As every article that has ever been written about Richard Griffiths mentions his weight, I thought it might be highly original and possibly even witty to see if I could write one without mentioning it.

Alas, as soon as he enters the room – a white, high-ceilinged rehearsal studio near Waterloo station – he mentions it. A stage manager has set up two chairs for us, but he is not happy with them. ‘I want one without arms,’ he says, ‘arms make life very difficult for me.’ As if explanation were needed, he adds: ‘Because of my size, you see.’ Not just chairs with arms but seats generally, he explains, in cabs, on planes… He settles himself down, in a chair without arms, at a right-angle to me; a black scarf draped over his stomach like a modesty veil.

Without prompting, he tells me that what he hates most about his size is being photographed, a strange admission for an actor, you might suppose. But acting on stage and screen involves movement. Photography is all about being still. ‘And I hate that,’ he says, with a still recognisable trace of Teesside in his flattened vowels. ‘Some actors don’t mind it. Those who are pretty. They think it’s nice to be looked at because they are nice to look at. I appreciate that. I’m very happy to salute that aspiration. But I don’t like the way I look so I don’t like being photographed. I become defensive.’

When I ask if that is a form of vanity, he regards me with sleepy, bespectacled eyes, and his bearded face softens into a chipmunk grin. ‘My vanity is not remotely physical, it is cerebral. I suppose feeling self-conscious might be a form of vanity, though. Dickie Attenborough used to say…’ He launches into a long-winded account of his appearance in the film Gandhi. Most of his anecdotes take about 10 minutes, partly because he has a ponderous delivery, partly because he digresses constantly, even from his digressions. The upshot of this one is that the actors in Gandhi were allowed to see the rushes but not the stills, in case it made them self-conscious. ‘Actors do have good and bad sides. It’s because the passage down the birth canal distorts the face. People born by caesarean section are more symmetrical.’

Does he have a better side? ‘Yes, but I can’t remember which it is. Dirk Bogart had to be three-quarters left; they built sets to accommodate that side of his face.’

Talking of being self-conscious, Griffiths is about to star opposite Daniel Radcliffe, he of Harry Potter fame, in the first major production of Peter Shaffer’s Equus since 1973. Griffiths plays the psychiatrist, Radcliffe his patient, a young man who has a pathological sexual fascination with horses. There is much nudity in the play. ‘Yes, but thank goodness it’s not me being naked,’ Griffiths says. ‘I wouldn’t inflict my naked body on any paying audience.

‘I think it was difficult for Daniel at first, especially as this is his stage debut, but they have done it brilliantly. Initially there were just four of us in the room, then eight, then 40 – and they [Radcliffe and Joanna Christie, the two young actors who appear naked] became confident about it. Obviously what you worry about when you take your clothes off is the prurient response.’

And the temperature. ‘That’s true. I hadn’t thought about that. Knowing David Pugh [the producer] he will probably drop the temperature by three degrees to make everyone’s nipples perkier. I don’t think it is too bad for these two actors because they have lovely bodies, so they are admirable rather than mockable.’

We talk about his research for the role. Has he ever seen a psychiatrist himself? ‘Not formally no. I know a couple and I’ve talked around various things with them but I haven’t sought treatment.’ I only ask because his childhood was… well, a Freudian analyst would have a field day with it. ‘I’ve never thought about it, but I suppose they would. What can I say? I deal with it. I think I have come to terms with my absolutely hateful and vile childhood.’

‘No, I have, really. But I did hate it at the time. I resented it. There were elements of it that were positively Dickensian.’

Much of the misery was to do with his parents’ handicap. ‘They were both profoundly deaf and dumb. My Dad had lost his hearing at the age of five through some infection. It was genetic in my mother’s case. They could make noises when they were emotionally aroused, but they couldn’t form it into speech.’ As a consequence Richard was brought up in a world of silence. There was no television. He got his first radio aged 15 and was listening to a Proms concert when his father nudged him and asked what it sounded like. ‘I couldn’t explain music to him, and I felt monstrous; totally inadequate.’

The family lived in a council flat in Stockton-upon-Tees. Richard attempted to run away many times. ‘The trouble was I was sort of responsible for them. From the age of four I would help with the shopping. That is why I have a life-long loathing of shopping. They would sign and I would translate to the shopkeeper.’

Walking out of school one day, he was amazed to see children chattering to their parents. ‘I remember thinking, I suppose when they go home and have their tea, it will be like in our house – nobody will talk.’

Is that what he means by Dickensian, the pathos? ‘No, that was more to do with poverty. My Dad came in when I was 13 with various bags of comestibles – fruit and vegetables – and communicated that we would be having Christmas lunch this year but there would be no presents. ‘I could not believe it. It was just awful not having a new six-gun or bike or anything.’

He is still haunted by his father’s bitter struggle to pay off £50, borrowed at usurious interest rates when he fell ill and could not feed his family. Griffiths has never been in debt as a consequence, other than to have a mortgage. Even then he nearly sold his house when interest rates rose. He won’t use credit cards, if he can help it. But, in a spirit of contrariness, he does like a flutter on the horses.

His father was a steel-fixer. A question about this leads to a 10-minute explanation of what it is a steel-fixer does – he lays foundations for buildings. The point is, it was manly work. How did he feel about his son going off to study drama at the Northern College of Music in Manchester? ‘Pretty annoyed. It was major warfare. I had wanted to be a painter before that, which was fine. It was the one art of which he approved. In Teesside at the time it was the one thing you could do connected to the arts that didn’t prove you were a homosexual who had to die. If you said you wanted to be an actor it meant you had to be put to death. I had to keep the acting secret from my Dad. He raged at its pooffery when he found out.’

To this day, Griffiths has no love for the ‘ignorant, rough’ North and hasn’t returned to his hometown since his parents died in 1976. That was the year he was spotted by Trevor Nunn. Ten years at the RSC followed (he still lives near Stratford-upon-Avon).

Griffiths is known for being forthright, especially with members of the audience who forget to switch off their mobile phones before a performance. He has twice stepped out of character to berate offenders. ‘You should be ashamed of yourself,’ he bellowed at one. It may be to do with his childhood fear of extraneous noise, but you sense it is also to do with his latent anger. For all the joviality of the characters he plays, he is an angry man, is he not?

‘Oh yes. I think I get it from my father. He was a very aggressive man. He used to fight for money in pubs. People would put money into a pint pot behind the bar and he would put on a pair of leather gloves and go out the back to fight anyone who would challenge him.’ The young Richard was in fights constantly, too. ‘I would never start them. But I would have to go and thump people at school for taking the piss or doing something upsetting to me. I would be the one who got into trouble for it because I was the biggest. I once attacked two kids because they threw an apple core at me and it hit me in the face and everyone laughed – and that was what really made me angry, being laughed at. So I pursued them round the school and beat them up. I was so angry. It was the best fight I ever had. Two of them. I do still get angry, especially over mobile phones. I wish there was some civil legislation based on the principle of disrespect…’ This leads to a 10-minute digression about Sixties hedonism and the scorn for good manners that it led to.

His sudden weight-gain as a child was not to do with unhappiness; it was glandular. He was so thin as an eight-year-old he was given radiation treatment on his pituitary gland. After that his metabolism slowed down and, within months, he began to balloon. His classmates called him Billy Bunter. Given the low self-esteem that came with this, wasn’t it masochistic of him to put himself on stage for all to stare at? ‘It’s perverse isn’t it? It intrigues me. I don’t know why it is. I was unhappy as a child, but that was not surprising because my parents were deeply dysfunctional and very unhappy, too. Us kids had no means of understanding what it was like for them.’

‘Us kids’ as in he and his younger brother? ‘Ah,’ he grins. ‘I’ve run into a buffer now: I’ve agreed with my family never to talk about them in the press. That includes my wife.’

He met his wife, Heather Gibson, in 1973 when they were both appearing in Lady Windermere’s Fan. They married in 1980; according to his Who’s Who entry, they have no children. In passing he mentions that Heather is Irish, that she is an excellent cook and that: ‘The thing that drives my wife nuts is this constant record I play about how shabbily actors are treated.’ But that is all. More generally, he tells me his taste in women is for the fuller figure. ‘I could never understand the attraction of Bette Davis. I always preferred Jane Russell.’ This may come as a surprise to some people as it is often assumed that, because he is best known for playing gay men, Richard Griffiths is gay.

He won an Olivier Award and, in America, a coveted Tony Award for his performance in The History Boys, the Alan Bennett play recently turned into a film (both directed by Nicholas Hytner). In it, Griffiths plays the motorbike-riding polymath Hector, a grammar school teacher who is enthusiastic, shambolic, subversive and vulnerable. He is also a groper of young men, one whose victims seem to pity rather than fear him. ‘They’re over 18, they’re adults,’ notes Griffiths, who says references to Hector as a paedophile make him furious. ‘I’d feed all paedophiles into a tree-shredder, if it were left to me. One minute with a tree shredder. Anything left the police can have.’

He is also famous for playing the predatory homosexual and aesthete Uncle Monty in Withnail and I. People still stop him in the street to quote Uncle Monty’s most memorable line at him: ‘As a youth I used to weep in butchers’ shops.’ Perhaps the best-known line in that film is said about him. Withnail, played by Richard E. Grant, shouts: ‘Monty, you terrible c—!’ People often shout this at him.

‘I have to explain that I am not Monty,’ he sighs. ‘But I have to accept that Monty has become one of the stately homos of England, along with Quentin Crisp.’

Griffiths is not known for his indulgence of members of the public. ‘I’m not interested in the casual interest of strangers,’ he says. Children, especially, he finds irritating. ‘I like playing Vernon Dudley in Harry Potter because that gives me a licence to be horrible to kids. I hate the odious business of sucking up to the public. I hate it.’

The stage manager reappears to say that the people-carrier she ordered for Griffiths has arrived. The actor rises from his armless chair and smiles toothily as he says goodbye. The smile is at odds with all that anger, all that fear – fear of debt, of shopping, of being laughed at, of noise, of life.


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.