It’s difficult to imagine anyone more Tory than Charles Moore. He edited the Telegraph, opposes gay marriage and for the past 17 years has been writing Margaret Thatcher’s official biography. Nigel Farndale meets the man who’s been rifling through Maggie’s wardrobe

What can it be like being Charles Moore? Since 1997 he has been trying to get inside the head of Margaret Thatcher, understand her personality, fathom why she was so loved, so hated. That was the year she appointed him as her authorised biographer, and gave him unlimited access to everyone and everything in her life, on condition that he wouldn’t publish until after her death. So that’s a good 17 years of Thinking About Thatcher. Thatcher for breakfast. Thatcher for lunch. Thatcher over port in the evening.

And what can it be like for him being interviewed for the Observer? I had suggested doing an “at home” in Sussex, but he was chary about me describing the “soft furnishings, stuffed lions illegally shot, etc”. And this is understandable, given that many readers will already, no doubt, see him as the devil’s Boswell. To add big-game hunter to his litany of sins would be plain masochism.
So we have opted instead to meet somewhere Thatchery: “her table” at the Goring Hotel in London, around the corner from her house in Chester Square. As we puff our napkins I ask him what effect she had on other diners when she ate here. “On one occasion she got up to leave at the end and they all started clapping,” he says. She told him she found it “kind but embarrassing”, but he could tell she was secretly pleased.
When researching his book, Moore could see from Margaret Roberts’s student days onwards that she was conscious of the attention being paid to her. “When she was talking about her first boyfriend taking her to an Oxford ball she said something like ‘everyone fell silent and looked at me when I walked into the room.'”
That would be the “pink uplift bra”, I say (she refers to one in a letter Moore quotes in the book). A clipped laugh at this. Then: “Favourable attention from men was always noticed. There was an almost actressy side to her.”
We discuss how some men, such as Alan Clark, went weak at the knees. “Not all of course, because a significant minority of her colleagues were irritated and even bored by her style. Too in-your-face for a certain type of Tory. But the majority found her attractive, some sexually. There was also a sub-set who saw her as a gay icon.”
Did Moore find her attractive? “Only in the sense of enjoying her presence – she was, after all, older than my mother.” Part of the attraction seems to have been to do with her reputation as a political dominatrix. He recalls the first proper conversation he had with her. “It was in 1985 and I attacked her about the new Irish agreement and got the terrifying stare. I liked her readiness to engage and whack you.”
She whacked him on many occasions after that, during his formal and informal interviews with her. “It would have been unfair to sit her down for a formal interview in the later years,” he says. “It would have bewildered her.” Instead they would come to lunch here and chat. “She got terribly bad around the time Denis died in 2003, no doubt because he died.” He witnessed moments when she thought Denis was still alive? “Yes, I did see that, yup.”
I ask if sleep offers an escape from this business of thinking about her constantly, or whether the Iron Lady intrudes even upon his dreams. “I have, um, met her in dreams, but I can’t, er, remember specific ones,” he says. “They are more anxiety dreams about being late to meet her or, um, not getting the tape working.”
For an articulate man, Moore ums and ers a lot. He is also prone to use Latin phrases without warning, or translation. And every so often he deploys a white smile, one as engaging as it is unexpected, given the solemnity of his long, undertaker’s face. (He was obliged to have his “English teeth” whitened for the TV cameras before a book tour to America last year, and it seems to have given him a Colgate ring of confidence.)
There is, nevertheless, something unworldly about him. He’s a very English combination of self-effacement, drollery and dogmatism – a listed rectory in a suit and blue tie (unlike his more artistic brother, this paper’s architecture critic, Rowan Moore). The drink he orders with his kedgeree, a spicy virgin mary, seems appropriate and reminds me of the criticism that his friend Auberon Waugh made of him, that he doesn’t drink enough.
Moore met his wife Caroline at Cambridge. She later became an English don, but gave it up to look after their two children, now grown up. When I ask if she gets jealous about there being three people in their marriage, he gives that Colgate smile. “Well, luckily, they have very different personalities.” Present tense, note. “And I can’t imagine ever being married to someone like Margaret Thatcher, so in that sense they are not in competition.”
A few years back I bumped into Moore at a book launch and he told me he had just come from visiting Mrs T’s dresses, which were in storage in Finchley. At the time I teased him that he was like Jimmy Savile, who used to keep his mother’s clothes wrapped in cellophane in a wardrobe. (This was before comparing someone to Savile became actionable.) But I can see now that it is important for a biographer to make that tactile connection with his subject – to handle the things she handled. Did the dresses help him channel her? “Yes I think so, and it’s another reason why she is more interesting than a male politician. I didn’t want to see Tony Blair’s suits, as it were. Each of her garments mattered more, required more decision-making.”
Moore was the original young fogey, having become a writer on the Daily Telegraph straight from university, and then editor of the Spectator at 27. Now, at 57, he seems almost old fogeyish, endearingly so. When I ask how his interview with FW de Klerk went, the one he had told me he would be conducting before our lunch, he looks a little sheepish and says he got his dates muddled up. To be fair, he doesn’t have a PA, and he does have a lot of commitments, such as his constant round of speaking engagements (more than 100 in the past year), his appearances as the token Rightie on Question Time, and his bold and elegantly written columns for the Spectator and Daily Telegraph (which he also used to edit, before Maggie took over his life).
The research he has undertaken for his epic biography has been nothing short of Stakhanovite. And it isn’t over yet. The 800-page first volume is out in paperback this week, having become, when published in hardback after her funeral last April, a number-one bestseller (a prize-winning, critically acclaimed one, no less). Moore is now working on volume two, due out next year.
I guess he has his ending for it now: that poignant funeral. Did he think there would be more protests than there were? “My biggest fear was that the BBC’s focus on the nasty people would keep the nice people away. If you thought there was going to be violent protest, you wouldn’t bring your granny and your children. The streets were full, but they would have been fuller.” The service brought tears to his eyes. “What I found moving was a sense of how far she had come, the grocer’s daughter who ended up with the Queen standing beside her coffin.”
I ask if he was taken aback by the animosity elsewhere, the “Ding-dong! The witch is dead” side of things. “No, I wasn’t surprised, actually.” Not even when Bob Crow said he hoped she would rot in hell? “That I did find outrageous. De mortuis nil nisi bonum [don’t speak ill of the dead]. The BBC only wanted to hear from the minority who hated her, from the Galloways and the Crows, or the half-witted students in Brixton, or the miners from Yorkshire – not the miners from Derbyshire or Nottinghamshire, because they weren’t Scargillites.”
But wearing his journalist’s hat, I say, he must admit that the depth of the hatred from those quarters is fascinating. “Yes, I think in one respect she courted the hatred because when a trade unionist started foaming at the mouth she wanted to have the argument. She was temperamentally incapable of not having the argument. The other reason she inspired hatred was that she won, and kept winning, on an explicitly Conservative ideology. The Left could never forgive her for that.” He also puts the hatred down to misogyny. “A lot of people, both women and men, really didn’t want to be ruled by a bossy woman. There was a sort of shudder about it.”
Cartoonists always portrayed her as looking either slightly mad or angry, I note, and Spitting Image depicted her as man. Did that help or hinder her? “Help, but it was quite wrong to depict her as a pseudo man in trousers and tie.”
I know what he means, but it nevertheless makes him sound like he has missed the joke, as she always did. He claims it’s not true that she didn’t have a sense of humour, by the way. “She was quite witty and observant, but what she didn’t understand were jokes with a set up and punchline.”
When I suggest that she might have been a bit Aspergerish, he is careful in his response. “She was a naturally serious person from a serious background. She was not a relaxed person. She liked humour in others, though, and considered it an attractive quality in Denis and Alistair McAlpine. She was terrifying but not pompous, and she could be quite playful, quite cosy in a strange way.”
We talk about how, if she were here with us now, there would be two police protection officers in the restaurant, because the IRA never withdrew its threat to kill her. The Brighton bomb will feature heavily in the next volume. I put it to him that the speech she made the morning after the bombing might have been her finest hour. She must have been traumatised, yet seemed calm and steely. “She was good at carrying on in situations of high tension,” Moore says, “but she would crack later, as she did in church that Sunday.”
When I read his book I was surprised by his descriptions of her weeping during the Falklands War. Contrary to stereotype, he thinks she had a strong gift of empathy, “but only if she thought the cause was just, as with soldiers and sailors. Obviously there was much less empathy if the person came from the enemy.”
When I try to draw him out on the subject of Charles Moore he folds his arms and starts almost hugging himself like someone in a padded cell. Terrible body language, I say. “Yes well, I don’t like talking about myself. I’d prefer to talk about her.”
Presumably, being an Old Etonian is a big part of his identity, I suggest. “I certainly think being well educated is a great advantage in life. It annoys me when people won’t admit that they were well educated. The tragedy of English life is that there is a constant attack on the good institutions rather than attempts to improve the bad ones.” He’s doing what he accuses Mrs T of always doing: deflecting personal questions by turning them into political ones. “That’s true,” he says with a grin. “I am doing that, yes.”
Another of his friends, the satirist Craig Brown, once described him as moving in a world without friction, as if never having known heartbreak. Fair? “You couldn’t edit newspapers for 20 years and live in a frictionless world.” And heartbreak? Was Caroline his first love? “Effectively yes, not my first girlfriend but first serious girlfriend.”
He has never carved a roast, sewn a button or changed a tyre – sounds like he’s a difficult man to live with. “True, but we have slightly reversed the sex roles in that I write the thank you letters and remember what people’s children are called, and who we had to dinner last time. Poor Caroline, she does all the DIY and the changing of the light bulbs.”
I ask if he was joking about the stuffed lion. He was. But he does have a stuffed fox. “It was road kill. Elegant. Not one of those angry, snarling ones.”
Controversialist – and masochist? – that he is, Moore revels in defending foxhunting. He has also been a vocal opponent of gay marriage, appearing on the Today programme in the run-up to the same-sex marriage bill to warn that it would “cause confusion” – and asking in a Spectator column, after it was passed, “if the law will eventually be changed to allow one to marry one’s dog”. But in terms of which side he will come down on in an argument, he is not easy to second guess.
So what can it be like being Charles Moore? As we order coffees at “her table” and ask for the bill, he tells me he has no idea why he was chosen as biographer over other right-wing thinkers and writers. But it is tempting to imagine that Maggie might have seen in him a kindred spirit, an iconoclast and mischief maker who enjoys playing up to a parodic version of himself. With obvious delight, for example, he says that he hasn’t listened to a pop record since 1974 “unless inadvertently, in a taxi”.
People in morning coats and feathery hats arrive for a late lunch, no doubt straight from an investiture at nearby Buckingham Palace. He must have been offered a knighthood by now I’m guessing, like those other Telegraph editors, Sir Max Hastings and Sir Peregrine Worsthorne. Has he done a Jon Snow and turned it down? “I wouldn’t say, I wouldn’t, um, be pushed to say anything on that, er.”
Besides, he already has a title bestowed by Private Eye: Lord Snooty. “Lord Snooty is a very decent figure,” he says with a flash of white teeth. “In the early Beanos the ditty went ‘Son of a duke but always pally/with his chums in Tin Pan Alley,’ something like that. He was an early apostle of diversity.”
I’ll buy that line about Charles Moore/Lord Snooty being decent, and though I’m not sure he has many friends on the Left, for a foxhunting Old Etonian he doesn’t seem to care much about class. It’s another unexpected thing about him.
The person with whom he had the most laughs in his life, he tells me, was the late Frank Johnson, a journalist who used to pride himself on being a working-class Tory. And let us not forget that his heroine came from Tin Pan Alley, or at least Grantham’s equivalent, the grocer’s shop.
Charles Moore’s Margaret Thatcher The Authorised Biography, Volume One is out now, £12.99. To order a copy for £10.39, with free UK p&p, click on the link or call 0330 333 6846

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.