Group: Forum Members
Last Login: Yesterday @ 22:28
|Old interview not available online, except for subscribers. I couldn't find it on the old green message board so, here it is for the records.
Me and my motors: James Blunt
I traded in the Lada for a tank
The Sunday Times (London)
February 12, 2006
By Peter Hardy
An officer and a pop star
James Blunt, 31, became an overnight sensation with his single You're Beautiful, written about a former girlfriend he saw on a train with her new boyfriend. His album Back to Bedlam has sold 2.5m copies in Britain. The son of a retired army colonel, he attended Harrow school and Bristol University before joining the Life Guards and seeing active service in Kosovo. He says he has been shot at more times than 50 Cent, the rapper.
It's hard to ignore James Blunt. The singer songwriter whose single You're Beautiful topped the charts for five weeks and who is up for five Brit awards including best pop act, best British single and best British album this week, is rarely off the airwaves. But his first appearance to a global audience came in very different circumstances.
It was at the height of the Kosovo conflict in 1999 when, as a lieutenant and tank commander in the British Army, James Hillier-Blount, as he was born, found himself leading a Nato convoy that was confronted by a force of armed Serb. The tense stand-off was captured by television cameras.
As Blunt faced down the Serbs from the turret of his tank and they started to retreat he was seen by viewers to take a call on his mobile phone. "James," said a distant crackling female voice, "I just wanted to say how proud I am - you look magnificent." Blunt held the gaze of his Serbian opposite number for a moment and whispered his reply: "Not now, granny."
These days Blunt, who left the army in 2002, has swapped his tank for a tour bus. "It's a double-decker with 14 bunks upstairs and two sitting-rooms," he says. "I'm on a high after a performance but it's not difficult to sleep - a few drinks and you pass out."
His hectic schedule aimed at consolidating his success after a year that he describes as "completely mad - the most extraordinary year of my life", means that he is committed to living most of his time on the road. Or in the air. Last year he took 100 flights and gave 330 live performances while this year will see him take in a further 15 countries including America.
Flying, he says, would be a chore if it wasn't a passion. The one time cavalry officer who trotted down the Mall on horseback in plumed helmet on his way to trooping the colour and stood guard over the Queen Mother's coffin at her lying in state, is also adept at the controls of single-engine planes - "Chipmunk, Cessna, even a Tiger Moth". He also competes in downhill ski races and rides horses.
But his fame has done little to change him. I have known him and his family since he was a teenager but so far he has managed to remain the same cool guy as ever; unaffected by the kind of celebrity that makes a visit to the supermarket near impossible.
To date he says the only new clothes he has managed to invest his wealth in are two pairs of jeans and half-a-dozen T-shirts. "Actually, I was given the T-shirts."
But there is one thing that he hasn't been able to resist splashing out on: a motorbike. "It's seriously big and I am a small person," he says of his 1100cc Moto Guzzi V11 Sport. "It's not the fastest - it's got a top speed of around 145mph - but it can induce a little nervousness. Driving a bike you have got to be incredibly aware of what's going on around you because you are basically invisible to other people."
Blunt's journey on two wheels began on a scooter at 16 - essential transport to the local town from the picturesque Hampshire village where he spent much of his childhood - but he only got seriously into motorbikes when he bought an Italian-made Cagiva. It was the same type as ridden off a cliff and into an aircraft by Pierce Brosnan in the James Bond film GoldenEye.
"My 600cc model was a very odd-shaped bike that looked like a praying mantis. I bought it partly because it was so peculiar and partly because this was the largest bike that fell within the limits of what my licence at the time allowed me to ride."
At around the same time and after cruising through his driving test at the first attempt, he invested in his first car, a rust-prone Lada Riva in racing red. "My Lada had bucket seats and an enormous stereo system that someone stole. There can only be one thing more embarrassing than owning a Lada Riva," he says, "and that must be stealing the stereo from a Lada Riva." As Parker's Guide says of the model: "An anti-style statement. Offers little resistance to thieves - but they are probably too busy nicking decent cars".
The Lada was disposed of when he joined the army after 44 weeks' training at Sandhurst. "When I was in the army I didn't have a car, just a tank," he says. "The Scimitar is actually pretty easy to drive and it doesn't take long to get the hang of it. It's got handles instead of a steering wheel, five forward gears and five reverse. Unlike being on a bike, if something gets in the way you tend to come off rather better - unless, of course, it's another tank.
"As commander you are up top and don't get to be at the controls, but you keep your driving skills up to speed in case anything happens to the driver. You also need to know how to change a track - a bit more complicated than the average flat."
No doubt his roadies will bear this in mind next time his tour bus gets a puncture.
ON HIS CD CHANGER
Not while on my bike, but while travelling by plane or tour bus I listen to Hot Fuss by the Killers, You Are Free by Cat Power, and Elliott Smith - all of his albums
Blunt hasn't invested his pop fortune in a new car his current mode of transport is a tour bus. Photograph by John Chapple/Rex