Where do we stand on Pierce Brosnan? Opinion, well, the little of it I canvassed before meeting him, seems divided. Men are unexpectedly harsh. He’s too smug, they say. Too knowing of his good looks. Clearly spends a couple of hours a day working on his hair. Women are kinder, their theme being not just that Brosnan is good-looking but that he has been a good father to his five children (two adopted) as well as a good husband to both his wives (his first having died of cancer). That’s three goods.

My impression of him, when we meet in Soho, is that he does not seem particularly comfortable in his skin. Though he has a crusher handshake, there is a primness to him, a preciousness. He is immaculately groomed in black suit, black shirt and black scarf flicked over his shoulder, just so. His hair is (suspiciously) black too, as well as neatly cut and blow-dried, and all this blackness makes the vivid blueness of his eyes the more startling.

He’s had his teeth fixed, which may be a sign of vanity. Then again, if you look out for him in his full screen debut – he plays ‘first Irishman’ in The Long Good Friday – you’ll see he had teeth like Victorian gravestones, so this seems fair enough. Unless he has had his face fixed as well, which he claims he hasn’t: he has indecently smooth and young-looking skin. Perhaps it’s the L’Oréal moisturiser. There is an ad campaign running at the moment showing his face next to a pot of the stuff.

He may not look his age, but does he feel it? ‘No, it’s good Irish genes,’ he says. ‘I don’t feel 54, but I do see the age creeping in. You do change little by little.’ He saw his Spotlight photograph the other day, the one that appeared in the official casting directory when he first started acting in 1975, after training at the London Drama Centre.

‘This young kid in the production office said, “F— me, is that you?” So he thought I’d changed. Perhaps it’s a matter of perception. I don’t think my mother looks her age. She has a sharp disposition in her 76th year. And the old man that I never knew had a spry, chiselled look to him. Snow-white hair. Flinty, squinty eyes. I look a bit like him.’

Thomas Brosnan was an alcoholic who earned a living as a carpenter in County Meath and who abandoned his family when Pierce was two. The young Brosnan’s mother left Ireland for London to train as a nurse, leaving her son to be brought up by her parents. He followed her over when he was 11, only to be picked on at school for being Irish. He fought back and soon learnt to conceal his Irishness. He has described his childhood as full of ‘loneliness’.

As an adult he has been compared to an expensively elegant yet tightly furled umbrella, and that’s about right. But the unease you notice is also partly to do with the way he talks himself up, partly with his convoluted, overly wrought speech patterns – they are almost stream-of-consciousness at times, with him asking and answering his own questions. It is also to do with his mid-Atlantic voice. It seems self-consciously smooth, whispery and polished, tortured almost, as if he is still a teenage boy trying on various voices to see which one seems the most impressive, rather as schoolchildren try out different signatures before settling on one. There’s an obvious explanation for this: an identity crisis. He’s an Irishman who has taken American citizenship, but has made his name playing a well-spoken Englishman. ‘It’s only confusing if I let it be,’ he says. ‘Intrinsically, I’m the same person I was as a young lad and I think I still have the optimism of life, still the same wants and desires to be good and great about what I do. I have asked myself that question. When I went to America I spoke so much about who I was and gave so much away in a confessional, Irish, story-telling way that I suddenly realised I had given up a lot of myself. I had to shut up.’

Did his 11-year-old self have a strong Irish accent? ‘Yes, and a strong sense of his Irish identity. Very Irish. Nineteen sixty-four; Putney Comprehensive School. Made to feel different, and no child wants that, so the performance began. The seeds of acting. Before that, I was in Ireland and the first theatrical performance was being an altar boy at church. The whole celebration of the Catholic Mass. I was enjoying being up there and looked at. I still go to church. Went last night.’

The impression he gives of being uncomfortable with himself may also be to do with his having had his identity stolen by James Bond. These days he seems to want to play it down. The biography on his website even begins: ‘Perhaps best known worldwide as James Bond…’ Perhaps?

There is no perhaps about it. The four Bond films Brosnan made were huge box office hits, the first three generating a billion dollars in revenue, the last one, Die Another Day in 2002, making half a billion on its own. Before him it had been generally assumed that the Bond franchise had run out of steam, with Roger Moore turning Bond into a cartoon figure and Timothy Dalton putting the final nails in the coffin with his politically correct version. For the purists, Brosnan represented a return to the hairy, misogynistic and cruel Sean Connery glory days. He also made it possible for Daniel Craig to introduce his darker, grittier version of Bond… and this is a sore point. Brosnan had wanted to take Bond down that route himself, with two more films.

‘Connery did six,’ he said after making Die Another Day. ‘Six would be a number, then never come back.’ But in July 2004 he announced that ‘Bond is another lifetime, behind me’, which may have been a negotiating ploy with the studio. If it was, it didn’t work because in October 2004, when his agent rang to say negotiations had stopped, Brosnan said, ‘I was shocked. It was a bit of a body blow. They had invited me back and then uninvited me.’

Let’s face it, this bitterness about Bond, if bitterness it is, gives an interesting texture to Brosnan’s moisturised façade. I want to explore it further but he only wants to talk about his new film, Mamma Mia! And he keeps dragging the conversation back to it. He keeps telling me, indeed, how good it is and how pleased he is with his performance in it.

The story revolves around a young girl who is about to get married and decides to track down the father she never knew. Brosnan plays – and sings – one of her possible fathers, and Meryl Streep plays her mother.

Given the sempiternal popularity of ABBA, and of the stage version which 30 million people have seen worldwide, Mamma Mia! the movie looks certain to be one of the biggest block-busters of the summer. We shall come to it, I assure him. For now I want to know more about his confused identity, especially what it is like having his identity swallowed up by James Bond – having, for example, people in the street shout out, ‘Look, it’s James Bond!’ rather than, ‘Look, it’s Pierce Brosnan.’ He purses his lips. Breathes through his nose. ‘I have very little to say on the matter,’ he says. ‘I promised myself before I started on Mamma Mia! not to discuss Bond because all has been said from me. All is done. That is it.’

But isn’t that a little perverse? Bond is, after all, a huge part of his life, his identity, his career. He even has a Bond museum of sorts at his home (the watches, tuxedos and cars he was allowed to keep). And when, one day, the Brosnan obituaries are written, James Bond will surely be in the opening paragraph. ‘It will be there, front row and centre, just as it will be for Sean and Roger or any man thereafter. I think Daniel is in the first blush of what it all means. You become an ambassador to a small country. Bond is an industry. You make your pact with the devil. You know that it will follow you. But you just hope you get yourself off the ropes. I have no bitterness but I just feel exhausted by it.’

The no-bitterness line doesn’t quite ring true. But perhaps it is more disappointment at the way his tenure as Bond ended. Either way, he now says more firmly: ‘Let’s talk about Mamma Mia!’ Hmm. I suppose GoldenEye, his first Bond movie in 1995, was the opposite of the almost guaranteed hit that is Mamma Mia! He takes the bait. ‘It was daunting. Having left the press conference for GoldenEye I did go back to my small hotel room and say, “What have I done? What have I done? What have I said yes to?” Dear God, give me strength. And it’s such an institution. You can’t get it right. You’re just not going to get it right.’

Yet he took on the role at the right time. Had he been able to take it when he was first offered it in 1986 – his contract on the television series Remington Steele prevented him – he could have ended up the Timothy Dalton of the Bond story. He was devastated at the time – ‘I felt a kind of ugly numbness when it all fell apart,’ he has said. ‘It was a very painful experience.’ But as things turned out, Dalton was given the part as a second choice after Brosnan and Timothy Dalton became the Timothy Dalton of the Bond story. But the subject of Bond is making him hot. ‘Oh God, I’ve got to take my scarf off now,’ he says unwrapping the garment. ‘Look. Bond was there. It was great. It has allowed me to make movies like The Matador [a dark comedy in which Brosnan played a deranged hitman]. To have a working career. It also allowed me to make Mamma Mia! Let’s get back to that.’

OK, OK. Was he nervous about the singing? ‘All trained actors have to learn to sing just as they have to learn to do tap and fencing. I had actually made a film before, called Evelyn, in which I sang, but singing pub songs in Dublin is different from the musical acrobatics and precision of a pop song. I was mildly terrified about singing the songs in Mamma Mia! but the musical director, Martin, left me with an iPod full of tunes and I spent the next few weeks in my house in Hawaii singing into the ocean. Driving my sons crazy as I drove them to school in the morning.’

He wasn’t an ABBA fan before this film. ‘No, I wasn’t. Did I dance to them? Hear them? Live with them? Yes, we all did, but it wasn’t my kind of music. I would never have gone to see this musical if I hadn’t been offered the job.’

Does he dislike the musical genre? ‘It’s not high on my list. I thought Moulin Rouge was inspirational, and Jesus Christ Superstar I loved.’ So the romance of musicals is lost on him? ‘I have a romantic side, of course, and a sentimental side. If it’s good and meaningful and coherent, I will have tears. It’s the most wonderful thing to be moved by a performance. Edith Piaf. The life of an actor lends itself to emotion and yet you have to be tough as old boots to stay at the table.’

We are on the subject of emotions. When Cassandra Harris, his first wife, died in 1991, four years after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, he said he was in ‘a helpless state of confusion and anger’. The grief would strike unexpectedly. He would be driving along the Harbor Freeway in California and find himself screaming at the top of his lungs: ‘Why? Why?’ I ask if he has ever drawn upon his memory of those extreme emotions in his acting and, if he has, whether that made him feel compromised, whether he felt it had devalued the real emotion. He gives a long sigh.

‘Well, I’ve never had to reproduce that particular emotion. I’ve never been in a piece where I have to lose a wife. I’m in a piece now where I have to lose a son. A movie with Susan Sarandon. I hold myself in abeyance about it somewhat. I will have to find that emotion… but you do use it. You do. It’s not as pure as the original emotion and there is that sense of fraudulence and of scavenging in your heart for that emotion, but if it is well written, you get an echo anyway and a subtext of what happened in your own life. What happened in my life back there has its own private place. With other emotions, well, you know the experience of pain, laughter and deep frustration because we all act everyday, to our wives, our children.’

He sometimes catches himself using his skills as an actor to manipulate other people’s emotions in his everyday life. ‘Of course. I could be doing it now, but so could you be. I have been subjected to many a lovely interview only to read in print that they have cut me to ribbons. I was being sincere but because they didn’t like what I did as an actor, or the way I spoke, they had made their mind up before I walked in the door.’

Oh dear. Perhaps I’m a little guilty here. Certainly I am finding him more sympathetic now that he is opening up a bit. And I can see why he might find it frustrating to live in the shadow of James Bond. For a proud man he doesn’t seem especially proud of himself for doing those films.

Tellingly, he once said of Christopher Fettes, an actor and one of his oldest friends, ‘I don’t know what he thinks of my doing Bond – I’ve always been scared to ask. Maybe he’ll say, “Could do better”, or “Try harder” – or “What are you doing?”‘ (Actually what Fettes said was, ‘To be honest, I think James Bond is a bit below his talents.’) Besides, there is more to Brosnan’s career than acting. He is a canny businessman who has his own production company, one that has made six films, his biggest being the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair (1999) in which he starred. ‘Thomas Crown was very good at playing on an iconic theme,’ he says. ‘There was room for manoeuvre with it, in terms of “suit acting”, which Steve [McQueen] never did very well. He was never comfortable with. I thought there was a chink in the armour there. We’re going to be doing another Thomas Crown. How do we find him again? How do we make a surprise? Good sex scenes. It’s great when you get it right, but very fleeting.’

He’s been a Hollywood star, and indeed a Hollywood mogul, for quite a few years now; what motivates him to keep at it? Is it the money? Surely he’s made enough to retire. ‘I’ve got a house in Hawaii and another one in California and a few overheads still. I’m building two homes in Malibu. I have a mortgage to pay. I’ve invested. I have my properties and want to keep them. I could cruise along but I like working. I’m getting older. I’m 54. What’s next? Do I want to direct? I love the visuals of it all. I paint. How do I mix that with acting? I like producing. I enjoy having my company. So a musical, why not? Having Meryl singing The Winner Takes it All on a bluff overlooking Greece is wonderful. I’ve worked with some beautiful ladies, Halle Berry and so on, but Meryl is the tops.’

Speaking of Berry, her Bond bikini is on display at the Imperial War Museum at the moment, as part of a Bond exhibition. Is he going to see it – the exhibition, I mean? ‘I have no desire to go to see it. I’ve been asked but I don’t have the heart. As for the bikini, I saw the real thing. I saw it on the day and so did half of Spain. She came out of the water, which was very cold and not clean. You looked to the right and looked to the left and there were huge crowds of people. Everyone had turned up to see that scene.’

I tell him that I had canvassed opinion about him before meeting him and that female colleagues had all seemed to know that he was a good husband and good father. ‘Interesting,’ he says. ‘I found it quite cathartic to talk about my wife after she died. The disease of ovarian cancer is so insidious and frightening, I thought it would be good to explore my own feelings in an interview with People magazine, which I later regretted.

‘That had a huge effect. I was fairly numb and deeply in pain when I gave that interview. I was grieving. It put an enormous focus on me as a father and husband. You don’t want to lose the common touch and get adrift from your life, because fame is glorious but it’s also hollow and meaningless without love and family and mates and bricks and mortar.’

Hollow in what way? ‘If you’re having an off-day it can be a very uncomfortable experience to be recognised in public. You have this other persona following you. Being observed and judged all the time can make you feel neurotic. The way to deal with it is to be nice to everyone, really. I hope I’d be nice without the mantle of fame. I’ve been working down in Soho these past five days and I am now the voice of Thomas the Tank Engine. From Thomas Crown to Thomas the Tank. I go to the pubs around here. Meet mates for lunch. My son [Sean]. He lives here. He’s 24, went to the Central School of Drama here, he’s in the first throes of being an actor, played Romeo with the RSC. I think he’s got the talent and the guts and the humility to be a good actor. He looks like me, actually.’

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? ‘It’s a great thing, for goodness’ sake! Looks like me – and his darling mother, God bless her.’

After his first wife died, was it Sean that forced him to re-engage with the world? ‘The children forced me to carry on, and my life carried on because of the children, no question. We had been together for 17 years, my wife and I, so that was a long partnership and it was very hard for me to find myself again. The main thing was to find a positive place for her in my life. We still talk about her. She’s not forgotten and I am blessed with a wife now [Keely Shaye Smith] who always keeps in her heart a place for my first wife. Keeps it open because she has a stepson and I have stepchildren. It takes a mighty heart to do that. A special kind of woman.’

Oddly enough, when I see his words written down, without hearing him deliver them, I find them more moving. For the record, he believes that he is comfortable in his skin. ‘I’d say so. I can be pretty hard on myself and have a good, healthy dose of insecurity and doubt, though. All the foibles of being human and being an actor and being a husband and being a father, wondering where to go next, wondering how talented I am. Where is that talent? How big is it? How small?’

Having heard that he prefers to be photographed from the left, I ask whether he is a narcissist. ‘There is always someone to cut you down. I have enough people to take the piss out of me and tell me to shut up and go away and don’t be boring, but actually I’m my own worst critic. I’ve tried to use my looks as well as I can but they have also cost me jobs. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.’

I like him for saying that. The interview is winding up, but before I go I ask if he will sign autographs for my James Bond-obsessed sons, aged 10 and eight. Rather endearingly, he signs with a flourish, signatures so big and flowery they take up two whole pages of A4. And when I inspect them later I see he has put in brackets at the bottom of each page (007!!).


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.