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James Hillier Blount (born 22 February 1974), better known by his stage name James Blunt, is an English singer-songwriter, musician and former army captain. He had signed with EMI before securing a recording contract with Atlantic Records and Custard Records.
Blunt rose to prominence in 2004 with the release of his debut studio album Back to Bedlam, before achieving worldwide fame with the singles "You're Beautiful" and "Goodbye My Lover". The album sold over 11 million copies worldwide, topping the UK Albums Chart and peaking at number two in the US. Blunt's second album, All the Lost Souls, which was released in 2007, topped the charts in over 20 countries and produced the hit single "1973". His third album, Some Kind of Trouble, was released in 2010, after its lead single Stay the Night. A deluxe edition was released the following year, titled Some Kind of Trouble: Revisited. In 2013, he released his fourth album, Moon Landing, which was preceded by the lead single "Bonfire Heart", which peaked at number four in the UK Singles Chart following promotion on The One Show and The Graham Norton Show, as well as receiving extensive radio airplay.
Blunt has sold over 20 million albums worldwide, with his debut album, Back to Bedlam, being listed as the best selling album of the 2000s in the UK. He has received several awards and nominations, having won two Brit Awards, two MTV Video Music Awards, two Ivor Novello Awards as well as receiving five Grammy Award nominations.
Blunt was an officer in the Life Guards, a cavalry regiment of the British Army, and served under NATO in Kosovo during the conflict in 1999. While posted to Kosovo, Blunt was introduced to the work of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF or "Doctors Without Borders"). Since then, Blunt has been an active supporter of MSF by holding meet-and-greet auctions at many of his concerts, and filming the documentary Return to Kosovo, in which he visited the people and places he had encountered while stationed there. Blunt is a patron of Help for Heroes, a charity aiming to raise money to provide better facilities for wounded British soldiers.
James Blunt was born at an army hospital in Tidworth, Wiltshire, England; the first child born to Jane A.F. (née Amos) and Charles Blount. James spent his early childhood living in England, Cyprus and Germany, where his father, a colonel in the British Army Air Corps, and military helicopter pilot, was posted at various times.
James Blunt has two younger sisters; Emily and Daisy. The Blount family has a long history of military service, supposedly dating from the 10th century. His father inculcated in him a love of flying, and he earned his pilot's licence at age 16. He has a keen interest in motorcycles after learning to ride when he was 16.
Blunt was enrolled at Elstree School in Woolhampton in Berkshire, before continuing to Harrow School in Harrow on the Hill in north-west London (Elmfield House) on an army bursary. From Harrow School he gained an army-sponsored place at the University of Bristol, where he first studied aerospace manufacturing engineering and then subsequently moved on to the study of sociology. He graduated with a BSc in sociology in 1996.
Because the British Army sponsored his university education, Blunt was obliged to serve a minimum of four years in the armed forces. He stated on an interview in his Back to Bedlam sessions that he chose to join the military as "his father was pushing for it, so that Blunt could obtain a secure work placement and income". Blunt trained at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Life Guards, a unit of the Household Cavalry, where he rose to the rank of captain. One of his first assignments was to the British Army Training Unit Suffield in Alberta, Canada, where his regiment was posted for six months in 1998 to act as the opposing army in combat training exercises.
In 1999, he served as an armoured reconnaissance officer in the NATO deployment in Kosovo. Initially assigned to reconnaissance of the Republic of Macedonia-Yugoslavia border, Blunt and his unit worked ahead of the front lines directing forces and targeting Serb positions for the NATO bombing campaign. His unit was given the assignment of securing the Pristina International Airport in advance of the 30,000-strong peacekeeping force; however the Russian army had moved in and taken control of the airport before his unit's arrival. American NATO commander Wesley Clark ordered that Blunt's unit forcibly take the airport from the Russian contingent. However, after Blunt queried the order, Mike Jackson, Blunt's superior officer, and Blunt himself refused to comply fearing greater consequences, with Jackson stating that they were "not going to start the Third World War" for Clark. The airport would eventually be shared peacefully by Blunt's unit and the Russians. There were less intense moments during Blunt's Kosovo assignment. Blunt had brought along his guitar, strapped to the outside of his tank. At some places, the peacekeepers would share a meal with hospitable locals, and Blunt would perform. It was while on duty there that he wrote the song "No Bravery".
A keen skier, Blunt captained the Household Cavalry alpine ski team in Verbier, Switzerland, eventually becoming champion skier of the entire Royal Armoured Corps. He had extended his military service in November 2000, and after an intensive six-month army riding course was posted to the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment in London, England. During this posting, Blunt was interviewed about his responsibilities on the television programme "Girls on Top", a series highlighting unusual career choices. He stood guard at the coffin of the Queen Mother during the days of her lying in State and was part of the funeral procession on 9 April 2002. Blunt left the army on 1 October 2002 having served six years.
Blunt had piano and violin lessons as a child, but his first significant exposure to popular music was at Harrow School. There, he was introduced to the guitar by a fellow student, and started playing the instrument and writing songs at age 14. At University of Bristol, his undergraduate thesis was The Commodification of Image – Production of a Pop Idol; one of his main references for the thesis was Simon Frith, a sociologist and rock critic, and chair of the Mercury Music Prize panel of judges since 1992. While still in the army Blunt would work on demos during his time off. A backing vocalist and songwriting collaborator suggested he contact Elton John's manager Todd Interland, with whom she used to share a house. Interland told HitQuarters that he listened to Blunt's demo while driving home and after hearing the track 'Goodbye My Lover', pulled over and called the mobile number written on the CD to set up a meeting.
Blunt left the British Army in 2002 so that he could pursue his musical career. It was at that period that he started using the stage name "Blunt", in part to make it easier for others to spell; "Blount" is pronounced the same way, and remains his legal surname. Shortly after leaving the army, he was signed to EMI music publishers, and to Twenty-First Artists management. A record contract remained elusive, with recording label executives pointing to Blunt's posh speaking voice as a barrier in class-divided Britain. Linda Perry, who was just launching her own Custard Records label in early 2003, heard Blunt's promotional tape when visiting London, and soon after heard him perform live at the South by Southwest Music Festival. She made an offer to him the same night and within a few days, Blunt signed a recording contract with Perry, and one month later he was in Los Angeles working with producer Tom Rothrock.
Back to Bedlam: 2003–06
Blunt recorded Back to Bedlam in 2003 with producer Tom Rothrock at Rothrock's home studio, using session musicians and performing on many different instruments himself. While in Los Angeles, he lodged with actress Carrie Fisher, whom he had met through the family of a former girlfriend. Fisher was very supportive of Blunt's aspirations, suggesting the name of the album and providing use of a bathroom in her home for Blunt to record the song "Goodbye My Lover". Back to Bedlam was finally released in the UK in October 2004. Blunt's debut single in the UK was "High" (co-written with Ricky Ross of Deacon Blue). This song initially peaked below the Top 100 of the UK Singles Chart, however after the subsequent success of "You're Beautiful" it finally made the Top 75 before eventually being re-released. The song was chosen to appear in a Vodafone commercial in Italy, and was a Top 10 hit in that country.
The debut album from the unknown Blunt initially attracted little critical attention, and there were no published reviews from major UK music journals. His live performances, mainly in support of better known musicians, received somewhat mixed but generally favourable reviews. Blunt's lack of performing experience and inconsistent approach with audiences was commented upon, while his music was likened to that of Damien Rice and David Gray. In March 2004, with Blunt performing in the support role for Katie Melua in Manchester, Alex McCann of Designer Magazine wrote, "Blunt's ascendance is a dead cert and this time next year it isn't that far removed from reality to suggest that a number 1 album, Brit Award and countless accolade's [sic] will be his for the taking." After release of the album, concert support slots for Elton John and Lloyd Cole and the Commotions in late 2004 and early 2005 followed, as did a band residency at London club 93 Feet East. In March 2005, his second single, "Wisemen," was released.
Blunt's third single "You're Beautiful" was his break-out hit. The song debuted at number 12 in the UK, and rose all the way to the number one position six weeks after its debut. The song also received massive airplay in the UK, which helped propel Back to Bedlam to number one on the UK Albums Chart. The extensive airplay ultimately led to Blunt and his co-writers being awarded the Ivor Novello Award for Most Performed Work. After the success of "You're Beautiful" in the UK, the song crossed over to mainland Europe, becoming one of the biggest hits of summer 2005 across the continent. In the US, "You're Beautiful" made its debut in the summer of 2005 on WPLJ, a prominent radio station in New York City, despite not having been released to radio yet. Once the song was released to radio stations in the fall of 2005, the song climbed into the Top 10 in three radio formats: Adult Contemporary Music, Hot Adult Top 40 Tracks, and Adult album alternative. Blunt became the first British artist to top the American singles chart in nearly a decade when his song "You're Beautiful" reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2006; the last British artist to do so had been Elton John in 1997 with the song "Candle in the Wind 1997". "Goodbye My Lover" was released as the fourth UK single from the album in December 2005, and was later the second US single. The songs "High" and "Wisemen" were subsequently re-released in 2006. Blunt started off 2006 celebrating five Brit Award nominations, going on to win Best British male solo artist and Best pop act categories, having already started an 11-month tour that would take him around the world. On 31 August, Blunt won two awards at the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards, with "You're Beautiful" winning the award for Best Male Video.
There was extensive promotion in the United States starting in late 2005, with Blunt making appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show and as a musical guest on Saturday Night Live. Eight of the songs on the album were featured in television shows (The O.C., Grey's Anatomy and many more), films (Undiscovered), and advertising campaigns (Hilton Hotels, Sprint telecommunications) throughout 2005 and 2006. Blunt performed "You're Beautiful" at the 49th Grammy Awards in February 2007, dedicating the song to the late Ahmet Ertegün of Atlantic Records, but he did not win in any of the five categories for which he had received nominations (includes one for Best New Artist Grammy, but lost to Carrie Underwood).
The album eventually sold 11 million copies and topped the album charts in 16 territories worldwide. It sold 2.6 million in the U.S. and was certified 2x platinum. In Britain the album was certified 10× platinum, sold over three million copies, and entered the Guinness Book of World Records for the fastest selling album in one year.
In 2005, Blunt performed in 90 live shows, mainly across the UK and Europe, ending the year supporting Jason Mraz in a North American tour. The "Back to Bedlam World Tour" started off in January 2006, covering cities in Europe, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, as well as three separate headline tours in North America, ending in November of that year. Not including promotional appearances, Blunt performed over 140 live shows in 2006. He enjoys the touring experience, saying in July 2006 that he and his band were having the time of their lives going to new places every day.
The videos for all of Blunt's singles from Back To Bedlam feature symbolism and dark imagery. In the first video for "High", he is buried in a desert. In the first video for "Wisemen", he is kidnapped and taken hostage. In the video for "You're Beautiful", he alludes to suicide by jumping off a cliff into the sea. In the "Goodbye My Lover" video, he is the outsider in a love triangle, imagining the couple, a man and woman (played by Matt Dallas of Kyle XY and Mischa Barton of The O.C.) together. The re-release video for "High" features Blunt running in a forest. The re-release video for "Wisemen" has Blunt burning identification papers, and then walking through a forest while he is on fire.
Blunt appeared on an episode of Sesame Street which aired on 14 November 2007, singing about triangles to the tune of "You're Beautiful".
A parody of "You're Beautiful" titled "You're Pitiful" was recorded by Weird Al Yankovic. Blunt gave personal permission for this parody to be included on a Weird Al album, but Atlantic Records, Blunt's label, stepped in to forbid the commercial release of the song. Weird Al has since made the song available as a free MP3 download on his website. In a request by Yankovic to include the song on an upcoming compilation CD, Blunt's manager replied via email, "Thanks for your email, but both James and I will never approve this parody to be released on any label."
On 28 December 2009, BBC Radio 1 announced that Back to Bedlam was the biggest selling album of the 2000s decade in the United Kingdom.
All the Lost Souls: 2007–08
Blunt's second studio album, All the Lost Souls, was released on 17 September 2007 in the United Kingdom and one day later in North America. It sold 65,000 units in its first week, and was certified gold in the UK after only four days. By the end of January 2008, the album had sold 600,000 copies in the UK, and 4.5 million copies internationally. Blunt completed the album's songs at his home in Ibiza in the winter of 2006–2007. He performed five of the ten album tracks during his 2005–2006 tours; lyrics, melodies, and harmonies were refined for the studio recording, on which his touring band played and Tom Rothrock worked as producer.
While Blunt's first album received little critical attention, critics from every major music publication, and newspapers around the world, weighed in on All the Lost Souls. The album was met with generally mixed to positive reviews, and maintains a 53/100 rating at Metacritic." Eric Danton, of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and The Hartford Courant wrote that the album is "a collection so bland, it makes hardtack seem sumptuous". However, Kerri Mason of Billboard said Blunt "shows the abandon and confidence of a long-term artist, not just a one-hit wonder" and continued "there is not a misstep throughout". Equally effusive, Liz Hoggard of The Observer wrote that "it's impossible to resist Blunt's troubadour yearning."
The first single from All the Lost Souls, "1973", was inspired by Blunt's nights out at Pacha, an Ibiza club, which opened in that year. The song became another hit for Blunt reaching number one the Billboard European Hot 100 Singles chart. D.J. Pete Tong remixed "1973" and played the track during his set at Pacha over the summer of 2007. The second single, "Same Mistake", was released in early December 2007 but did not fare well in the UK charts, peaking at number 57. It was Number 1 in Brazil and a hit in many South American countries. The third single from the album was "Carry You Home", released in March 2008, peaking at number 20 in the U.K charts and bringing the album back into the Top 10, six months after its release. The fourth and final single from the original "All The Lost Souls" album was "I Really Want You".
Blunt collaborated twice during this album cycle. In late 2007, he worked with French rapper Sinik. They released "Je Réalise", which took elements of Blunt's song "I'll Take Everything", which hit the top 3 in France. On 14 November 2008, "Primavera in anticipo", Laura Pausini new album, was released. The title track is a duet with Blunt. The album reached the Number 1 in Italy.
Throughout 2007 and 2008, Blunt went on his second world tour, including a performance in London's O2 Arena. On 24 November 2008, All The Lost Souls was re-released as a deluxe edition, with new album artwork, new single "Love, Love, Love" and the documentary James Blunt: Return to Kosovo.
Some Kind of Trouble: 2010–13
James Blunt's third studio album titled Some Kind of Trouble, was released on 8 November 2010. The album debuted at number 4 in the UK with over 100,000 copies sold in the first week. The album's first single "Stay the Night" was released on 27 October 2010. The single charted in the UK top 40 at number 37, and sat at number 2 on the European Airplay Chart for five consecutive weeks. The second single from the album, "So Far Gone" was for released on the UK on 3 January 2011. The third single from the album, "If Time Is All I Have" was released in the UK on 4 April 2011. Overall critical reception has been mixed, with Allmusic saying, in a positive review, that "Some Kind of Trouble is a step in the right direction for Blunt, a move toward love songs free of pretension" whilst BBC Music felt "When all's said, Some Kind of Trouble is not a terrible record by any means, but there's little sense that Blunt has advanced, and equally little sense that it'll make any difference to his bottom line.
As of February 2011, worldwide sales stood at over one million copies.
Moon Landing: 2013–present
On 11 July 2013, Blunt announced that he had finished recording his fourth studio album, entitled Moon Landing. It features production from Back to Bedlam producer Tom Rothrock. The lead single, "Bonfire Heart", debuted at number 6 before peaking at number two the following week in the UK Singles Chart. "Bonfire Heart" was at 1 in Australia, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. It was in the top 10 in different countries all over the world. It is his second best selling album, after Back to Bedlam.
Blunt says that he has become closer to his family since his musical success. His father manages his finances and his mother arranged the purchase of his principal residence in Ibiza, where Blunt has holidayed since he was a teenager. Blunt also owns a châlet in the Swiss town of Verbier, which he purchased in February 2007, and he was named "godfather" of one of the town's new ski lifts.
Blunt was instrumental in introducing his sister to her eventual husband after offering her for "sale" on eBay. She was having difficulty obtaining transport to a funeral in Ireland, and Blunt listed her as a "damsel in distress". A person responded saying his friend had a helicopter his sister could charter, but it turned out he was in Sweden and she did not attend the funeral. The respondent suggested she still meet up with the helicopter owner, Guy Harrison, and they began a relationship and eventually married.
The musician's private life has been the subject of significant commentary, particularly in the tabloid press. Blunt himself has found the degree of interest in his personal life to be bizarre, stating that "fame and celebrity is something that other people have constructed that I'm not really party to".
On 8 February 2012, Hugh Tomlinson QC, representing a number of victims of the News International phone hacking affair, informed the High Court that Blunt was one of six alleged victims who had filed for damages in new civil cases.
On 10 November 2012, The Daily Telegraph reported that Blunt has deposited more than £2 million in the offshore tax haven Jersey and registered the account at his parents' British address. Previously he has denied being a tax exile. Blunt responded on Twitter, "I have an account at HSBC Jersey which has always been declared to HMRC, and I pay my taxes. Witch-hunt."
Charitable and environmental causes
Blunt has raised funds for the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières through benefit concerts and by auctioning opportunities to meet him at his own shows. He first encountered MSF medical care workers during his tour of duty in Kosovo, and was impressed with the work they did under conditions of minimal support and limited security.
He also supports environmental causes. He screened the trailer for An Inconvenient Truth at his concerts, and for each advance sales concert ticket purchased through his designated website a tree is planted. On 7 July 2007, Blunt performed at the Live Earth concert at Wembley Stadium, London, and is the owner of one of two prototype electric cars made by Hybrid Technologies under a Space Act partnership with NASA.
Blunt is a patron of Help for Heroes, a charity aiming to raise money to provide better facilities for wounded British servicemen, and has also held benefit concerts for this charity.
Blunt has also contributed with his vocals for the charity single, "Everybody Hurts" in aid of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake Appeal.