No Oasis album. No Radiohead album. R.E.M.'s glorious 'Up' too late to sway the voting. Catatonia coming up fast on the rails. No matter. Doped up to the eyeballs on Q voter juice, the Manic Street Preachers hurdled the lot of them like a big old horse. "If not us, then the Manics," saluted Massive Attack's 3D at one point, and for once pop star opinion was unanimous. Surely the Manics would win, but would they make it to the Intercontinental? Midway through a European tour, and here they were, bringing a very real case of nerves to Table 17.
Variously affected by nascent gastric flu (Nicky Wire: "I felt it coming on after the bangers and mash") and chronic shyness (Sean Moore barely removed his head from his hands during the ceremonials), things looked temporarily grim. Then Kathy Burke stepped up and the cat was out of the bag. And though awards come thick and fast for the band these days, cynicism had done a bunk to somewhere very remote. "I had a Ready Brek glow up there," admitted James Dean Bradfield minutes later.
Kathy Burke: [strains of 'There She Goes' over the PA] "Very nice to walk on to The La's. Very nice to be here actually. I feel like a bit of a cunt, but you know... ha ha. Can I give you my Welsh? [Makes noise that sounds like "Tuck dean bob sice"] Which is 'Up your English arseholes' in Welsh. Best Act In The World Today is Manic Street Preachers!"
James Dean Bradfield: "Thanks. Best Act In The World Today... everywhere except that small place called America and a couple of other places."
Nicky Wire speaks...
Did you have any idea you were going to win Best Act In The World Today?
"No. This is a proper surprise. I thought we might sneak Best Single - not that Catatonia didn't deserve it, and I thought Massive Attack deserved Best Album. That's a fantastic album - but I never thought we'd win the last one. We've done a bit of a Chelsea. We've bought our way into the Premier League. Through hard work."
Would you have been happy to walk out of here with Best Single?
"Oh yeah, definitely. I always think the awards will go to 'other people'. Every time I go out and there's more than fucking three people, I feel completely ostracised anyway. I don't think anybody likes me really. I think people think I'm a little arrogant but it's just chronic shyness."
Do you feel bullied into attending such events?
"Q is a glamorous day, so I don't resent going. But because James knows more people and he smokes and he has a glass of whisky in his hand, he schmoozes more. I've never found it easy to converse with other people."
James said that he wished this had all happened when you were 21. Do you agree?
"Yeah, we would have turned up with something to say. Wherever we went the four of us felt a lot stronger. Having said that, if we'd been winning all these awards when we were 21, we'd probably be in prison. The uncontrollable gob plus a couple of glasses of wine, me and Richey together, hatching plans - it would've been a lethal cocktail. Something would've happened."
How does it feel to be in the same room as R.E.M. thinking back to your remark onstage at Kilburn in 1991 ("I hope Michael Stipe goes the same way as Freddie Mercury")?
"I just feel really embarrassed. We met Peter Buck in San Francisco on the last American tour and he was very nice. And the biggest irony of all is that I still consider R.E.M. to be one of my favourite bands. When R.E.M. were on The Tube doing 'Driver 8' and Michael Stipe had purple eyeliner on, that was the first time I'd seen them on telly and I thought, Fucking hell, that's fantastic. So anyway I don't expect any of them to ever talk to me again."
Still feel good about the new album?
"Oh yeah. We knew when we released the album, because of the nature of it we would get a backlash. It's one of those albums that people will go back to and realise it's more about songwriting than anything else."
What's your view on old Manics fans who feel shut out by your mainstream success?
"I completely understand it. Certain bands were incredibly precious to me and when they got big I did go off them a bit. I did it with the Wedding Present when they got to number 42! But I'd move onto another band. What I don't understand is that these people seem incapable of transferring their allegiance to say, Marilyn Manson or Placebo. Perhaps that's because we're unique."
Are you too clever for America?
"[Laughs] We're wise enough to think that after five records if it hasn't happened, it may not happen. But we're on a new label now [Virgin America] and the album comes out in March. It's never been like this in Europe before. Every gig is two or three thousand sold out. When we played 'Holy Bible' we'd be lucky to get twenty people."
What are you reading on tour?
"It's called Cymru Or Wales by R.S. Thomas, it's just a big essay on the meaning of Welshness."
You turn 30 in 1999. Any bad feelings?
"I have a massive problem in my head about being in a band at 30. Not so much recording, but being on stage at 30 - am I being a bit of a prick?"
Who should have won Best Act, if not you?
"[Instantly] Oasis. They're the only true, defining rock'n'roll band of the last twenty-five years. [Grins, as it enjoying a private joke] I've got a place in my heart for those Gallagher brothers..."