He made his name with Blur, but Alex James’ proudest achievements are closer to home, he tells TIM HUGHES

ALEX James grins as he tells me about his day.

He has some exciting news, he tells me breathlessly, as he comes in from the fields of his impossibly picturesque farm, perched on a ridge of the Oxfordshire Cotswolds.

As bass player with chart-topping Britpop band Blur it surely takes a lot to impress this 44 year-old rock heartthrob, who still fills stadiums and once boasted of blowing £1m on Champagne in three years.

“I’ve just tasted our first strawberry of the summer!” he says, with genuine delight. “And it was really good! It makes you realise why you spend the rest of the year flogging your guts out.”

While Blur remain a huge concern – their Hyde Park show marking the end of last year’s Olympic Games attracted 60,000 people – Alex sets his sights closer to home, his proudest achievements being as father and farmer.

“We love it here,” he says, talking from the weathered limestone farmhouse he shares with his wife Claire Neate and children Geronimo, twins Artemis and Galileo, Sable and Beatrix.

It seems strange coming from a man with a prodigious penchant for partying. After all, the nearest bright lights are those of Chipping Norton; the groupies and cocaine replaced by family, livestock and cheese.

It’s all a far cry from those hell-raising days when a Blur gig was enough to spark a riot, when they were routinely banned from playing entire cities – among them New York. But, he says, the Cotswolds has always been important to him.

He tells me he got to know Claire, then a pop video director – and now a successful film producer – while staying at a friend’s house in Little Barrington, near Burford, where they would spend wholesome weekends away from the temptations of the capital.

It was 2002, and they were married shortly after – just as Blur started to fall apart. “I did spend years living out of a suitcase,” he says. “But Claire and I fell in love a few miles from here. It was the first weekend we spent together.

"I was longing to put roots down and living here was a dream for both of us. That was 11 years ago. We were living in one of the best parts of London and doing something like that in the middle of a torrid love affair seemed to be madness.

"Friends said ‘don’t do it; you can’t be a farmer or a father... you’re an a*** hole. But it’s the best thing we’ve ever done.”

They turned what was a failing farm into a success, with the help of Alex’s other non-musical passion: cheese.

His most famous creations – Blue Monday, Little Wallop, and Farleigh Wallop – have been acclaimed by foodies. A range of everyday cheeses, with additions as tomato ketchup, salad cream and curry, are available in Asda.

“It has taken all my life since to turn this into a going concern.” And life is just as busy for Claire. “She has films in development all over the place,” he says.

“She goes to town for meetings but it’s a lot easier to work from home – and Chipping Norton has some good post-production facilities.

“With five children and five film projects she is incredibly busy. But, then, if you want something doing, she’s exactly the kind of person you should ask. She’s great. She’s my biggest critic – but loves my food.

“I knew it was love when I found out she loves cheese as much as I do.”

He also puts his children to work, tasting his increasingly adventurous creations.

“The kids have grown up with cheese and have good ideas – and say exactly how it is. And I listen to everybody. I love cooking with kids – or sending them off to pick strawberries with a pot of cream.

“It is completely engrossing and I loved it from the minute I first came here with Claire. It’s a special part of the world... but keep that quiet!”
He is comfortable talking about his family, but is protective of their privacy; he never poses for publicity shots with his children, and is determined to keep them out of the spotlight, ensuring they have as normal a life as it is possible to have with a rock star dad and a back garden that runs to 200 acres – with its own en-suite music festival.

Next month, music fans will descend on the farm for the third year running, for a festival of music and food. Run, since last year, by Taste Festivals in conjunction with Jamie Oliver, The Big Feastival is a family-focused gathering of musicians, fans and foodies which last year attracted 20,000.

The two-day event will feature music by dance music act Basement Jaxx, pop duo Rizzle Kicks and singer-songwriter KT Tunstall and many more.
The culinary line-up is no less impressive, being headlined by Jamie’s mentor, the Italian chef Gennaro Contaldo. Jamie will also be on hand to share a few tricks of the trade.

But while festival planning continues apace, he still has the daily running of the farm to occupy him. It’s a life he would recommend to any rock star.
“A lot of people in bands do end up living on farms,” he says.

“I thought I was doing something romantic, but it was just another rock cliché!
“The kids love it though. They like anything elemental – hills, streams and fresh air – and we’ve still got a few years of picking strawberries ahead of us before they get to 15, and I have to turn taxi driver for them.”

* The Big Feastival runs from August 31 to September 1 at Alex’s farm in Kingham, near Chipping Norton. See thebigfeastival.com or call 0844 995 9673.