I wouldn’t say that meeting Ron Howard was an anti-climax, exactly. I did not, after all, expect the 52-year-old, Oscar-winning director and movie mogul to be like his friend Russell Crowe, an exciting mixture of bluntness and volatility. Nor did I imagine him to be like Don Simpson, the flamboyant Hollywood producer who could put away more proscribed chemicals than a laboratory full of beagles. But there was a big build up to my meeting with him and, with it, a certain anticipation; a tightening of the air.
I had been introduced to him in London, when he was on a flying visit, but his diary manager had been unable to pin him down for an hour-long interview. For this I had to fly to Los Angeles, and keep on my toes as the time and venue was changed several times. With the imminent release of his $125 million film version of Dan Brown’s novel Da Vinci Code, it should be explained, Ron is busy, busy, busy. It is only when I am finally alone with him in the Gene Autry Building, on the Sony Lot, that I realise why his minders guard his time so carefully. He is so solicitous, unassuming and guileless he would, if they let him, chat away all day.
He is a balding, slightly built man — 5ft 9in — with down-turned, close-together eyes set in a skull-like face. He has a ginger beard which he scratches occasionally and comfortable looking boots which he rests on the table as he talks. Behind him is a poster of Silas, the sinister, self-flagellating albino monk in the Da Vinci Code. The words above the picture read: ‘Silas says keep cutting.’ ‘That? The editors made it for me when the film was still over three hours long,’ Ron says with chewy, Mid-Western vowels. ‘We’ve got it down to 2 hours 20 now. I think we have achieved the page turner feel. It’s a design thing, how it’s staged and shot. I was always trying to build those moments into the shot list. It is a more cinematic movie than others I have done. Less naturalistic. More designed.’
On another wall is an Evening Standard billboard: ‘Da Vinci Code: London court drama.’ ‘I’ve learned not to bite my nails over things I have no control over,’ he says, ‘like that court case.’ So he’s not a worrier? He gives an unexpectedly loud laugh. ‘I didn’t say that. I lose sleep on every movie. I lose sleep on a big one like this and a smaller one like The Missing. A lot of people invest a great deal of their time and energy in a movie so it’s a big responsibility. You’re under pressure. There is added pressure with the Da Vinci Code because other people are whispering in your ear that you are dealing with a phenomenon. It truly is a phenomenon. The book never seems to stop selling. I hope people will go and experience the movie on its own terms. But perhaps that is asking too much.’
Howard met his wife, Cheryl, at High School when they were both 16, and they married five years later, in 1975. They have four children. It was Cheryl who first came across the Da Vinci Code at her book club. ‘She passed it on to me and I was gripped. I took it on as a film for the challenge of telling a story that would have a broad popular reach and would stimulate conversation as well. But every film I make represents an opportunity which is, not to be too corny about it, the kind of thing you dream of doing, you know, to have the resources to make a movie.’
He has made 27, nearly all of them box office hits, from Splash in 1984 to Apollo 13 — again starring Tom Hanks — in 1995, and A Beautiful Mind starring Russell Crowe in 2001. That was the film for which he won an Academy Award for Best Director. I ask him if winning that made him feel less motivated. ‘I think because it took me a while to get one, it came as relief. I didn’t want to be the guy who never got one. It gave me a kind of freedom because I don’t feel I have as much to prove. But you didn’t see me weeping with joy on the way home…’ He pauses, rubs his chin. ‘This sounds like… I don’t want to give you the impression I don’t still find this business thrilling. I do. But it’s not quite the same as when I started. There was a time when I-I- I’d be completely giddy because I actually asked a key grip to put down some dolly track and requested that the actor move from the doorway to the car and suddenly all that was happening and I would look at the dailies later and think, Hey! I made a dolly shot! Nowadays I don’t get the same thrill about even the most complicated special effect shot, or crane shot, or stunt. But I do still get a kick from problem-solving, something unexpected emerges and you get round it. You get what you want on screen.’ In the case of the Da Vinci Code he was refused permission to film in Westminster Abbey so he went to Lincoln Cathedral — where there were protests from Christians. ‘Actually of the 200 protesters that were reported, 199  were Tom Hanks fans and one was an angry nun.’ Jacques Chirac personally intervened to allow him to film in the Louvre, though they weren’t allowed to film the Mona Lisa. Five replicas had to be made. ‘I kept one to take home.’
A Beautiful Mind was partly about the rivalry between professors of mathematics. Howard says he can identify with their competitiveness and insecurity. ‘If you define yourself as someone doing good work and it’s in a narrow  field which people don’t know that much about, or don’t quite understand, it does get to be competitive. It fuels ambition. That’s what keeps us going. As to the insecurity well, when you’ve just invested a year and a half in a film, you’re just too vulnerable to read the reviews straight away. It would be masochistic. I collect up the whole packet, the 100 or so, and read them a few months later. His one critical flop, Far and Away (1992) starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, left him feeling ‘miserable’, he says. ‘But you can never choose movies based on what critics want or what you think will win awards. You cannot let intellect rule over intuition. You have to go with your gut feeling. That’s what I always try and do.’
He wants to qualify what he said earlier. ‘I tell you when I get a rush, it’s when I first roll the camera. It is an addictive feeling. I had a dream one time, I‘ve never told this story and it will probably backfire but…’ He tells me about a dream in which he is at a party where there are silver salvers being carried around with mounds of cocaine, like in Scarface. ‘….And I’m saying, “No thank you”. I just happen to be a person who has never tried coke, though I know a bit about it from being in this business…’ Eventually he tries some and ‘I feel a rush and think, So that’s what it feels like. Then I realise I feel that way almost every time I roll the camera. It IS a high. Shooting is the period I enjoy most, for the exhilaration.’
It is a telling — and rather sweet — comment because it shows 1) He is boring enough to tell you about his dreams. 2) He even worries about taking drugs when he is dreaming. In some ways, he’s like the Ned Flanders of Hollywood, a goodie-goodie blessed by the Lord — although when he appeared on the Simpsons it was as himself. He was also referred to in an episode of South Park: when Cartman ‘turns ginger’ he asks a crowd of fellow ginger haired people to name great Americans with the hair colour. The first named is ‘Ron Howard’. When asked to name a second, after a short silence from the crowd, someone responds: ‘Ron Howard’.
He has been a household name in America since he was eight. That was when his parents, both theatre actors, moved from Oklahoma to Hollywood and Ron became a child star as Opie on The Andy Griffith Show.  Anxious that he should nevertheless have a normal childhood, his parents sent him to an ordinary state school. I ask if he was bullied at school for being on television. ‘Yes, I always was. Always.’ Did his red hair make him a target, too? ‘No, that wasn’t a thing for me, it was just being on the show. I was shy, but other kids took this as me being aloof. I would have to do the show then come back to school and stand up to them. It was maybe an important part of my development.’ They called him Dopey-Opie and Soapy-Opie, excluded him from their games and laid traps to humiliate him. He learned ploys to deal with them. For the most part, he simply behaved so pleasantly that the ‘regular kids’, as he calls them, began to see him as a diminishing target.
At 17 he became even more famous as Richie Cunningham the toothy, freckled boy next door in Happy Days. The show was about a group of wholesome, small-town American teenagers who hung out in a milk-bar listening to a jukebox and idolising The Fonz. He stayed on the show until he was  26. ‘That show was my day job, a way of supporting my ambitions to become a director,’ he says. Hardly a day goes by without someone bringing up Ritchie Cunningham, he adds. Does that role feel like a blight on his life? ‘Not any more. It’s odd. It’s odd. Since the Academy Award I get way, way more acknowledgement than I ever had. And I had made so many films before that. The picture of me holding the Oscar really cemented that transition from actor to director more than any of the films or talk shows or anything I had done before.’
He did not lack for self-confidence in his early career; had his parents always been pushing him to achieve? ‘Not really. I was a child actor but really handled in the kindest, most positive way. I was expected to be well prepared and have a good attitude but I wasn’t pressured, or prodded, or bludgeoned. My dad’s an actor so there was an element of him passing a craft on. But I enjoyed it. It’s probably why I enjoy being on a set now.’
I ask if he suffers from Michael Jackson syndrome in the sense that the singer, himself a child star, has said he only ever feels ‘normal’ when on stage. ‘I feel a bit like that on my own set. I have grown up with it. But I’m supposed to be going to visit my daughter Bryce on her set after this — she is in the new Spiderman — and I don’t really like going on other people’s sets. I feel like I’m a nuisance, or a distraction or, worse, inconsequential.’
That unexpected vulnerability again…  Did he have any qualms about his daughter following him into acting? ‘I did yes, definitely. I didn’t mention them to her. I could see from early on though that what she loved was the film process, which I thought was a healthy thing. To her the rehearsal is as exciting as the performance. I felt the same. That sort of person has a chance to be happy working in this business, whereas if it’s all about the curtain call then it is fucking hard work. It makes you so insecure and frustrated. The curtain call is not enough…. I would never stop one of my kids from being in the business — not least because I love it. My father loved it too, even though he never became a huge success. He loves it to this day.’
Ron frequently casts his father in supporting roles. I ask if his father finds that a little humiliating, in a Freudian sense. ‘He’s always made it clear that he was just proud of me. He had no other feelings of … He’s never needed me to make a living. He’s always made his living in the business. He just doesn’t get lead roles, that’s all. In many ways growing up and seeing my dad struggle — but with dignity and real joy when he was working — meant that when I had success I really appreciated it. I never took it for granted. He’s an exceptional guy. Really remarkable. He has this Mid-Western Zen outlook, a calmness. He’s like kung fu man grooving through life.’
Is there an element of his father in some of the more phlegmatic, decent, honourable characters in Ron Howard’s films: the Tom Hanks character in Apollo 13, for example, or the Russell Crowe character in Cinderella Man? ‘I saw a lot of my dad in Braddock [the boxer played by Crowe in Cinderella Man], in terms of attitude about how to get through a problem. And like Braddock my dad had lived through the Depression, as a farmer’s son, so he knew about struggle at the most basic level. My folks never lost their farm but it was all subsistence living. Many farmers did, hence the whole Grapes of Wrath migration story where the Oakies had to go to California to pick fruit.’
I ask him if he has inherited any of his father’s values. ‘I’m not a moralist but I certainly respect those kinds of characters. Do I think I’m a good person? Yes, not a wonderful person, but a good person. Not as good as Jim Braddock.’
Does that make him unusual in Hollywood terms? ‘Not really. There are lots of decent people in Hollywood who get what they want without compromising their integrity. I am competitive but I’m not ruthless. I can lose my temper but not very often as it’s not a very comfortable state of mind for me.  People who know me know when I am being serious and when something is important. I don’t have to be loud. It’s more a matter of my becoming emphatic.’
When I suggest that he might be passive aggressive he says earnestly: ‘Maybe, maybe. My wife would say that I am.’
He is one of the most prolific film-makers in the industry; does he feel guilty when he’s not working? ‘No, not guilty. Useless. I don’t know quite what to do with myself. My wife likes me around for a while but then… well, I’m not going to do a better job fixing that broken lock or painting the stairs than some guy we can hire. I like being a father but my kids are grown up now and don’t need me as much.  I used to do the school run and I kinda miss that. I don’t really have any hobbies.’
There is an extraordinarily graphic self-flagellation scene in The Da Vinci Code movie. Perhaps he could take that up as a hobby? He must, after all, have become an expert on it while making the film. He laughs toothily. ‘What can I say? I cram for these tests. There was almost a time when I could have explained how they get to the moon.’


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.