On a darkening winter’s afternoon, in a gently lit studio apartment in west London,KirstyYoung sits forward on a sofa looking composed and groomed.The presenter of Desert Island Discs is 41, and today, dressed as she is in black trousers and top, with black varnish on her nails and ash blonde highlights in her shoulderlength hair, she looks like a deftly poured glass of Guinness. In her low and rolling Scottish voice, she is talking about sexual intercourse, for reasons I will explain in a minute.

‘My first boyfriend’s parents had a copy of The Joy of Sex on their shelves,’ she says.’I did look at it, but not properly. I was probably too young to deal with it, even though I thought I was pretty sophisticated. My parents certainly didn’t have a copy.’ By parents she means her mother and the stepfather she has always thought of as her father.They married when she was three. Her biological father, a policeman, walked out on the family when Kirsty was three weeks old. She was born in East Kilbride, near Glasgow, and raised from the age of eight in Stirling, where she attended a coeducational state school.When I ask if she was precocious there, she says:’Yes.Yes I was.’And how old was she when she first had a boyfriend? ‘I suppose my first boyfriend was the one who took me skating, and who walked me home from school. I was 12. I had my first kiss when I was 13. On my parents’ driveway. It was a moment of great magic,actually.’And when she first had sex? How old then? ‘Oh much older. I was a good Protestant girl. I was living in Scotland.Too cold there.You don’t take your vest off until you are 21.’

So she was 21? She laughs.’I’m not telling you how old I was when I lost my virginity!’ So, why are we talking about sex? Well, it is one of the central themes of KirstyYoung’s thought-provoking new four-part documentary series, about to be screened on BBC Two. Called The British Family, it explores the changing nature of the family from the Second World War to the present day, taking in the institution of marriage, the Women’s Liberation Front, contraception, money, divorce, modern parenting and sex.

‘Every generation thinks they invented sex,’ she says.’Yet during the war people were even more promiscuous than they are today. War is very reductive.The prospect of death brings out the most primitive instincts.We look quite puritanical today by comparison.You only need look at the Tiger Woods story to see how puritanical we are.’

The British family is a good subject forYoung because she speaks as a mother (to an eight year-old and a three year-old), a stepmother (to teenage children, 14 and 16) and a daughter of divorce. Did she talk to her mother about what went wrong in her parents’ marriage? ‘When I was very young, my mother told me she had been married before and she must have also told me I was the daughter of that marriage, and so was my sister. She told me again when I was five or six and she said:”Do you remember I told you?” but I didn’t. So she talked about it in a glancing way.We didn’t really talk about it properly until I was in my mid to late teens, but at that age you are only focused on yourself.To her credit, my mother wore her divorce very lightly. It was not her identity. It is not a painful subject for her.’

Even so, there was still a stigma attached to divorce by society at the time. Her mother remembers someone saying ‘and you with those two young girls as well’, as if it was a stain on her character.And if her mother wore her divorce lightly, it may have been for her daughter’s benefit, because, for all her precociousness, the teenage Kirsty did have, as they say nowadays,’issues’.

She suffered from bulimia for a while.Also,you suspect she doesn’t have as much closure on the subject of her parents’ divorce as she claims. ‘Without wishing to sound glib about it, it did happen at a good time for me because I had no memory of it. I never called my dad my stepdad. He feels like my dad. He’s been married to my mother for 37 years. This is the man who walked me up the aisle.The time when it did strike me forcibly was when…’ For a moment she loses her composure. There is a catch in her voice and a wet film appears on her eyes.’When my first daughter was born and she was three weeks old. It seemed a very significant moment, because that was the age I was when my parents split up. I was sitting in the bath wondering how I would feel if my marriage was imploding, when I had this tiny baby in the cot. I felt immensely vulnerable. I thought: “Good God.”‘ She swallows.’The emotional force of it hit me like a ton of bricks.’

One consequence of those formative years is thatYoung now feels she is not judgmental about other people’s circumstances.’People’s lives are full of grey areas. My mother never demonised my biological father, but divorce is full of pain and hurt. It’s traumatic.’ For a father to leave a baby that is just three weeks old, I press, something pretty dramatic must have happened.’I know. My husband was divorced and I am stepmother to his kids and the idea that he would have a life without his older two children is inconceivable.To watch him as a father…’ She trails off. She has said that she has not had ‘a relationship’ with her biological father since he walked out, but inevitably she must have been curious to know what sort of a person he was. Out of loyalty to her stepfather, did she block that curiosity out? ‘Well I did feel that as a teenager. I felt it would be disloyal. But I wasn’t quelling some well of hurt, because I had two parents who loved me.They were very present. I didn’t feel a gaping emotional hole. There were curiosities of course, there reasonably still are. But there weren’t dark moments when I thought I wanted to follow it. I think it is not in my nature to be nostalgic.’ In the documentary,Young has another interesting perspective, that of the self-assured career woman. She explores what she calls ‘the cult of the housewife’ in the Fifties when women were encouraged to think that their main function in life was to do the housework, prepare meals and make babies.As one of her contributors recalled, it left her feeling ‘bored, bored, bored’.

For her own part,Young abandoned her Highers and left school because she felt restless:’As if life was happening elsewhere.’ She sidestepped university and decided to work as an au pair in Spain and Switzerland, before joining STV as a presenter on Scotland Today in 1992.

Five years later she moved south to join the news team on Channel Five, becoming the first British newsreader to perch on her desk. She soon proved herself cool under pressure; reporting the death of Diana, Princess of Wales at 5am, and later, in an epic five-hour live broadcast, covering the events of September 11 for ITV News. She became the first woman to anchor on her own, rather than being alongside a man.

When researching her new documentary, she was intrigued by the advice given by the Marriage Guidance Council in the Fifties.They wanted to promote the idea of a ‘companionable marriage’ and it gave her a new perspective on her own marriage.’Around that time your wife became someone you socialised with.Went for walks in the park with. Before that, men would just go off to the boozer with their mates. It had a big impact. Some 10,000 pubs shut down in the Fifties when men started to stay at home with their wives. My grandparents were married for 60 years and their marriage only ended when my grandfather died. He didn’t drink the money away. He didn’t beat her up. In working-class Glasgow that made him a good husband. Such low expectations.A matter of two generations later what I expect from this same institution – marriage – is almost entirely unrecognisable.’ Her husband is Nick Jones, the multimillionaire businessman who founded Soho House, the private club in London favoured by media types, and Babington House, its country equivalent in Somerset. He went to a boys’ boarding school.’As a consequence,’Young says,’he was about 18 before he worked up the confidence to have a conversation with a girl, which I find charming.’

The world in which they grew up was pretty sexist by today’s standards. One of the most popular programmes on television in the early Seventies was MissWorld.’Can you believe the way they got the contestants to turn around so as they could see their backsides?’Young says. ‘So excruciating. But it was a big event in our house. In fact, we would go next door to watch it because they had a colour television. It was family viewing. I suppose you could say that at least the objectification of woman was all out in the open then. We are not as explicit about it these days.’We are in sensitive territory here, I suspect.Young is a skilful interviewer, but in the past her critics have suggested that, well, her being easy on the eye has not exactly hurt her career.’That’s a hard one for me to judge,’ she says when I ask about this.’I’m perfectly reasonable looking, but I don’t think I am arm candy. It’s certainly not the case that I was such a stratospherically good-looking person that I think they could only have chosen me for my looks. I think I look presentable. But whatever I say on this subject I am only going to end up sounding stupid.’ I ask if she has encountered sexism in her career. ‘Yes, but not badly enough to make me want to throw in the towel. I don’t think it hindered my progress. There were one or two glancing blows perhaps.And there was one occasion when it did bother me and I didn’t know what to do about it. I didn’t deal with it particularly well, but I was very young.The flip side is I also gained from being a woman and Scottish. Because I came along at a time when networks were wanting to diversify.Thirty-five years ago, there wouldn’t have been Scottish newsreaders.And you certainly wouldn’t have had a young, female Scottish newsreader. So I think probably I would be kidding myself if I thought my being Scottish and my being a woman hasn’t helped me, if I’m being honest.’ She tells me a story about Michael Heseltine at the 1996 Tory party conference. She was trying to persuade him to appear on Channel Five.’He said:”I’m not going to have some little smartarse in a short skirt get the better of me.” And I thought, how interesting.That made quite an impression on me.

‘So after that I decided to wear trouser suits and speak their language. I made sure I wasn’t projecting a leggy lovely image. I became more conscious of what the clothes I was wearing communicated.’ She reckons that what people remember from the news is the weather, the sport and what she was wearing.’You are lucky if they can tell you the top three stories. It’s what you expect. It’s a visual medium. I’m working in radio now where none of that matters. As long as the voice doesn’t go. I was thrown out of the choir at school for having too deep a voice.They called me old man river.’

As well as Desert Island Discs and her documentaries, Young also has a nice little sideline as one of the regular hosts on Have I Got News ForYou. She comes across as sardonic and knowing, delivering her scripted lines with a poker face and great comic timing.’I get a real buzz from doing that. I realised early on that it is Ian and Paul’s job to be funny and anything else the host does, any ad libs, are a bonus.’ In person she has a dry sense of humour and a gift for impersonation. Her Celia Johnson is spot on and when we talk about the film Anchorman she even captures Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy:'”Go f—yourself, San Diego [pause] One of the best yet.”When I was watching it with my brother and my husband I had tears rolling down my cheeks.They were looking at me and saying,”It’s quite funny, but not that funny.”‘ She could also relate to Broadcast News, even the moment where the anchor gets the sweats. ‘Yes. It’s a fish in water thing; there are people in a studio who just belong there.They are made better by a studio and I think I’m one of them. And there are people who just shouldn’t be there, who get the sweats and, for different reasons, it is a pleasure to watch both. I was nervous the first time I read the news in Scotland. So nervous I got big spots in front of my eyes and I thought I was going to pass out. But I learnt to love it and I don’t understand why people who are perpetually nervous continue to do it.

‘You have to ride the wave of live television and be enough of a perverse creature to enjoy it, because the opportunity to come a cropper is there.The great thing about news is that you never have to watch yourself.You do it and it’s gone. Watching yourself is rarely a pleasure.’

Is there anything about her own appearance she dislikes? ‘Yes, but women look at themselves so much they no longer see themselves. Most women spend time every day doing their hair and make-up and they just don’t see themselves any more. I can only see the faults when I look at my face. I think I look like I’ve got capped teeth and I don’t. I hate that. Don’t like that.’They are certainly very white.’I know.And I’ve never had them bleached.Yet when I see pictures of myself I think:”Ah, the woman with the fake teeth.” I don’t think it’s why I’m employed. People do refer to you as “blonde”, but all I ever tried to do in my job was look polished and presentable. I don’t think my editors chose me for the job because I was blonde.They chose me because I was a good live performer. I could keep my cool.’ She thinks part of the reason she has composure is that she has perspective.

‘All that can go wrong in a studio is that you make a prize a—of yourself. It’s not like you are doing surgery where other people’s lives are affected.As I get older I’m more happy to admit to gaps in my knowledge, because I regard myself as a reasonably well-informed individual. I think when you are 22 and you are trying to prove yourself, it’s different. I’m more relaxed now. A prime example was Morrissey the other day.On Desert Island Discs he read something out in German, Der Nussbaum, and I translated it asThe Walnut Tree and he said:”You read that!”And I said I didn’t. I happened to know it.Twenty years ago I would have been wrong footed.’

There is no denyingYoung’s powers of empathy as an interviewer, or her ability to inspire candour.The comedian DavidWalliams admitted to her that he had questioned his sexuality and battled with depression. Yoko Ono revealed that she had allowed John Lennon to decide whether or not to abort their son Sean.And David Cameron spoke movingly about his severely disabled son, Ivan.

She is into her fourth season of the show now, having been given a rough ride by the critics in the first few months.’I took it quite personally,’ she says.’But now I feel I can do Desert Island Discs without worrying about what people think. I feel I’m doing it justice.And broadcasting on the radio means you don’t have to watch yourself.You are judged only on the strength of your words, the tone of your voice, the sharpness of your mind.’There was another film we could have discussed, To Die For. In that, the ambitious weathergirl played by Nicole Kidman says:’You aren’t really anyone unless you are on TV.’ KirstyYoung became someone by being ‘on TV’, but she now seems to prefer being ‘on radio’. Perhaps ‘on radio’ she feels she is not only doing justice to Desert Island Discs, but also to herself.


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.