x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Why stardom hasn't changed James Blunt

Despite global fame, the British pop star says he is as down-to-earth as he has always been.

James Blunt, one of the UK's most popular singer/songwriters, says he never gets bored by having to repeatedly perform the same songs.
James Blunt, one of the UK's most popular singer/songwriters, says he never gets bored by having to repeatedly perform the same songs.

James Blunt has won two Brit Awards, been nominated for five Grammys, has sold more than 15 million albums worldwide and is in Guinness World Records for the fastest-selling album (Back to Bedlam) in one year. Women, including a long list of supermodels, adore him. His songs are heartfelt, real and hit a chord in almost everyone. He's good looking, dashing, charming, polite, smart and funny.

I caught up with Blunt on the phone just days before he was about to start his world tour, with dates all over the US, Europe, the UK and Australia, ending in South Africa in August. His voice sounds like a mixture of his songs - sensitive but deeper, yet carefree and sultry, like his last album, Some Kind of Trouble, released late last year.

Blunt's superstardom might be a shock to most people, but I've known him for about 10 years. I had heard from many girlfriends of mine about this amazing army guy in the same regiment as my boyfriend, asking if I could put in a good word for them.

I met Blunt when he was an officer in the Blues and Royals Queen's Regiment. Even then he was a superstar to those who knew him, with the same charisma he is famous for today. At the time my boyfriend was one of Blunt's best friends, and he still is.

Blunt wasn't your typical army officer; he was only biding his time, paying back university loans from the army, when all along he had aspirations to be a singer, even writing his university thesis on the formations of pop idols.

I ran into him a few years later at the height of his stardom, the summer when Back to Bedlam came out at the Cannes film festival. He was surround by security men, supermodels and hangers-on, all queuing up to have five seconds of his attention. But like a true charmer, he saw me from across the room and came over to chat. He could have stood on the other side of the room, behind the red rope protected by bodyguards, and only waved.

His second album, All the Lost Souls, is about his relationship with fame, which he doesn't take seriously.

"I am not a fireman, a teacher or a doctor," he says, "and I haven't saved any lives or changed the world. I am just working on my music, travelling on a tour bus."

He talks about the grind of touring - he does almost 150 shows a year - and of being "handed a phone on arrival - and then I go and do all the interviews, radio shows and TV shows in the country I'm performing in that night. The whole day, although I'm doing interviews, is really geared up to that evening's performance - there's the sound check, the lights, the stage is being built."

But it's balanced, Blunt says, by his time off, when "the world stands still sometimes".

"Last summer I went to Ibiza [his villa there is his principal residence] to hang out with friends," he says, "and you never know how many friends you have until you say 'open house' in Ibiza."

He also says he doesn't get bored by the interview routine or by having to repeatedly sing the same songs.

"The audience wants to hear it," he says of any one of his hits, "and it's not something you've cooked for yourself so it's a pleasure to cook it for somebody else."

Blunt, who turned 37 in February, says he is aware of the downside of stardom, with its "weird celebrity whispering and people nudging each other and people treating you differently". Many fans write to him, he says, and "a few people are obsessed with me, and I know of a few men who might kill me".

The singer says that he is "naturally cautious" with journalists, who, he claims, "want to make money out of you". Still, he enjoys meeting people and is friendly with everyone. He "doesn't travel with security or a PA [personal assistant], or a few managers," the way so many other celebrities do.

Blunt values his close friends highly, he says, especially those who have made the jump from being just acquaintances. He says they understand him and that they always have things to talk about, and that it's great to have just "have silly conversations". Clearly, he is not the kind of star who has only other stars for friends. "If I was thrown into a room with strangers and I recognised Eminem across the room, we would vaguely know each other's music and we'd have something to talk about and have a connection."

What's it like being adored and idolised by millions of women around the world?

"If it's girls, it's no bad thing," jokes the man who was voted "hottest male" in the Virgin Media Music Awards last year. "I keep my trophies in my basement or bathroom or use them as bookshelves," he says.

Blunt says he would like to get married and that "married friends of mine with children are some of the happiest people I know". The cover of his latest album, Some Kind of Trouble, shows a baby being thrown in the air. He was determined to use his godson for the photo shoot. "I tried again and again, but my godson didn't like it in the end, so I googled 'baby throwing' - and found an iPhone photo. There's just a great sense of freedom to the picture," he says.

The album, like its cover, is refreshing and something new for Blunt, with a vibe that's more uplifting than his other two albums.

"When I was writing songs in the army, I was surrounded by tanks," he says, so it was only him and his guitar - "didn't have a studio or other instruments to play around with". For Trouble he spent 14 months in London, where he has an office, polishing his work, then put it all together at his studio in Los Angeles. His efforts appear to have paid off, with sales topping 1 million copies and pushing his overall album sales past the 15 million mark.

Blunt says he loves the Middle East, and that he was struck by the mixes of mosques and churches and the cosmopolitan feel of Lebanon. He also has visited Oman, and played the Dubai Jazz Festival in 2009.

"The audience was fantastic," he says of that appearance. "I felt very welcomed, and was well looked after as a guest in the UAE. Dubai is an incredible city, and it left a big impression on me. I was amazed by the amount of cranes in the skyline."

 

The Blunt file

BORN James Hillier Blount, February 22, 1974, Tidworth Army Hospital, Hampshire, UK

SCHOOLING Harrow School, Bristol University

FAMILY Father, Colonel Charles; mother, Jane; younger sister and brother

FIRST JOB Reconnaissance officer in the army. His family's history of military service dates back to the 10th century.

WORST JOB I can't complain - they've both been pretty good.

ON HIS iPOD Mumford and Sons, The xx, Plan B

CRAZIEST THING EVER DONE A concert at 42,000 feet on a plane. It was a captive audience.

HERO My father. Or Wonder Woman. Or my father dressed as Wonder Woman.

BIGGEST REGRET My commanding officer lost my diary which I kept while in the war in Kosovo.

FAVOURITE QUOTE Guilt is a luxury.

PERSON TO BE STRANDED WITH ON A DESERT ISLAND Ana Beatriz Barros [Brazilian supermodel] for as long as feasibly possible.

 

Soul man: how Blunt's music stormed the charts

BACK TO BEDLAM (2005)

Topped the charts in more than 10 countries, reached No. 2 in the US and three other countries, sold more than 12 million copies worldwide and was the best-selling album of the decade in the UK. Eight of its 10 songs were licensed for use in television shows, films, adverts and/or promo/trailer spots. You're Beautiful was a hit single.

ALL THE LOST SOULS (2007)

Sold more than 3.6 million copies globally and its single 1973 was a hit. The cover consists of hundreds of pictures of Blunt (from childhood to recent) that form a photo mosaic of his face.

SOME KIND OF TROUBLE (2010)

Recorded in Blunt's private studio in Los Angeles, the album has sold more than a million copies. Blunt says it has more energy and optimism than his first two recordings, but Trouble has not been as favourably reviewed by critics.

 

James Blunt's world tour runs until the end of August.