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|A great interview in the Evening Standard to start the week.
Evening Standard Go London
15 October 2018
James Blunt interview: 'The answer to political blues? Come to the pub'
Goodbye my liver: James Blunt at The Fox and Pheasant (Daniel Hambury/@stellapicsltd)
In a refreshing change from the prevailing political mood, the singer James Blunt thinks everything is going to work out. What, even Brexit? “I have a song called OK about how it is going to be OK,” he says. “It was No 1 everywhere in the world except for the UK. Maybe that’s OK in itself.”
“I’m much more positive than perhaps the national sentiment is,” he continues, explaining his fix for political blues. “Maybe that’s because I always have half a pint in me, so the answer ultimately is come visit the pub.”
He means The Fox and Pheasant, a 17th-century pub in a picturesque Chelsea mews, which he has bought and renovated. Blunt, 44, is a welcoming landlord, pulling me a pint of Estrella (he drinks it when he’s at his house in Ibiza). He lives just down the road from the pub and works shifts on the bar. “I’m kept to simple jobs — I’m often on the pot wash.”
So what makes a man who has sold more than 20 million records, had five sell-out world tours and has nearly two million followers on Twitter, get behind the bar? Pubs and pop aren’t that different, says Blunt.
“They both bring people together. Politicians try to divide us and tell us we are different from each other, and I’m in a job that does something very different. Strangers stand shoulder to shoulder united by a love of music, connection to lyrics and a similar emotion from a song. I have a song I love called Someone Singing Along, which is about this and the Trump era.”
“That’s why I enjoy having a pub too. I walk in here on a Chelsea game day and there are people from all walks of life. They look at me and go ‘all right James, you’re beautiful’ and we all get on as equals.” He takes the “you’re beautiful” gags on the chin. “It will always be a signature for me. Lots of people don’t have a signature. They aim for that one big hit. I’ve been really lucky I’ve had albums that still sell. I play a mix of everything at gigs. If I didn’t, people would be brassed off.”
He’s tweaked his other signature, Goodbye My Lover, to Goodbye My Liver, he jokes. But he only drinks every other day (he likes lager) and is trim, in a blue jumper and shiny black brogues.
This is the first local Blunt has had. His father was an army colonel so the family travelled “all over” when he was growing up: “Cyprus, Hong Kong, as far as Yorkshire.” He realised he liked music at the age of seven; his mother pushed him to learn piano and he wrote his first song aged 14. His first job, in the army, meant more travel, and then music took him all around the world. Now with two small children, he’s the most settled he’s ever been. It was his cousin who drew him to west London — he lives in the mews too and Blunt quips: “We have the same surname. I get his post and I open it, to see what he’s doing.”
Blunt and his wife, lawyer Sofia Wellesley, would walk past the pub and say: “Gosh, someone needs to do something with this.” In a happy coincidence, he met an estate agent on a night out who said it was up for sale: “I was in.”
“If this pub had gone, my street wouldn’t have the same character. So many pubs in London are shutting now — making a profit is a struggle.”
Every detail has been lovingly overseen by Blunt, who has finally found a use for his engineering degree. He sketched the bar area on a hotel notepad while on tour and has bought so much period furniture on eBay that he’s storing it while he tries to resell it. Blunt has form on eBay — he once sold his sister on the online marketplace. She’s now married to the man who bought her and he says with a grin: “My other sister would have got more but she’s found a man.”
He takes me on a tour of the pub, pointing out the long table for entertaining in the private dining room upstairs, the olive tree in the conservatory and the urinals in the gents, which got him into trouble. “I went to the loo in Soho House and wanted their urinals for the pub so I took a picture. A guy walked in and saw me — there’s no explaining why you are taking a picture of a loo. But we got them.”
Would he play gigs here? “We don’t have a live music licence,” he says practically. “This is a little country pub.”
Instead he’s focusing on the food. Head chef Tony Bee trained under Gordon Ramsay and has created a seasonal menu of sustainable, locally sourced food. There are still pub snacks — Blunt’s band fight over the sausage rolls — but there’s also a lighter menu, inspired by Blunt’s wife, who is a coeliac. Blunt is “terrible at cooking, but now I can just call our chef and cycle over for food”.
They make their own fizzy water with “effectively a big soda stream”, straws are biodegradable and half of water sales go to the Blue Marine Foundation.
Blunt has some experience of hospitality. He co-owns a restaurant in Verbier with former England rugby captain Lawrence Dallaglio and motorcycle driver Carl Fogarty. His friend Ed Sheeran’s been out there. “By day I taught him to ski, by night he taught me to write songs. We wrote a song called Make Me Better — it was sweet. ”
Blunt hasn’t read reviews of The Fox and Pheasant yet but in general he takes online criticism with a dose of scepticism. “You can look online and see if people have written anything positive or negative or you can just look and see whether you have people at your gigs or in your pub having an amazing time. People don’t generally write nice things online. I’m playing to thousands of people, why would just one upset me?”
Instead of looking at the internet, he reads books. “My tour manager is good at chucking me a book. I’m reading Munich by Robert Harris now. I enjoy it when he chucks out a new book.”
But when he does engage, his tweets are hilarious. His riposte to a person who said he had “an annoying face and irritating voice” was “and no mortgage”. He jokes that Justin Bieber writes his tweets and says he hasn’t tweeted for three months now because “it’s not what interests me the most”. On Instagram he only follows Victoria’s Secret (“well, who else would you follow?), the pub and a friend who told him “I had to follow her whether I liked it or not”.
As he prepares to write his sixth album, the pub has given him new ideas. “Otherwise I would just be writing about a hotel on tour, which isn’t inspiring.”
It’s the first time he’s written without the support of Carrie Fisher, the actress who died last year and was a family friend. He stayed with her in Los Angeles when he was writing. “She listened to all my songs and helped me make my first album. Her house was very creative.”
He shows me a video of him and DJ Robin Schulz playing OK to a rapt crowd in Spain last month. Branching into dance music creates “quite a different atmosphere from the one you probably expect at my concerts. It’s good fun”.
When he’s playing to a home crowd he takes public transport. “It’s fun because no one expects it. They think you look like a guy they recognise.” Usually, he cycles, “too fast to be recognised”. His black bike is propped up in the pub — it has a pink seat “the old one was stolen and I thought a colourful one would be harder to nick”.
So is this the start of a Blunt pub empire? He shakes his head. “I’m happy with this one, it’s a special little thing. This pub has been around for 170 years. My job is to look after it for the next person as best as I possibly can.”