Shereen Low meets a down-to-earth Jamie Cullum
Fame can takes its toll on artists. Those who have chased after it for years can sometimes take their new status for granted, becoming spoiled, demanding or simply burned out.
But not Jamie Cullum. The award-winning jazz singer and selftaught pianist has had an amazing two years since his major label debut, Twentysomething, was released in October 2003, yet he has escaped unscathed.
Still only 26, Jamie maintains a down-to-earth attitude. He has no diva demands before his performances, does his own laundry and still hangs around with the same group of friends.
"I see famous people at things I have to go to, which is nice, and some of them I now know better than just 'hello', but I still have the same group of friends that I hang out with," he says.
"When it's over, it's over. I switch off. I'm good at switching off. You have to be with this kind of life. You can't be obsessed with this life too much, otherwise you'll go crazy.
"There are plenty of opportunities to chill out, whether you're in a hotel room in Tokyo or back at home. Do things you normally do - cook, wash my own clothes, see a friend, go for a cycle ride. I don't have a best way, sometimes it's domestic chores, but going for a drink with a close friend, that always works for me."
In between buying rounds at his local in west London, Jamie also hangs out with the rich and the famous, such as The Neptunes' super-producer and songwriter, Pharrell Williams. He got in touch after Jamie did a rendition of his solo debut hit, Frontin'.
"I went to Miami for a bit of writing and a bit of a holiday, and I did a bit of work with Pharrell. We wrote some stuff together. I did about three songs that will go on his solo record, and I did a song which is on mine called Wifey."
So what was it like working with the genius who created hits with N*E*R*D (Frontin' and She Wants To Move) and who, as one half of The Neptunes, has collaborated with the likes of Jay-Z, Britney Spears and Gwen Stefani?
"Working with him was a lot of fun. It was fascinating to watch him at work - we certainly didn't sit in the studio the whole time, there was a lot of doing all sorts of other things.
"He's a fascinating guy. He's very musical, and knows a lot about different types of music, far beyond just hip-hop and R&B. To watch someone work completely on his inspiration is just inspiring."
When asked if he was given a taste of the hip-hop lifestyle with the bling and the girls, Jamie tries to deflect the question while holding back a laugh, saying: "That's a question I'm not prepared to answer, I'm afraid. Apologies."
He is, however, willing to talk about his fourth album, Catching Tales, released on September 26. His first two albums, Pointless Nostalgic and Heard It All Before, were selffunded and self-produced.
"The title explains how the album really came together," he reveals. "It was very much a case of how quickly I wrestled these songs to the ground and caught them.
"I'm a very keen photographer and one of my favourite phrases when I'm taking photos is 'catching tales'. The whole album has been put together like that, almost like catching things, recorded live and very real.
"I didn't spend a long time on it - like a year putting it together, labouring over it, going back to it and freaking out about it, doing more songs, deciding I didn't have a single and going back and doing more. It was 'caught'. And for that reason, it still feels very fresh rather than something we've laboured over.
"I started work on January 2 - I spent three months writing, then three weeks putting it together, and then three weeks recording it. And I finished it around the end of May."
Catching Tales features four covers, but in contrast to his last album, there are also 11 new tracks penned by the Wiltshire-raised artist. Jamie says he drew inspiration from various subjects.
"London Skies is teaching my girlfriend from Brazil to appreciate the grey skies of London for what they are. Photograph is inspired by a couple of photos that I found in my old cupboard, which reminded me of things I did when I was a kid.
"And 21st Century Kid is for children of this generation who are interested in politics. As for Wifey, I think that's pretty obvious really. Where is she?!"
While the topic of his songs seem to be getting more serious, as compared to previous songs like Twentysomething and Blame It On My Youth, Jamie insists it's not his plan to sound more grown-up.
"I've made an effort to be less mature, more childish and more irreverent, more fun because it's what I'm about really," he says. "I wanted to make sure it wasn't a too sanitised view of me."
His pop-slanted jazz harmonisation style often means he's categorised in both pop and jazz, but Jamie isn't too bothered by this labelling.
"My music encompasses a lot of influences, but its two most obvious homes are jazz and pop. I'm absolutely happy about being classed as classy pop. Like Usher. It's musical pop, vocally. That's the plan anyway."
Jamie's energetic and unpredictable performances (he likes to bang and sit on the piano) mean his shows sell out within hours, but sadly, there's a lack of fans throwing themselves at him.
"When you're on stage, you have a certain amount of hope that that might happen, but once you're off stage, it doesn't. It's rubbish really," he laments.
"But I got a bra thrown on stage the other day. That was pretty cool. I was in Vienna. I had a pair of pants before, but this was just a bra. There were no numbers in it, just a bra."
His girlfriend, who doesn't always see his shows, shouldn't therefore have too much to worry about in that department.
"She'll come and visit occasionallybut she's got a life of her own. I don't have to deal with that attention from women because it doesn't happen.
"And therefore, it's very easy for both me and my girlfriend to cope with it," he adds with a grin.