The NS Interview: Alex James

“Keeping a pig is great but Monster Munch are nice as well”

You've written that everyone can afford good food. Is that really true?
It's the cheapest form of luxury you'll ever get. The thing that stops people eating well is lack of knowledge, not money.

Have we forgotten how to cook?
Yeah, I think rationing had a lot to do with it. In the early pictures of the Beatles, George Harrison looks malnourished. My dad tells me stories of going out to look for birds' eggs. Now­adays, food is so cheap. Even if you're on the dole, you can eat like a king - but you need the knowledge. After doing music for so long and thinking that it's a universal language, I found getting involved with food made me realise that music is a tribal language. It excludes as many people as it invites.

Who does your music appeal to?
I suppose it has broad appeal, but if I were to take a Blur record to a mud hut in Burkina Faso, it probably wouldn't have quite the same impact as a piece of my cheese would. Food truly is a universal, shared experience. In France, bishops and postmen are likely to eat the same thing for dinner. Here, food is a class thing and it shouldn't be. It's a fucking shame. Eighty per cent of the population is probably still eating bumper-pack Turkey Twizzlers.

Do you shop at supermarkets?
I've got five children. I shop at the cash and carry. It all comes on pallets. Living on a farm and having a pig is great, but Monster Munch is nice as well.

Will you send your kids to private school?
As soon as you become a father, you get the phone book out and say: "Get me Eton." You want your kids to have the best education.

You make "technologically advanced" cheese. What does that mean?
People distrust technology when it's applied to food because it's used routinely to make food cheaper - cheaper and shit. But technology is something that food needs to embrace. There's no reason why you couldn't have a shed in a field where cows walk in one end and the best cheese in the world pops out of the other. All you need is a bit of investment, and every process - the milking of the cows, the stirring, the turning of the cheese - can be done by machines better than a human being can do it.

You're involved with the Ambition AXA Awards for talented 11-to-18-year-olds. Are you, or were you, very ambitious?
Playing bass - that's a kind of passenger seat. But you get a lovely view.

Why did you get involved with the awards?
Basically, boredom. It's selfish. W H Auden once said that there were four basic human needs: to love, to be loved, to be a teacher and to be a pupil. There's a worrying statistic that only 40 per cent of kids think that they can do what they want. You can do whatever you fucking want. I have no musical training, but I wanted to be in a band. I shudder to think what would happen to me if I were 19 now.When Blur got signed, four grand was our advance. None of us had any money at all; we had nothing. Graham [Coxon]'s mum used to send him £20 a week and he lived off that. We were living in a burned-out, condemned squat. It was horrible. Music wasn't a career choice. It was a sort of denial. It was a rebellion.

You seem to have enjoyed being in a band.
Yeah, it was my job. I think there probably aren't as many jobs going for rock stars. Are there any rock stars these days? I think the world has changed a lot since then. Those were the last days of rock stars having aeroplanes and riding bicycles down the stairs of the Groucho. Famous people today don't have as much fun. It's much more scrutinised. Then, the world was drunker, more genteel, more ridiculous.

What was it like to work on the Beagle 2 mission to Mars with the scientist Colin Pillinger?
Colin was trying to do something incredible. He was a very driven, motivated person. As Damien Hirst said many years ago, picking what you want to do is the hardest thing you ever have to do. Once you know what you want, getting it is just administration.

Are the sciences taught well in schools?
They're always trying to spice it up and do it with a grin and a cool haircut, but I quite like my science served cold.

Do you vote?
I went to have a look, yeah.

Is there anything you'd like to forget?
There's lots of things I'd like to remember.

Is there a plan for your career?
More, as I get older. Empire-building isn't the only sort of success. I suppose that's part of mentoring - trying to encourage people to see that even rebellion can be managed more effectively.

Are we all doomed?
No, I think we're gonna be just fine.

Defining Moments

1968 Born in Boscombe, Bournemouth
1988 Meets Graham Coxon, Damon Albarn and the artist Damien Hirst at Goldsmiths College, London, while studying French
1995 Blur's "Country House" battles "Roll With It" by Oasis in the charts. Blur wins
2003 Marries Claire Neate and moves to a farm in the Cotswolds
2004 His first child, Geronimo, is born. Galileo, Artemis, Beatrix and Sable follow
2011 Backs the Ambition AXA Awards

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