Before I meet Russell Brand I meet his cat. At least, I’m assuming it’s his cat because: a) I’m sitting in his kitchen in Hampstead, and b) The cat has one of those diamanté-studded collars on it, the sort of thing that Brand himself might wear, only around his wrist, and with metal studs rather than fake diamonds.

It is early evening and he is behind schedule, upstairs somewhere meeting a deadline. When – eventually – he descends the staircase, he is barefoot; tall and lean in black jeans and black jumper; padding as softly as a panther. His left eyebrow forms a permanent arch; his lower lip a puffy curve; his long, black mane is down, rather than back-combed up, which is how he wears it when doing his show on television or when performing comedy on stage – award-winning comedy, quirky, effervescent, stream-of-consciousness comedy.

By his own exuberant standards, he seems subdued, weary and, well, dignified today – more dignified than you would expect. He also seems distracted: he fiddles with the flat-screen Bang and Olufsen TV; he languidly circles the kitchen table; he plays with the dimmer switch before opting for muted lighting, which casts his neatly bearded features into partial shadow. When he settles it is with the side of his head resting on an upturned hand, as if offering it on a plate. He has about him an air of wanton self-possession. This, you sense, is not a man to whom you would lightly entrust a wife or grown daughter.

I am here because Russell Brand is about to publish his life story.

This you might think a little premature, given that he is 32 years old. But the man has lived. With candour bordering on the pathological, he spares his readers little as he turns seedy episodes – the crack dens, the orgies, the brothels – into picaresque anecdotes. Everything is played for laughs – from his teenage bulimia and his expulsions from school and drama college, to his numerous sackings, his 11 arrests for petty crimes, his sexual humiliations, his Olympian promiscuity and drug abuse, and, finally, his treatment in a clinic for heroin addiction, and, after that, for sex addiction (he calls it being sent to winky nick).

His prose is vulgar at times – he would prefer ‘saucy’ – but it is also pleasingly deadpan and, on occasion, lyrical. I tell him so and then add that I sensed he was holding a lot back – my little joke. He looks puzzled. ‘In what?… Why?’ To be fair, if you have to explain something is a joke, it probably isn’t one. ‘Right,’ he says, nodding thoughtfully. ‘Because I’m so open about everything, you mean? Right.’

Open is one way of putting it, I say. Dementedly honest is another. He’s addicted to honesty. Stuff you would hesitate to tell your best friend, he tells the world.

‘Really? What like?’ Like the time he spat in a girlfriend’s face. Or the time he pleasured a man in a public lavatory for a TV show he was doing (it was never aired), despite being, in his own words, ‘hysterically heterosexual’.

‘You’re the first person to read it who isn’t involved in the publishing process. Now you’re making me nervous that I’ve said too much.’

He feels exposed? ‘Not really, no, because although I am the subject, the instrument referred to in the book, I think I can be quite objective in the way I make jokes about all the things that ‘appened to me.’

To rob them of their power to wound, he means? ‘That’s the mentality which has seen me through, Nigel.’

A word about his delivery here. It is quite fey and whispery, then he will get excited – ‘cited’ he would call it – and become shouty and deeper voiced. He hams up his Essex accent, dropping his ‘h’s’, as in ‘appen, and ‘g’s’, as in slumberin’ (take them as read for the rest of this article). He deliberately uses rotten grammar: ‘Them things.’ ‘I weren’t.’ And he would refer to ‘me grammar’ rather than ‘my grammar.’ Yet he also uncoils extravagant sentences, full of quaint old-fashioned vocabulary and Victorian syntax. When he does this on stage he spirals his hand like a hypnotist.

He seems to be on a roll at the moment – he has his own Radio 2 programme as well as a show on Channel 4, and he has a budding acting career (among other films, he is in the soon to be released St Trinians and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, from the team behind Knocked Up). He has even had a fling with Kate Moss. So where did it all go wrong, as the hotel waiter once asked George Best? Brand traces it back to several things: being an only child, having parents who separated when he was six months old, being ‘fingered’ by a tutor when he was seven. ‘A lot of the things, to me, are quite ordinary because they are literally what happened. It couldn’t be more mundane. Having spent time in treatment, around drug users, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had mildly intrusive sexual encounters as a child.’

But most people don’t end up having treatment for sexual addiction as an adult. That, to me, seems unusual. ‘It’s not something I would have done if left to my own devices. I was coerced into it. Like with drug addiction, once a problem is highlighted people become more judgmental. More than if you just kept quiet about your addiction. I haven’t used drink or drugs for five years so I am a much less volatile prospect than once I was.’

His public persona seems egomaniacal, yet in private, judging by his memoirs, he doesn’t seem to like himself that much. Does the bravado hide self-loathing? ‘I imagine really, Nigel, what with the self and the individual being arbitrary constructs rather than objective ideas, that if you are resolutely happy with who you are then you are drunk on an illusion. And I am not. I accept there is a conflict there, though. Because I am, as you have said, egotistical. I am compelled to pursue ambitions and goals whilst at the same time recognising they are futile.’

See what I mean about him being dignified? I mention a childhood incident in which he stamped on flowers because he had been expressly told not to by a park keeper. A cry for attention, surely. One to do with his father being absent. Is it that he would rather have people hate him than ignore him? ‘If the park keeper hadn’t told me not to stamp on the flowers, I wouldn’t have been compelled to do it. The flowers were innocent casualties in all this. I sometimes just think, what will happen? What’s the worst that could happen if I do this?

‘Usually the answer is: not much. Looking back, I wish I had rebelled more. I wish I had gone further. I wish I had been in more trouble at school. I wish I had taken more drugs. I wish I had been rude to more people. I wish I had been sacked from more jobs.’

The most memorable sacking, for the record, was when he wore an Osama bin Laden costume for his MTV show, on the morning after 9/11.

‘Come on guys,’ he said to his viewers. ‘Get over it. It was yesterday. We’ve got to move on.’ Quite funny that, but only in retrospect.

Conformists, I suggest, don’t just conform because they are boring but because they don’t want the stress of non-conformity. They conform because it makes them happy and frees them to think of higher things. As Socrates is said to have said, the greatest form of freedom is slavery.

‘Yes, but conformity was never an option for me. I didn’t feel contentment. The demands to conform are deeply encoded, yet the penalties are so inconsequential when breached. For petty rules, I mean.

‘If a policeman gives me an ultimatum not to drop my trousers of course I am going to drop them. When that happened to me I wasn’t arrested. What will happen if I do take heroin in front of people at work? Nothing. Well, I got sacked, but so what. And what if I do refuse to get off this aeroplane? OK, I got thrown off but I wasn’t charged. Actually, I am less like that now I have stuff to lose. Before it was: what are you gonna take from me? A lump of me nothin?’

His non-conformity, he adds, has another dimension. ‘As Socrates said, the male libido is like being chained to a madman. That was certainly true in my case. I was literally sex mad.’

‘I have not had sex for approaching 14 days. There is someone I might be interested in. I have known her for a while. Not sleeping with her yet. Not sleeping with anyone. But I took the other phone numbers out of my phone – 784, but who’s counting?’

Through my laughter I ask if he does know the actual number. I presume he doesn’t, given his drug-related memory losses. ‘It cannot but sound coarse and bragging to put a number to it. It’s a lot, though, because I have been devoted to it. I’ve worked hard. The figures are a reflection of years of toil and dedication. I would say to any young womaniser out there if you are prepared to commit your life and sanity to the cause you should be able to archive these quite bafflingly high figures.’

And yet there was Amanda, a girlfriend he refers to in his memoirs. She left him because of his infidelities. He seems to have loved her. Did he? ‘Mm. It was certainly a f—ing nuisance. If that’s a synonym. I think that relationship was held together by conflict rather than compatibility. But I loved her, yes.’

How come he can’t show restraint in the way other men can? Are his sexual urges more powerful, does he suppose? ‘I’m not sure. It’s difficult to ascertain. Sex is a biological necessity. It is also good for my self-esteem because it makes me feel powerful. I also have a tendency towards addiction, so those things combined amount to a powerful motivating force. Also when I sit in a park and see beautiful women walking past I see an avenue to an alternative reality: all those possibilities, all those adventures. It’s not just me thinking I want to come, but me thinking what if I fall in love? I wonder what stories she has. I wonder what she will look like cleaning her teeth. I wonder what she will tell me about her father. I wonder how she treats her pets. I wonder what her bedroom will smell like.’

He describes being overweight as a teenager before becoming slim at 16 and losing his virginity. Was his hysterical heterosexuality also about making up for lost years of feeling sexually unattractive? ‘It was astonishing to go from feeling all tubby and unlovely and odd and obscure and bland in Essex to having beautiful girls find me attractive and exotic. It was like some Shakespearean mistaken identity.’

He still associates sex with guilt – ‘afterwards a fog of guilt descends’. When he made that contract with himself did he worry that he was denying himself the prospect of more meaningful encounters – ones combined with feelings of love, ones free of guilt, ones after which he would not feel, as he says he usually does, le petite mort? ‘Sometimes I do feel as if I am in love with the women I am having sex with. I don’t know whether this is a masquerade or a pose but often I feel incredible intimacy and unity, not only with a regular sexual partner, but also in fleeting encounters with strangers, a shared humanity and bond. Why is it, Nigel, that longevity is considered a necessary part of the feeling of love? Why can’t you fall in love for half an hour? Is it less valid? Who cares about the difference between an hour and a decade and a lifetime.’

Besides, heroin was his true love. His descriptions of the drug are disturbingly poetic and tender. ‘Yeah. First time I tried it it was beautiful. It was a relief.’

Doesn’t talking about heroin in such loving terms rather unsettle him, because he knows he can never have it again? ‘Part of the mentality of recovery is one day at a time. I don’t have to not take drugs for the rest of my life. I only have to not take drugs today. Also those feelings of love come at a price because heroin itself is demanding. It won’t let you just have a little bit. If you want heroin you have to give up everything else. First it will take your job, then your girlfriend, then your house, then the clothes you are in, then it will take your skin. And when there is nothing left to take it will take your life.’

He was told he would be dead in six months unless he went into rehab. ‘At the time I felt rather pleased. Really? So long?’ One of the doctors at the Residential Treatment Centre for Sexual Addiction thought he was bipolar (what used to be called manic depressive). Had that diagnosis ever come up before?

‘Three times, at school, at drama school and then ‘im. I’m aware of an oscillation but I’ve spent most of my adult life on drugs. It is hard to diagnose what it is, whether it is an inherent or inveterate chemical imbalance. I don’t know. It wasn’t self-inflicted as a child. I still felt volatile inside then. Anyway, the down times are a necessary correlation of the up times. With friends and people I know well there will be moments where I get uppity and show-offy, but most of the time, I’ll be sitting watching and listening quietly. The performance isn’t all there is – that would be unbearable.’

Now for the cheap psychology. It could be that he behaves badly to others to justify to himself the potential rejection he fears. He will tell you how temperamental he can be – hurling glasses of water during an argument – also how indifferent, cruel and affected. As he found when he got clean, he doesn’t enjoy his own company much. A lot of it seems to be to do with his father: ‘Sometimes he would turn the light of his attention on me and it would be brilliant,’ he writes in his book. ‘He’d tease me and wind me up and be very funny, but he’d get bored really quickly, and then I’d just be there again – all tubby and useless.’

It would make sense of his ‘priapic excesses’, as he calls them, because his promiscuity could be seen as a way of winning his father’s approval (his father was something of a lothario, one who had no moral qualms about sleeping with prostitutes). Not far below the surface bravado, then, is insecurity: fear of being alone, fear of being bored, fear of rejection. Conversely, Brand seems to have had almost too much attention from his mother, in that he was left with a rampaging ego. He’s funny about it, of course. ‘My mum thinks I’m an excellent swimmer, simply because I’ve not yet drowned.’

In the Hampstead kitchen there is, next to a stack of vegetarian cook books, an award for the world’s sexiest vegetarian. And in the hall there is a biography of Peter Cook, next to an antelope skull encrusted with diamanté. It amounts to a shrine. His other heroes are Alan Bennett, Huxley and Camus. And that’s another thing he feels insecure about, or at least frustrated. He has a quick wit, certainly, but he also seems to be highly intelligent. And to compensate for his lack of formal academic training, he has become an autodidact, an obsessive one, inevitably.

‘I get excited by it. But I still feel when talking to friends who have been well educated that I am just skitting on the surface of knowledge, that I have no depth. I know enough about Chomsky or Derrida to have a superficial conservation but I can’t keep it going.’

That said, he does still see himself as a typical Essex man who likes football and ‘birds with big bottoms and big boobs’. And the prostitutes he had ‘joyless sex’ with? ‘I haven’t done it since the sex clinic. I should probably have mentioned that in the book!’ He laughs and pulls a mock worried face.

‘Frankly I’ve had no need or time. I would say, though, I do feel comfortable among vagrants, prostitutes and drug-users. I seek them out. Like homeless people, they are raw and honest because they don’t have the same protective social layers as everyone else. They don’t have the material possessions. Unlike me!’ He raises his arms and looks around. ‘Look at me ensconced in my lovely home.’

He has things to lose now, I tell him. ‘And I’m sure I’ll find a way to lose them.’


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.