Beautiful’ James has proud parents

RACHEL BANHAM He’s produced one of the most hauntingly beautiful and personal songs of 2005. And now he’s knocked Coldplay off the top of the album charts too. Yet James Blunt retains a close affinity to Norfolk. Rachel Banham looks at his rise to stardom, and spoke to his proud father Charles.

RACHEL BANHAM

It is a song that has been on the playlist of radio and TV music channels for weeks, its instantly recognisable vocals and melody enthralling many who have heard it. You're Beautiful, by James Blunt, had success in the singles chart.

Still better was to come, with the singer/songwriter's debut album Back to Bedlam, on which the song features. It is now at number one. And his parents Charles and Jane Blount, who own Cley Mill on the North Norfolk coast, are delighted (James dropped the 'o' from his surname for his music career).

“Isn't it wonderful?” Charles said, the joy in his voice evident.

“We are very proud. He rang us from Italy to tell us. He's in the States today - his feet haven't touched the ground at the moment, it's so busy.

“He rings Mum almost every day and we're seeing him on Thursday.

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“We go to quite a lot of his gigs obviously. We're his number one fans.”

Charles, a retired colonel, and his wife live in Hampshire but they still have family in North Norfolk.

Cley Mill, which has been in the family for generations, has been restored, and now operates as a guesthouse.

“So we get up there quite often,” Charles said.

The Blounts' connections with Cley are well-known in Norfolk.

Charles' great-grandmother bought the mill in 1920. He spent three years there as a child, and still adores it.

“It was wonderful - a childhood dream really,” he said.

The family has longstanding military roots. James was born in a military hospital in Hampshire and went to boarding school when he was seven, excelled at science and maths, learned piano and appeared in a school musical.

He obtained his pilot's licence at 16 and his Harrow School education led to him studying aerospace manufacturing engineering and sociology at Bristol University, thanks to Army sponsorship.

He got into music relatively late. He was 14 by the time he picked up a friend's guitar, and soon made up for lost time, playing along to Nirvana's Nevermind, and writing his first song soon after.

Charles said: “I can't claim to be a musician at all but Jane, my wife, is very musical.”

He also attributes James' talents to his grandmother Farran, who lives in Ipswich and used to play the piano. By coincidence, James is set to play a sold-out show at the town's Regent Theatre as part of his UK tour.

“I'm sorry we haven't be able to get him to Norwich yet,” his father added.

“I know they're very keen for him to come there.”

James was in the Forces for four years, and rose to the rank of captain. His military duties took him from the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst to the Household Cavalry, to Kosovo, and to Buckingham Palace.

Within a year of leaving the Army, he teamed up with former 4 Non Blondes singer Linda Perry, a songwriter-producer who has worked with Pink and Christina Aguilera, among others. His album was produced by Tom Rothrock, who has also worked with Beck.

Memories of James' military career are evident in his music. An example is No Bravery, the song that closes Back to Bedlam. It was written in Kosovo in 1999, while he was a reconnaissance officer in the Army.

Back to Bedlam is said to have sold more than 600,000 copies, and is due to be released in America in late September.

James has played the main stage at Glastonbury and the sell-out Wireless Festival in London's Hyde Park this year, appeared on Top of the Pops and CD:UK - and been interviewed by TV favourites Richard and Judy.

On Sunday, he is set to play the No Borders Festival in Tarvisio, Italy - one of several festival dates before his UK tour begins in October. It all means the day in 2002 when he left the Army to become a full-time musician must seem like a world away.

“My dad was nervous, because I was leaving a steady job,” James has said, recalling the decision to swap the military for music.

But today, as his father's comments demonstrate, his parents could not be happier with his achievements.

“He's done really well,” Charles said. “We're very proud, and I'm absolutely delighted for him.”

t James Blunt plays the Ipswich Regent on October 14. The gig is sold out.

t www.jamesblunt.com ; www.cleymill.co.uk

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