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By Peter Stevenson MEMBERS of Volunteer Doctors Cyprus have treated around 350 people at their free clinic in Nicosia since it opened three months ago, while two more, one in Paphos and one in Polis are due to open today. Limassol also has a free clinic, which was opened only last month, and plans have been drawn ...
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SOME 10 days ago, foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides raised expectations by announcing the possibility of a deal with Turkey for the opening of the fenced off area of Famagusta, for the return of its inhabitants. In exchange the Cyprus government would agree to the opening of Tymbou airport to direct flights. ...
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By George Psyllides PRIVATE auditors have expressed doubt the electricity authority (EAC) could be considered a going concern and have asked its board to draft a credible plan to tackle the problem, according to the auditor-general’s 2012 report on the semi-state company. Among other issues, ...
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Cyprus Internet Directory [ Living by Zoe Christodoulides ]

Living by Zoe Christodoulides

Swapping his gun for a guitar

Last weekend a Limassol basketball stadium was packed out, mostly with screaming young girls, as James Blunt took to the stage. We meet him before the show for a chat

James Blunt went from blood and guns to chart topping success. “It’s not that strange,” he tells me with a rather serious look on his face. “Elvis and Jimmy Hendrix were in the army too. It gets to me when everyone thinks that soldiers are all macho. Take away the army uniform and we’re all just human beings; anyone can have a creative bone in them.”

It is three hours before the concert that the 34-year-old singing sensation is to give at the Spyros Kyprianou stadium in Limassol. As part of his ‘All the Lost Souls’ tour, he has been on the road since January, jetting from continent to continent to satisfy an ever-growing fan base. Outside the strictly guarded VIP area, there are already groups of teenage girls giggling and screaming his name as they rush to take first place before the stage. He may leave women in all corners of the globe dumbstruck, but dressed in a plain pair of jeans, worn t-shirt and several days worth of stubble, he looks more like a roadie than a sought after pop idol.

Hair rather scruffy and swept to one side, he sports a look that says, ‘I’m trying hard to give the impression that I’m not trying at all.’ When he speaks his vowels are perfectly enunciated while his straight posture and polite manner give the impression that he’s every inch the British gentleman. “Thank you for coming,” he says. “Oh and sorry about the awful racket in the background, the guys are trying to get the sound right for tonight.” Often targeted by the media as a ‘posh voiced prat’, I find it hard to see where the word ‘prat’ enters the equation when we’re face to face. I expected him to be a little more standoffish, perhaps playing it a little cool. But far from it, I feel like we could have met in a bar and just started chatting.

He looks a little flushed and it seems that he’s managed to fit in some time for sunbathing before the show at the Aphrodite Hills resort, where he’s been staying. The first thing that comes to mind has nothing to do with his chart topping success and the concert he’s about to give. What I really want to know is all about his connection to Cyprus. Turns out that he has vivid memories of the island as a young child, having lived at the UN bases in Nicosia. His dad, Charles, is an ex-pilot and colonel in the army and the family moved here when James was just four years old. “It really was a great place to grow up. I remember the sun and sea; it was the best start I could have had to life. It’s really good to be back.”

Growing up in a middle class military environment meant there was a lot of pressure for James to follow the same path as the other men in his family and after graduating from an army sponsored place at Bristol University, he re-tread his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps into the force. Before he became famous he went by the name of James Hillier Blount while he patrolled the streets of Kosovo as a peacekeeper.

When promoted to captain he was put in charge of leading 30,000 troops into Pristina. “It’s tough and gruesome out there,” he says. “I don’t regret leaving but I do miss all the friends out there and the sense of reality it gives you when you’re dealing with life and death.” But James says he always knew he wanted to become a singer, it was just a matter of choosing the right time to take the step into the world of show business. And it certainly wasn’t easy to get his family’s approval to do so. His dad thought it was particularly stupid for him to become a singer, preferring that he stuck with a secure job with a regular wage and career prospects.

But once ‘You’re Beautiful’ was released in 2005, there wasn’t much his nearest and dearest could say to discourage him. He quite literally shot to fame overnight and the song became one of the most frequently aired tunes on the radio as it rocketed to the number one spot in the UK for six weeks. Some polls rated the song as one of the most irritating tracks of all time, but that didn’t stop the thousands of fans who thought James and his music were to die for. In just a few years since the release of the single, he has become a household name across the world. His list of achievements is long, but it’s worth mentioning that he’s won two Brit awards, been nominated for five Grammys and his latest album, All the Lost Souls, went gold in the first week.

With the emotional lyrics of his songs causing quite a stir, most of us know that he wrote ‘You’re Beautiful’ for an ex-girlfriend that he saw on the tube with another man. He’s even admitted that his old flame has since got married despite hearing the rather sentimental song. But what’s his favourite piece that he’s ever written? “I’d have to say ‘Goodbye My Lover’ and I’m also really fond of ‘Annie’. It’s the songs that are very personal and have a deeper meaning for me,” he tells me. “I write them as a form of release. Even if there weren’t people out there to buy my albums I’d still be writing them anyway. It’s a way of letting things out that I wouldn’t normally say.”
Remembering that James grew up in an environment back home in Wiltshire that didn’t really foster emotion, let alone musical expression, I’m curious to find out how he possibly came to want to write music. With no CD player in the house he grew up in, it was his school friends that introduced him to most of the music that would provide much inspiration later in life. “I’ve really been influenced by music from the 70s like Jimmy Hendrix, Cat Stevens, Led Zeppelin, the Doors and loads more.”

Refusing to say what kind of music he dislikes, he explains that he can be quite diverse when it comes to what he listens to in his spare time. “I do enjoy going clubbing and listening to dance music back in Ibiza.” Now his home for much of the year, James has managed to set up quite a comfy life for himself on the party island after purchasing a stunning 150 year old hilltop villa two years ago.

Talking to me with an extremely cool air as if nothing in the world could really bother him, I can’t help but wonder if he gets stressed by all the pressure to release one chart-topping hit after another. After all, Back to Bedlam sold 11 million copies worldwide and it would be no easy task to top that. His answer is once again cool and composed. “After my Back to Bedlam album I felt I could relax a little and I just focused on songs I wanted to write, things I wanted to let out,” he says.

If dishing up his thoughts on a silver platter has got him to the place he is now, my guess would be that he’s not too bothered with the world knowing about his private life surely? I seem to be mistaken. “It’s an incredible job but I don’t enjoy the notion of celebrity.” Often labelled as a ‘bad boy’ by the press, rife gossip circulated after the end of his relationship with Czech supermodel, Petra Nemcova, last year. Apparently Petra was infuriated after finding out that her lover had been indulging in a string of secret affairs. But whether this is true or not, we shall never know. When it comes to the tabloids, they make James out to party like a demon, dating and dumping starlets and supermodels like nobody’s business. “I don’t like the attention given to my private life, I wish everyone would stop sniffing around, trying to get at everything they can.” The star may be unerringly polite but he also knows where to draw the line in interviews, shying away from any questions that may expose a bit too much about what goes on behind closed doors.

OK, we all know that gossip columns can sometimes turn a celebrity’s life into a bit of a cartoon but all the attention can’t be that bad, can it? After all, fame and fortune go hand in hand, and this rings particularly true when it comes to this star’s luck on eBay. So how about when you tried to sell your sister online James? “Oh yeah that was funny!” he says with a slight chuckle. “Basically, I’d been spending a lot of time on eBay selling things off in my flat.” It comes as no surprise that plenty of people wanted to grab hold of all sorts of home accessories and furnishings that had been adorning his pad. “Then one day I found my sister Emily crying because she couldn’t get back to a funeral in Ireland. The planes were on strike and the ferry was out of season. So I placed an ad on eBay for a knight in shinning armour to somehow take her there. I must say we were bombarded with all sorts of weird offers, but as luck would have it the winning bid had his very own helicopter.” Not only did Emily accept the offer, but the two fell in love and wed 18 months later.

What with using his fame to sort out his sister’s love life and having replaced guns with guitars, James’ motto for life could well be “make music not war”. But when asked the question he doesn’t give his answer a second thought. “Life is short, fill it with as much as you possibly can.” Taking this motto to heart, James has to jump up from the interview to rush to the stage for a sound check. The stadium will soon be filling up and he’s a little pressured for time. Before he leaves I have to ask what’s next in his busy schedule. “I’m on the road for 14 months, I think I deserve a little break after that don’t I?” We can’t argue with that. “Oh, I’m off to play at Glastonbury next week, I’m really looking forward to that! It was one of my best moments on stage when I played there last.”

As people pile into the venue, more and more girls walk into the arena sporting wide grins. “I can’t believe we’re going to see him,” says one giggling teen to another. “I wonder what song he’ll sing first,” says another. Before James graces the stage, crowds get to hear a few tunes by the hip swinging Barbados born Magnet Man with songs written to raise funds for children in Africa.

Then on comes James with a sweet ‘kalispera’ before he teases the audience with a mix of upbeat poppy numbers and mellower toned down tunes. Not quite the grungy dude with t-shirt and jeans I had met earlier, he appears on stage with smart grey trousers and jacket, going from roadie to a pop star/wanabee rock star as he jumps around the stage and shows off his talents on the guitar and piano. Out come the sparklers, while hundreds of digital cameras and mobiles pop up in the air as hungry crowds attempt to get a snap of their idol.

James’ voice is little different to how it sounds on CD, which is quite an achievement for a live act. And it’s not all about mushy tunes with cheesy lyrics either. When ‘No Bravery’ comes on it’s obvious that life in the army left him with some rather distressing thoughts as he witnessed civilisation breaking down.

Crowds go wild for the big hits like ‘You’re Beautiful’ and ‘Goodbye my Lover’ while a big surprise came at the end of the night when 50 year old Cypriot pop sensation, Anna Vissi, appeared on stage to join him singing the chart topping ‘Simona’. The audience loved it, but Vissi seemed to love it even more as she really lapped up the attention and enjoyed a dance with James on the piano. Jetting in from Athens that day especially to watch the show, Vissi had put in a special request to get up on stage with James. One couldn’t help but wonder why she didn’t let the star enjoy his last song alone, but the diva was as comfortable as ever in the spotlight. Truth be told however, it was James that everyone was really fixated on.

Well, there really is no business like show business when you can pull off a concert that leaves people belting out “we want more!”. “James we love you!” screamed some other fans at the top of their lungs. But it’s not all magical up there in the limelight.

When James started off his career, the opening lines to the very song that made him famous reflected the thoughts of a slightly na?ve young man who wanted to tell the world, “My life is brilliant, my love is pure.” But after a whole lot of fame and a good dose of fortune, there are also certain realisations that come with it. “Sometimes I just find this music industry way too shallow. People ask me what brands of clothes I like to wear and who cuts my hair and it’s like, who cares?”

(Source: Cyprus Mail)

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