James Blunt talks Carrie Fisher, his new music and life as a father
In conversation with the You’re Beautiful singer in our exclusive interview
"May the 4th be with you, @carrieffisher,” singer James Blunt tweeted on Star Wars Day. Blunt is perhaps most popular for his hit You’re Beautiful, but not many know how close he was to the late Star Wars actor. The 44-year-old British musician, recently spotted at the Royal Wedding with wife Sofia Wellesley, had planned a tour of India earlier this year, but cancelled it stating, “failure of the promoter to enact contract terms.” Here is our exclusive interview:
Tell us about your younger days.
I went to the University of Bristol from 1992 to 1996 to study aerospace engineering and sociology. I couldn't spell when I got there and I wrote songs that would appear on my first album, Back to Bedlam. It was inevitable I'd join the army because, from my father to uncle and grandfathers, it's what all the men in my family did. I served in the army for six years. It was good training for a life in music and touring – a tour bus is pretty comfortable compared to a tank. I had an ambition to play music and it would have been a terrible thing to reach old age and say I wish I had pursued it. It was thanks to my mother, who could see how happy music made me, that I ended up doing it full-time. I've wanted to be a singer since I was a teenager. At home we just had one CD player so I had limited access to music. But my mum made me learn the recorder when I was three, the violin when I was five and the piano when I was seven.
How much did your time in the military influence you and your music?
The best training I ever did for this job was being in the Army. You travel, you push yourself to the limit and you get up the next day and do it all over again. The only difference is the money. I spent years in the Army doing a job that was about trying to save lives. I'm proud of that. Why wouldn't I be? I worked with people from all walks of life, all parts of the country and we were in it together. No one ever judged you on your background. It was about what you could achieve in the given situations. I’m on a tour and touring is similar to being in a small military unit. I go to different places as a team – there’s a band and then the crew. We’re from different walks of life just like the Army. We rely on each other and look out for one another. My tank – or tour bus – is more comfortable now, of course, and the band features incredible musicians. They are phenomenal and the best in the business.
Did you ever expect You’re Beautiful to be such a huge hit?
It’s an awesome song, and millions of people love it. I think it was slightly overplayed and it afforded some of the vocal minority to say, “It’s an annoying song,” but it’s annoying because it got played so much. I do gigs and people want me to play that. It’s one of the highlights. It’s a highlight for me because it means it’s near the end and it’s nearly time for a beer!
So like I state in my Twitter bio “Proof that one song is all you need.” I knew how lucky I was, I knew people out there were still struggling to get a deal and I was in this unbelievable position. I’m amazed at how fast things have been and how much success I’ve had. But you can’t over-analyse things.
What are your favourite memories of Carrie Fisher?
She was the most amazing woman. We met at a restaurant in Notting Hill. She asked me what I did, and I said I’d just left the army, was becoming a musician with a record deal under my belt and needed to come to LA and she said, “Well you’re going to need a place to stay.” Whenever I’ve lived in America, I lived in Los Angeles with her and quite naturally I wrote and recorded some songs with her. She had an incredible life and touched so many people. I wrote and recorded all of my albums at the late Carrie Fisher’s house in Los Angeles, including my current one, The Afterlove. Carrie was a great friend and godmother to my son. Her home was a hugely creative and inspiring place to write and she was a very encouraging person. My albums wouldn’t have turned out as they did if it wasn’t for that environment. Her brother asked if he could use You’re Beautiful at her memorial. Of course I said yes.
Tell us something about the ideas and themes behind the latest album, The Afterlove.
I just needed it to be different, you know? If you wanted You’re Beautiful, it’s on the first album. I needed to mix it up. I got married and had a child, and the result is an album that is filled with high intensity and high emotion. My friends listened to it and said that it was a relief they don’t have to lie to me anymore because they actually like this one.
How has life been as a father?
Becoming a father has taught me to appreciate my own parents. Once upon a time, I just had to look out for myself, but it’s humbling to know others need me.
Tell us about your love for motorcycles.
As you might have guessed, I like motorbikes almost as much as I like music. The 1,100cc Moto Guzzi V11 Sport motorcycle induces a little nervousness. I can also fly! I got my pilot’s licence aged 16, before I could legally drive a car.
You have always been passionate about different causes. Tell us about that.
Well, when I was in the army I was out in Kosovo in the war there, in 1999. And it inspired me. Today I work for an organisation, Médecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders. We raise funds while on tour. I don’t judge myself on my success or my bank account. I don’t do flashy cars, I don’t do flashy clothes. I’m not really into possessions. I just don’t see the point in separating yourself from normal people by the things you buy or the things you wear. That’s like trying to make a point about being different.