Singer James Blunt hits back at Labour MP over “privileged background” comments

James Blunt performs on stage during the closing ceremony for the Invictus Games, at Queen Elizabeth

James Blunt performs on stage during the closing ceremony for the Invictus Games, at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, east London. Jonathan Brady/PA Wire - Credit: PA

A Labour MP has been given both barrels by hit singer James Blunt after he said the arts world should address the dominance of performers of his 'ilk' who come from privileged backgrounds.

In an open letter, the singer, whose family hails from Cley in North Norfolk, hit back at Labour's new shadow culture minister Chris Bryant's telling him his background had gone against him in his bid to get into the music business.

'I bought my first guitar with money I saved from holiday jobs (sandwich packing!). I was taught the only four chords I know by a friend. No one at school had any knowledge or contacts in the music business, and I was expected to become a soldier or a lawyer or perhaps a stockbroker,' he said. 'So alien was it, that people laughed at the idea of me going into the music business, and certainly no one was of any use,' he added.

Mr Blunt, whose family were the owners of Cley's distinctive windmill, also told Mr Bryant that he was finally signed in the United States where 'they don't give a stuff about, or even understand what you mean by me and 'my ilk'.

'Every step of the way, my background has been AGAINST me succeeding in the music business. And when I have managed to break through, I was still scoffed at for being too posh for the industry,'

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'And then you come along, looking for votes, telling working class people that posh people like me don't deserve it, and that we must redress the balance.'

He described Mr Bryant's comments as 'populist, envy-based, vote-hunting ideas'.

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He said: 'Rather than celebrating success and figuring out how we can all exploit it further as the Americans do, you instead talk about how we can hobble that success and 'level the playing field'. Perhaps what you've failed to realise is that the only head-start my school gave me in the music business, where the vast majority of people are not from boarding school, is to tell me that I should aim high. Perhaps it protected me from your kind of narrow-minded, self-defeating, lead-us-to-a-dead-end, remove-the-'G'-from-'GB' thinking, which is to look at others' success and say, 'it's not fair.'

In his first interview in the job in The Guardian, Mr Bryant said one of his priorities if he was to became a minister would be to encourage diversity and fairer funding in the arts.

He told the newspaper: 'I am delighted that Eddie Redmayne won [a Golden Globe for best actor], but we can't just have a culture dominated by Eddie Redmayne and James Blunt and their ilk,' he said.

'Where are the Albert Finneys and the Glenda Jacksons? They came through a meritocratic system. But it wasn't just that. It was also that the writers were writing stuff for them. So is the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, doing that kind of gritty drama, which reflects [the country] more? We can't just have Downton programming ad infinitum and think that just because we've got some people in the servants' hall, somehow or other we've done our duty by gritty drama.'

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