Jamie Cullum is officially a Very Nice Man.
The nation’s top jazz pop star has met us for a chat in the lobby of a fancy hotel opposite the BBC.
He greets us warmly and orders a not overly rock ‘n’ roll green tea, which he profusely thanks his publicist for on arrival.
We don’t need to tell you, of course, that Mr Sophie Dahl is diminutive in stature, because we’ve all seen those photos of his supermodel wife towering head and shoulders (and then some) above him.
He might be slight of figure, but he’s actually about to turn 40 and is most certainly a proper grown-up and a rather sensible soul (we try to extract tales of excess and debauchery from his life on the road, but we’re getting none of it) who is All About The Music.
Jamie – who lives in Buckinghamshire with Sophie and their daughters Lyra, eight, and Margot, six – has recently released his new album Taller (owning it there, Jamie, owning it) and it’s a pretty personal collection of songs for someone who really doesn’t like to give too much away.
Here, he talks about writing love letters to his wife, life as an ageing pop star, and how he really feels about everyone commenting on his height…
Is it annoying that people go on about your height all the time?
I brought that one on myself, calling the album Taller, so I can’t be frustrated about it.
Obviously I am short.
And it is something I’ve been gently teased about my whole life, particularly when I married a taller woman.
But I’ve taken something that could be my vulnerable spot and used it to say something.
For me the kernel of that song is not so much about my height, it’s a love letter to my wife.
Being in a relationship you have to grow together.
Hopefully she’s made me taller in our relationship – to stand the test of time and to grow as a couple, you need to match each other.
How has being with Sophie changed you as a person?
She’s a very honest, open person and she’s taught me to be more honest and open myself, just by being around her.
She’s influenced me hugely.
She’s a writer, and I see how she writes with great integrity.
Sophie is the first person to hear my stuff.
She’s super honest, but she doesn’t say ‘I don’t like that, that’s rubbish’.
Is it annoying people comment on your relationship all the time, saying you’re an unlikely couple and so on?
It’s a strange experience.
Anyone can look at someone they don’t know and give their views about them, and you just have to accept that’s part of life.
And anyway, it gave me fuel for a love song with some balls to it.
What do your kids make of both their parents being famous?
They know what we do, but it’s not something that plays any more of a role in their lives than it has to.
It’d be weird if it did.
And it’s not a big factor of our lives at home.
We’re just parents, just kind of getting on, doing the school run.
Would you encourage them to follow in your footsteps?
You’ve got to find something that feels valuable.
It’s not the easiest job in the world, even for people who look like they’re living this dream life, it takes a particular type of commitment.
Without that, it’s not the thing for you.
How do you feel about turning 40 this summer?
I feel alright. I feel good about it.
I’ve always had an interesting relationship with age because people have always thought I was 12.
I’m like the Michael J Fox of jazz pop.
I sense life happening in chapters, and I don’t necessarily feel older.
But then I was at a video shoot the other day and everyone was 25 and you reference music or a cartoon and they don’t know what you’re talking about.
What’s that all about?
Are you planning a mid-life crisis?
I’m not really into cars or motorbikes, so I’ll have to give that one some thought.
Check in with me in 10 years.
You’re off on tour next year. How will that change from the old days?
It’s different now, it has to be.
When I was 25, I didn’t go home for two years.
I was on the road so much, staying out all night, and it was fun.
But there came a point where I was just so tired, my voice got croaky and I was missing notes.
I did a gig in Texas and my voice went completely.
I tried to tell myself it was a sore throat , but really I just hadn’t had enough sleep.
What’s on your backstage rider?
I’m supposed to give a really exciting answer, aren’t I?
Well, the alcohol of choice is tequila, that’s my favourite of all the drinks.
And we like a nice big speaker to listen to music before we go on.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
My ritual is not to have a ritual, because if you miss it you’re asking for trouble.
But having said that, I like 15 minutes with no one around to get myself in the zone.
I did a gig at the White House for Barack Obama with Herbie Hancock and Aretha Franklin.
I was so terrified, I had to take a moment and a huge deep breath and think, ‘You may feel like you’ve been beamed in from another planet by accident, but make the most of it and enjoy it’.
Seeing Aretha sat a few feet away, it felt like an out-of-body experience.
I glanced over about 20 seconds into the song and she was moving her head.
I was like, ‘Yes! I made Aretha Franklin nod.
Literally my life is made’.
You’ve written a song called Age Of Anxiety on the album. What makes you anxious?
Everybody is fighting battles you don’t know anything about.
You scratch the surface of anyone’s life and they’re always inches away from something difficult.
That applies to me as much as anyone.
Men aren’t great at sharing stuff, but I’m noticing with my friends, actually we can talk about what we’re worried about and not feel like people will be like, ‘Come on, what have you got to complain about?’
Any dark moments in your career?
I remember times when I’ve wondered what I’m doing it all for, when I’ve been away for too long and I’ve lost touch with my home life.
You lose the anchor of home, and you can choose to stay on the road and that be your life blood, but I had to take a moment.
As brilliant as it is and as lucky as you feel doing this job, the thing you end up really missing is connections with the people who love you.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Playful, energetic and loyal.
What would you like to change about yourself?
Saying what you mean in the moment is a super power and I’d like to improve on that.
I used to feel like I had to be a people pleaser, but that’s a good part of getting older – you don’t need everyone to like you, because that’s impossible.
If you can’t be comfortable in your own skin by now then, God, you’ve got no chance, have you?
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
I’m really into physics.
I’m a science geek.
If I’ve got my headphones on you can guarantee I’m listening to a science podcast.
But I don’t believe in guilty pleasures.
And I’m not watching Love Island, no…
Any interesting fan mail?
Someone sculpted me and put me inside a light bulb playing the piano, and I’ve got a statue of myself as a samurai. I have a studio full of great bits and bobs.
I was quite shocked the first time I saw my face tattooed on the back of someone’s leg.
It was pretty damn lifelike as well.
I was touched.
How do you feel about social media?
On my first tour, I didn’t even have a laptop.
I had a CD Walkman and a bag of CDs.
Now everyone is recording everything, but I like it.
People don’t follow me out of curiosity, it’s because they like my music, so everyone replies to tell me how much they enjoy it.
Social media is not natural for me, though.
I’d rather have a discussion with someone in person.
And I’m not on it enough – I’m a mono tasker, I’m totally incapable of doing multiple things at the same time.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever done?
Collecting glasses, mowing lawns, I worked on a building site and on farms.
I even worked at a potato-grading factory, picking bits of earth off potatoes.
What would you have done if all this hadn’t worked out?
I had no desires for music to be my career, because I grew up in an environment where you find something stable and secure.
I thought I’d work in film as a cameraman or something, or write a book.
Music was how I paid for my uni tuition fees – it was my Saturday job, playing piano in a hotel.
Funny how things turn out.
– Jamie's album Taller is out now and he will be going on tour in 2020
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