Taylor Swift is trying to think how to sum up the vocal talents of one of the most high profile men she’s ever shared a microphone with – the Karaoke Kid aka HRH Prince William.
She lets out a couple of slightly supressed, rather ladylike squeals as she works out loud exactly what to say.
'I mean, he is a member of the royal family, this was a private event and I wouldn’t ever want to say anything remotely disrespectful because I absolutely adore William and Kate,' she says.
I tell her not to worry, that beheading is a thing of the past in the British royal family and she laughs out loud.
The clip of them – alongside Jon Bon Jovi – singing Livin’ On A Prayer went viral on You Tube a few months ago. She herself has kept a DVD copy.
'Well both of us were more screaming than singing,' she says.
'But even through all that I could hear his voice and it is pretty good. A nice tone. I’d definitely say he’s got star quality and if he ever wants me to sing with him again I’ll be there.'
At 24, with seven Grammy awards, record sales counted in billions as opposed to millions, a personal fortune of £62 million and all five dates of her current UK tour (which kicks off at The London O2 today) selling out within hours of going on sale, William is just part of a long line of stage partners from Justin Beiber to J-Lo, Stevie Nicks, Ed Sheeran, Carly Simon, Nicki Minaj and the Seventies American singer/songwriter she was named after, James Taylor.
But for a girl who – in a sea of Mileys, Gagas and Rihannas – uses words like 'decorum', absolutely believes in respecting your elders, has turned down millions to pose for Playboy (lmao) ('There are a lot of offers that just don’t make sense to me') and whose dress code limits are hot pants; that infamous Centrepoint charity event at Kensington Palace alongside Jon Bon Jovi and a flushed and delighted looking Prince William was, she said: 'A night I will remember till I’m very, very old.'
She says: 'The whole evening was completely wondrous and felt so special from the start.
'The theme was ‘winter white’ so I wore a long, white ball gown. Just walking through those beautifully ornate rooms and corridors in Kensington Palace with string quartets playing and that sense of all those people in history who’d walked through the same rooms was completely magical.
'I had no idea I’d even meet Prince William. At the reception I saw Jon Bon Jovi talking to him and then he came over, smiled and started talking to me. I’d never met him before, he was so charming, so easy to talk to.
'I know about curtseying in front of the royal family but I didn’t actually do it because it was much more informal.
'Plus I was completely taken aback by his first words to me, he said: ‘I hear you’re heading off to Australia’ and I couldn’t believe this Prince of England actually knew what someone like me was up to.
'Kate wasn’t with him but he actually sat next to me for the concert.
'We were in the front row and there were singers like James Blunt, Tinie Tempah and Eliza Doolittle sitting near us.
'Jon Bon Jovi got up to perform and he called him out because he’d heard William loves singing Livin’ On A Prayer on karaoke nights. Then he said to everyone in the room: "If I put pressure on the Karaoke Kid he’ll have to get up and sing."
'Prince William looked and me and said: ‘I’ll do it if you do it too’ and then took my hand. I was just completely surprised and flattered and it felt surreal and completely natural at the same time.
'We jumped on the stage and started to sing and then we were really yelling into the microphone and clapping hands. I still can’t believe I’ve sung with the Prince of England.
'But I completely love him – and Kate – I wished I got to meet her too because those guys are like this perfect, perfect couple. Looking at them just makes me feel happy.'
You’d think a girl like Taylor would be pretty happy all the time because she’s got everything she wanted. The last time I met her she was 19 and just on the cusp of becoming huge.
Now she is mega-huge, up there with Beyonce, Katy Perry, Rihanna and Adele and with homes in Nashville, Rhode Island and Hollywood, who at this years Grammies stunned everyone by head-banging her way through the ballad ‘All Too Well’.
'God, so much has happened to me in the past few years,' she says. 'It’s true that years in the celebrity world are like dog years and in that sense I feel about 45. It has got crazy but I like to think I’m pretty much the same person I was back then.'
She has not - unlike her peers Miley Cyrus, Justin Beiber and Rihanna – gone wild in an attempt to twerk her way into the credible sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame.
'I think I’ve kept to the same goals I’ve always had,' she says. 'I don’t compare myself to anyone else, I don’t make comments about anyone else because they do what feels right for them and that’s okay by me.
'You get to a point where it’s like you can’t really do anything right and people will pick on you for whatever decisions you make, so I just try and take no notice and get on with my music.'
What’s the wildest, most hedonistic thing she has ever done? She laughs: 'That is a tough one, I think I’ll have to ask my friends.'
She has never, she says, done anything illegal. She didn’t have a drink till she was 21 and has recurring panic dreams of being arrested for something she didn’t do.
She’s still thinking about that wild thing and drawing blanks but the more she thinks about it the more unapologetic she becomes.
There is a core of steel to Swift that has – along with her song writing – won her praise from some of the toughest and most difficult to impress.
Neil Young says he likes her. 'I like her music, I like watching her respond to her attacks, I like the way she’s defining herself.'
Elvis Costello says: 'You can see self-possession there and I’m intrigued by that.'
She likes to throw parties for her girlfriend but no TVs are chucked out of hotel windows, no eggs (sorry Justin) are thrown at neighbours walls.
'For me relaxing is cooking, baking. In the winter I bake, I make pumpkin loaves and chocolate chip cookies, in the summer I cook. I do a great Japanese stir fry with chicken and vegetables and pasta with vegetables and vodka sauce.'
When she comes to Britain for her tour she’s hoping to see something of the Great British Bake Off.
'I’ve heard of that show,' she says. 'I really want to see it because I’m completely passionate about baking and I love watching other people bake. I’d definitely like to see Mary Berry.'
Swift is the product of a highly educated, middle class family who put manners, morals and personal development high on the family agenda.
The daughter of three generations of banking executives, she was brought up in the affluent area of Wyomissing, Pennsylvania on an 11 acre Christmas Tree Farm, the family owned as a secondary business.
From the age of nine thanks to a combination of loving Shania Twain, seeing Dolly Parton and listening to a LeAnn Rimes album her parents bought her as her first ever record, she knew she wanted to be a country singer. Her mother, Andrea, encouraged her first to paint then to paint in words.
It was not a decision that made her popular at school where everyone else was into Britney (Spears) Justin (Timberlake) and Destiny’s Child. She’d run into the
toilets during break times to sit in a cubicle and sing a few lines of lyrics she had just thought up.
She wore folk style bandanas in her hair and talked about ‘switchbacks’ (a lyric that zig-zags back on itself, a favourite device in country music) .
'I was an oddball,' she says. 'And I was way taller than everyone else (she is a 5,11) with curly frizzy hair. People can be very mean. I became a target, a very easy target because I was also very sensitive.'
At 12 she went to Nashville with her mum and a stack of CDs she’d made, running in and out of record companies delivering the discs while Andrea waited in the car outside. She persuaded her mother and stock-broker father to move to Nashville.
By 14 she had a record deal but was ‘shelved’ a year later. She pushed on. The words; ‘Never, never, never give up’ are embossed in swirly letters on the inside of her tour-bus.
Success has not dulled her sensitivity. But in many ways it is that sensitivity that has given her success. Her confessional songs – many about lost love and broken dreams – have struck a major chord with her largely female following. She actually looks pretty close to a supermodel but in concert she talks to her audience as if she is the eternal wallflower, the geeky, gawky uncertain one.
She is known for not discussing in interviews past romances with the likes of One Direction’s Harry Styles, the super-bad boy, John Mayer, the American royal, Conor Kennedy, or the commitment phobe Jake Gyllenhaal.
In the press she is sometimes painted as a man-chaser ('I never chase boys, they don’t like it.') whose music consists of revenge songs directed at the men who let her down. There are whole websites devoted to working out which song is directed at which ex – Dear John for John Meyer and We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together Again is thought to be about Gyllenhaal. Swift will neither confirm nor deny.
It’s actually a pretty smart policy. Not only does it stoke massive interest in each of her four albums, but any such revelations could spark savage repercussions.
When One Directioners took I Knew You Were Trouble from her best-selling Red album to be about Harry (it was actually written before they even dated) (sob i'll never let it go) she received death threats on Twitter from his fans urging her to 'drink bleach'.
To Swift it is simply what she does. Her idols from Parton to Stevie Nicks to Carly Simon, Eminem and Joni Mitchell all poured their lives and love affairs into their songs.
At school, she wrote about girls being mean, about being the odd one, the kid who didn’t fit in.
'One of the great joys about writings songs is that it enabled me to have the last word.'
She adds: 'Songs are my diaries, they always have been. You have to put your trust in everyone because putting down those real, personal details and thoughts that make a song authentic also opens you right up. I am constantly misunderstood; a lot of people just don’t get me.'
She pauses. 'It’s like how I’m perceived to be constantly going out with people. I’m just not. It’s like she’s a hopeless romantic so she’s a serial monogamist, always dating.
'They look at me and think: ‘Oh she has to be in love or she’s not happy.’ It is possible for a woman to be a romantic but also to be single and to be happy.'
'I am single,' she says. 'To be honest being single is one of the best things about my life right now. And whatever people think I actually love it.
'Life is so much more fun and it’s great not to have to worry about calling someone every night, just doing what you want to do. Hanging out with your friends.'
Swift is far more complex, far more intelligent than most of the stories about her give her credit for. Like Adele, she is one of the few female stars who
writes their own songs. Her lyrics are clever, assured and her progression as a writer is clear.
Stevie Nicks rates her: 'It’s women like her who are going to save the music business.'
She studies the song writing of her heroes.
'Sometimes I’ll go into the Canyons in LA and just think about all those incredible musicians who used to live there. I think you still feel an incredible energy there. I’d love to have been around then.'
For the past few weeks she has had an unprecedented number of days off. She has spent the time hiking, making granola ('It’s so good.') watching re-runs of Friends, Sex And The City, Law And Order and endless loops of her favourite movies 500 Days Of Summer and Love Actually.
She’s also been reading a lot of American classics: 'For Christmas my brother (21-year-old Austin) bought me the best ever present, a collection of books called The University Library, it has poems, novels, short stories. I love it.
'I spend a lot of time at bookstores buying beaten up vintage books. You can lose yourself in a book like you can in a song and as a songwriter, you can learn just by reading the way other people write.'
What makes Swift so likeable is her habit of looking outside herself. She talks about sitting next to Julia Roberts at the Golden Globes: 'We just started talking straight away. What struck me about her was not how beautiful she was but how youthful she was. She seemed younger than me and just extraordinary. She has a real grace.
'She is how I’d like to be. I want to grow up with grace, to age gracefully and to love life. Julia was just so full of life.'
She asks questions, talks about other musicians (Sheeran, Ellie Goulding), movies she’s seen (American Hustle) the way Eminem can tell a story.
She has a lot of friends including the actresses Emma Stone and Jennifer Lawrence, Selena Gomez and Girls writer Lena Durham who she’s grown particularly close to.
'People say the more famous you become the smaller your circle of friends becomes but for me it’s been the opposite.
'I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up and now I’m surrounded by all these amazing, strong women who are incredibly supportive.
'Like Lena. She’s crazy busy but she’ll always take my call. I can call her in the night and she’d be there to laugh with me or to chill with me or to hold my hand. And I’d be there for her.'
You can’t help wonder if the media misunderstanding of Taylor Swift will put her off dating for good. And what would happen to her music.
There is a pause and then she laughs. 'I just don’t Google. I’m unapologetically okay with myself. I refuse to believe the good hype and I refuse to believe the bad hype. Life is good.' (bless tbh)