There is an etiquette to meeting a Hollywood star for breakfast. Certain do’s and don’t. Do be on time. Don’t be late. That’s about it, really… Unless the Hollywood star is Kevin Bacon. Here you have some latitude, as I discover when I arrive a little late for breakfast with him because my train has broken down. My grovelling apologies are met with a friendly: ‘Hey, no worries, man. It happens. What you going to have? Think I’m going for the vegetarian with poached egg and wheat toast.’

He looks like he could do with a square meal. He is a knife thin 5ft 11in, and the black shirt he is wearing open down to his ribs makes him look hungry and lupine, an impression compounded by the tufty whiskers on his chin. The depth of his voice, meanwhile, seems to belong to a heavier man. Though there is something cold about his looks — he has a crooked smile, angular cheekbones, an upturned nose and deep-set blue eyes that seem chilly — his manner is warm.

His nice guyness is legendary in Hollywood. Actually, he is a legend in Hollywood, full stop — the 50-year-old actor who has a connection with just about every film that has been made and ever will be made. This phenomenon — his being the centre of Hollywood gravity — was turned into the popular Internet game, book and board game, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. It challenges players to link other actors to Bacon in six films or fewer. The ‘Bacon number’ of an actor or actress is the number of degrees of separation he or she has from Bacon. The higher the Bacon number, the farther away from Kevin Bacon the actor is. For example, John Wayne has a Bacon number of two: Wayne was in The Longest Day with Robert Wagner, Wagner was in Wild Things with Bacon.

At first Bacon was suspicious that it was a joke at his expense, that it showed he was too promiscuous as an actor — he has been in more than 50 films — and that, while not unattractive, he wasn’t matinee idol handsome enough to be the leading man.’

But his niceness prevailed. He went along with it. Set up a charitable foundation on the back of it. Now, when I ask him whether it has been a blessing or a curse, he says: ‘I don’t think it’s been a good thing for my career. I thought it was going to go away a long time ago but it’s still there. It’s so random that it should be me. The name “Kevin Bacon” sounds a little like “separation”, that’s all it is. With me in it, it is silly and fun. Take me out of it and the idea of connectivity is kind of beautiful. A powerful, small world idea that says that whatever you or I are doing will effect other people down the road for good or ill.’

The British actor Michael Sheen, who played Tony Blair in the Queen, now has a Bacon number of one. In the film Frost/Nixon, written by Peter Morgan, he plays David Frost. Bacon plays Nixon’s chief of staff, Colonel Jack Brennan, an ex marine who guides Nixon through the strategy of the 1977 David Frost/Richard Nixon interviews. For the actor, this film represents another collaboration with director Ron Howard, having starred in his 1995 film Apollo 13.  ‘I was really enthusiastic to come back and work with him again.’  Bacon says. ‘He joins a very short list of directors who’ve actually hired me twice.’

Frost was an unlikely choice as the man to do the first interview with the disgraced former President. ‘I think Nixon’s men thought Frost would be a safe bet,’ Bacon says, splashing Tabasco on his eggs. ‘To me the movie has a boxing element to it. You have a young upstart who gets in the ring with the hardened champion. No one thinks he is going to make it to the third round and they have their coaches, their teams. They went to great lengths to negotiate how the interview would go, what the terms were, what was off limits. My character was in Nixon’s camp anticipating questions, giving moral support. Nixon was fascinated by the armed services, especially the marines. There was a side to him that wished he was cut from that cloth. He was raised as a Quaker and had a different mind set.’

Bacon, who met Jack Brennan as part of his research, says he always gets on well with military types. He has played several, and was especially convincing as a cold-blooded marine in A Few Good Men. I ask if he has ever wondered whether he could have cut it in the Army. ‘I don’t have the right mentality. I was raised to feel disdain for the military. Raised in a liberal household during the Vietnam War. My mother was a political activist and was horrified when she saw me playing with guns. She was very progressive that way. I don’t think I could cut it in the Army but, hey, it was never going to arise. I’m an actor. I play marines. I’ve had them say “you could do it” and I say ‘“trust me, I could not”. I don’t think I have the marine mentality.’ He gesticulates with his fork, conducting the conversation with it. ‘But I don’t question my manliness. That’s not something I struggle with. One of the fun things about being an actor is that you can put yourself in situations where you test yourself. We all have fantasies about kicking someone’s ass, or shooting guns or going down raging rivers. Those are some aspects of being a man. You have to be able to do that stuff. I always try and do my own fight scenes rather than use stunt guys.’

For Apollo 13 he certainly tested himself physically. ‘We shot up there in zero G. Got a sense of what it was like. They took us up in this KC137 airplane over the Gulf of Mexico. You climb straight up then dive. Your stomach as you go over the top… Man. The centrifugal force throws you up and then the gravitation pulls you down. We did 40 runs and when I got down again I kissed the ground. Ron then said, “Why don’t we shoot the movie up there?” And I said “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” Then he said: ‘You don’t have to go. Absolutely no pressure. If you don’t want to go, you don’t have to go. Tom’s gonna go. Gary’s gonna go. Bill’s gonna go. I’m gonna go.” After that I had to say yes.’

I like watching that film with my sons, I say, because it teaches them, well, how to be men. How to have grace under pressure. ‘I know what you mean, you can be manly without having to kill someone or beat someone up.’

Bacon married the actress Kyra Sedgwick 20 years ago. They have two children, a boy now 19, and a girl 16. Did he watch Apollo 13 with his son? ‘To be honest I never watch my old movies. If they come on television I will flick on. I’ve no idea whether my son has watched Apollo 13. We never talk about films. I’m pretty sure they’ve never seen Footloose.’

Ah yes, Footloose. Another blessing and curse. It was the summer blockbuster of 1984 and it haunts him still. The story of a city boy who moves to a bible-belt backwater where dancing is banned, it was notable not only for it’s dancing but also its massively moussed hair and jackets with the sleeves pushed up. After that film he was more or less forced to give up dancing in public: If they went to a club, the DJ would eventually play “Footloose” and people would form a circle around him clapping their hands expectantly. Once, during the US Open, he was spotted in the crowd and Footloose duly came on the PA system. He has always played guitar and is to this day in a band The Bacon Brothers — his older brother Michael being the other frontman. They have released three albums but inevitably, when they play a gig, someone will shout out: ‘Do “Footloose”‘. Though it is not one of their songs, they usually oblige.

After Footloose, Bacon seemed to be a paid up member of the ‘Bratpack’ of 80s stars who included Tom Cruise, Christian Slater and his friend Sean Penn. It was assumed he would have his pick of leading roles. A string of box office flops followed and, in the early 1990, just after he turned 30, he was standing with his pregnant wife on the corner of 86th Street and Broadway when he had a panic attack and collapsed on the sidewalk. His mother had been diagnosed with cancer, he was in Tremors, a movie about underground worms, and as he said later ‘my career felt like it was completely in the shitter’.

After the panic attack it was time to reappraise. His agent reminded him of how he had played edgy roles on the New York stage – junkies, male prostitutes. She told him they should look for something small, something character driven. Oliver Stone was casting JFK. Bacon’s transformation into the swaggering gay hustler Willie O’ Keefe in that film was mercurial. And while he may not have had many lines, what he did say was memorable. “You don’t know shit Mr Garrison,” he told Kevin Costner’s character, “‘cos you ain’t never bin fucked in the ass.”

After this he was in great demand as a character actor. The hits followed: Sleepers, Murder in the First, The River Wild, Mystic River and Hollow Man.

All the while he was living in New York rather than Hollywood and his children were kept at arm’s length from the movie industry. ‘Their idea of us is as parents not film actors. We’re the people who tell them to clean up the room. Make pancakes on a Sunday.’

And walk around the house naked? ‘Not any more.’

Why did he stop doing that? ‘I’ve haven’t done that since…’ His sideways grin. ‘In fact I don’t think I’ve ever done that. It’s just one of those stories.’

Norman Mailer said that once a newspaper touches a story, the facts are lost forever, even to the protagonists, so perhaps that is it. Even so, Bacon was once quoted as saying: ‘There’s something therapeutic about nudity. Clothing is one of the external things about a character. Take away the Gucci or Levis and we’re all the same. But not when the nanny is around. I will with my wife and kids.’

The only time his children think of him as an actor, he says, is: ‘When I have to pack up my bags from time to time.  The idea of them watching us pretend to be other people is not that attractive. I guess in Hollywood all their friends’ parents would be connected with the film industry because it is a one-industry town but that is not true of New York. None of their friend’s parents are actors.’

I ask what his friends in New York do for a living. ‘I have friends who are musicians, one is a painter, one is a screenwriter. I know actors but it’s not like I hang out with them, so my kids don’t either.’

He reckons his perspective on life changed as soon as he had children. ‘Yeah that is the moment when you step out of yourself. My whole world evolves around them. I have accepted work I might not have wanted to do because I wanted to provide for them. You have to keep your family together. It is a responsibility. With a boy you work so hard because you know they have to have the right stuff to get out in the world and take the slings and arrows. It’s so bittersweet because you’re happy to see them take on the world, but it is sad when they need you less and less. You have to let go and they are going to have to learn about rejection. Rejection from a girlfriend. Rejection after a job interview. You want to warn them but you can’t.’

He speaks with feeling on this subject. He has been nominated for everything from Screen Actors Guild Awards and Golden Globes but an Oscar nomination always eluded him. His biggest indignity was being removed from the poster of Mystic River, while co-stars Sean Penn and Tim Robbins won Oscars.

The way he and his wife raise their children is different from the way they were raised. He rolls his wedding ring distractedly on his finger as he speaks of this. ‘I am so much closer to my kids than I was to my parents. Not in an overbearing, too involved, step over the boundaries way, but we talk about things. Spend time together. Enjoy each other’s company. My son plays guitar in a band. He hands down never wanted to be an actor. My daughter is still trying to figure out what she wants to do. My wife and I have pounded the table so hard about their not being actors that I think the only reason they would now do it would be out of rebellion. They have had so many years hearing my wife and I talk about the rejection involved. The heartache. Both of us, as well as we’ve done, felt we didn’t want them to be subjected to that. In retrospect I could probably have been a little less adamant.’

His son looks nothing like him, he says. ‘He’s big, dark haired, taller. Not like me, a skinny runt. He could take me down in a second. He has no desire to be famous whereas I had a strong desire to be famous.’

Er, why? ‘I grew up in Philadelphia, a big city but also provincial. It feels like a small town. My father was the head of the city planning division and had wide, sweeping ideas. Kind of he turned it into a platform for urban renewal and became famous in Philadelphia. Not wealthy but famous. He was on the cover of Time Magazine. I saw that and whether it was nature or nurture I don’t know, but I knew I wanted to be more famous than him. I knew I wanted to kick his ass. We got on OK but I had to beat him.’

What would Freud have made of that, does he suppose? ‘I don’t know. Was it Oedipal, you mean? I don’t know. But I do know I always craved love and attention. There was always a side of me that wanted to perform. That feeling of walking into a room and wanting everyone to look at me. I was the youngest of six and was trying to get attention.’

His parent’s didn’t pay him enough attention, he reckons. ‘Not as much attention as I pay my children. They were always supportive of what I did, but they were busy people. Every night they would be out at meetings.’

He doesn’t think he is like his father in terms of personality. ‘I’d like to think I’m not as self-obsessed. He was super self-involved in a way that I don’t think I am, even in this ego driven profession.’

His father never took the young Kevin to the movies and he wasn’t a movie fan until his late teens. ‘Part of the reason was that it hurt me to not be in the movie. It was killing me that I wasn’t in it. I was hungry. I would go home and want to act it out.’

By the time he was nine, all his five siblings had left home. At 17, he did too, skipping college to go to New York and study drama at The Circle in the Square with a view to becoming a film star. So which was the movie that converted him? ‘Midnight Cowboy. I saw that and thought yeah that’s what I want to do, that kind of acting, in that kind of film.’

He says that the dramatic ups and downs of his career have taught him that if he is to feel fulfilled he has to take three things out of the equation. The first is the size of his part. The second is the size of the budget. And the third is the size of his salary. Once you get rid of those things, your possibilities exponentially explode. You get to work with the directors who matter. You get to make movies like The Woodsman.

In that 2004 film, which he produced, he plays Walter, a reformed child abuser, out on parole. The tension in the film comes from the potential for abuse, as Walter struggles to control his proclivity. Bacon’s performance is immensely sympathetic. ‘Of course paedophilia happens way more than we hear about or talk about,’ he says now. ‘Because so much is ambiguous.’

What made his performance more arresting was his apparent normality. ‘Yeah I wasn’t drooling or hiding in the bushes. For me the first thing people do is call them monster. I’ve done it myself. “Monster. Monster.” The more frightening reality is that they might not be a monster. No horns. Just regular guys sitting in this restaurant, or on the bus, or in church and we are unable to identify them and that, to me, is so much more frightening.’

Kevin Bacon believes we all have darkness in our souls — anger, unhealthy sexual drives and violence — but we also have innate goodness. On balance, he tries to be a good person, he says. He tries to be positive too. ‘If you have a bad morning, it doesn’t mean you have to have a bad afternoon.’



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.