'It will be fantastic' - James Blunt looking forward to live show at Audley End in Essex
- Credit: Gavin Bond Photography
His Twitter bio states: "Proof that one song is all you need."
While true to an extent – the royalties are still flooding in for 2005 number one hit You're Beautiful – it's a joke at his own expense, as there is so much more to singer-songwriter James Blunt than just his signature tune.
But then those following the musician on social media will know all about Blunt's self-deprecating sense of humour.
His tweets have made him the unofficial 'King of Twitter' for many, with his witty barbs at the trolls taking potshots at him and his self-effacing comments delighting his two million followers.
Blunt tells me: "Social media just seems to be a place where people go to gripe and complain. The real world's a better world.
"I'm lucky, I get to play to hundreds of thousands of people. And why is it that we find ourselves as humans focusing in on one or two negatives online? There are one or two negatives online, yet there are thousands who buy my music."
Blunt has even turned the tables on his online snipers with bestselling book How To Be A Complete and Utter Blunt: Diary of a Reluctant Social Media Sensation, which is a selection of his top tweets and acerbic online putdowns.
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"I thought I should cash in on it," jokes Blunt.
While the global pandemic put touring on hold last year, Blunt is about to play Audley End House & Gardens in Saffron Walden.
"It will be fantastic," he tells me on our Zoom call. "It's a fantastic venue so I'm really excited."
Although released in late 2019, the pandemic has meant the 47-year-old musician hasn't been able to fully tour most recent album, Once Upon A Mind, in this home country.
However, he played a full-capacity concert at the Royal Albert Hall last month as lockdown restrictions finally allowed large-scale shows again.
The talented troubadour heads to Audley End in Essex on Friday, August 13 as part of the Heritage Live 2021 concert series.
Special guests at the open-air show in the grounds of the Jacobean mansion will be Craig Charles' Funk & Soul Show and the Hackney Colliery Band.
Blunt hasn't been to Audley End before, but adds: "I've seen pictures and I have in my time played a few of these outdoor venues in the English countryside, and there's nothing in the world to beat it."
While he has the trappings of a celebrity lifestyle – he's chatting to me before lockdown ended from his home in Ibiza – Blunt hasn't forgotten those who have served their country.
During the pandemic he supported both Help for Heroes and our NHS heroes with proceeds from tracks from Once Upon A Mind.
Before becoming a hugely successful solo artist, Blunt was an officer in the British Army, and saw service in Kosovo in 1999.
He was touring his sixth studio album when COVID-19 brought live concerts to a shuddering halt across the globe.
"I'd just started my tour in 2020 and was a month into what was suppose to be a year-long tour," says the Goodbye My Lover star, "and we'd got to Germany and then everything fell apart and the virus really took hold.
"We had to send everyone home – trucks, buses, crew and the band. It was devastating not knowing when we'd be back on the road.
"So it's very exciting to be starting again but, as you say, this album is now two years old. I've been doing some new music as well.
"I think at Audley End I'll play songs that people know, a couple of new ones and then shoot off stage."
Life for everyone was put on hold when the pandemic struck, as Blunt acknowledges, but it has given him the opportunity to spend quality time with his family – something not always possible when traversing the globe in support of million-selling records.
"It's been devastating for many people in many ways," says Blunt of COVID.
"I think I've been very, very lucky. I've had the chance to go home and see my family, who I don't normally spend much time with at all. It's one of the most important things you should be doing.
"I promised to take a year off for many, many years but I was always lying! This virus forced my hand."
While playing live to fans wasn't possible until now, Blunt has also experienced the effects of the pandemic in another industry hard hit by the COVID crisis.
As well as being a BRIT Award and Ivor Novello-winning singer-songwriter, Blunt is landlord of The Fox & Pheasant in Chelsea, London, and had to furlough staff during the recent lockdown.
"It was obviously devastating for my band and crew to come home," says Blunt. "As self-employed people there wasn't the support in the same way in our industry and they definitely struggled.
"Then closing a pub down has been absolutely tricky."
The pub's now open again. As for why he bought the pub in the first place, Blunt says: "Well, primarily because I like beer!
"And secondly, it's my local and this estate agent I was out with said it was being sold and being turned into flats. And I thought it's every minor pop star's job to stop that happening and make sure it stays this 170-year-old pub it's always been."
Despite his debut album Back to Bedlam having sold more than 3.3 million copies in the UK, Blunt's music divides opinion.
"I think what the record label perhaps focused on was that although I was an independent artist signed to an independent label and recorded by a producer in LA who did Beck and Elliott Smith and Badly Drawn Boy, I think it was very much marketed like 'hey, let's put adverts for this on after Desperate Housewives'. When I was really singing songs about war in Kosovo, and drug addiction and pain, along with a couple of sickly romantic songs.
"I think it shut down half my market really. And with the ubiquity of that big song as well, and with the album selling as much as it did, then there's always a bit of a kickback.
"Coldplay have suffered the same kickback, with people thinking it's cool to say they don't like Coldplay. But Coldplay are a fantastic band. If you don't enjoy them, don't listen to them."
Love it or hate it, No.1 single You're Beautiful is Blunt's lasting legacy – it topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, and the video has been viewed more than 550 million times on YouTube.
But it's not the only song in the former Army officer's armoury.
His deeply personal sixth studio album, Once Upon A Mind, contains folk-pop anthem Cold, closing track The Greatest, the heartachingly beautiful Monsters, described as a eulogy to his father – "except he's still alive and kicking" – and Halfway featuring chart-topping country-pop duo Ward Thomas.
Blunt wrote Monsters as an tribute to his father, Charles Blount, who needed a kidney transplant last year. Thankfully, a match was found.
"He's well, remarkably," reveals Blunt in our Zoom chat.
Blunt donated proceeds from Monsters to Help for Heroes, the charity supporting service personnel who have been wounded or injured in the line of duty.
The single's powerful video sees a close up of an emotional Blunt singing the track, before panning out to reveal that his dad is sitting next to him on the sofa.
"For me, Monsters is one of the most special songs I'll ever write," admits the balladeer.
"To have my father in that video... I'm blubbing in the video and the crew behind the cameras are blubbing away, and my father's being this stoic man saying 'what on earth are you doing? I'm still alive and well'.
"It's really special just to get him on film with a song that obviously means so much to me."
The UK profits last year from The Greatest were also donated to the NHS as a thank you.
Blunt says: "The NHS, for me, have been the real heroes, not just of the pandemic but on a personal level too, because in January 2020 they strapped him [my dad] in with a second-hand kidney and it's been functioning really well.
"He's looking much healthier and has got a normal life. So they've really given him a second life.
"That's why I then released a song called The Greatest... to give funds to the NHS as they've been remarkable for my family this year."
The video for the album's lead single Cold, meanwhile, sees Blunt emerging from dark and choppy waters and climbing a cliff face, and, yes, the conditions were freezing.
"I think you can tell from my nipples how cold it was," quips Blunt.
"It was incredibly cold when we filmed that in north Wales and they chucked me in the sea.
"They chucked me in there with a cameraman who was in a full wetsuit with a balaclava on as well to keep him warm. He was freezing and I was pretty close to being hypothermic when they got me out!"
A deluxe version of the album – the Time Suspended Edition – was released a year ago featuring two new demos, including Should I Give It All Up, and six acoustic tracks.
Should I Give It All Up left some fans wondering whether Blunt was going to quit the business, but his 2022 tour dates suggest the exact opposite.
He's looking forward to performing to fans in Essex and has a new greatest hits collection, The Stars Beneath My Feet, set for release in November.
As for 'that' song, it will feature in Blunt's Audley End set, along with his best-known hits.
Blunt says before our Zoom call comes to an end: "It's called the Once Upon A Mind Tour but I'm gonna play songs that everyone's going to know.
"Of course I'll play You're Beautiful, Goodbye My Lover, 1973 and Bonfire Heart and anything else I think people might know, and a couple of new songs."
Tickets for the outdoor gig are on sale via www.heritagelive.net