James Blunt on his hilarious new memoir and why fame is a double-edged sword
James Blunt is recalling the rock stars who have blanked him over the years, not wanting to hang out with a man who now describes himself as a ‘one-hit wonder’, creator of the famous romantic song, You’re Beautiful.
A-listers Mick Jagger, Noel Gallagher and Damon Albarn all feature in his latest book, Loosely Based On A Made-Up Story, a sort of autobiography, although Blunt says some of it is made up and some of it isn’t, which makes him quite tricky to pin down.
The former soldier’s global hit – which he wrote in two minutes when he was high on drugs and spotted his ex with a new boyfriend – launched him into the music stratosphere, but was played to death on the radio and, in his words, made him a “national pariah”.
Today, from his home in Ibiza, he says that a lot of the anecdotes are hard to remember, along with the order and structure in which they happened, and he’s had to call on friends to fill in the gaps.
This likeable singer songwriter, who describes himself as a ‘posh twat’, is happy to be the butt of jokes, which he agrees he uses as a form of protection.
“Isn’t it the English way?” he muses. “If you ask me about my latest album (Who We Used To Be), which I think is really good, I’m going to struggle to sell it to you in the way that those Britpop bands did in the Nineties, where they go, ‘Yeah, it’s the best thing you’ve ever f***ing heard’. I can’t do that with any conviction.
“I’ve got that terrible English affliction of just saying, ‘Yeah, it’s all right, maybe give it a go some time if you’ve nothing better to do. Listen to it while you can’t sleep’.”
While his book is peppered with his trademark wit, there must have been times when being snubbed by rock stars, plus scathing criticism in the media over the years – the worst of which is meticulously recorded at the end of the book – must have hurt.
“I would be lying if I said it didn’t affect me. I found different mechanisms to deal with that. I went to Ibiza, I went clubbing, had an amazing time and lived an incredible life.
“While there’s still a sting, there are ways to put it in perspective, to say, ‘Well, this is the cost for the life we’re now living and I have to just take some of the punches’.”
In the book he records stories – which may or may not be true – of rock stars refusing to engage with him at awards events and there’s even one tabloid report that Noel Gallagher sold his house and left Ibiza because he heard Blunt had moved there.
“What was weird was that I was an adult. I’d just left the army, where you’re dealing with life and death, and suddenly you’re in this business where people are just like children, as if they’re back in a playground working out who’s in the cool gang or who’s not.
“The music business is a very immature, childish business, not often based on music, but on perception and potential.”
His army experience – he served as a reconnaissance officer in the Kosovo conflict, crossing minefields in tanks, witnessing the deaths of fellow soldiers as well as civilian atrocities and mass graves – has given him further perspective, he agrees.
“When things were tough, I could call a mate in Iraq or Afghanistan, and he would say, ‘So-and-so’s leg has just been blown off. What’s up with you?’ And actually, I don’t really have much to complain about.”
He says that he’s never wanted to break away from the ‘posh’ label he’d inherited through his upbringing.
“You can be a snob, who is an a*******, but being a toff doesn’t make me a snob. My parents gave me the accent, but they are good people.
“My greatest education was working with soldiers from all corners of Britain, and now I work with a band from all corners of the UK. My best friend is a Brummie, my guitar tech is from Glasgow, two of them are from Coventry and they take the p*** out of me every single day. And in my case, I deserve it.”
Born in Norfolk, the son of an army helicopter pilot, the young James was sent away to boarding school aged seven.
“It’s a weird environment. It does give you an independence and that’s a benefit. But it also makes you emotionally stunted. But my parents were away, posted to different countries. I was sent away at that age because it gave me stability. When I was there I found music was my emotional outlet.”
While pursuing his music career, before he was famous, he went to the US to do some recording and ended up living with actor Carrie Fisher, who he’d met through friends, in Beverly Hills. They soon became best friends.
They named his 2004 album Back To Bedlam after the “madhouse” from which it came. A stream of famous faces would come and go to the Fisher residence, including Meryl Streep, Courtney Love and Joni Mitchell.
He’s had his fair share of rock-star antics – drugs, glamorous girlfriends, parties on superyachts and celebrity bashes. The book recounts his experiences of parties with politicians including Boris Johnson, encounters with former US president Bill Clinton, socials with royals and Ibiza clubbing nights.
Fame has proved a double-edged sword, he reflects.
“It’s a sword and a dagger in the back, too. You know that from all the people who’ve been pursued and damaged by it. Most people who are in any way famous are in some way probably a little bit damaged.”
Having a solid family, including his wife Sofia, with whom he has two young children, and his parents, has helped him stay grounded.
“My mum is my greatest supporter, my greatest advocate, and my father works with me. He left the army as a colonel and became my bookkeeper. He’s the most efficient human being on the planet. And by having close friends and family, I have managed to keep my feet on the ground.”
Loosely Based On A Made-Up Story by James Blunt is published by Constable, priced £20. Available now.