To understand the man, Freud believed, you must look to the child – and as a child Rupert Everett was asked to leave his prep school for ‘being difficult’. The reason given for his expulsion from drama school several years later was ‘insubordination’. It would not surprise Freud, then, to learn that interviews with the adult Everett tend to end in tears – the interviewer’s.

And yet I’ve been told by an old friend of the actor that he is ‘funny, sharp and easy-going’. So, I ask Everett as we square up on a sofa in the Grosvenor House Hotel, London, am I going to get Nice Rupert or Nasty Rupert? ‘That,’ he says with an ominous arch of his eyebrow, ‘depends.’

At 42 he still has the brooding features of a teenage delinquent: sulky mouth (lip-glossed), imperious nose and hooded brown eyes (lined with mascara). Even though his T-shirt strains against the muscled contours of his upper body, hardened by hours spent in the gym every day, he still looks gangly. It’s partly to do with his height – he’s a rangy 6ft 4in – partly to do with his legs, which look weedy in tight jeans (he used to wear several pairs of tracksuit bottoms at once to make them look bulkier), partly to do with his large, angular head, as out of proportion as a toddler’s. It’s partly to do, too, with the way he sprawls, his trainers resting on the coffee-table in front of him.

Despite the posture he seems edgy and suspicious, which is only to be expected, given that he finds journalists’ questions ‘unpleasant – like having someone shine a torch in your face’. He didn’t always, though. There was a time when he could be relied upon to say or do something outrageous in his encounters with the press. He would gamely talk about his time as a rent boy (which was how he said he earned his living for a couple of years after his early departure from the Central School of Speech and Drama), or his enthusiastic consumption of heroin, or about the time he had a wobbly and sent a cutting of his pubic hair to a woman who criticised one of his stage performances.

Then, in 1997, he co-starred with Julia Roberts in My Best Friend’s Wedding, playing her gay friend and confidant. The film made £200 million. It also made Everett a hot property in Hollywood – and he refused to talk any more about his youthful follies. So could it be that the studios decided it was time he toned down the junkie rent boy stuff? Nothing to do with the studios, he says, everything to do with his family who were mortified by the stories and are ‘excruciatingly embarrassed’ by him. A belated attack of conscience, it seems.

Even so, Everett is contractually obliged to promote his films and next month he has a new one out, a romantic comedy called Unconditional Love. In it he plays the secret lover of a popular crooner (Jonathan Pryce) who is a heart-throb to women (especially a Chicago housewife played by Kathy Bates) but who is very much still in the closet. So, let’s start gently. Talk about the latest project. He’s a bit like the character played by Jonathan Pryce in the film, isn’t he? After all, when he first found fame in the mid-1980s, with Another Country and Dance with a Stranger, he became a pin-up to schoolgirls everywhere, as well as to schoolboys who wanted to emulate his dark, scowling, foppish look. ‘What do you mean?’ he says in a lazy, patrician voice.

Well, he is, is he not, in the unusual position of being a sex symbol to both women and men? ‘I see what you’re saying. But I don’t think I’m a sex symbol to men, to be honest. Sex symbols to men are people like David Beckham.’ Perhaps ‘role model’ would be a better term then, in the sense that many heterosexual men wish to emulate his easy way with women, that ability to become the confidant, as he has with his friend Madonna? ‘Be the GBF, you mean? The Gay Best Friend? Well, yes. Lucky me. But I think it’s an old-fashioned view that only gay men are capable of fulfilling that role. I’m sure David Beckham could talk about eye cream and shopping for clothes.’

Everett is the second son of an Army major who later became a stockbroker. While his parents were stationed abroad, he and his brother, Simon (who now runs a fleet of helicopters in Nairobi), lived with their maternal grandmother in Norfolk. He was sent away to board at the age of seven, which he says ‘calcified my heart’. At the same age he watched a film that was to change his life, Mary Poppins. He found, he says, that he identified with Julie Andrews so much that he knew from that moment on that he wanted to be a star.

Was it a parochial childhood? Military? Bourgeois? ‘Um, we weren’t the sort of family who went to St Moritz. We went to Scotland in the summer, stalking. And I had a pekinese, one of my first acts of rebellion. My idea of a holiday was following my family up the hill with my pekinese, who would skip over the heather in front of me. All the other dogs were big and butch.’ He smiles broadly at the memory – it’s a disarming, boyish smile; toothy and mischievous.

Presumably he was a rebel at Ampleforth, the Roman Catholic public school in North Yorkshire he attended? ‘I never wanted to take part in any group activities. I felt really proud of the fact that I never once played rugby in five years. No, that’s not quite true. I was forced to play it twice. I felt good about hiding out in the music school.’ Indeed he did – he’s an accomplished pianist – and in the school’s music and theatre wing, under the stairs, he had a ‘dressing room’ covered in pictures of himself. He would invite friends round to it for imaginary cocktails. Not very Mary Poppins, but certainly starstruck.

He thinks for a moment. ‘I’ve never been any good with authority. I just thought I had all the answers.’ He stands up, walks over to the window, lifts one side of the swagged curtain and peers out across Hyde Park. ‘Authority figures are so irritating,’ he says over his shoulder. ‘Because they always tell you to do things for reasons that aren’t very good. That sums up what authority is about for me.’

Did he have a nickname at school? ‘No.’

Come on, he can tell me. ‘Everett Two. My brother was Everett One.’ Everett Two has written two novels: Hello Darling, Are You Working? (1992) and The Hairdressers of St-Tropez (1995). The reviews weren’t at all kind (‘Deplorable’ – the TLS; ‘Abysmal’ – the Guardian) but the first one, about a boy who wants to wear a wedding dress, and later becomes a hard-up bisexual actor, forced to work in soap operas, had a cracking opening line: ‘By the time he was eight he knew he would never be a Great Actress.’ Was it autobiographical? ‘I don’t want the interview to be about that.’

Oh go on. ‘All right, yes, there was an autobiographical element. As a kid I would be put to bed when my parents had guests and because I was such a show-off I would go to my mum’s room, put on her nightdress and Jackie Onassis shawl, run downstairs, go outside, ring the doorbell and pretend to be one of the guests. I’d say, “Hello, I’m Mrs So and So.” And my parents would say, “Come in.” I would join the other guests for ten minutes, then be sent to bed again, only to reappear ten minutes later at the door in another outfit. This was repeated a couple more times before I became over-tired, refused to go to bed and clung on to the banister sobbing. Those were my dressing-up days.’

So his parents can’t have been that surprised when he told them he was gay? The temperature drops. ‘No,’ he says icily. ‘I think they were very surprised.’ He sighs. He frowns. He unscrews the top of a bottle of fizzy water, making it hiss angrily. ‘Look,’ he snaps. ‘Does everything have to be about me being gay?’ He takes a swig from the bottle. ‘Why can’t we talk about my new film?’

But he, er, plays a gay character in his new film, as he did in his last one and the one before that. And Another Country, his first film, was about homosexuality and betrayal in public schools. ‘Yes, but we’re not talking about them, are we? We’re talking about me being gay, as usual. Why are you so interested? Are you a closet fag? Would you ask a straight person about what they did with their parents’ clothes aged six?’

Of course I would, I say, if I thought it would offer some insights into the person.

There is a cold fury in his eyes now. His nostrils dimple in and out as his breathing quickens. Nasty Rupert has taken possession. ‘Yes. But with me it is the only thing that people are interested in. People aren’t just about their sexuality – and it’s very, very frustrating.’

What to do? Make a run for it? Faint? I slowly cover my head with my hands and draw my knees up to my chest. It seems to lighten the mood. He sighs once more, this time more calmly, and says: ‘OK. OK.’

He stands up and walks over to the window again, his back to me. ‘I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with talking about a person’s sex life. I’m just saying it can’t be the only identification point.’ He turns to face me. Pauses for dramatic effect. ‘It is provincial and old-fashioned to make it so.’ Fair enough, I say, let’s look for a different identification point then. Everett changed his identity radically in the mid-1980s when he left London to live in Paris – stayed there for a decade before coming back to make The Madness of King George. Was it a self-imposed exile? ‘I wanted to get out of England,’ he says flopping back down on the sofa, no longer in a strop. Nice Rupert.

Why? ‘Because everything had gone wrong. I wasn’t getting the jobs. I was feeling paranoid. I wanted to escape the attention that I was getting. It was pretty negative [two pop songs he had recorded were panned]. I went for one weekend to Paris and thought, “I’m so crazy, I could get out of all this negativity and move here,” and I did, the next week. And I didn’t understand French much at first and lived in this blissful fantasy world. I reinvented myself – and had a new character because I couldn’t express myself. All my new friends thought I was rather mournful.’

Were they right? ‘Yes, I do get depressed. Not so much recently though.’

What’s changed? ‘My spirits were low in my twenties because everything unravelled. I thought I was doing one thing, but when I looked at it objectively I was doing another. Some people would say your work is really, really fantastic, that you’re like a matinée idol from the 1950s, and others would say it’s really, really crap. Both were partly true, but neither was the whole truth. When this was happening to me it was at the time I was exploring my sexuality [he didn’t decide he was totally gay until he was 26], and it is a very trippy thing, like being in a kaleidoscope. So you spend a lot of the time bewildered and confused and having dysfunctional relationships.’

So were those his wilderness years? ‘They weren’t wilderness years for me, no. I’ve always been forced to move on and probably always will be. But wilderness years, no. Moved to France, learnt two languages [French and Italian], and working there set me up for my next successful moment.’

Is there anything he would change about himself now? ‘Everything and nothing. I like being Rupert Everett but I’d also like to be a muscly black billionaire hip-hop singer.’

And so you shall, Rupert, I say, waving an imaginary wand: Ping! ‘The Sunday Telegraph,’ he says dryly, ‘the paper that just keeps giving.’ He yawns without opening his mouth.

Does he contemplate his own mortality? ‘And immortality. A lot.’ Through film? ‘Hopefully. Yes, you see a whole life ageing on screen. Life as a selection of repeats.’

He has also been ‘immortalised’ as a model, the face of Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium for Men. What was it like seeing himself on billboards everywhere? Did he become a narcissist? ‘Mm. Yeah, narcissism. I think most people who are vain have a lack of belief in their looks, they want to look better and they want people to tell them they are good-looking.’ He takes another sip of water from the neck, then swirls the bottle round and round absent-mindedly. Bored now. But did he ever look at himself in magazine ads and think, ‘Phwoar’? ‘All the time! I would go to bed with a magazine and just stare at a picture of myself. Sweet dreams!’

Does he sleep well? ‘Not the last three nights, but normally, yes.’ No guilt or angst keeping him awake? ‘Guilt for what?’ He pulls a mock nervous face. ‘What have I done now?’ Everyone feels guilty. ‘No, I don’t feel guilty at night. Only during the day.’ So he’s a man with a clear conscience? ‘Mm, lazy but well-disposed. And unpunctual. And easily bored. And quite selfish.’

Is he a good friend to his friends? ‘For the most part, but I have lapses.’

So he does. His friends speak of the bust-ups and mood swings – inevitably, he had a brief falling-out with Madonna – but he is usually quick to make up. What everyone says is that he has never been able to settle down. It’s the ‘always forced to move on’ factor he mentions. His longest relationship lasted a year – or rather his longest human relationship. A man’s best friend is said to be his dog, and that was certainly true in Everett’s case. He divides his time between London, Miami and Paris, and at one stage bought a home in Los Angeles just so that his arthritic black labrador Moise – Mo – could get the veterinary treatment it needed. And he once turned down a role on the London stage because it would have meant Mo being quarantined for six months. Mo died in November; was he heartbroken? ‘Yep.’

Will he get another dog?

‘Nope. It would be too depressing seeing another grow old and ill. You have them from puppies and they age so quickly. Always trying to keep up. So obliging.’

And would he characterise what he felt for his labrador as love?

‘Mm. The closest I have ever come to it.’ Does that surprise him? ‘Not really.’ Why? Is it because, as an actor, he has to be able to say, ‘I love you,’ to a relative stranger, in front of a film crew. ‘Yes, you can say it with as much conviction as possible, even if you hate the bitch. That’s what it’s about. When you say, “I love you,” on screen it destroys the next time you say it because it has just become a sense memory.’ He taps his long fingers together. ‘I sometimes find myself standing back from emotional situations in real life and thinking [he adopts a German accent], “Ziz is werry interestink. Later I shall go to my room and write a sonnet about it. Over a glass of dessert vine.”‘ He laughs crisply. ‘You’re looking at me as if I’m mad!’

Not mad, but sensitive, amusing, erratic – and a little bit lonely. An encounter with Everett can be a bit hair-raising – his one-man good cop, bad cop routine – but he probably feels it’s what is expected of him. So Rupert, I say as we wind the interview up, that wasn’t so bad now, was it? ‘No, not so bad.’ And, I add, we didn’t even touch on the dreaded rent-boy stuff. He looks at my tape-recorder and says quietly and with unexpected dignity: ‘That’s still running. Please. My parents read The Sunday Telegraph.’



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.