Since, her name has been linked with lesbian photographer Lara Bloom, 27, whom she met last year in California during a promotional tour of the States. "I really try not to talk about my friends," she says, apologetic.

"They are all special, they are all stars in their own right and I love them specifically because they don't want to be famous by association with me. "People can think whatever they like," she says evenly.

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"I made the mistake of talking about Luke and I kind of regret it. "I like to keep some mystique around my public image.

In a sense, the less you give the better." Melua's detractors contend that she is anodyne.

"All I would say is: "'If you're going to be mean, do it to my face.'" But the even-tempered Melua, of course, has had the last laugh.

Her star has ascended while Winehouse, wrapped up in her own drug problems, is in a downwards spiral.

Once, the notoriously erratic Amy Winehouse called her music "s**t".

Melua's response is equable: "We'd never met when she made that comment, but we did afterwards and she was really nice to me.

She exudes quiet authority and her attention to detail is punctilious.

When one of the session musicians suggests they repeat "the chorus", she interjects, polite but firm: "What are you calling the chorus? There isn't actually a chorus in this song." The lyrics of Mary Pickford the second single to be released from the Pictures album, are a witty tribute to the stars of the silver screen, who in 1919 formed the independent film company United Artists.

He signed her to his label Dramatico after hearing her sing in her final term at the BRIT School for Performing Arts in Croydon, South London. Batt, who despite an illustrious musical career since has never shaken off an association with The Wombles (as a singer, songwriter and producer he had eight hit singles and four gold albums with them), has also been called Melua's Svengali. "Because he was so much more experienced than me, I have always been perceived as the naive girl coming into the industry," she contends.

"People thought he was in control, that he told me what to do. Likewise, you won't see any glamour pictures of her in lads' mags.

And there was this awful phase when blokes were kidnapping and raping girls, and then, because they'd had sex, the girls would have to marry them.