Man About Town: Talking cheese with Alex James

The Blur bassist is shining a light on British products and traditional skills
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The Independent Online

It's tough for for retiring pop and rock stars. What to do next? The country mansion is a lot further from the action than it used to be, the tattoos are starting to merge into one big blue mess and no one is fooled by the orange hue to your hair dye.

Once upon a time, a frazzled frontman or gaunt guitarist would follow the path of drink and drugs to an early grave, but that's less in vogue than it was.

It's rare to see big names challenging themselves and enjoying a second career. Examples such as Brian May (embarrassing hair aside), who – in addition to charity work – went back to university to complete a PhD in astrophysics, are few and far between.

This occurred to me as I went toa party thrown by Blur-guitarist-turned-farmer Alex James this week. Unless you have been living in a dairy-free cave for the past few years, you'll know that since his band first laid down their instruments, he has devoted his time to making cheese in the Cotswolds. In fact he even wrote a column about it for our sister newspaper, The Independent.

Successful was he that it has become his full-time job. Recently one of his creations, "Good Queen Maude", won a gold medal at the World Cheese Awards, which is a pretty big deal. I'd suggest that you try it – but I'm told that, as they're only able to make 12 a week, it's become quite a rare delicacy.

The event was to launch his new range of Alex James Presents ... products at the Aubaine Mayfair restaurant in London. I rarely left the cheese table, nor did some of my fellow guests, many of whom were grands fromages of the cheese world.

James's new career only helped when Blur made their comeback. As a band, they all seem to have enough credible stuff going on outside the group, to prevent any of them looking too desperate.

While he may have come in for some criticism, James is shining a light on British products and traditional skills and has become arguably the best ambassador for cheese in this country.

"When I was walking here, a homeless man stood up, pointed at me and just said 'cheese!'", James told me at the party. "I think that if that's what people think when they look at me, that's an achievement."

Many would agree. Maybe his next achievement will be offering a post-careers advisory service to help give 21st-century focus to fellow retiring musicians.