James Blunt: I write these overly earnest songs, and being a bit of an idiot is my counter balance
James Blunt doesn’t care what you say about him on the internet. And this isn’t the sort of performative, too-cool-for-school aloofness that some celebrities cultivate. He really, truly doesn’t care.
“When you put out music, some people don’t like it,” he says, “but I’m very lucky that millions do. So why would I focus on a couple of people staying home and writing nasty things, when I can enjoy all the people buying the albums and coming to the concerts?”
It’s a healthy attitude, particularly since Blunt has had his share of online haters since achieving stardom with hit 2005 single, You’re Beautiful. A ballad about lost love, the song was a victim of its own success, and received so much airtime that dunking on Blunt became, in some circles, fashionable.
He admits he was initially taken aback by the abuse, but from confusion more than affront. “It surprised me that people could be so distressed by something they don’t like,” he says, “that they would go online and write about it so aggressively. But once you get over that, it’s just fairly amusing.”
Twitter gave him the power to bite back, and he’s spent the last decade turning the social media put-down into an art form. He’s amassed two million followers in the process, and his new book, ‘How To Be A Complete And Utter Blunt’, is an end-of-year style annual documenting his rapier-like posts.
To the tweet ‘does James Blunt still exist?’ he replied ‘only in places you can’t get into.’ To the tweet that he had ‘an annoying face’, he replied ‘and no mortgage’. You get the picture, which is just as well, because most of the others are unprintable.
His victims mostly see the funny side, but the same could not initially be said for his marketing team. “When I started posting,” he recalls, “the name James Blunt was already taken, so I called myself ‘dirty little blunt’ instead. When they saw it the label called up and said ‘please don’t do that’, and I said ‘sorry, the genie is out of the bottle, that’s me being myself’.”
The episode marks one of Blunt’s central contrasts – he’s a soulful musician writing earnest, emotive lyrics, and an online provocateur whose swear jar could buy a small house. “There’s a lot of comedians that are actually depressives in real life,” he says, “and maybe in the same way I write these over-earnest songs, and being a bit of an idiot is my counter-balance. I put emotions into music, but that’s not who I am on an everyday basis. ”
His humour relies heavily on ribbing – and bears the hallmarks of the banter he experienced at boarding school and in the army. “I think people might say we’re emotionally stunted,” he says, “and rather than over-emoting, we take the piss out of each other and use dark humour.”
The irony is he doesn’t use Twitter all that much. He logs on a few times a month, checks his mentions, writes something suitably scalding and then logs off. He’s accumulated 1,235 tweets in total; for context, Piers Morgan has notched nearly 140,000, and joined more than a year later.
He only follows 90 accounts himself, most of them news channels, and only three on Instagram. “I follow my pub, the Fox & Pheasant, and I follow Victoria’s Secret models. My wife [Sofia Wellesley] told me to. She said ‘if you’re only going to follow one, just follow them’.”
Blunt by name and nature, his candour has made him a talk show host’s dream. He is also charmingly unpretentious about his success. “I sing honest songs about my own inadequacies,” he says – and he didn’t expect stardom online or on stage.
You’re Beautiful was his breakout, but it wasn’t an overnight fairy tale. “I’d been trying to get into music since I was 14,” he says, “and I hit big when I was 28. You create luck and you can’t just be in the right place at the right time, you have to be everywhere all the time.”
His relentless touring schedule assures that he usually is, and he’s a regular presence in the media. Some stories have been pretty surreal (“Maybe I’ll say something silly as a joke, and they take it way too seriously,” he reflects).
But there are enough true stories about Blunt to keep us entertained. He once dived from a stage in Chicago, and get pinned by a bouncer who refused to believe he was the singer. He did indeed sell all his belongings on eBay before embarking on his first world tour. And he really was a ceremonial bodyguard for the Queen during his six-year stint in the army.
Otherwise, personal details on Blunt can be scant, and his social media savagery is an effective veil for a closely-guarded private life. He has Instagram, but is ‘bad at it’ (“I don’t want to post pictures of my life”), and takes great care to keep his home and family out of the spotlight. “I’ll divert and avoid any questions about my family,” he says, “as much as I possibly can.”
The pandemic proved a double blow for Blunt, whose secondary occupation is owning The Fox & Pheasant pub in London. “I definitely cocked up in my choices,” he says. “When I was planning my life I didn’t factor in global pandemics.”
His 2020 world tour only made it as far as Germany, but he has continued releasing music, notably new single The Greatest, with UK profits going to the NHS. “I made the video with my mate holding up a camera phone,” he recalls, “and his girlfriend using tin foil to reflect the light.”
Twitter is thankfully Covid-immune, but now his put-downs are so popular that he’s starting to run out of haters, and those that do stick their heads above the parapet do so with the knowing, ‘do me next’ glee of a heckler at a comedy gig.
But as long as there are keyboard warriors to be battled, Blunt will keep fighting the good fight, one brutal barb at a time. “I laugh at myself and at them. And I do often DM people afterwards to say ‘hey mate, I hope you can laugh at it with me’, because I know they might get a backlash themselves and I don’t want to be part of that negative cycle.”
(Little Brown Book Group/PA)How To Be A Complete and Utter Blunt: Diary of a Reluctant Social Media Sensation by James Blunt is published by Little Brown, priced £12.99. Available now