Elvis Costello, 64, released his debut album, My Aim is True, in 1977. His subsequent albums include Armed Forces, Get Happy!!, Imperial Bedroom and Punch the Clock. His best-known singles include "Alison," "Oliver's Army," "Shipbuilding," "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea" and "Watching the Detectives."
He won a Grammy, with Burt Bacharach, in 1998 for "I Still Have That Other Girl" and his 2003 song "Scarlet Tide," co‑written with T Bone Burnett for Cold Mountain, was nominated for an Oscar.
What was your childhood or earliest ambition?
To be a coalman. When I was a lad, coal was still delivered to my nana's street in Birkenhead. I loved the smell and, I suspect, the taste of anthracite.
Private school or state school? University or straight into work?
St Edmund's RC primary school in Whitton, Archbishop Myers Secondary Modern in Hounslow and Saint Francis Xavier's Bilateral in Liverpool. I try not to read anything personal into the fact that both of my secondary schools changed their names, one shortly after I left and the other just after I joined. I've worked since I was 17.
Who was or still is your mentor?
Harold and Sylvia Hikins were — and are — poets and writers who hosted readings and musical evenings at which my first musical partner, Allan Mayes, and I tried out our songs, when we were working elsewhere for £1.50 a night and very little encouragement.
How physically fit are you?
This being a financial organ, I have to tell you that I feel like a million dollars.
Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
Once upon a time, I would have said ambition without talent was worthless. Now I'm not so sure.
How politically committed are you?
There have always been politicians who should be committed but I've never felt at home at parties.
What would you like to own that you don't currently possess?
"If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day" by Robert Johnson.
What's your biggest extravagance?
I like to get to the end of the line with the least distress. I would rather travel by water than by air. I can swim, I can't fly.
In what place are you happiest?
When I'm all at sea.
What ambitions do you still have?
I never had any ambition — one thing led to another.
What drives you on?
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
That I am here at all.
What do you find most irritating in other people?
I don't know about all the "other people" but the sneering confidence of some people in "their truth" is mildly vexing.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?
"Wow, he's very far away."
Which object that you've lost do you wish you still had?
My reverse telescope.
What is the greatest challenge of our time?
Fiddling while Rome burns. There aren't enough fiddles, there aren't enough bows and soon there won't be enough pines to burn.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
Yes, but not in the storybook sense.
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
In the wise words of Sir Nigel Tufnel, "It goes up to 11."