In a small, private cinema in Soho, Richard E Grant is introducing Wah-Wah, the autobiographical film he has written, directed and, to all intents, produced (though that’s a long story). ‘The audiences we have tested it on so far have both laughed and cried,’ he says, baring his teeth in a smile that looks more like a grimace. ‘So no pressure.’ This might be a tougher audience than most: a dozen gnarled distributors who watch films every day. But the screening begins and they duly oblige with the odd chuckle and sniffle. Afterwards, in his intense way, Grant seems pleased, his pale blue eyes slightly mad and starey. We find a dimly lit corner and the 48-year-old actor sits forward, straight spined, as he talks and talks, earnestly and articulately, spooling out sentences like tickertape.
The film, set in Swaziland during the dying years of British colonial rule, tells the story of his parents’ divorce, as seen through his adolescent eyes. It opens with a scene in which Grant’s mother (played by Miranda Richardson) has sex with his father’s best friend in the front seat of a car. The 11-year-old Richard is pretending to be asleep in the back seat but sees everything. He is horrified. He tells no-one. Grant’s father (played by Gabriel Byrne) is the minister for education. Like all his peers in Swaziland he speaks ‘Wah-Wah’, Wodehousian English punctuated with phrases such as ‘toodle pip’. Confronted with his wife’s adultery, his cheerfulness disintegrates. He turns to drink and, over time, becomes an alcoholic.
One particularly affecting scene shows the young Richard E Grant sniffing a lipstick mark on his mother’s wine glass after she has abandoned him. ‘Oh yes, I am obsessed with smelling everything,’ he now says. ‘My food, clothes, cars, books. I’m only just retraining myself from sniffing this sofa.’ It is brothel red, the sofa, and velvet covered. Grant, with sweptback hair, paint-flecked old jeans and beads on his wrist, looks bohemian sitting on it. ‘The sniffing obsession is a legacy of my mother’s adultery and of her walking out on us. Another was a facial spasm I had. A compulsive disorder. I couldn’t stop myself.’ He shows me, suddenly opening his mouth wide and twisting his face. ‘It’s an involuntary spasm which was to do with having to keep a secret. It was as if the secret had to come out somehow. I was teased at school for it. When I am particularly nervous or anxious even now I can feel the ghost of that spasm hovering in my face, waiting.’
We talk about the time he tipped away a crate of his father’s whiskey in a bid to stop the drinking. His father, in a drunken rage, held a revolver close to Richard’s forehead, fired a shot and — obviously — missed. ‘He was provoked by me. He said, “I’m going to blow your brains out”, and chased me around the garden. I felt utterly helpless but I goaded him, saying, “Go on, get it over with”. I thought I was going to die. The bullet whistled past my head. The reality was that at that point there was nothing I could do about it. It was like a near death experience, a chemical in my brain made me accept that I was going to die. I thought: “He is going to shoot me now. This nightmare will end.” I felt very calm. The shock of it only hit me afterwards. Then I became frightened and ran away.’
I suggest that even Freud would have been stumped as to how to interpret such a nightmare. ‘Yes, a father trying to kill the son is against all nature, isn’t it? But then my father was very drunk at the time. When he was sober he was a gentle man who loved me.’
But to try and kill someone you must really have to hate them; surely that must make him doubt his father’s protestations of love when he was sober? ‘Yes but after my father tried to kill me he turned the gun on himself and tried to kill himself. He was full of self-pity and remorse.’
So that makes it all right? ‘Alcohol changed his character, like Jekyll and Hyde. He wasn’t himself when he was drunk.’
Didn’t it worry him that the ‘bad’ drunken father might be, as it were, his true father; the ‘good’ sober father, the impostor? He shakes his head. ‘I think if my father had had no friends then I would have thought he was is completely abnormal and a bad person. But he was incredibly popular and garrulous. You ask about the split between the things my father said when he was drunk and sober…’ He pauses. ‘Which reality has more credibility? Well, the vestige of that is that when I am feeling especially vulnerable, or have been turned down for a job I wanted, or panned by a critic, my father’s drunk voice squats in my brain and says: “You aren’t good enough. You are a shit. You are ugly. You are untalented.’ That comes back. But…’ Another pause. ‘I had psychoanalysis for 18 month when I was 42 and worked out that this was only the drunken voice talking, it wasn’t him. He couldn’t even remember saying the things in the morning. But because the abuse was so insistent and regular when he was drunk, when I am vulnerable it creeps up on me unawares. So as much as I know I should ignore it, if the world looks like it is saying it doesn’t want me, thinks me useless and untalented, doesn’t like me, doesn’t want to give me a job, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. It saps my confidence and I don’t get the job. Despite the fact that I have worked regularly throughout my career, there is still that marshy bit in my brain that says: ‘Yep, your dad was right.’
In his career there have been many hits and misses — and those toecurling ads for Argos. The hits have included Martin Scorsese’s Age of Innocence and Robert Altman’s  The Player and Gosford Park. The misses have included Hudson Hawk with Bruce Willis, a film Grant himself describes as ‘excruciating’.  But all can be forgiven for the film for which he is still best known, his first, the sublime, transcendent black comedy Withnail & I (1986). As the acerbic, drunken out-of-work actor Withnail, Grant created one of the most obnoxious yet likeable characters in cinema history. ‘Some people tell me they have watched it 200 times,’ he says.
Do they still confuse him with that character? ‘Yeah, people think if you play a drunk convincingly you must have first hand experience of it. But actually  from being around my father I had first hand experience of drunk behaviour. I had a fast track on how to act drunk.’
Was it his father who put him off drinking? ‘Yes and no. I have an allergy to drink, I get a terrible rash and get ill for about 24 hours and, at first, I thought this might be psychosomatic. But I went to a doctor when I was 19 and he said I had no enzyme in my blood that processes alcohol. He asked if I had Japanese blood. Or Inuit. Or Native American, because they have none of this enzyme. The French as a tribe have the most of it. It wasn’t for lack of wanting to do it, it was just I am unable to, which is ironic because when I say I don’t drink people say, “Oh, are you in the programme?”’
Richard E Grant lives by the Thames in London with his wife Joan, a voice coach. ‘We married in 1986,’ he says. ‘I’m a very loyal person. I think I put a higher value on monogamy because I witnessed the emotional cost of my father’s cuckolding.’ The couple have a teenage daughter, Olivia, who has a cameo in the film. How did his strained relationship with his parents affect his relationship with his daughter? ‘Well there was a generational difference so I’m not passing judgement here. My parents were very non tactile. Stiff upper lip. You didn’t wallow around feeling sorry for yourself. With my daughter I tend to be the other extreme — over tactile and talking about everything.’
Given that Grant sees himself as a contradictory mixture of low self-esteem and large ego, I ask him if he has ever really come to terms with feeling rejected by his mother. ‘I suppose it is telling that I became an actor, a profession where I would have to replay the rejection scene for the rest of my life. Repeating the pattern of rejection. We are drawn to that which hurts us. It’s like a masochism, because part of me believes they are right to reject me.’
The film led to a reunion with his mother, now 77 and living in South Africa. ‘It’s been amazing. I’ve seen her and we have reconciled and written long  letters and opened up to each other. I have finally heard her point of view of what happened 35 years ago. It had never been explained to me. Pain has no sense of time. If something was painful then it will be painful now, but you get used to living with it. You accommodate it.’
There has been no reconciliation with his younger brother, Stuart, though. ‘No, none at all. He hasn’t read the script or seen the film, though he claims to have done both, apparently. I feel pity for him that he is so troubled and unresolved about what has happened.’ Stuart, an accountant living in South Africa, once sold a story to a newspaper describing Richard as ‘a pansy who played with dolls’ as a child. Richard took his revenge by writing Stuart out of the film, portraying himself as an only child. The last time the brothers met was at their father’s funeral in 1981. Stuart subsequently accused Richard of arriving at the funeral with dyed blond hair and theatrical self-obsession. ‘He said I was being disrespectful,’ Richard says. ‘Well I only dyed my hair blond because I was in a play at the time that required me to dye my hair. I was playing a Nazi. Stuart has projected his own failings and shortcomings onto me and blamed me because he feels guilty. There is nothing I can do about it. I accept it. And we never had anything in common so it’s not as if we had a relationship that went rotten and can be salvaged through mutual understanding. I’ve been so estranged from him for so long, if he walked down the street I wouldn’t recognise him, quite frankly. He has never met my wife and children [he also has a stepson, Tom], but I have heard from other people that he has said appalling thing about them in the press. He can attack me all he likes. But them? He doesn’t do himself any favours by doing that.’
In the mid-90s, Grant published a wonderfully waspish memoir of his years in  Hollywood. Though the comedian Steve Martin is still a close friend, the book alienated many of his contemporaries. As Bruce Robinson, who wrote and directed Withnail & I, has warned: ‘Richard is a terrible gossip – tell him nothing. I’m convinced that when he’s on his own he gossips about himself. It is part of his bitter-charm.’ Grant has confided in a daily diary since the day he witnessed his mother’s adultery at the age of 11. He finds it a consolation. He is about to publish a journal — also called Wah-Wah — about the making of this new film. It is a gripping account of the hell that is trying to get a movie financed and made. It chronicles the way he would yo-yo from jubilation and despair on a daily basis: ‘My nerves are so shredded that I lie face down and blub like a bitter baby.’ It covers his battles with banks, lawyers, the Swazi government and, most of all ,with his producer, a French woman whose name he pretends he can’t pronounce. When I suggest that his book is unlikely to affect a reconciliation with her he laughs grimly. Has she read it? A solemn shake of the head. Does he have a helmet and bullet proof vest ready?  ‘Libel lawyers have been through it and I have proved everything I’ve claimed about her. The catalogue of incompetence. The failure to reply to important emails. If I thought it was only a personality clash between her and me I wouldn’t have dwelt on it, but she has managed to alienate almost everyone she has come across.’
I suggest that from her perspective she might consider him to an obsessive; an anal retentive even? ‘She would no doubt say I was pig headed and intransigent, all those things you need to be.’


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.