The mother of three – mild -mannered, tall, greying Louise Brooks bob – is wondering whether she should really be telling me all this: about how she met her husband when they were both Trotskyite students at York University in the early Seventies; how they lived together before getting married in 1983; how they moved here, to this leafy suburb of Oxford, 15 years ago when their first child was born and she decided to give up her job as a solicitor; how they first became disillusioned with socialism after an ill-mannered IRA-supporter threatened to push her husband’s teeth down his throat at a Labour Party meeting. Is it wise? Perhaps not, but something’s got to kill the time. It’s a sticky hot day. No breeze. I am sitting nursing a lime cordial. Eve Ross Hitchens – she kept her maiden name as a middle name – is standing, rocking her three-month-old baby in her arms. We both check our watches surreptitiously. So far, her husband, the right-wing pundit Peter Hitchens, has been gone an hour – the Telegraph’s photographer took him off in search of a hillside with views over Oxford.
I crack my knuckles. Mrs Hitchens offers me another lime juice. We smile politely at each other and incline our wrists slightly to check the time, again. I try to imagine what it must be like being married to Peter Hitchens. He could hate for Britain. He hates Tony Blair. He hates John Major. He hates television. On his twice-weekly programme on Talk Radio, and in the pages of the Daily Express, where he has worked since 1977, Peter Hitchens never tires of conveying his hatred of the single currency and the promotion of homosexuality and single mothers. He wants to bring back hanging  – as well as the firm hand of the Establishment, Anglican values and a sense of pride in British history. Above all, he believes the victory of the liberal progressive Left in the Sixties left Britain in a moral vacuum – and that the only way we as a society can get ourselves out of it is by recognising the importance of the family. Which is sort of what John Major used to say. And Tony Blair still does.
Just imagine being married to Peter Hitchens, then. Imagine having your marriage held up as the socio-political ideal. How does Eve cope? ‘I don’t like to dwell on it too much,’ she says with an apprehensive smile. ‘I feel a bit superstitious about it actually  – in case our marriage suddenly falls apart. But you have to understand that my husband only says these things because he cares very passionately about them.’
The passion is not immediately apparent as Peter Hitchens returns – phew – and sits down on the sofa opposite. Nor is the expected severity. He seems calm, relaxed and, if anything, jovial. He has a toothy, boyish smile. And he lolls a bit, rather than sitting ramrod-backed. In conversation he doesn’t rant so much as express himself articulately with polite assertion in a tone only occasionally bordering on the indignant.
There is something quite intense about his manner and appearance, though  – the bristling Jack Russell, testing the air for a rabbit or a rat. He has a short back and sides, big intense eyes and big intense eyebrows to match. He wears a blue, open-neck shirt but no tie – which is surprising, given his belief that the rot set in when gentlemen stopped wearing them, at all times, even weekends.
We are having one of those enjoyable exchanges about the good old days that only people too young to remember them can have. Things were a damn sight better then. In the days before the country went to the dogs.  Oh yes. ‘If we had managed to combine the prosperity we have now with the moral structure and security and restraint and good behaviour which were commonplace 40 years ago, we would be much better off,’ Hitchens concludes in a rich, measured, World Service baritone. ‘People could think for themselves then. A lot of young people today are living dismal lives because their lives are empty of meaning and moral purpose…’ And so on.
I nod. He’s very persuasive. But so he should be. This, after all, is the theme of the book he has just written. The Abolition of Britain, published this week, is a full-length indictment of modern Britain and the profound changes which threaten its existence. It says so on the back cover. I might add that it is also carefully researched, thought-provoking and really rather lyrical. But there are some wrinkles. Surely the majority of the population must have been just as blandly conformist and unquestioning 40 years ago as they are today, certainly in the way they dressed and behaved? Hitchens folds his arms, shakes his head and sighs.
‘To imagine there was nothing wrong then would be absurd,’ he says. ‘Of course. Half the changes that happened in the Sixties happened because people were discontented. But they came up almost invariably with the wrong solutions. Comprehensive schools were not the answer to grammar schools. There was a completely unjustified loss of nerve by the ruling elite, a loss of confidence and pride. We had a very successful, peaceful, prosperous and civilised society, which quite a lot of other countries want to emulate.’
Hitchens looks as though he’s trying to suppress a smile as he says this, and it makes you wonder whether he can really be as angry as he wants you to believe he is. Doesn’t he ever catch himself slipping into character? ‘Yes of course. You are bound to. But it doesn’t mean you are being phoney. The willingness of people to accept the destruction of their own culture without complaint makes me genuinely angry. Not enough people realise something precious is being lost.’
Come off it, I find myself saying, things can’t be as bad as all that. ‘Oh but they are. Terrible, terrible. What will I be nostalgic about in 20 years’ time? Having glass in my window rather than corrugated iron? I think we are in a state of total social disintegration. People in the south-east who never visit their own country, who never see, as I have seen, a northern housing estate, just aren’t aware of how far things have gone.’
According to William Burroughs  – homosexual, heroin-addict, conservative – a paranoid person is someone who knows what is going on. I take a deep breath. It is time to mention the ‘p’ word. ‘Paranoid?’ Hitchens says. ‘Me? I object to the use of psychiatric terms in politics. You could say that it’s a good thing that there are people like me who worry more than other people  – who are more… you could say paranoid, you could say obsessive, I would say, “more sensitive to what is going on around them”.’
Hitchens knows that people might laugh at him. ‘But I don’t mind. It’s a defence. I remember when I was in the Industrial Correspondents’ Group I didn’t go along, well, to put it politely, fellow-travelling with the Left. I decided to cultivate the right wing of the Engineering Union instead. This was considered an act of great eccentricity and the word “bonkers” was used. People called me bonkers. Well, OK. Tough. Just because I’m not running with the pack. Journalists are pack animals. And they are fantastically incurious as well. They know what they want to find and they find it, and once you step outside that pack you can expect to be called names.’
Which of course is exactly what he wants because, for all his commitment to his beliefs, Hitchens recognises that he is partly driven by a spirit of competitiveness, a pure love of argument. ‘I suppose so, yes. I don’t like losing. And often in an argument I feel confident I can come out on top. I’m not trying to destroy the other person, just their argument. Some people enjoy drinking or driving very fast, some enjoy arguing. It is just as exhilarating.’
But when I suggest that he sometimes exaggerates his case to win an argument, I am given a glimpse of his darker, more bullying side. He glowers at me and asks that I give him some examples. Well, I say, comparing the liberal revolution in Britain to the Cultural Revolution in China. It is just too extreme. Much as they might have secretly liked to, the Labour Party has never paraded right-wing professors wearing dunce’s hats. They have never committed human rights abuses or censored the right-wing press or imprisoned, exiled or executed dissidents.
‘Is it too extreme a comparison?’ Hitchens asks. ‘How old are you, 34? Well I am 47 and I grew up in a Britain that has completely disappeared today. That is to say my father was a British naval officer and then he worked in private schools  – places where the country retained a lot of its pre-revolutionary characteristics. So I am older in experience than I am in years. I know an England that people in their sixties would have known. And it has changed utterly. And the revolutionaries have been quite vicious in the way that they have excluded those that haven’t agreed with them. They don’t kill, they don’t reduce to penury or chuck into cesspits, they just exclude. You don’t read Kierkegaard do you?’
Er . . .
‘No, neither do I. But he said the most effective revolutions are those that strip the essence but leave everything standing.’
Presumably Hitchens must have found out what he knows about Kierkegaard as a student studying philosophy and politics. ‘Pah! I read Trotsky at university. I spent most of my time going up to Scarborough to run a cell of Trotskyite workers in a coach station, that and selling the Socialist Worker at the docks.’
A Burmese cat ambles in and curls itself around my leg. The baby has started crying upstairs. There is no television in the sitting-room. There is, though, a framed Solidarity poster on the wall and a display of antique, East-European currencies. In the same display case there is an arrangement of press passes showing Peter Hitchens down the ages: from young, bearded and idealistic to middle-aged, clean-shaven and…  idealistic. They chronicle all the Reagan-Gorbachev summits. They also chart the five years Hitchens spent first as Moscow correspondent then Washington correspondent. There is also a photograph of his father, Commander Eric Hitchens, in uniform. It was taken in 1927.
Until an eye defect prevented him, Peter Hitchens had hoped to be a navy officer, too. Becoming a Trotskyite activist instead seems to have been an extreme alternative. But he doesn’t identify this as an act of rebellion against his father. ‘No. It was much more a feeling that I had been brought up for a world that no longer existed. That all the impulses that would have gone into a normal English patriotism and Anglican belief suddenly found they had no home to go to. I was seeking another loyalty.’
Nevertheless, he was a rebel at boarding school. He had a peripatetic childhood: born in Malta, prep school in Devon, schools in Chichester, Cambridge and Oxford. There were incessant rows about his appearance, especially his hair. He wasn’t sporting. And his chief problem was with school food. As a protest he would only eat breakfast. He also showed an early tendency toward pedantry. At one school, in Cambridge, he discovered that a line drawn on the school map of the town, showing the point beyond which pupils were not allowed to cross, did not reach to the top of the page  – so he would cycle up to where the line stopped and cross, legally, into the town from there.
On another occasion, when he was arrested for breaking into a government fall-out shelter, there was ‘a terrible scene. My diplomatic relations with the school and my parents broke down. I finished my education here in Oxford at the College of Further Education. I put myself back by a year. Made sure I would never get into Oxbridge. It was my own fault. If I’d been my parents, I wouldn’t have let me get away with it. I must have been a severe disappointment to them then.’
Both his parents are dead now. His father died 11 years ago, his mother 25 years  – just after he had graduated from York and started his first proper job on the Swindon Evening Advertiser. ‘My mother killed herself in rather distressing circumstances,’ he says bluntly. ‘I acknowledge it  – I have rather distressing feelings about it  – I don’t want to make a business of it here.’
His parents’ marriage had broken down after his mother, Yvonne, had had an affair with a defrocked vicar. The first report of her death was that she had been murdered in Athens. Christopher Hitchens, Peter’s elder brother by two and half years, flew down to Athens and found a suicide note addressed to him. He discovered from the hotel bill that his mother had been trying to phone him in London. Ten years later, it emerged that Yvonne was Jewish, and that she had wanted to keep this a secret from her (Protestant) family. This, of course, made the two sons Jewish, as well  – and the revelation came as something of a shock to the fervently Christian Peter.
Christopher, a militant atheist, is probably the most famous and certainly the most controversial British journalist working in America. He is as left-wing as his brother is right. In their public lives the sibling rivalry between the two is on an epic scale. Indeed, the scrapping Hitchens brothers have been described as the Liam and Noel Gallagher of political thought. But, really, if you think about it, they are very alike.
Admittedly, Peter is more dapper, leaner, cleaner-cut, brittle and repressed: Christopher is more shambling, tousle-haired, jowly, flamboyant and cool. And true, Peter stands for family values and goes to church every Sunday: Christopher is pleased to be known as a drunk and a wastrel. Martin Amis says that Christopher likes the smell of cordite and, according to Jonathan Raban, he has the manner of a lazy Balliol dandy, with the killer instinct of a pit bull terrier. The same applies to Peter. They are both controversialists. They are both contrary. They are both, as they used to say in the good old days, too clever by half.
Christopher manages to appear off-the-scale liberal yet is anti-abortion, he writes books attacking not only Mother Teresa but also Bill Clinton. Not for nothing is his collection of essays called For the Sake of Argument. If he is a right-wing Leftie, his brother is a left-wing Rightie. Peter shares the killer instinct, the love of humiliating his opponents in a debate. Except that his are the views of a York University student who found one faith  – Trotskyism  – and like so many (Paul Johnson springs to mind), dropped it in favour of another God.
And Peter, it seems, is incapable of adopting a world view lightly or with reservation. He has to immerse himself in it utterly, fanatically. ‘If it hadn’t been for the loss of the Trotskyite system of belief, my religious faith might not have come so quickly,’ he says. ‘Once you’ve had a world view you can’t cope without one. I don’t suffer from doubts. In terms of my faith I suffer from surprise that some people don’t believe. When people ask in shock if I believe in God, I say, “Well, don’t you?”‘
Christopher has said that the ugliness of his younger brother’s hack arguments on subjects such as the need for capital punishment makes him cringe. He adds that he admires Peter’s muscular prose, but qualifies this by saying that he sounds like Denis Thatcher without the sherry and jokes. The fundamental point of conflict between the brothers, though, is over religion. ‘Yes,’ Peter Hitchens nods. ‘I think so. Everything else flows from that. His socialism is his private religion and he spends an awful lot of time arguing with God. I mean, why write a book attacking Mother Teresa? The whole reason he finds her objectionable is that she thinks death is not the end and faith is important. And if you were confident that both these things were worthless propositions, it wouldn’t worry you, would it?’
Are they both role-playing? ‘Oh yes. Canada is all about not being the United States. Being Peter Hitchens is all about not being Christopher Hitchens. Of course it is. Brothers compete. We’ve been fighting since we were children. We have private jokes and we mock each other. But just because it’s a performance, doesn’t mean the difference isn’t genuine.’
The difference may be at a deeper level, too. Christopher Hitchens has said that he doesn’t know why his parents ever married. ‘My mother had charisma, father was a conservative, stodgy guy. She was a liberal. I take after her, my brother wants to be my old man.’ I’m sure Peter Hitchens may have wanted to be like his father, but I don’t think he was desperate for his father’s approval. On the contrary, he seems to have spent a career searching for disapproval from everyone  – everyone, that is, except his mischief-making brother whom, I think, he secretly, perversely wants to please. Peter needs Christopher to define him just as much as he needs a world view to conform to, be it Trotskyite or Anglican.
He has a vulnerable side, then. He agitates out of fear of being bored. He is, I think, an essentially decent but pessimistic and frustrated man with low self-esteem and, contrary to his claims, a hatred of being mocked.
In the 1997 election, for instance, Tony Blair teased:  ‘We have been very generous in allowing you a question. Please try to contain yourself, otherwise, if you are going to be bad, we may not call you again.’ Hitchens hated that.
‘I want to get beyond the ghettos of left- or right-wing opinion,’ Hitchens says, leaning forward on his sofa. ‘Be it in the Guardian, or on the BBC or in the Express. That is why I have written this book. Half the time I just think left-wingers are not listening to me because I’m a reactionary. They think nothing I say needs to be taken account of. Yet we share a lot of concerns. I actually prefer left-wing people to right-wing. But they won’t have me. They don’t want to hear.’
Alas, poor Peter. Always where he doesn’t want to be. On Talk Radio instead of Radio 4, which he is convinced has ostracised him since the invitations to contribute dried up a year ago. At York rather than Oxford. In agreement with Tony Blair over the importance of the family, rather than at loggerheads with him. A poor man’s Paul Johnson rather than the real thing. And, at what should be his moment in the sun  – the moment when the Left is in power and he, as a right-winger, can savage them with the joy of an opposition polemicist  – he finds himself being smiled at and patronised and trotted out by Talk Radio and the Daily Express as a tame reactionary. Alas poor Peter. Nice chap, though.
This appeared in the summer of 1999. The Abolition of Britain became a best seller. In 2000, when the pornographer Richard Desmond bought the Express Group, Peter Hitchens resigned in protest and went to work for the Mail on Sunday. During the 2001 election he was a regular on Radio 4.


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.