James Blunt: 'Real life doesn't involve cool'

We chat to the catty crooner ahead of his Beijing show

A long time ago, British singer-songwriter James Blunt stopped caring about his public and media perceptions and just got on with being one of the most ruthlessly successful musicians of his generation.

Since finding fame with his ubiquitous 2005 hit ‘You’re Beautiful’ his polished brand of direct, cosy, love-fixated pop has built him wings with which to soar above critics who have dismissed his music as dull and cynical. As they often say in the US, he’s 'owned' this reputation, largely by being a fiercely witty tweeter.

In September last year when someone tweeted, 'Does James Blunt still exist?' he replied: 'Only in places you can’t get into'. When a fan tweeted, 'If you tweet me, I’ll make whatever you say my yearbook quote' at him he replied: 'I suck c*** for coke'. (He didn’t use the stars.)

This is one of the many reasons why we love James Blunt, and were keen to speak to him on the phone as he prepared for the 2018 world tour for his fifth album, The Afterlove, released last summer.

Are you looking forward to your big China return?
It’s such an extraordinary place, so different to anywhere else I play – we’re really excited. Every time we come back it’s developed and adapted and morphed into something new and bolder.

You don’t sell many albums in China, so how come you’re popular here?
Word of mouth, I hope. Which is the most flattering way to be passed around.

'You’re Beautiful' at KTV may have something to do with it
You’re probably right. I sing words that are relatively easy to understand and sung in a way that’s easy to replicate. I’ve been in a Chinese karaoke bar in Sydney and heard people singing my songs – I was in the room next door so went into their room and sang the final chorus. It was two o’clock in the morning and they wondered if it was some kind of television stunt.

You’re not considered 'cool' in the UK – does that slip away abroad?
It’s not a word I’ve ever thought about too hard or worried myself with. I’m singing songs about real life, and real life doesn’t involve cool.

rszJames Blunt drop-in

Twitter is blocked in China – a problem or blessed relief?
They’re [Chinese authorities] probably quite sensible in not having Twitter. It seems that people are only mean to each other on it. The digital world has given access for people to voice their opinions and, sadly, people have forgotten that they should probably keep their opinions to themselves. If China hasn’t got it, I respect them for that.

Do you get trolled online much?
I try and go through [Twitter messages] once a day; people don’t say much about me that’s mean, anymore. Possibly because they know that I’m ever-present, trolling them back. But I spend a lot of time talking about it, as we have done. People on Twitter get so much attention.

Do you find that frustrating?
These are very lonely people, curtains drawn in their bedrooms, trousers down by their ankles. There’s a real world with real people doing much more. I’m doing a world tour, where I play to tens of thousands of people every night… people singing these songs. Why are we obsessed by one or two nasty comments online? In doing so you’re ignoring hundreds of thousands of people who like a musician and his music.

How do you cope with being on the road for so long?
It’s a pretty unhealthy lifestyle: a load of blokes on the road, not looking after themselves and having too much fun. I’m with a band I’ve toured with for 14 years; they’re my friends and you see that on stage. If you don’t know my live show you expect one man on guitar playing miserable songs, but it’s not – it’s a band having a blast, and it rocks. I’m touring South America and Australia before I get to China, so by the time I get there we’ll be cooking on gas.

You were good friends with the late Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher – have you seen her in The Last Jedi?
I haven’t, and I’m a bit nervous about seeing it because I know it’s going to make me very sad. But I want to, and from speaking to her I know she was really proud of what she achieved in it. I’ve heard that she’s fantastic in it and I couldn’t be more proud for her. It means that she went out at the top, with a bang, in the way that she should be remembered: as the princess she is.

You live in Ibiza, where I’ve heard you travel around in a tuk tuk – is that true?
Yeah… it’s the most amazing vehicle. It’s from Thailand, it’s fast, and it can squeeze four of us in. I want to get the Indian one too, to complete the collection.

Finally, I also heard that you have a nightclub in your home with a sign that reads, 'Blunty’s nightclub: where everyone is beautiful'
Yes, and there’s a mannequin on the door named Svetlana. She runs a tight ship, but everybody is welcome.
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