Two helicopters curve along the Potomac River before rising up over the Lincoln Memorial, blotting the sky and strangling the conversation. ‘Hey George!’ Laurie David shouts as it becomes apparent that they are the presidential helicopters. ‘Watch the goddam film!’ The helicopters bank towards the White House, keeping formation. ‘He still claims not to have watched it,’ she says with a springy, Long Island accent and a throaty laugh. ‘I’m hoping his daughters will watch it and then persuade him to watch it too.’ She resumes eating her sushi with a fork. Laurie David is too busy for chopsticks.
The film she refers to is An Inconvenient Truth, the one she produced, the one which won the Oscar, the one which David Cameron has said should be shown in every school. The film was her idea; she approached the former Vice-President Al Gore about making it after she heard him give his famous slide presentation on Global Warming. Although she refers to herself as ‘a Jewish mother from Long Island’, her political clout extends far beyond the suburbs. Arguably, she is America’s foremost green campaigner. She has written a bestselling book, The Solution is You: Stop Global Warming – An Activist’s Guide. And, though a Democrat herself, she has teamed up with the Republican Senator John McCain to organise a virtual march on Washington — already they have almost a million signatures. She also persuaded Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Republican governor of California, to go green — along with half the stars in Hollywood. In terms of her networking powers in Hollywood, it doesn’t hurt that she is married to Larry David, the comedian who co-wrote Seinfeld, the biggest grossing sitcom of all time (he made more than $200 million from the syndication rights). But she could probably have done it on her own. She is a feisty woman, no question. And a driven one. And as her husband tells me when I meet him in Maryland the next day: ‘She is not an easy woman to say no to.’ But that is to come.
For now she and I are having lunch sitting outside a restaurant in Washington. Parked nearby is the bus she and Sheryl Crow have spend the past 10 days touring across the Deep South in, stopping to spread the word at colleges. David makes speeches, Crow plays her guitar and sings songs. ‘The bus runs on vegetable oil,’ she says, flicking back her shoulder length, coal black hair. ‘Bio diesel. Our driver said something to me yesterday, which made me think “yes”. He is a good old boy from Texas and he said that after listening to my speeches he had decided not to waste water by washing the whole bus. He’d just do the tyres. A bit of dirt wouldn’t hurt, he said. I thought yes, that’s it. That is the whole point right there.’
They have become quite a double act, David and Crow (whom I shall also meet the following day). ‘I never thought I’d end up with Sheryl. I didn’t know her a year ago. Now she is my best friend. She has taken a risk because being a rock star people might mock her for getting serious about this issue, but she feels she has to.’ David laughs when I ask if they do a duet. ‘Sheryl was horrified after the first show when she realised I was tone deaf. She handed me a tambourine at one point and immediately took it away again.’
She stares straight at you as she talks, unblinkingly, with grass green eyes. She is friendly and self deprecating but also passionate, animated and impatient. She can talk about global warming until, well, she tells me she can become a bore on the subject at dinner parties if she is not careful. ‘We like to socialise a lot in Hollywood and guests can get caught with me. I have to check myself. But when people ask me about global warming I can’t stop myself. It consumes me. It occupies my every waking thought. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning and the last thing at night.’
I am reminded of something Larry David wrote about her in the introduction to her book. When he first met her she was “a materialistic, narcissistic, superficial, bosomy woman from Long Island. She read People magazine, watched hours of mindless television, and shopped like there was no tomorrow. Finally, I had met someone as shallow as me.” Then he sensed something had begun to change. “She started peppering her conversation with words like ozone layer, sustainable forestry, and toxic runoff. I began to notice new people hanging around the house, people who were not in show business and wore a lot of tweed.”
When I mention this she says. ‘Yeah then look what he ended up with. I guess I always wanted to be a running a Hollywood studio but when your husband has the most successful comedy show on television where do you go from there. How do you compete?’
It is a telling comment. On some level she seems to be in competition with her husband. She was quite competitive as a child, she says, being the youngest of three sisters. Her campaigning side first manifested itself when she felt not enough people were buying the Beatles last album Let it Be so she cut out advert for it and went around pinning them to trees in mile radius around her house. . ‘They never thanked me!’ She was 10. Her background was conventional enough. Her father serviced swimming pools, she read magazine journalism at college and one of her first jobs was working in a car showroom. ‘Me selling cars! Ha! The irony!’ She later landed a job as a talent coordinator for the David Letterman show in New York. It was there she met Larry, although Letterman turned him down, which is now a source of some amusement to both of them. Four years later she left to start her own management company, representing comedians as well as comedy writers, but not Larry who she says is ‘unmanageable’.
So how did she get from there to here — from showbiz to green activism? ‘What really gave me a sense of urgency about this was when my first daughter was born [they have two aged 11 and 13]. I really started to worry, like I had this warning bell that went off inside me: Danger! Danger! I thought: What can I do? How can I use my contacts to do something about this? We have to warn people. It terrifies me. It should terrify everyone.’
She sure used her contacts. Not only did she produce the comedy special, Earth to America! which featured Tom Hanks, Will Ferrell, Steve Martin and Jack Black, she also began holding ‘eco salons’ with scientists as guest speakers. The Hollywood A  list attended, everyone from Leonardo di Cario and Cameron Diaz to Angelina Jolie. ‘I have a big house,’ David says with a shrug. ‘I use it to gather hundreds of people for eco-salons.’ When I ask whether the stop global warming campaign isn’t, well, you know, the latest fashionable cause she becomes a little defensive. ‘That’s good if it’s fashionable. We want it to be fashionable. But I am aware of the snarky comments: that in Hollywood we are just preaching to the converted. That was why I wanted to this bus tour with Sheryl through Middle America. Anyway you can’t say someone like Leonardo di Caprio is just following fashion. He bought the first hybrid way before they became fashionable.’ She refers to the Toyota Prius, a ‘hybrid car, part electrical part bio fuel. There is now a nine-month waiting list for them in Hollywood, thanks to her. ‘Yeah,’ she acknowledges with a laugh. ‘I ought to be on a percentage from Toyota.’  She made them fashionably partly by persuading her friends who produce TV shows to feature them. She got one on to 24, for example. And Larry drives one in the semi autobiographical comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm. Larry’s plays a curmudgeonly comedian with a tolerant wife. He is a semi-retired sitcom mogul who ambles through his inordinately comfortable life, routinely managing to annoy or infuriate everyone around him, including blind people and the mentally ill.
Cheryl Hines plays Larry’s ‘wife’ in the show. Although the TV wife is a green activist she spends her days gossiping with friends and worrying about her wardrobe. Laurie, by contrast, is far more focused on the fight.  “At first I demanded the actress playing me be a red head, so as people wouldn’t confuse us. But I settled for a blonde. People do still get confused though, on the school run, I mean. They assume the screen wife is based on me, but actually she is much nicer to Larry than I am.’ I imagine the episode in which Larry has a pubic hair stuck in his throat raised eyebrows. ‘Well, that’s what I’m talking about. There were comments  next day. The lunch moms at school all gave me funny looks.’
In another episode Larry reminds Cheryl of her promise that after 10 years of marriage she would reward his faithfulness by letting him sleep with another woman. Larry and Laurie had that conversation, but only as a joke. Is she sometimes shocked though about how far he takes his comedy? ‘I don’t think it’s a matter of him going too far, he just likes to explore ideas, test boundaries.’ Does the autobiographical element of the show make her feel self conscious at home? ‘I don’t think he is trying out material on me all the time, but he does keep a ratty little brown notebook and is constantly scribbling ideas in it.  Situations. Awkward social moments.
They sound like a nightmare couple to invite round: her boring on about global warming, him scribbling in his notebook. She laughs. ‘Yeah well. What can you do? You know, the big difference between our characters in the show is that he is quite shy in real life and I am much more confrontational that him. pull up alongside Hummer drivers on the highway and yell at them. , ‘Do you know what you’re driving? How many miles a gallon do you get in that?’ Then we get into an altercation and my husband’s horrified and begs me to change my last name back to my maiden name.”  “I am floored by what I just experienced with Karl Rove,” David said later. “I went over to him and said, I urge you to take a new look at global warming. He went zero to 100 with me. … I’ve never had anyone be so rude.”    Rove said: “She came over to insult me, and she succeeded.”
Also if he was sitting here now he would be telling you about the 45 minutes it took him to get from the airport, which routes he took, what the diversions were, how long he had to wait at the traffic lights. Me, I’d cover that stuff in 5 seconds.’
He sounds infuriating to live with. ‘Hey, I guess I’m no picnic.’ Because she is a tyrant about green living? ‘Well Larry does get the brunt of it. Him and the kids. I won’t let them take  long showers or run the water too much when they are brushing their teeth. I won’t let  them leave adapters plugs in or stand by lights on. Everyone has to use both sides of the paper for printing and faxing. We recycle obsessively. And since I get a lot of clothes dry-cleaned, I take a garment bag to the dry cleaner so I don’t waste the disposable plastic covers. We also use the old polysterene cups when we go to Starbucks —  25 billion polystyrene cups are thrown away each year. That’s crazy. We should complain. I’m getting very good at complaining.
low energy light bulbs? ‘In every room’
Solar panels. ‘We tried to have them fitted but they wouldn’t work with our house.
David into a hate figure for the American right. She was ranked 82 in the book, 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America. She has been dubbed a ‘Gulfstream liberal’ for flying occasionally in a private jet. This is not about perfection. I don’t expect anybody else to be perfect either. That’s what hurts the environmental movement – holding people to a standard they cannot meet. That just pushes people away.”
What about using private jets though? ‘I try not to fly by private jet so much anymore. I have the frequent flier miles to prove it.
I’ve been reading the blogs I say. The abusive stuff? I no longer read the replies. You get people like Rush limburgh mocking Hollywood liberals..’ surely she must see he is trying to get a rise out of her. he’s only saying it to get a laugh. ‘I know I know I live with a comedian I know about comedy but what he says is just irresponsible and wrong.
Still the blogs show there are still a lot of global warming deniers out there. ‘yes there are but they are just clutching at straws. The game is up. We’ve nailed the argument. In fact there is no augment any more. When you have 2000 of the world’s leadings scientist in this field agreeing there is no argument. There was that programme you had in the UK and they found one or two scientists who disagreed but why were they given them air time. It’s irresponsible.
I tell her about the feature we ran in this paper by that arch Global warming denying Lord Monckton, that and the response it elicited the following week from Al Gore. She is aware of both. How does she explain the medieval warm period theory. ‘I think Al countered that most effectively in the film, when he argued that this’d been proven and anyway there has never been anything like the rise in recent years. the  deniers are just contrarianism. It’s a way of getting attention. You go against the orthodoxy. The  media is being irresponsible when it gives these people a voice. They should move on there has to be some culpability. You have to question why people are saying that. Some are grossly misinformed some people are being paid to misinform you. If you were sick and you went to 98 doctors who all told you were sick and had to get on medicine then you went to two doctors who maybe didn’t have a licence or weren’t peer reviewed and you said OK like who are you listening to. We have to reject that and get past it
Actually England is way ahead of us… the Stern report. That was the right message, get capitalists to sit up and take notice. I was talking to the head of American Express and he said he is on message now because it makes business sense do something now
`Surely she has won the argument, with Bush acknowledging Global Warming in his State of the Union address last January. ‘ yeah but he was only acknowledging it when is he going to do something about it. This is going to be his legacy, this and Iraq. Global warming is a big issue of national security. Look at New Orleans. How are future generations going to judge him for doing nothing on this?
We now face the most urgent challenge of our lifetime. We now have less than ten years to slow global warming down otherwise we set ourselves on course we will not be able to correct. 2000 leading scientists from 150 countries have reached this conclusion. Global warming is happening and it is happening faster than anyone anticipated. As things stand we are already guarantee two degrees of warming but we dare not go above that. The difference between one degree is a Popsicle frozen and a puddle on the floor… Last year was the hottest on record in the states. The winter was the hottest and you heard people saying hey I’m in Chicago and its January and its seventy degrees isn’t that great? Well it’s not going to be so great when its 110 in June. Global warming means extreme weather in both direction Ha Ha so cold out! so much for global warming. No. global warming means more extreme blizzards, tornadoes, and floods. Almost every day the evening news brings us another sever weather report, always record breaking. We are causing it. Hurricane Katrina is just a taste of what is to come if we don’t stop global warming. Nature ferocity knows no bounds
People are saying they hey it was cold today so much for your their but that its the point it is erratic weather. We will be getting the wrong whether at the wrong time of year and already people are noticing. I think the days of the same waring tree hugging environmentalist image is over. We are all environmentalist now. It effects us all people start noticing. You go skiing and there is no snow.
we are the biggest source of the problem doing the least about it — 25% of the world Co2 emission comes from America.
It was hard to get him to do stand-up for this he is very contrary he has walked out on audiences. You know if a barmaid talking. .. David’s onstage manner was almost wilfully uningratiating. He was intense and bespectacled, bald David has a lanky, wiry build and an athletic, slightly bowlegged walk. At 58  he is 10 years older than his wife. His cranium is long and sleek, surrounded by a fringe of curly whitish hair that is neatly trimmed, except for rampant sideburns.
an alumni of Maryland University he is persuaded to come on stage and sing the university song. He also does a turn. I see him back stage doing a zipper check. His zipper has broken. I realise what I do isn’t nearly so important as what she does. I’m not saving the planet or anything! Just trying to make people laugh. Nothing wrong with that. People like to laug
Larry says:the last five years I’ve been having to use recycled toilet paper and let me tell you, its no picnic. That recycled paper. It’s the kind of paper you’d find on a whaling vessel.
‘She won’t let me do is use too much water,’ he confirms. ‘If the shower is on for two minutes she will run in and flick the curtain open. “You’re done.” You’re wasting water. But I haven’t used condition yet. You don’t need to condition. Conditioning is over rated. But the worse thing is that I have had to sit through an inconvenient truth 14 times. I’ve been to screenings in Saudi Arabia. I mean I love Al Gore but enough is enough… His wife he says sees global warming in everything. Look honey the ice cream melted. …
Sheryl straps her acoustic guitar on: and sings a change will do you good. She plays ‘every day’s a winding road’ Laurie and I met six months ago and have been sleeping together for two weeks, across the aisle from each other. I thought lets get a tour bus and load it up with vegetable oil. They hand out light bulbs at the end. I’m trying to convince Laurie we should do this again in the fall when they are session. She is joking Everyone should limit themselves to one square of toilet tissue.
Sheryl: ‘I’m a worrier, I worry about things, although it’s a waste of energy. Laurie and I made a trip through new Orleans it was frighten ning to see what global warming can do. We have an opportunity here to slow everything down.
The mayor of new York is here, a friend
She comes off and says: ‘That’s the first time I did the dancing on stage. I dance on the side of eth stage every night’
I ask Sheryl if she is going to miss it. ‘I am, I really am. I’m trying to persuade Laurie to do it again in the Fall when parliament is in session. I’ve never been so mission orientated. Neither of us are making any money out of this by the way.’
Was she nervous about what people might say about another rock star with a message: ‘You know what I say to that? I don’t care. I feel like I represent the person who think I am so afraid is it too late to make a difference. I’ve been learning a lot about it. Having knowledge about this can be a burden but at least there is some let up when you realise there are things you can do.
I think all rock tours are going to go this way. Bio diesel buses. You can earn a green seal when your tour REM and Coldplay Coldplay has overset its tours and CDs by planting trees
The major of Newark and Gayle King is editor-at-large The Oprah Winfrey Show Magazine and is the best friend of Oprah Winfrey. Larry: Whenever you hear the word rich prick usually comes after it same with poor and schmuck
They are endlessly mocked for it.
I mention people are lining up to mock this? Rosie O’Donnell’s line was “Have you seen my a–?”
Then there’s the hypocrisy factor: The website tracked down the contract for Crow’s concert tour, which demands, among other things, parking space for “three tractor trailers, four buses, six cars.”
She gets on the bus and she kisses me goodbye on both cheeks, a eco warrior certainly but still a little Hollywood.


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.