James Blunt owns a pub in Chelsea, the Fox & Pheasant. "We used to call it the Fox & Unpleasant, it was so grotty," he cheerfully announces, showing off his elegant refurbishment of the 17th century hostelry.
He has long owned a house in the same mews, which he refers to as "my cupboard in London" where he can store clothes while he tours. "I love it," he says of his role as publican. "If we're on the town and people say 'Where should we go?' Well, I know a place, we're always going to be able to get in, and we can stay late if we want."
"What kind of landlord are you?" I inquire.
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"The drunk kind!" he chortles.
Blunt is a man who enjoys the rock-star trappings. His home in Ibiza has a nightclub in the garden. He also has a chalet in Verbier, Switzerland, where a ski lift is named in his honour.
He buzzes about his pub with excitable energy, chatting matily with the staff. He sometimes serves behind the bar and mingles with customers.
"There is a strange world of celebrity that puts actors and musicians on pedestals," Blunt observes. "And yet I sing songs about very tangible, real things, and that's how I prefer to live. If you just talk to people and look them in the eye, they will treat you as a normal human being. They may get a selfie first, but after that, it's all pretty normal."
Well, up to a point. James Hillier Blount (he dropped the "o" for showbusiness purposes) has a background that is fairly unusual in popular music. He hails from a venerable British military family, attended Harrow and Sandhurst, became a commissioned officer in the Household Cavalry and served in the Nato peacekeeping force during the Kosovo conflict in 1999.
In the Army, he used to strap an acoustic guitar to the back of a tank. He later rose to fame as a singer-songwriter with a tremulously high voice, striking gold with global hit You're Beautiful in 2004. He has sold more than 20 million albums and might be viewed as a precursor to such down-to-earth troubadours as Ed Sheeran and Lewis Capaldi if Britain's obsession with class did not set him apart.
In 2014, Blunt married City lawyer Alexandrina "Sofia" Wellesley, a direct descendant of the Duke of Wellington, and they have two infant sons. The couple are well-connected enough to have attended the recent royal weddings of Prince Harry and Princess Eugenie.
For a long period, in a kind of reverse snobbery, Blunt was mocked for his poshness, as well as for the perceived mellowness of his music, the highness of his voice and the sheer ubiquity of You're Beautiful.
Yet he has very effectively turned that around with self-deprecating wit and charm. His Twitter account, which is followed by 1.9 million people, is famously funny, exhibiting a rude, lewd, fiercely sarcastic tone. (To the exasperated tweet, "Bloody hell, why is James Blunt still going?", he responded, "Viagra and coffee". The comment, "James Blunt's face fully aggravates me", drew the tart answer, "Then sit on something else.").
"It can definitely get quite crude and that's nothing to be proud of," he admits with a twinkle. "My wife thinks it's terrible. But that's the nature of the beast. The ruder the joke, the bigger the response. So don't blame me, blame the audience!"
Blunt is engaging company, honest, direct and eager to make a personal connection, although not quite as sparklingly witty as his online persona might suggest.
"Answers don't have to be instantaneous online, do they?" he laughs. "It's not like debating." He doesn't have a particularly high opinion of social media.
"It has become a tool and there is no going back, but the spread of information, gossip and cajoling seems to bring out the worst in people. At first, I was shocked about how genuinely unkind it was. I didn't want to sit silently in the corner, being bullied. Striking back gave me a voice. But I'm totally unemotional about it. Whoever cares least – that is the position of power."
"Some say you shouldn't feed the trolls," I point out.
"Well, I say don't feed them, eat them!" he shoots back.
There is a contradictory quality to Blunt, this easy-going character who makes music with such an emotionally high-strung quality. "There is an intensity to how I use music. I say things I wouldn't say in normal conversation."
Desperate to make a new life after the Army, his debut album Back to Bedlam was full of songs about existential fears. "It was quite adolescent, all these bottled up feelings." He concedes he didn't reach the same level of creative intensity on the four albums that followed.
His last, The Afterlove, which he says was conceived after "sitting around a pool in Ibiza with a Corona, thinking 'I'd better make an album'", was released in 2017 and only reached number six in the charts. But something changed when it came to his new release, Once Upon A Mind.
"These are songs I had to write, whatever the consequences. I wouldn't even call it therapeutic, because it has been quite testing. I feel like I've risked it all to make this album."
Partly it was driven by a need to express things to his wife and children. But hanging over it all is his 73-year-old father, Charles Blount, who has stage four kidney disease.
"He needs a transplant, and I'm not a match," says Blunt, and tears well up in his eyes. "That's why I've got you here," he continues, trying to turn it into a joke. "Because I wonder what blood group you are?"
Blount senior is O positive. He looks the image of his famous son, only a more dapper and venerable silver-haired version.
"He has been in the Army, stays fit and healthy, never smoked, never drank. So it's been a shock to see his decline," admits Blunt. "Now I have little boys of my own, I can sense the circle of life playing out in front of me. There is some comfort in that but if we can keep him alive longer … God, I hope we can. We'll do everything possible. But the clock is ticking."
A tear-jerking ballad, Monsters, addresses shifting family roles, as a son becomes parent to the father, caring for them at the end of life. When his father heard it, he simply responded: "So true."
"That was more important than any review I have ever had," says Blunt.
There have been other losses to contend with. Blunt was a close friend of the late Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher, who died in 2016. They met in a restaurant in 2003 and struck up a conversation "that went on for years".
He always stayed with her in Los Angeles and wrote much of his debut album in her house, where she kept a piano in the bathroom and a Christmas tree lit up all year round. "She became my American mother in many ways, and godmother to my first child. Carrie was a free independent thinker, and I hope she saw that in me."
Back in LA earlier this year, he visited "her beautiful, madhouse" one last time. "I got out and put my hands on the gate, like some kind of shrine, and immediately had a moment, going, 'Oh God, I miss you so much' and shedding a tear. And as I did, three [sightseeing] vans pulled up and I could hear the tour guide saying 'On your left, you'll see the late great Carrie Fisher's house. Oh, and as you'll see, some fans are still deeply moved by her passing.'
And there's all these Hollywood tourists going, 'Is that the guy from You're Beautiful?'" Blunt laughs. "It was just a terrible and wonderful moment all at once."