist. ‘I’ve got a Rolex. My third one. It’s so flash of me. So working class. Every time I go up one I give my old one to a friend and tell them to sell it. Sarkozy said if you don’t own a Rolex by the age of 50 you are a failure. Actually, anyone who hasn’t given away two by the age of 50 is a failure. Can I buy you lunch? Trouble is, I don’t trust myself not to drink and I’ve got to present a prize to probation officers this afternoon. I can’t turn up drunk because I’ll only ask for drugs or something embarrassing. I’ve never presented a prize before. Got a little speech prepared. Do you want to hear how it starts? “Great to be here today. I’m assuming Zoe Ball and Norman Cook turned you down. I assume Nick Berry and that bloke who paints himself like a zebra and runs along the seafront have turned you down, too. I have no delusions about my place in the Brighton celebrity food chain.’

Surprisingly, given that she started her career as a music journalist and once said she had taken enough cocaine ‘to stun the entire Columbian armed forces’, she and Norman Cook, better known as Fat Boy Slim, don’t hang out together in Brighton. ‘No, but apparently he said his dream woman would have my mind and Kylie Minogue’s body, which was a trifle rude. But I can live with it.’

She does a coy gesture of closing her hands together on her knee and drawing her shoulders in. Under her dark glasses she might even be fluttering her eyelashes. I ask why she’s wearing them indoors. ‘They are prescription. Here, try them on.’ Wow. The room goes blurred. Powerful lenses. ‘I know, the only reason I married so many times was that I’m short sighted, everyone looked so good.’

One of her two sons from one of her three marriages is in a band and is practising his bass guitar in another room. When the music stops, a young man with dreadlocks and a ring through his lower lip wanders in. ‘Hi, man,’ he says. This is Jack, from her second marriage to the journalist Cosmo Landesman (who won the custody battle to raise him when he was young). Her first son was with her ‘starter husband’ Tony Parsons. She walked out on that one when he was three. Never even sent him birthday cards. Hasn’t seen him for years.

‘The trouble was, I realised that if I didn’t get married at an early age I would become a complete slapper. So I married the first person I slept with. God that was a mistake. Awful, awful man.’

Doesn’t she protest too much about Parsons. I mean, she did marry him. She must have loved him. ‘I liked him a great deal. I…’ For the first time she is lost for words. ‘Course I did, yeah, I wouldn’t marry someone I didn’t love, but it was the wrong sort of love. I loved him like a brother. He was like a brother who buys you flick knives. Second and third one I married for love. They’ve all been very good looking in their youth but poor old Tony looks like a sick old recess monkey now.’

Burchill had met Parsons on the New Musical Express when she was 17. That was in 1976, in time to cover the emerging punk movement. Ten years later, after writing a bestselling novel, Ambition, she took a job as a political columnist on the Sunday Times, delighting in praising Margaret Thatcher when it became unfashionable to do so. More recently she took a job at the Times — telling everyone she was on a footballer’s contract of £300,000 a year — but was ‘let go’ after two years. She announced to the world that she had ‘lost her mojo’ and was retiring to study a theology degree. For two years, as she puts it, she couldn’t get arrested. ‘Luckily my self esteem is so high I thought if I sit by a pool drinking cocktails they will start ringing again and so they did.’

Now, two years on, she is back writing the odd book, and weekly columns for the Sun. ‘I’ll work for anyone, apart from the Guardian. The other day they rang up and said: “Will you write an obituary of Jade Goody?” Icky. Women ain’t even dead yet. So I said, “I don’t want to soil the pages of the Guardian with my filth. I’m happy with my own kind on the Sun.”’

She could identify with Goody, a working class girl made (sort of) good. ‘I thought Jade was a big-hearted girl who made the best of her difficult life and was the victim of white, liberal, middle-class prejudice. She was in my programme on chavs. I though she got a raw deal over the Shilpa Shetty thing. That was a class war.’

Her parents were ‘Bill and Bette Burchill of Bristol’. Her mother was a feisty woman who had a job in a cardboard box factory and was forever jumping over backyard gardens to throttle her ex-best friends. Her father was more gentle, a communist trade union activist who worked for a distillery. ‘I wish you could have met my daddy, he was such a nice man.’ While she admits that her stubborn affection for communism may partly be emotional, she’s not exactly a Cameroon these days. ‘I don’t want a country run by old Etonians again. They had their chance. Inbred idiots. I don’t like posh people. They are not quite human.’

I see time has mellowed her. ‘I’ll tell you one thing my Christianity hasn’t helped me with. I’ve got bitchier. I sort of feel when I do voluntary week that it gives me a license to be bitchy about other people. A trade off. One of the main pleasures in life is being spiteful. I’m going to be 50 in July. Too old to change.’

I ask whether, because her journalism is so tied up with her personality, she takes criticism of her writing personally. ‘No, I was born without the vulnerability gene. When my parents died that was when I realised it, because it didn’t affect me much, even though I loved them. I’m not a soft person. Though I can be kind, even if I do have to work at it and overcome my natural cruelty. Seeking approval has always seemed like a wet thing to do. I’ve always thought it was attractive to be disliked and I’ve done quite well in that department. I shouldn’t say this, because it sounds kinky, but when I do get letters threatening me and calling me terrible names, it gives me a mild sexual frisson… I’ve done some cruel things and some terrible things — I’ve abandoned children — but I’ve never minded about what people called me because of it. Just couldn’t care less.’

Well, up to a point. It is said that no man is an island, but listening to Julie Burchill you do have to wonder. In some ways she is the least insecure person I have met, and yet she does seem to need reassurance that she is being amusing and/or bitchy. And I know she does care what people think about her because a few days later she emails me checking what she has said and sounding a little worried. She enjoyed out chat so much, she says, got so excited by it, that she got a little carried away and might have exaggerated one or two things. She is slightly more reticent about the subject of drugs these days, for example — on the record at least, because of the voluntary work she does.

These emails are to come, for now she is making me laugh by saying that ‘I think there was a biological imperative for to get me away from Bristol so that I didn’t inbreed.’ She is funny like that. Has a way with words. The humour is partly self-deprecating, partly self-approving. She finds herself funny. ‘I sometimes look at myself and have to laugh.’

In her new book, Not in My Name, a Compendium of Modern Hypocrisy, she writes amusingly about how she is a very off message type of fat girl: one who gladly – gluttonously – admits that at one point she ‘reached the mighty dress size of 22 solely through lack of discipline and love of pleasure’. And who, it must be said, tends to despise people – except those with actual medical conditions – who pretend that is often otherwise. She’s is now a 16. Other targets are anti-war protestors, Muslims, cyclists, feminists and gay friendly homophobes. One line that really made me laugh was: ‘At the end of the day, it’s hard to control what turns you on and so long as it doesn’t say ‘quack’ or ‘I’m five’, it’s a free world.’

Last time I saw her she told me that living with someone was the death of love. Soon afterwards she got married, to Daniel, the brother of Charlotte, with whom she had had a six-month lesbian affair. Er, what happened? ‘Yeah but I don’t live with Dan. He lives in his own place across the square. We got walkie-talkies. If my health really went I’d want him here looking after me. But I don’t think that will happen, if anything, he is unhealthier than me, even though he is younger. I think I ruined his health.’

In what way? ‘I run him ragged. He’s a proofreader now but when he had an office job he would go in looking rough and his colleagues would say he’s being Julied. A new verb. He was frailer than me to start with, but he’ll be alright. Maybe we’ve had a bit too much fun. Getting riotously drunk all the time. We drink an enormous amount. Trouble is, we like having friends round and I don’t want to go off my friends any more than I already have so I don’t want to see them sober. I’ve got lots of single friends, bless em, and they can be quite needy. They ask me clubbing but I don’t want to be the fat old bird at the disco so they tend to come here. Besides I can’t get out much because of this.’

She holds up her brace again and tells me she only realised how much her foot had deteriorated when she was taking two blind pensioners for a walk — her voluntary work — and one of them asked if she was leading them, or they were leading her. ‘The doctor had told me it was gout but that was a misdiagnosis so I was then told there was a 25% chance I would lose my foot. You don’t ever envisage yourself as an amputee. I was well scared. When I thought I was going to be an amputee I went on the net and typed in ‘hot amputees’ and there are loads of people out there who fancy them, so that wasn’t so bad.’



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.