A heavy mist is descending as I approach what I hope is the right house, a modernist eyrie surrounded by young pines on a hillside above Oslo. I’m about to ask a man tidying up the basement garage for directions when I recognise him as Henrik Carlsen, a trim, balding, middle-aged engineer in metal-framed glasses. We have met before, 11 years ago, when I came to Norway to interview his son Magnus, then aged 13.

The reason? Magnus had become the youngest grandmaster in the world, The Washington Post had duly dubbed him ‘the Mozart of chess’, and none other than Garry Kasparov had predicted that one day this Norwegian wunderkind would become a world champion. Most prescient the Russian grandmaster proved to be.

At 19 Magnus Carlsen became the youngest-ever world number one. At 21 he became the strongest chess player in history, beating Kasparov’s own ‘ratings’ record (ratings are the eye-wateringly complicated way in which relative chess strength is calculated). And at 22 he did indeed become world champion. That was in 2013. He successfully defended his title last year and will mount another defence of it next year. Before that he will be playing in the London Chess Classic, which begins on December 4.

‘On a clear day you can see down to the fjords,’ Henrik says as he emerges from the garage, wiping his hands on his jeans. ‘But you’ll have to take my word for that.’ He and his wife helped their son find this house a few months ago and are house-sitting until he moves in. ‘It was the first one Magnus looked at and he wanted it straight away, which rather ruined our negotiation tactics. He’s like that, impulsive.’ He checks his watch. ‘He’s also always late.’ I notice a sleek new Tesla sports car in the garage. ‘Not mine, sadly,’ Henrik says. ‘It’s Magnus’s company car. Now all he has to do is get round to taking a driving test.’

This throwaway comment is a reminder that Magnus Carlsen is not your typical chess player. In the past decade he has gone from being a prodigy to a superstar, one who has earned millions in sponsorship and prize money, won modelling contracts and was even named by Cosmopolitan magazine as one of the ‘sexiest men of 2013’.

As Henrik shows me into a sitting room with red sofas and matching abstract paintings, he recalls our earlier encounter in 2004. ‘My wife and I were nervous about agreeing to it,’ he says, ‘because Magnus had never done a press interview before and we didn’t want it to go to his head. We wanted to give him as normal a childhood as possible.’

They were the opposite of pushy parents. It was Magnus who did the pushing. From the age of five, he was able to perform impressive feats of memory, reciting complex geographical facts and figures for fun. His father, himself a keen amateur chess player, took note and taught him how to play. But Magnus showed no interest in this most cerebral of sports until he was eight, when, in a spirit of sibling rivalry, he beat his older sister. He beat his father soon after that, then started to devour books on chess.

His parents decided to take him and his sisters (one older, two younger) out of school for a year, becoming their teachers as they travelled the world playing  in chess tournaments. His sisters are students now, one studying medicine, another dance, the third computer engineering. Magnus decided not to go  to university, against his parents’ wishes. ‘He’s very wilful,’ his father says now.

A car pulls up. It is Magnus with his manager. When he enters wearing jeans and a hoody, he  overrules his father’s suggestion that we do the interview in the sitting room while he has his lunch in  the kitchen. ‘See what I mean?’ Henrik whispers as  I relocate to the kitchen and he collects his lunch to eat in the sitting room.

‘My parents are living here at the moment,’ Magnus says in a resonant voice, laced with a faint Norwegian accent. ‘When they least expect it, I will throw them out on the streets.’ He gives a slow-burn, lopsided smile, to show he is joking.

His chestnut hair is teased up into a Justin Bieber quiff, but his slightly simian jaw and brow, along with his full, sulky lips, make Matt Damon a better comparison. For a while he was the moody face of G-Star Raw, the designer clothing brand, along with Liv Tyler and Lily Cole. But he tells me he has given up modelling now. Was it proving a distraction? ‘Um, not really, I just figured out I enjoy playing chess more.’

I ask how he can bear not having a licence to drive that lovely new car downstairs. ‘I suppose I should take lessons,’ he says with a shrug. ‘But the main hurdle is the theory test. I’m put off by that.’ Another grin, one that brings us to a psychological paradox. For someone who exhibits phenomenal powers of concentration at the chessboard – he is capable of calculating ‘lines’ that are 30 to 40 moves ahead – Magnus Carlsen is easily bored, and though he is something of a fitness fanatic, as well as being a keen footballer and skier, he is actually quite lazy. He told me so himself last time I met him, which was shortly before the world championship in 2013. ‘Not too much has changed since then,’ he says now. ‘I lie in bed until slightly before lunchtime. But it depends on whose definition of lunchtime it is.’

His laid-back approach extends to his training. He has a full-time coach, the Danish grandmaster Peter Heine Nielsen, but he is not keen on using computers, and in the past he has spent much less time than other elite players preparing his ‘openings’ (an opening is a recognised sequence of initial moves). He has tended to rely instead on instinct, making moves that feel right. It is known as ‘playing with the hand’ and is associated more with ‘speed chess’ (played over as little as a minute or two) than with the much slower ‘classical’ (played under time controls of between 60 and 180 minutes per player). ‘Actually I do much less of that,’ he says, correcting my assumption, ‘because when I play by hand nowadays I seem to make more blunders. I analyse positions much more than I did.’

Another thing he said last time we met was that once he had the world championships out of the way he would have more time for relationships. Has that proved to be the case? ‘No. It hasn’t. I have time to go out and have fun when I’m at home. But I haven’t come very far in terms of settling down and starting a family.’ Has he ever been in love? ‘I don’t think so. I’ve been infatuated, of course, but not in love. No.’

Part of the problem is that he spends half the year travelling, and when he is at home in Oslo and goes out on the town he tends to get mobbed by female fans. ‘It’s a curse and a blessing,’ he shrugs. He is  not trying to be cool about it, more matter-of-fact.

He may have put the modelling on hold but ‘Brand Carlsen’ does have other revenue streams, such as his app Play Magnus, which allows you to try your luck against Magnuses of different ages. And he keeps his various sponsors happy by agreeing to stunts, such as beating 10 strong players in simultaneous games, while blindfolded. He seems to enjoy doing them and says he wants to take on 20 players next time.

He has a photographic memory, presumably? ‘I can picture the board, but most top players can do that. I don’t think my memory is exceptional. It is much worse than when I was little. Now I can’t even remember the games I played two months ago.’ Really? The kinked smile again. ‘OK, that’s not true.’

His love life may not have improved, but in other ways he has changed. He makes good eye contact now. And he seems less arrogant. When I ask him whether he has to, as it were, play against himself, beat his own records to keep motivated, he sighs. ‘Maybe it was like that for a little while but recently  I have been playing so poorly that I have to start  comparing myself to the others again.’

All great champions, from Muhammad Ali to Roger Federer, need great opponents to reach their potential. Are the former chess world champions Vishy Anand and Vladimir Kramnik his Joe Frazier and Rafael Nadal? ‘Up to a point. But the last few years for me have been like Federer’s first few years at the top, when he didn’t really have an opponent. And I think we’ve yet to see someone make the jump from a steady 2,800 guy [only the top grandmasters have ratings this high; Carlsen’s peak was 2,882] to challenging me and being right there in every tournament. Although I haven’t been playing brilliantly lately, I’m still keeping a substantial lead in the ratings.’

That may sound boastful, but it’s not delivered in that way. He is merely stating facts again. And he does admit that he has his eye on Wei Yi, a 16-year-old Chinese player currently ranked number 25 in the world, who might one day take his crown.

He has always been interested in the history of chess and has had the chance to play both Karpov and Kasparov, two legends of the game. But if he could play anyone in history who would it be? ‘I think the top ones would be Fischer and Capablanca, maybe Mikhail Tal, but I think I would beat Tal pretty easily. Fischer would be more difficult, but I think I could beat him too.’

The American Bobby Fischer famously misplaced his marbles, driven mad by chess, to the point that he had his teeth fillings removed, apparently because he thought the CIA, or possibly the KGB, was sending him radio signals through them. But Carlsen seems to have none of Fischer’s mental instabilities, even if he did once say it was ‘obvious’ he was on the autistic spectrum, and then had to explain it was a joke.

As well as being known as an intuitive player, Carlsen also has a reputation for appearing to be relaxed at the board. He will sometimes get up during a game and wander around, lost in his thoughts. His opponents find it unnerving, which is perhaps no bad thing because, as Fischer once said, ‘the object of chess is to crush the other man’s mind’. On the subject of intimidation, Carlsen, along with Kasparov – who was his coach briefly in 2009 – is the most renowned living chess player in the world, and no doubt some of his opponents are envious of all the attention he gets. Does he think it is an advantage or a disadvantage? ‘I think it’s a huge advantage. My opponents are inevitably a little more timid when they play me. Now I just need to reassert myself and get back to a level of play that justifies their attitude.’

His secret weapon seems to be his three sisters, who often come along to tournaments to support him, and keep his feet on the ground by teasing him. As for a hinterland, he says he doesn’t really listen to classical music – ‘Not listen listen’ – and that, contrary to rumour, he was never that into rap music. ‘I’m not as cool as that.’ He says he doesn’t watch much television. ‘I used to binge-watch TV shows and play PlayStation, but not any more.’ He doesn’t read novels much either, because he finds his concentration goes. ‘For two minutes I will be reading, then I’ll realise  I have been thinking about chess and I have to go back and re-read what I just read.’

Football is his biggest passion away from the chessboard and he is a dedicated fan of Real Madrid (last year he took the honorary kick-off before the team’s match against Celta Vigo). For his own amateur side in Oslo he plays in defence, ‘where I can do least damage. I enjoy the camaraderie in the team but prefer kicking around with friends rather than playing organised matches,’ he says. His friends being? ‘Some I know from football, some school, some random. Most of them are chess players.’ Grin. ‘Inevitably.’

When I first met Carlsen, he told me he enjoyed reading Donald Duck comics, which seemed unusual for a 13-year-old. And I have heard that he still enjoys playing on children’s climbing frames. It makes me wonder whether he grew up too quickly. ‘It’s true that I had to behave like an adult whenever I was at chess tournaments,’ he says. ‘Then at home I would overcompensate by being extremely childish. Thus  I haven’t really come so far in my development and  I am still immature at home. So it’s all gone wrong!’

I ask him to give me an example of this arrested development. ‘I have a very childish sense of humour; I will do a prank and my friends will shake their heads.’ Has he been through a rebellious phase? ‘I’ve tried to grow a beard several times but haven’t managed at all. As for tattoos and piercings, I have a little too much self-respect to do those things.’

Are there days when he looks at a chessboard and feels sick at the very sight of it? ‘Yes, and on those days I find it helps to play rapid or blitz chess. Sometimes during tournaments I will think, “This is so boring,” and I will have a break and log on to the internet and play a couple of blitz games somewhere anonymously, to have a bit of fun. The cheap thrill for me is tricking some guy into a one-minute game. It helps me get back on track.’

Although there is a photograph of him laughing after jumping in a swimming pool in his dinner jacket, taken a few hours after he became world champion, he doesn’t seem an excitable person generally. Quite unemotional, in fact. Did becoming champion make him happy? ‘I think getting to number one meant more to me. I guess my thoughts about becoming world champion were that it would be a bigger deal if I hadn’t won it.’

At this point I feel as if the fog outside has crept inside. He’s an inscrutable young man is Magnus Carlsen, one defined by his contradictions. But I get the impression that, at 24, he is maturing and has started taking his chess more seriously, which must be worrying for his opponents. That said, despite his freakish memory and his cold brilliance at the chessboard, he still manages to seem normal. I say as much to his father when the interview ends and Magnus goes off to do the photographs. ‘Thank you,’ Henrik says in his earnest, softly spoken way. ‘In our family we appreciate results, but they are not the most important thing.’


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.