The 'You're Beautiful' hit-maker on his new beer-fuelled project, his first Irish tour, shocking gig disasters and, of course, his spiky Twitter game...
When it comes to James Blunt – former military officer, current commercially successful troubadour, pub landlord and notably spiky social media snare trap – there simply are no more barriers to cross.
"I think people know me pretty well nowadays," he nods.
"I think once upon a time, when I first put out ‘You’re Beautiful’ and ‘Goodbye My Lover’, people thought I was an earnest human being and now they’ve worked out that no, he’s just an idiot."
This level of deadpan self-deprecation arises often during JOE's Friday morning Zoom encounter with Blunt, who appears somewhat Zen-like with a dark baseball cap and beaming smile for company.
He's 47 now, though you wouldn't know it to look at him. The maths make sense, given his mid-2000s career breakthrough, but there's a youthful abandon behind just about every response, a knowing look attached to every quip.
It's all part of the charm package. It's why he's ended up co-hosting a new Amazon Prime Video series by the name of Beer Masters. As the name suggests, it's basically 'What if Masterchef... but beer?' and Blunt's involvement brings a 'kid at Christmas' vibe to proceedings.
"I thought I’d died and gone to heaven," he says about getting the call to participate. Having purchased the Fox & Pheasant pub in Chelsea a few years back, Blunt does actually lend some crafty pedigree to the show.
"It was run-down and unloved," he says of his 2017 acquisition, now being taken care of by a team of 25 people.
"I never thought it would come up for sale. I didn’t imagine owning a pub in the first place, it wasn’t an ambition. But when I heard it was going to be turned into a house and developed, I thought – well it’s the dream of a minor pop star to save the local.
"I’m in the business of bringing people together for live shows and concerts, standing shoulder to shoulder next to strangers," he continues. "Pubs are the same, too. It’s a community-based thing where people come and congregate and socialise. There’s an importance to that, as humans, that we need, and it’s a really fantastic job to be involved in."
James Blunt performs in Frankfurt, Germany in November of 2018
"The real point of the concert is so that we can have an afterparty afterwards."
Blunt turns back the clock. His very first solo tour took place in Ireland, acting as more of a ramshackle and merry jaunt than a well-oiled machine. He loved every second.
"I borrowed my then girlfriend’s Mini and took my keyboard player and we toured around the whole of Ireland with just a Wurlitzer and an electric guitar in the back and we arrived at different venues, set up and played, and it was the most fun thing in the world," Blunt smiles.
"We didn’t have management or a crew; just the two of us – go in there, set up, play shows and then go out for a drink with the people who turned up. God, people were kind and warm to us. Not only for just turning up to hear this young guy making the noise that he was making but also to look after us and show us the various places we were in. The Irish are a very warm people."
Ask him to recall his drunkest adventure, meanwhile, and the answer is a cute one.
"Well, that’s the whole point. You can’t remember it. I’m a happy drinker and I don’t normally – touch wood – become incapacitated. But I’ve had a fair amount of practice.
"I’m a touring musician; I get on a tour bus which is basically a mobile bar – it has an endless supply of beer and we tour the world, we do a concert, and the real point of the concert is so that we can have an afterparty afterwards."
It's tempting to imagine Blunt's lifestyle as a non-stop party. Tabloid-friendly headlines such as 'James Blunt parties with nine naked models' and 'A topless James Blunt is surrounded by beautiful women as he takes his boat out for a spin in the sea' will certainly create that impression.
But it's not always plain-sailing, even when commanding the attention of a global audience.
James Blunt onstage at the Glastonbury Festival in 2008
"I’m the least cool person in the fucking world."
"There’s a moment where I went out and crowd-surfed," he remembers, flashing back to a performance on Glastonbury's near-mythical Pyramid Stage.
"There’s 80,000 people in that field and I’m crowd surfing. I’m Glastonbury. I’m main stage. Maybe for a moment if my life I’m cool. Maybe I’m cool. And then as I get back to the stage, it’s too high for me to climb onto. There’s a guy on the stage and I don’t recognise him and I can’t get up so I’m shouting up to him – ‘Help me! Help me!’ – and then I suddenly realise he’s actually the BBC TV cameraman and I’m shouting ‘Help me!’ out to the nation.
"And so, that realisation of realising – ‘No, no, no… I’m not cool at all, I’m the least cool person in the fucking world’ – certainly was a highlight. I’ve had some amazing moments. I played in Madrid on a radio show where they fly you in – they don’t fly in your band, they say you’re going to play a live vocal to track so you have a band that never played with you before – a stunt band – and they’re miming while I’m going to be singing.
"It’s an arena of 20,000 people but it’s being broadcast to maybe 12 million. I’ve got in-ears in so I can’t really hear what’s going on around me and the guy behind me is like ‘Go!’ and as I walk in and I hear my song start, for some reason the lights didn’t go down and the announcer didn’t announce anything and the announcement video of ‘James Blunt!’ wasn’t working either.
"It’s just in my ears," he explains.
"So, I go out on stage and the band aren’t playing. And the audience aren’t cheering. And they’re just looking at a guy come in, singing a song, and no one is reacting at all. I get to the front and the band are still just watching me like, ‘What are you doing, mate?’. I get to the front and I realise that something is going terribly wrong but we’re on live TV to millions of people. So, I start walking backwards, backwards, backwards and then I just disappear off of the stage.
"Terrible. They threw me back on. The audience realises something has gone terribly wrong. The band begins to play. And as I walked out of this whole arena, there was the live broadcast truck with the satellites on top, broadcasting it to the nation. I walked into the truck and said, ‘What happened there? Was that okay? Did we get away with that? How does it look?’ – this was all in Spanish and the Spaniard turned to me and he said, ‘Ohhhh James! Horriblé! Terriblé! Desastre!’. So yeah, I’ve had some shocking moments."
Initially eyebrow-raising but now a popular social media staple – Blunt's emergence as the kind of Twitter user you don't want to run afoul of.
Over time, he has become famous for tracking down critics – they often don't even tag him in directly – and dispatching them with ruthless endeavour, usually in just a few well-selected words.
A man of questionable taste in pretty much everything. https://t.co/GDBxmLsYh6
— James Blunt (@JamesBlunt) October 15, 2021
Have you tried Google? https://t.co/gjibWLAHO8
— James Blunt (@JamesBlunt) August 3, 2021
Err, she was my ex-girlfriend. https://t.co/xMoSV0oqoy
— James Blunt (@JamesBlunt) April 20, 2021
So, what's the secret to both taking such slights in stride and turning the tables so caustically?
"It’s a phrase I’ve used before but I think it’s true, really – it’s worth thinking about who is writing the negative comment whilst you’re out there doing stuff, making things, creating things, that many people are probably appreciating," Blunt begins.
'To really think hard about who has written the thing that you are reading on your smartphone – that person is probably, you know, a kind of mid-40s dude who’s still living with his parents and he’s upstairs in his bedroom at his parents’ house with his trousers around his ankles writing a negative comment with his left hand while he’s doing his other favourite hobby in his right hand and is probably not to be taken seriously.
"So, we must laugh at the person writing the comment but [also] laugh at ourselves for taking it seriously. And it’s not the real world. The real world out there, if you get out and walk in the street, normally strangers look you in the eye and say something positive and are welcoming and warming.
"If you’re fool enough to get on your smartphone and think that’s the real world then that’s where you’re going to struggle. It’s not real. Ignore it."
The commitment, though. Does he have a Google alert for his name set up?
"I don’t, for the one reason that in Ibiza, where I live, it just sends me a whole load of Spanish ones which I can’t understand. What I occasionally do… I don’t tweet that often but I go on once a month, scroll down a whole load and see if I can find something entertaining and fire that off.
"My label has just asked me to be on TikTok now, as well, which I thought you were only allowed to be on if you were somebody who could gyrate in a small bikini or something like that and I don’t know if I can fit into my bikini anymore."
James Blunt in conversation with Elton John at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in May, 2018
Perish the thought. Though he insists he resides in the real world, Blunt has been up close and personal for an especially surreal event – yes, even stranger than roaring for help to a bemused BBC camera operator – in the form of a Royal Wedding. A couple of them, as it happens.
As Irish people, we have a curious relationship with such an ostentatious occasion. Sure, we claim to despise it yet can't seem to stop tuning in and tweeting about one when it happens. What's it like actually being there on the ground floor, then?
"They are amazing moments, because they are always in amazing settings," says Blunt.
"With such a sense of history behind them, the sense of who has got married in those venues before – that’s why they are these real moments. And the pageantry that goes along with it is really magical.
"I was in the army and for my last two years I was the Queen’s ceremonial bodyguard. There was a practical thing to it; we are trained to protect Her Majesty and we are wired up to the police and we practice how to defend. Much of it is the pageantry and the show – with all its history, it brings in a whole load of tourists and makes the spectacle and that magic is one of the differences within our nation to certain others.
"Some of it makes no sense but it’s all kind of wonderful to be part of and to watch. That’s what makes it special and rather wonderful."
Blunt at the London launch of the MTV Europe Music Awards, November 2005
"When you become famous, you don’t change. It’s the world that changes."
That last sentence, depending on your viewpoint, could apply to Blunt's career as a whole.
Let's go back to where it all kicked off. 2004 – 2005. 'You're Beautiful' is dominating the charts and the music channels, the visage of Blunt disrobing on an ice-cold beach and pouring his heart out impossible to ignore.
At what point did he realise that he was going to be a particularly big deal?
"I definitely felt a sense of trepidation, because I never expected it," he posits.
"I went into the business to make music for myself. I knew that the album definitely had its heart and soul, my heart and soul, in it. And I definitely knew that ‘You’re Beautiful’ was the best shot I had at visibility and airplay but I expected number two, not number one.
"Number two, I was prepared for. Number one, I wasn’t and it was a surprise. Because when you become famous and quite so visible, you don’t change. It’s the world that changes. The world changes the way they look at you. One day you’ll be walking down the street and no one gives you a second look. Then the next day, they’re all running around after you, taking pictures and asking for autographs and the world changes the way they look at you.
"That’s the impact and I wasn’t necessarily prepared for that. But, you know what? You get into the swing of it pretty quickly. I’m lucky. I was older and I had a proper job before and I had great support from my family and then you realise to not take much of it seriously and to enjoy the good bits.
"And there are some bonuses. It means I can get into nightclubs for free! And skip the queue! What else is there to aspire for?"
James Blunt was in conversation with JOE ahead of the launch of Beer Masters, all episodes of which are available to watch on Amazon Prime Video UK now.
Blunt's greatest hits album – The Stars Beneath My Feet (2004 – 2021) lands on Friday, 19 November