He’s compared a fellow politician to a ‘damp rag’, had an extra-marital fling – and survived a plane crash. How facing death has softened the UKIP leader – a little…

Even Nigel Farage’s enemies, of which he has an impressive collection, would have to admit that he has the recognition factor. Whether he is appearing on Have I Got News For You or becoming a YouTube hit after abusing the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, telling him that he has ‘the charisma of a damp rag’, among other ripe comments, the 46-year-old UK Independence Party MEP knows how to get noticed.

Sometimes it’s for the wrong reasons, such as when he had an extramarital fling, or claimed £2million worth of EU expenses over 10 years ‘to prove a point’, but he seems to take the Wildean view that, for a politician at least, there is only one thing worse than being talked about…

Today he stands out because he is the only man in this country pub in Kent, his local, wearing a silk-lined suit and tie and, generally, looking like a commodity broker, which is what he used to be. (Tin and cocoa.) He has lived here, not far from the Battle of Britain airfield Biggin Hill, all his life.

‘I was christened in that church,’ he says gesturing at the spire outside. ‘You can be rooted, have a sense of where you come from and what your values are, without being parochial.’

His recognisability is one of the reasons why, when Lord Pearson resigned as leader of Ukip in August, all eyes turned to Farage. He had done the job before, resigning last year so that he could concentrate on trying to win a seat in Westminster. Ignoring the convention that the Speaker is normally returned unopposed, Farage stood against John Bercow and lost.

‘The one thing I couldn’t know was whether Cameron would endorse him,’ he says with elongated vowels that are a little like those of Frankie Howerd. ‘I thought he wouldn’t. I was wrong. I take chances. I rush into things. But I don’t regret things.’

Last week Farage was re-elected as leader of Ukip. His message to his troops, he says, is that they need to be more disciplined and better funded. Intriguingly, he compares Ukip to the Tea Party. ‘We’re not religious like they are and we’re not affiliated to the equivalent of the Republican Party, but in terms of the howls we hear from people who feel outraged that their voice is not being heard in Westminster, there is a comparison.’

Though Farage can rarely be accused of avoiding confrontation, he did brood long and hard over whether or not to stand as leader. ‘The internal squabbling can be very tiresome,’ he says. ‘But so many young people have told me I was the reason they joined the party that I feel it is my duty. But the main consideration, the reason I hesitated, was that I am still recovering from a pretty major accident.’

The qualifying ‘pretty’ doesn’t give quite the whole picture. On the day of the General Election in May, Farage even managed to upstage David Cameron when the two-seater plane he was flying in got tangled in the Ukip banner it was trailing and crashed shortly after take-off from an airfield in Northamptonshire.

Does he get flashbacks? ‘Sometimes.’ Trouble sleeping? ‘Never slept before, so that’s OK. It does come back to me occasionally. It wasn’t a good position to be in.’ He had a relatively long time to contemplate his fate that day. ‘I had about four or five minutes of staring death in the face. You almost adopt the 1916 subaltern mentality: if it’s going to happen, let’s get it over with quickly.

‘When the pilot said to me: “Nigel, this is an emergency”, I knew exactly what that meant. I could see the sweat on his temples and I could see him fighting to keep control. He said to me a couple of weeks afterwards that I had been very calm, but what else was I supposed to do? I reasoned that he didn’t want to die any more than I did, so if I was panicking or making calls on my mobile that would just make the difficult job the pilot had harder.’

If he had called someone it would have been his wife presumably? ‘Presumably, yes,’ he says with a laugh.

For all his epic rudeness on the political stage, Farage, in person, is a cheerful soul who laughs a lot and has a toothy cartoonish smile. He has something that he claims Van Rompuy lacks: charisma. But he seems to have no self-pity.

He remembers tightening his seat belt as the plane went into a dive. ‘The slowest bit was the time between the nose hitting and the plane rolling over, it must have taken three quarters of a second, yet I remember it vividly, that feeling of time slowing down. I can still hear that noise.

‘Bang! And as we were going over there was a flash of light and I remember thinking with shock: “My God! I’m still alive!”’ Then he realised he was trapped upside down in the wreckage. ‘Horribly disorientating. I could feel my chest was smashed in.’ (Later it emerged that his sternum and ribs were broken, and his lung punctured.) ‘Then I thought, I’m going to burn to death because I was covered in petrol, in my hair, everywhere and that was pretty scary I tell you. When the rescuers came and asked me calmly if I was all right they got an earful of Anglo Saxon!’

A photograph of Farage trapped in the wreckage, and another of him looking bloodied and dazed as he stood up for the first time soon swept the internet. Simon Pegg, star of the spoof zombie movie Shaun of the Dead, was joking, within hours, that there had been a swing to the Zombie Party.

Did that upset Farage? ‘No. I wasn’t bothered about it. Those photos capture the feeling of being smashed. They were quite intrusive though and if I had died there would have been a hell of a row. If I’d snuffed it in the ambulance. But I didn’t die, so there you are.’

Does he feel almost invincible now? ‘Well, I’ve had testicular cancer and been in a big car crash before but that was when I was younger. Look.’ He rolls up his trousers and points to a bulge of bone under the skin on his leg. ‘It was easier to bounce back from that.’ As for the cancer, which led to one of his testicles being removed, he says he doesn’t find it uncomfortable to talk about.

‘In fact, I think the more men avoid talking about it the more dangerous it is. But this plane crash was different. I have to be realistic. The back is really not good. It is hard getting through a long day. I look all right. I’ve lost weight. Got a bit of a suntan, but when I wake up in the morning and try and put my socks on, I am quickly reminded of what happened.’

He says his approach, now that he has been re-elected as leader of Ukip, will be that of the older boxer. ‘I won’t be as fast but I will be able to box cleverer. Mentally, I feel fine, though I dare say there are those who would question what my mental health was like before the accident!’ The raucous laugh again.

One way in which the accident changed him, he says, is that he thinks he is less impulsive now, less bullish. ‘And less ebullient. That has been tempered. I have been thinking about that because I have always been the most ridiculous optimist. When I was in the City I always thought the next trade would be the big one.’

Did he take stock of his life in those four minutes? He nods thoughtfully. ‘I did think, why is this happening to me? Have I been that awful?’

And did he conclude that he has led a good life? He thinks long and hard before answering, which is not typical. He is never normally lost for words, as those who have been on the receiving end of his articulate and often amusing tirades in Brussels know well.

‘I’ve never really set out to hurt anybody either physically or mentally,’ he says eventually. ‘Not really. Never stolen anything. I think I’ve been reasonably honest. Is that leading a good life? You can regret you didn’t do more for your children but, on balance, I think I’ve tried to do what I thought was right. I don’t feel ashamed of the life I have led.’

Broadsheet readers may have missed reading about it, but in 2006, Farage, who has been married twice and has four children, became the target of a tabloid kiss-and-tell when a woman from Latvia claimed she met him in a pub in Biggin Hill and then ended up back at her place having sex ‘at least seven times’.

The revelation led to the joke ‘Ukip if you want to’. So. The extramarital affair?

‘Well, we’re all human. There is a big difference between that sort of thing and being really bad.’ And the expenses scandal? ‘Well, that was nonsense. I was trying to make a point about the Brussels gravy train, but it didn’t work. None of it went to me. Most of it went on my staff, on administration.’

And the accusations of racism? I remind him of David Cameron’s dismissal of Ukip as ‘fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists’. ‘Yeah we constantly have to fight against that prejudice. It was a bloody stupid thing for him to say and he’s never repeated it.

‘What he was doing was insulting his own party because most of his members broadly agree with what we are saying about Europe, people like Norman Tebbit, who is very popular within the Tory Party.’

Has Farage ever used the N-word? ‘Not since I was 15, a kid in the playground at school when you were all roundly abusing one another. No, that was a myth put about by Dr Sked [disenchanted Ukip founder Alan Sked].’

The mainstream parties may unite in their attacks on Ukip, ‘the BNP in Blazers’ is one of the insults, but, as Farage notes, much of the abuse directed at the party comes from within. The most spectacular bit of in-fighting was started by Robert Kilroy-Silk after he attempted a coup and then left Ukip in a huff to set up his own party, Veritas.

Kilroy-Silk described Ukip as ‘Right-wing fascist nutters’. Farage, in turn, dismissed Kilroy-Silk as a vain, orange buffoon and a ‘monster’.

At this point in the interview, Farage asks me: ‘We are the same age, how did you find growing up in the Seventies with the initials NF?’ It is my turn to laugh. Yes, I agree, they were unfortunate initials, but growing up in rural Yorkshire they probably didn’t hold as much significance as they would have done for him growing up in south London.

‘Yes, I was very aware of them because I was at school not far from Brixton. [At Dulwich.] During the Brixton Riots the police used our school as their headquarters.’

But let us return to the question about his leading a good life. He has an unusually laddish reputation for a politician. Does he feel this compromises him politically? What, for example, about his professed penchant for lap dancing clubs?

‘Lap dancing? Don’t have the time these days, but I used to go to them. Like it or not, they are a fact of life. You are talking about normal behaviour there. Everyone does it.’

Do they? I never have. ‘Why not?’ Because it’s exploitative, demeaning for both parties and tantamount to prostitution.

‘Prostitution and lap dancing are not the same thing, they can be but not usually.’ But aren’t conservative-minded politicians like him supposed to believe in family values?

‘Yes, but I am also a libertarian. I think prostitution, for instance, should be decriminalised and regulated. I feel that about drugs, too. I don’t do them myself but I think the war on drugs does more harm than the drugs themselves. I am opposed to the hunting ban and the smoking ban, too. What have they got to do with government? The one thing I cannot be accused of is hypocrisy.’

Even though his extreme libertarianism must have frightened the Tory horses, he was, nevertheless, once offered a safe Tory seat. ‘It wouldn’t have worked though, would it? I wouldn’t have lasted a fortnight before having the Tory whip removed. Besides, I think I’ve managed to do more outside the Tory Party than in.’

He did start out as a Tory though. Indeed, being an aspiring Thatcherite he chose not to go down the university route, preferring instead to follow his father into the City and make his fortune. He worked there for almost 20 years before having a political epiphany the night Britain joined the ERM in 1990.

‘I was convinced it was the wrong thing to do.’ Then came the overthrow of Margaret Thatcher. ‘The way those gutless, spineless people got rid of the woman they owed everything to made me so angry. I was a monster fan of Mrs Thatcher. Monster. Hers was the age of aspiration, it wasn’t about class.’

The final straw for him was Maastricht. ‘I really worried. And I realised the views I heard in here, in this pub, weren’t being represented in Westminster. That was when I thought it was time I should enter politics and try to do something about it.’

He insists, though, that he is not a little Englander who is against foreigners per se, not least because his second wife, Kirsten, is German and their two young children are, or will be, bilingual.

But for all that, he does represent a party in the European Parliament whose sole desire is to get Britain out of the EU. And they have had some modest success. In the last Euro elections they did take nine seats in Brussels, which meant they beat Labour and the Lib Dems.

But now that the single currency has come unstuck, I ask, isn’t the war over? ‘Well, thank God it has collapsed,’ he says. ‘I used to wear the pound sign in my lapel every day but now I don’t. But this isn’t about the single currency anymore. The debate has moved on. It’s about taking back control over your working lives from Brussels.

‘Every day ordinary life in this country is affected by our EU membership, ordinary trades, not just farmers and fishermen. Nearly all our laws and regulations are now made for us in Brussels. And not only that, our membership of the EU costs us £40million a day.’

It is time to reload, his expression for a refill. How much does he drink? ‘That’s been diminishing for 20 years. Attitudes have changed. Because I like a couple of drinks with my lunch I am considered strange.’ Has he ever worried about alcoholism? His father, after all, had a drinking problem. ‘I’m lucky. I’m one of those people who can take it or leave it,’ he says.

In the pub, the locals all seem to know him. We talk about the recognition factor again and note that, such is the level of public ignorance or indifference about politics and politicians in this country, surveys show that there are even some voters who cannot say who the prime minister is.

Farage says this does not surprise him. ‘I mean, who is Cameron? What does he stand for? He’s so bland.’ He’s laughing as he says it.

‘Actually, he and I get on OK. We joined parliament at the same time and were on the same South East news programmes circuit. He was always nicking cigarettes off me. And he was the first person to send me a note after my accident. Same day. I really appreciated that.’

This makes you wonder whether Farage’s accident has mellowed him. After all, calling Cameron bland hardly counts as an insult by his standards. Ask van Rompuy. He probably still wakes up in a cold sweat at three in the morning thinking about the abuse he received from Farage on the floor of the European Council.

Rumpy, as Farage calls him, looked stunned at the time. ‘I just wanted to ask him who he was?’ Farage now recalls. ‘Who voted for him? I don’t use a script and the line about him having the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk came to me while I was listening to his speech.’

He used to think he was wasting his time there, doing those speeches in a parliament no one covers. ‘But then the YouTube thing has given me a new lease of life. It reaches big audiences.’

It sure does. One of the sites showing that clip has received around half a million hits and a clip of Farage putting the boot into Gordon Brown, also at the European Parliament, has had a quarter of a million visits.

‘Oh yes, well, Brown,’ he says. ‘Good God. He has no social graces. A non-person.’ So if Cameron goes to speak at Brussels as Brown did, should he expect a Farage barrage? ‘Bloody right. That’s what I’m there for. That’s what they vote for me for, to provide some entertainment. With the European Parliament stuff, I have tried to make it entertaining.’

Intriguingly, if you look on European versions of YouTube you will see Farage is always given the title ‘Oppositionführer’. ‘I know, I know,’ he says. ‘Great fun. It just means leader of the opposition.’ Would the Oppositionführer say he is now more recognisable in Brussels than the Führer, van Rompuy? ‘I don’t know about that, but if I am recognisable it is only because the others are so bloody awful, not because I’m good.’

He can still dish it out, it seems, post accident, and when I ask whether he can still take it he laughs again. ‘Whatever Mickey-taking you get on programmes like Have I Got News For You it is as nothing compared to leaving public school and going to work on the London Metal Exchange. There it was vicious, all day every day.’

He doesn’t want to go back to that old life, he adds, even if his new life does sometimes bring him unwanted attention. ‘The recognition is great until you are on the last train home on a Friday night,’ he says. ‘It’s the classic ‘‘I know you” moment. And there’s nowhere to hide! Generally when people do the ‘‘good on ya mate’’ it’s from people you are happy to have it from, cab drivers and so on.

But on that train when people have had a few drinks…’ He drains his glass, slams it down on the table and laughs again. Bloodied but unbowed.


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.