Prior to embarking on a career in music, Blunt was an officer in the Life Guards, a reconnaissance 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) (Doctors Without Borders), a humanitarian aid group best known for its emergency medical care in conflict-torn regions. Since then, Blunt has supported MSF by holding meet-and-greet auctions at many of his concerts.
Blunt’s primary residence is now on the Spanish island of Ibiza, where he wrote many of the songs on his second album.
Blunt was born at a military hospital in Tidworth, Wiltshire, England, the first child born to Jane and Charles Blount. Blunt 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. He has two younger siblings. His father instilled in his son a love of flying, and Blunt earned his pilot’s license at age 16. The Blount family has a long history of military service, dating to the 10th century.
At age seven, Blunt was enrolled at Elstree School, Woolhampton, then attended Harrow School (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 read Sociology. He graduated with a BSc(Hons) in Sociology in 1996.
In 1999, he served as an armoured reconnaissance officer in the NATO deployment in Kosovo. Initially assigned to reconnaissance of the Macedonia-Kosovo border, Blunt and his unit worked ahead of the front lines directing forces and targeting Serb positions for the NATO bombing campaign. He led the first squadron of troops to enter Priština, and was the first British officer to enter the Kosovar capital. His unit was given the assignment of securing the Priština airport in advance of the 30,000-strong peacekeeping force; the Russian army had moved in and taken control of the airport before his unit’s arrival. As the first officer on the scene, Blunt shared a part in the difficult task of addressing the potentially violent international incident. There were less intense moments during Blunt’s Kosovo assignment, however. 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 of 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 April 9, 2002. Blunt finally left the army on 1 October 2002 having served six years.
Blunt left the British Army in 2002 so that he could pursue his musical career. It was at about that time 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 however, 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. 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
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.
The debut album from the unknown Blunt 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.”
Blunt’s third single “You’re Beautiful” was his breakout 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 U.S., “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 at three radio formats: Adult Contemporary, Adult Top 40, and Adult 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.
There was extensive promotion in the United States starting in the fall of 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.
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 10x platinum, sold over three million copies, and entered the Guinness Book of Records for the fastest selling album in one year. It was the best sold album in 2006 in the world.
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 released 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. The re-release video for “High” then 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 and in “Goodbye My Lover”, 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.
Internet folk law has purveyed the rumour that in 2006 the name James Blunt was entered into the Dictionary of Cockney rhyming slang (a ‘right James Blunt’) in reference to the word cunt. Blunt is said to have responded, “John F. Kennedy got an airport named after him — I got my favourite part of the female anatomy”.
Blunt appeared on an episode of Sesame Street which aired November 14, 2007 singing about Triangles to the tune of “You’re Beautiful”.
All the Lost Souls
While Blunt’s first album received very little critical attention, critics from every major music publication, and newspapers around the world, weighed in on All the Lost Souls. Critics were polarized in their treatment of the album, with some panning Souls, while others were filled with praise. Eric Danton, of The Hartford Courant wrote that the album is “a collection so bland, it makes hardtack seem sumptuous”, while Rolling Stone said that the album contains “forgettable ballads”. Yet, in her review of the album, Kerri Mason of Billboard said Blunt “shows the abandon and confidence of a long-term artist, not just a one-hit wonder”. And of the album, Mason wrote, “there is not a misstep throughout”. Equally effusive, Liz Hoggard of The Observer wrote that “it’s impossible to resist Blunt’s troubadour yearning.” While not universally acclaimed, Blunt’s second album stirred far more critical review — both positive and negative — than his debut. Only after the success of “You’re Beautiful” did critics begin to take real notice of Blunt’s debut album.
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 on the World Singles Top 40, and reached the top in 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 it’s release.
In the end of 2007, Blunt worked with french rapper Sinik. They released “Je Réalise”, which took elements of Blunt’s song “I’ll Take Everything”, in France the same year. This was a top 3 hit.
Blunt says that he has become closer to his family since his musical success; his father manages his finances, and his mother arranged for the purchase of his principal residence in Ibiza, where Blunt has holidayed since he was a teenager. Blunt also owns a chalet in the Swiss town of Verbier; in February 2007, 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.” The winner provided helicopter transportation. They subsequently began a relationship and eventually married.
The musician’s social life has been the subject of significant commentary, particularly in the tabloid press; he is well known to enjoy nightclubbing and socializing with other celebrities. Blunt has, in the past, been romantically linked to Dixie Chassay, casting director for the Harry Potter films; Camilla Boler, musician and daughter of the late Stephen Boler; and supermodel Petra Nemcova. 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.”
Blunt has raised funds for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, through benefit concerts and by auctioning meet and greet opportunities at his own shows. He first encountered MSF medical care workers during his tour of duty in Kosovo, and was impressed with their work despite minimal support and limited security.
He also supports environmental causes, screening the trailer for An Inconvenient Truth at his concerts, and planting a tree for each advance sales concert ticket purchased through his designated website. On July 7, 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, a former soldier, is also a patron of Help for Heroes, a charity aiming to raise money to provide better facilities to wounded British servicemen, and has also held benefit concerts for this charity.
- 2004: Back to Bedlam
- 2006: Chasing Time: The Bedlam Sessions (DVD/CD)
- 2007: All the Lost Souls
- MTV Europe Music Awards – Best New Act
- Q Awards – Best New Act
- Digital Music Awards – Best Pop Act
- NRJ Music Awards (France) – Best International Newcomer
- BRIT Awards – Best pop act and Best Male Vocalist
- ECHO Awards (Germany) – Best International Newcomer
- NME Awards – Worst Album
- MTV Australia Video Music Awards – Song of the Year for You’re Beautiful
- Ivor Novello Awards – Most Performed Work and International Hit of the Year
- MTV Video Music Awards – Best Male Video and Best Cinematography
- World Music Awards – Best New Artist in the World and Biggest Selling British Artist in the World
- Teen Choice Awards (United States) – Choice Music Male Artist
- ECHO Awards (Germany) – Best International Male Artist