Perhaps it’s the pain that blurs and distorts Matt Le Blanc’s appearance. Perhaps it’s the painkillers. Either way, he’s pretty much unrecognisable as he slouches into the dimly lit bar in Beverly Hills. No big entrance, no swagger, no boyish grin in camera-conscious three-quarter profile. Instead, that firm jaw-line is diffused by a week’s stubble, and the leather jacket he’s wearing makes his shoulders look rounded, his physique stocky. I squint uncertainly and give him one of those vague hand signals that can be turned into a stretch and a yawn if identity proves mistaken. He sits down at my table, orders a Stoli with soda and lime, sinks it and signals the waiter over for a second one. He’s just come from the gym, he explains in a voice so soft and low against the background chatter, I have to lip-read to get the gist. He dislocated his shoulder while doing laterals. ‘If you move a millimetre, it kills you,’ he mouths slowly. ‘The pain is so bad you get light-headed.’
It’s the eighth time this has happened since his shoulder bone first parted company with its socket during a rehearsal for Friends. Matthew Perry collided with Matt Le Blanc when – as Chandler and Joey – they were racing to occupy the same chair. For the following half a dozen episodes, while Le Blanc was in a sling, the injury had to be incorporated into the script.
At first, as we sit and talk, the actor is subdued and earnest, fixing me unblinkingly with eyes that seem 96 per cent pupil, four per cent iris. This keeps distracting my eyes from their lip-reading duties and, as a consequence, our conversation becomes stilted. The thought bubbles above Le Blanc’s head are reading: ‘Jeez…stuck with…goddam English stuffed shirt…keeps looking from my eyes to my mouth like a moron…’
He orders another vodka. Along with the five Advils he’s already taken, this relaxes him enough to bare a broad smile that features teeth so impossibly white and even I find myself involuntarily covering my own mouth with my hand as I smile back. To compound this, I’m veering between feelings of paranoia that I’m the dullest person he’s ever met, and, as I get better at deciphering his mumbled words, mounting panic that it might be the other way round.
Without the sharp, deadpan one-liners the Friends scriptwriters put into his mouth, Le Blanc has all the social buoyancy and grace of a seal out of water. Still cute, still in possession of the big, sleepy brown eyes but now clumsy and inelegant with it. I order another beer. Telepathically, we have agreed that the best way for both of us to survive this evening is to get steadily drunk.
Later at the restaurant, we are led to a table in the middle of the room and Le Blanc requests that we be moved to one in the corner where he can have his back to the other diners. ‘I used to enjoy eating out,’ he says, and then loses the train of thought. He munches on a bread stick and furrows his brow as he studies the menu for about 40 minutes. ‘Yeah, I used to enjoy people-watching,’ he says, suddenly returning to his subject and making me jump. ‘Now I can’t do that any more because people just end up watching me, do you know what I mean?’
I’m about to tell him I know exactly what he means because, the previous year, I had sat a few tables away from him and the rest of the cast from Friends, in a restaurant not far from here and – ha ha ha – I hadn’t been able to take my eyes off them. Luckily I don’t get the chance before he adds, ‘And I hate that. No, I don’t hate that, because it has made me financially comfortable. New house and car for mom and a new smile on my face. It’s made me feel like Elvis.’ He says that he is not very good at ‘this whole celebrity thing’. You can see why: jealous men are want to approach him in bars and punch him for no reason. And he is constantly harassed by predatory women. ‘It’s not that it makes you feel vulnerable. Just unreal. Being stared at all the time. There was this one girl, 13 or 14-years-old, and she just gaped at me, then started shaking. I freaked out because I didn’t know what to do. I felt really guilty because it was like she was so overwhelmed she didn’t know how to react. The trouble is, people have an imaginary relationship with you, especially when they see you on television. It’s more intimate than the cinema. You see in their house and often they are watching you in bed, you know?’
Although in recent years Matt Le Blanc’s name has been romantically linked with his manager, Camile Cerio, Goldie Hawn’s then 16-year-old daughter, Kate Hudson; porn star Jenn Jameson; Playboy model Tonya Poole; Minnie Driver; Jennifer Aniston and Amanda de Cadenet, the actor doesn’t have a steady girlfriend at the moment. ‘Now I’m 30, though, I suppose I’m thinking about marriage,’ he says. ‘Sometimes I think, yeah, that’s what I want – but you can’t look for it. It’s got to find you. I saw this girl one time on the freeway and she saw me and we both pulled over and ended up going out for a year.’
Not all his assignations are so charming. When dining at a Hollywood restaurant with some caddish companions, he took a female admirer off to the washroom after being introduced to her just 15 minutes earlier. He came back to his table grinning and soaking up the laddish applause and then all but ignored his latest conquest for the rest of the evening before leaving without saying goodbye to her.
‘It’s difficult with girlfriends,’ he says ploddingly, in his barely audible bass, ‘because I will go to a premiere and when I get home she asks, “What’s the matter?” and I say, “I just signed a hundred autographs” and she doesn’t know how I feel about that. That’s why a lot of actors end up going out with actresses. I don’t know what she wants me to say, “I’m a freak?” My shoulder hurts, I feel mortal. Yet I have people screaming at me and I think, “What’s real and what’s not real?”’
A fine example of this state of unreality could be witnessed on a visit he made to London in April. He was with the cast of Friends, filming an hour-long special which included a chance meeting with the Duchess of York. Friends-mania ensued, with British fans following the cast everywhere, waiting at the airport, and camping outside their hotel.
Refreshingly, Le Blanc is under no illusion that he is adored by his female fans simply for his acting ability. His foppish black hair, bee-strung lips and wing-mirror cheekbones also enter into the equation. Much to his chagrin, the same features seem to appeal to men, too – which is why this high-testosterone, all-American heterosexual has become a gay icon. A photo of him even appeared on the cover of Spartacus: International Gay Guide for Men. He went to court to stop further copies being printed. It has since become a collector’s item.
This said, there is no denying his gifts as a comic actor. His timing and delivery are good. But his theorising about them is less so. In an eerie echo of the sort of cool and opaque self-analysis you would associate with his new best friend the Dunchess of York, he says of his acting technique that it’s really just a matter of thinking of himself as a dozen eggs. To do Friends he takes eggs two, four, six and eight. To do something different, maybe he would use eggs one, three, seven, nine and twelve.
Presumably for his first starring role in a $90 million Hollywood film, he has utilised eggs five, ten and eleven. In Lost in Space, which opens this summer and co-stars William Hurt, he plays the hero, a clever, ruthless engineer who saves the spaceship from the on-board psychopath, played by Gary Oldman. He says that he is surprised to find himself being cast in such a major film, alongside such distinguished actors, but he can at least relate to Gary Oldman in terms of his wild, hard-drinking life as well as the hardship of his upbringing. Matt Le Blanc was an only child brought up by his divorced mother, Pat Grossman, who worked in a factory making circuit boards. The young Matt knew that his father had gone to Vietnam but had been too frightened to ask his mother whether or not he had been killed there – because she made it clear she did not want to talk about him. ‘Ours was a blue-collar, Italian-American household in Newton, Massachusetts,’ he says. ‘I met my father when I was eight. Ran down the stairs and there was this guy wearing army fatigues with long hair. He looked like Jesus Christ and I could see Le Blanc on his shirt. But he never came home to stay and my mother remarried. Am I in touch with him? Yes and no. It’s a sore issue though, and I don’t really want to talk about it. The way I am is because of my mom, not my dad. She was there always, always, always.’
Le Blanc’s first job was a paper round, then he stacked shelves in a convenience store and worked in a burger bar. He had, he says, no real ambitions. He enrolled on a construction and technology course only to drop out of it soon after. He never studied at drama school but was spotted one day in the street by a woman and asked to try modelling. This lead to him appearing in a series of high-profile TV commercials for Heinz ketchup, Coca Cola and, most notably, as the Levi’s 501 man. His attempts to get into acting were less smooth. He spent a year in New York looking for work and even had to sell his furniture to pay for food. ‘I kept looking at other actors and saying, ‘What’s he got that I ain’t got? Some fancy drama-school diploma? I know I will never be the best actor in the world. But then, I don’t see it as a race to the top.’ Eventually he landed some small parts in soaps and sitcoms, and then in 1994 came the big one, Friends, which soon went to number one in the ratings in Britain and America.
While most American television comedies are pitiful and cringe-making, over the years a handful have been outstandingly well-honed: M+A+S+H, Taxi, Cheers and Frasier. Friends, with its crisp metropolitan humour, is in this category. And as the self-obsessed, dim-witted but amiable womaniser Joey Trebbiani, Matt le Blanc gets some corking lines. ‘Do you know what blows my mind?’ he’ll muse. ‘Women can see their breasts any time they want. How they get any work done is beyond me.’ Or when giving advice on dating he will say, ‘Why do you have to break up with her? Be a man and just stop phoning.’
In terms of delivery, of course, it helps that in real life Matt Le Blanc himself seems to be a self-obsessed, dim-witted but amiable womaniser. I had heard reports of his reputation as being the moody one among the cast of Friends and of his prima donna-ish behaviour, but there is none of that this evening, and when the conversation turns to his favourite pastime – snowboarding – he seems positively animated. Any dangerous sport will do, in fact. He collects fast cars and motorbikes and says, ‘I’m an adrenaline junkie. Love speed. I ski-dived – ski-dove? – as well. It’s like banging your head against a wall just because it feels so good when you stop.’ He pauses, ‘God, I’ve had a brain failure, where was I going with that thought? Oh, here we go; afterwards it’s so life-affirming. ‘Oh man, you think. I’m still alive. Wow!”
The restaurant is on the ground floor of the Four Seasons, the hotel where my wife and I are staying. She has declined my suggestion that she join us for a drink after dinner because she thinks Le Blanc will think that she, like every red-blooded female, must be desperate to meet him – and she does not carry out her threat to approach us at the bar, pretend not to know me, turn her back on Le Blanc and chat me up. We are joined instead after dinner, by a female friend of Le Blanc, who is also a friend of Kirstie Alley, and by one of his snowboarding chums – who has the obligatory permatan, dazzling white teeth and chiselled jaw. A lissom young woman with dyed blond hair and a spray-on skirt approaches and introduces herself to Le Blanc. He says hello rather curtly and then turns back to his friend to continue their analysis of a recent snowboard jump they have done. Another woman, almost identical, approaches and says that she cannot believe it is him and that if she had known he would be here tonight she would have worn more make-up. Ignored she goes away and another, with long black hair this time, approaches, giggles flirtatiously, and says she is called Melody or Misty, or one of those Californian names. She hangs around for a few seconds, ignoring Le Blanc’s peeved expressions, and says that she is sitting at a table in the corner if he fancies company later. Over the next hour or so about half a dozen more long-limbed women do the same thing.
Good grief.
In January, a law was passed in California banning smoking in restaurants and bars. Le Blanc and his chum head for the French windows that lead out on to a garden to have a smoke. Two skeletal pouting blondes appear from nowhere and make for the door with such indecent haste that the fronds on a nearby rubber plant bend over in their slipstream. I watch their body language as they ask Le Blanc for a light. It’s not subtle. I assume that this is the last I will see of the actor. But small talk over, cigarettes stubbed out, he and his friend mosey back over. I ask what he thought of the girls who had followed him out. He shakes his head wearily and sighs, ‘They’re not exactly rocket scientists.’
Well, I suppose by his standards the night is young. They are about to head off to hear a guitarist they know play in a nearby club. Kirstie Alley is going to be there, apparently. I’m welcome to join them, to discuss the latest developments in Space Shuttle heat-shield technology, presumably. I thank them awfully, yawn conspicuously, look at my watch and, like a goddam English stuffed shirt decline.


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.