"Orange British Academy Film Awards"  in LondonHe’s a restless man, Mick Jagger. Having risen from his sofa to check for texts on his mobile, he sits bonelessly back down, tucks his legs underneath him, ploughs his hands up through his thick, glossy hair and then rises once more, this time to offer me a glass for my miniature bottle of Perrier – ‘We are very civilised here,’ he says in that distinctively slurring, camply over-enunciated voice. ‘Very, very civilised.’
‘Here’ is a high school in Toronto which the Rolling Stones have ‘commandeered’ for rehearsals. They are about to begin a year-long world tour, and the band members are arriving for an evening practice session. Jagger’s children are also assembling, across town. I’m not sure which ones – he has seven, by four different mothers – but this may account for his air of distraction. ‘They’ll be touching down any minute,’ he says. ‘I expect they will turn up looking rather sleepy. They love being on tour with me. Always moving. Never bored.’
The same cannot be said for Jagger himself. It is easy enough to engage him with small talk about cricket. He is a member of MCC and has been following the Ashes on his laptop – ‘That Glenn McGrath, what a bastard.’ History, too, is a subject which animates him. He is reading Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s new biography of Mao and he leans forward and widens his eyes when we discuss it.
But when we turn to his own history, his eyes flit impatiently and his body goes limp with tedium. And when I ask those questions a conscientious interviewer ought to ask – about his notorious womanising, his reputation for miserliness, his alleged snobbery – he makes the face of a man asked to fill out a long insurance form.
This is to come. For now, though, I am struck by how tired he seems. As well he might. After all, he may be a rock star, and a grand bohemian, but he is also a 62-year-old grandfather. I tell him I feel exhausted just reading his schedule. ‘Me too,’ he says with a grin.
‘I do this thing where I have to decide where we move, from A to B to C, looking at flight times, and I was so tired after doing it for an hour I had to have a lie down.’ His eyes disappear as he laughs. ‘It’s always show, go to bed, get up, fly for two hours, show. Relentless.’
When I note that his stage performance – all that strutting, shimmy-ing, flapping – has been compared to running a half-marathon every night, he corrects, ‘I think it’s closer to playing five sets of tennis.’ Does he, though, have the normal aches and pains a 62-year-old might be expected to have in the morning? ‘No, I don’t ache anywhere. But on tour you do have little injuries. Inevitably. And I do feel tired, even on my days off. Travelling is tiring, even if the way we travel is luxurious [this is said in a northern accent, for comic effect]. It is luxury, but it is relentless luxury. It is tiring having to meet people all the time and be nice to them.’
It is hard to say whether, close up, Jagger looks his age. Those famous lips are not as rubbery as once they were, and their improbable contours are now framed by pleats of skin, deep laughter lines and corrugations. But he has clear eyes, and an athletic, if wiry, frame, which exaggerates the size of his head. Clearly he has great respect for his own health – he has a personal trainer, wears earplugs on stage, tries to get a full eight hours sleep. Is this, I ask, a legacy from his father (a 93-year-old retired PE teacher)? ‘Yeah, he totally drilled it into me to look after myself from a very early age. He brainwashed me. I’m an assiduous trainer and I’ve been training since 1970, so it’s nothing new.’
Although Keith Richards goes easy on the drugs these days – he once famously said that ‘cold turkey is not so bad after you’ve done it ten or 12 times’ – he is still a hard drinker. Jagger, by contrast, forgoes alcohol when on tour and was always the most cautious member of the Stones when it came to experimentation with drugs – he is the only member of the band not to have succumbed, at one time or another, to chronic drug addiction. When I ask about this, he becomes a little defensive.
‘I had my days of that, when I was young. Maybe I stopped at the right time. Drug-taking is like smoking. Most people get to a point where they feel they have smoked enough. They say, “Yeah, I’ve done that.”‘
The start of a Stones tour is always accompanied by jokes about Zimmer frames. Does he consider such comments ageist? ‘Well, I’ve heard them all before. Not original and not paaaarticularly funny. Not fair either. If we were being wheeled on, it would be appropriate. The comedians who make these jokes would have heart attacks if they did what we do.’
(The written word, by the way, cannot convey the tone of voice in which these things are said. Jagger has an odd, nasal timbre: yodelling from a flat, back-of-the-throat growl to a high pitch in the same sentence, like an adolescent whose voice is breaking. And there is laughter behind this voice, below the surface.)
To accompany their tour, the Stones are about to release a new studio album, A Bigger Bang. The songs, as ever, are Jagger-Richards compositions. Is it fear of stopping that motivates him to go on song-writing, recording and touring; fear that he will suddenly feel old if he stops,
I mean? ‘There is something to be said for working to keep yourself going. I’m not a workaholic, but when you are in this business you have to work hard. It’s not a gentle plod.’ He tugs at his hair. ‘You do find that your friends are left out a bit, though. You have to pick up your friendships later on.’ He has to be quite ruthless in that respect? ‘Well, you just are. Your friends are somewhere else and you don’t see them. Your children suffer a bit, too.’
I tell him I recently watched a documentary about Hitler and was struck by the way he controlled a crowd. There were similarities with the way Jagger does it: staring at people, jutting out the chin, theatrically waving his arms in order to mesmerise. ‘Hopefully, my crowd is more benign,’ he says. ‘I’ve seen the Hitler footage and it’s all about repetition and cajoling, getting the crowd to believe these things, none of which is particularly pleasant – you know, sacrifice for the greater good of the German Volk.
“Hitler was obviously a brilliant crowd-manipulator, but he wasn’t asking them to enjoy themselves very much, as far as I can see. All I want is for the crowd to have fun. There is a three-hour sense of community to be had. As the singer, I guess I’m the catalyst for that, the point of empathy. You lead the audience, you cajole and praise and give them the songs they want. It’s pleasurable, but it’s also quite scary. Your body is running a lot of chemicals. Dopamine. Adrenaline.’
Recalling pictures of Jagger from the 1970s, wearing clinging trousers and looking like he is, as it were, pleased to see the crowd, I ask if the experience of performance is for him sexual. ‘It’s not really sexual, no. Exhilarating. It’s more like the kind of buzz that you might get from sprinting.’
It is thought that since 1989 the Stones tours have grossed £1.2 billion. Is that the motivation? ‘A tour does generate a lot of money, it’s true. But would I do it for no money? Yes, I probably would.’
When not touring, Jagger divides his time between his houses in London (Richmond), New York, the Loire Valley and Mustique. He is estimated to be worth £180 million but this is little more than guesswork. Does he even known how much he is worth? ‘Not down to the last penny but, broadly speaking, yes. People like to know how much they are worth. I mean, they make out they don’t know, because they are artists who are above all that stuff. But I think they always know.’
Jagger was still a student reading economics at the LSE when the Rolling Stones had their first taste of fame in the early 1960s. This may partly explain his formidable business acumen. But what about his reputation for parsimony? Jerry Hall, the mother of four of his children, has complained about how he insisted she take minicabs (they had a ‘friendly divorce’ and, when in London, they still share a double-winged house with connecting doors).
Jagger’s chauffeur, meanwhile, recalled how Jagger once complained about the cost of hay-fever pills in Britain – he waited to go to America to buy them instead. ‘I’m not at all stingy,’ Jagger counters when I ask about this. ‘I don’t know what that reputation is all about, really. On the other hand, no one likes to pay more for things than they are worth. My early childhood memories are of rationing and so I am frugal, and I do look down on people who waste things. I always turn the lights out. None of my American friends turn anything off. TVs run all night.’
The answer is endearing, especially given that, once upon a time, the Rolling Stones were a byword for sexual and chemical gluttony, for decadence, for depravity. There was, lest we forget, a dark side to the Stones: they flirted with devil worship; they fired their guitarist and shortly afterwards he was found dead in a pool; at one of their concerts, Hell’s Angels murdered a member of the audience.
One biographer, Albert Goldman, memorably described the band as having ‘a public image of sado-homosexual-junkie-diabolic-sarcastic-nigger-evil unprecedented in the annals of pop culture.’ Now some critics suggest that the Stones have become a parody of their former dangerous selves – and Jagger especially has become a pantomime dame, or rather knight.
This change in image was well illustrated recently by a front-page story in a broadsheet newspaper. It showed a picture of Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull emerging from court in 1969, after facing drugs charges. New files released by the Public Record Office detail how, at the time, Jagger had alleged the police had planted the drugs. I hand a copy of the paper to him. ‘Yeah, I did read that, online,’ he says. ‘Marianne in white tights.’ He reads the headline in an aristocratic voice: ‘when a knight of the realm was the dregs of society. Actually, when you read the piece, it doesn’t say the police thought I was the dregs of society, it says some of the people they interviewed in my case were the dregs.’
But he was, by common consent, a ‘threat to society’, and today he is a knight of the realm. Not only that, we now have a prime minister who, as the long-haired front man for Ugly Rumours, used to model himself on Mick Jagger. Does he find all this a bit bizarre? ‘Yeah, that is a bit freaky, but it’s what happens. I’m used to it. It’s part of getting older and having people grow up with you.’
Did he have to do much soul-searching last year before accepting his knighthood? ‘No. It was a nice thing to be offered and I don’t think it would have been good manners to decline it. I tried not to make a fuss about it. That would have been naff. No one calls me Sir Mick. I never ask them to and I don’t have it on my letter headings, unlike some people. It annoys me when people do that. Certain famous actors.’
Keith Richards went beserk. ‘I thought it was ludicrous of Mick to take one of those gongs from the establishment,’ he said, ‘when they did their best to throw us in jail. It’s a f-ing paltry honour. If he’s into that s-, he should hang on for the peerage.’ Jagger laughs when I quote this to him: ‘Just ’cause he didn’t get it himself. Pretty obvious, really.’
I also quote something Marianne Faithfull said, that Jagger is ‘a tremendous snob who always craved a knighthood’. ‘I never heard her say that about me,’ he says. ‘But I know she’d love to be a dame, more than anything else. But she’s not really dame material.’
It is telling that Jagger cannot see that his fellow heroes of the counter-culture might genuinely think it indecorous to go around accepting knighthoods. Still, we have moved on to the subject of Jagger’s women. Three in particular bestride the decades: Marianne in the 1960s, Bianca in the 1970s and Jerry in the 1980s and 1990s. When I observe that they all capitalised well on the fame they found through him, he says, ‘Yeah, they made a good fist of it, one way and another.’ Hall has said that in her 23 years with Jagger she was ‘constantly trying to forestall his affairs’.
He has said in mitigation that he thinks ‘monogamy is not for everyone’. Their marriage eventually foundered after the revelation that Jagger had fathered a child by Luciana Morad, a Brazilian model. That was three years ago and, since then, Jagger has been with L’Wren Scott, a tall, dark-haired, Los Angeles-based stylist.
I ask about the groupie years, presuming he can’t remember much about them. ‘I can remember everything,’ he says carefully. ‘But I’m not going to talk about them.’
Bill Wyman claimed he slept with 2,000 women during his time with the Stones. Does Jagger known how many he slept with? ‘Noooo, we don’t talk about things like that in The Sunday Telegraph. That’s News of the World.’ He rolls his eyes, folds his arms, stares at me.
A less vulgar question, then. How many times has he been in love? ‘Oh don’t. Don’t go there with the love question.’
The longest love affair, or relationship at least, has been with Keith Richards, has it not? ‘Well, one can have old friends,’ he says. ‘It’s nice to have old friends. Keith is certainly the oldest friend.’
They first met in the sandpit at their primary school in Kent. Charlie Watts said recently, ‘You can’t come between them. You hit an invisible wall. They don’t want anyone else in there. They are like brothers, always arguing but always getting on.’ Keith Richards, meanwhile, has said that their friendship ‘exists on the basis of a certain amount of space: I have a feeling that I’m not supposed to have any friend except him. He doesn’t have many close male friends apart from me, and he keeps me at a distance. Mick is very difficult to  reach.’
When I throw these insightful quotes open to discussion, Jagger sighs. ‘First of all, Keith is not my brother. I have my own brother who I’m very close to. Keith’s like a friend and songwriting partner. He sees things differently because he’s an only child. Also, he’s an inward person, whereas I’m gregarious.’
There is a lyric on the new Stones album which sounds autobiographical to me: ‘I feel like an actor looking for a role.’ Is this the closest Jagger comes to self-revelation? ‘Well, I’m not going to tell you how many times I’ve been in love, if that’s what you mean. I don’t like to be too confessional. You have to keep something private, otherwise you’d go mad.’
It’s a dignified answer. Critics often call Jagger ‘narcissistic’. His friends say he is a ‘chameleon’. Marianne Faithfull described him as ‘a hollow, voracious entity that constantly needed to replenish itself with things, people, ideas’. How does he see himself? ‘I don’t know how I’d begin describing myself to you.’ Single-minded? ‘Yes, but without being ruthless, that word you used earlier. I have great attention to detail, without being excessive. I like to control, but I also like to delegate. I’m not given to melancholy. I have down  moments, but I don’t give in to them.’
A gathering of contradictions, then. Is he contemplative? ‘Not enough. I’m not a brooder.’ He does keep a diary, he says, and when I note that Bill Wyman always claimed he was ‘the Stones’ diarist’, Jagger laughs scornfully and does another impersonation: ‘Dear diary, went out and bought a packet of fags. Came home.’
He is also a keen photographer and, touchingly, when I ask if it is hard for him to see all those photographs of his youthful, androgynous, photogenic self, he says: ‘Yes, it is, but now I see my son James as that person. Which is nice. He’s that age.’
His children, he says, are his chief pleasure in life. ‘I speak to them most days. They keep me on my toes. They broaden my interests, just as I broaden theirs. It’s a good interchange of ideas.’
I ask what values he, as a paragon of rebelliousness, is able to instil in them. ‘I don’t think they take any of that in at all. Children see you as a parent first and someone famous afterwards. I’m always telling them the codes I live by and the things society expects. But they are nowhere near as rude and rebellious as I was. As a parent I’m probably not strict enough with them. Then again, Gabriel is always saying, “There are sooo many rules.”
And I say, “There just are so many rules, and here’s another one…”‘ Jagger jumps up from the sofa. ‘Now, let me check my messages.’ He reads one out: ‘Kids just left airport. 17.30.’ He turns to me. ‘Are we nearly finished?’ Before I can answer he adds, ‘I think so.’
(Telegraph, 2005)


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.