He was an artist then, a recent Turner prize-winner who had a new show to promote but spent most of his time lamenting the fact that he had been appointed as Britain's official war artist but hadn't seen too much of the war in question – Iraq – because it was considered too dangerous by his military minders.
What a difference seven years and two critically successful films make. It's now the end of 2011 and McQueen is sitting in the lounge of a Glasgow hotel being anything but diffident. Tonight he's all brusque bullishness, someone who knows what he wants and what he's worth. He's in town for a Bafta screening of his new movie, Shame, about sex addiction. Not an easy sell, you'd imagine. "I don't know," he says. "I don't care. I just want to make work." Well, yes, but to make work you've got to get backers on board. "No, I just want to make what I want to make. If someone wants to help me, then that's great. I'm an artist. I'm not conducting a poll to see what's popular and what's not."
Like his film, he seems coolly confident.
You're well served by your lead actors Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, I suggest at one point. "No," he says, "I made those performances." You made those performances? "Of course."
It's as if the belief in his work – which was always there – has bled into a belief in himself. Perhaps that's what happens when your first film (Hunger) was named best first feature at Cannes and also bagged a Bafta, when your second film wins a hatful of prizes for its performances and even inspires heady talk of Oscars (heady indeed for a film that in the US has been given the notorious NC17 rating because of its sexual content) and when you know you're going to be making your next movie with Hollywood royalty in the shape of Brad Pitt.
If the film Shame was a colour it would be blue. The colour of city steel, neon-lit nights, cold skin, an ink stain on the heart you can't get rid of. It's a film about big-city living, about emotional disconnection, about the cross-wiring of family and physical attraction and about two very powerful, very exposed performances from Fassbender and Mulligan.
And it's a film about addiction. The thing about sex addiction, McQueen tells me, is that the first thing you do when you hear about it is that you laugh. He admits he laughed too. "But when you dig deep – and in fact you don't have to dig that deep – you find out that in order to get through a day, almost like an alcoholic who has to drink a bottle and a half of whisky or whatever, these people are relieving themselves 25 times every day. It's pretty dark."
The idea for making the movie came out of a conversation with screenwriter Abi Morgan (who also wrote the script for The Iron Lady – see I). They hadn't met before but ended up talking about internet pornography and relationships and from there chanced on the subject of sex addiction.
"I thought it was a great idea to think about making it into a film so we both tried to investigate sex addiction. We tried to find experts in the field. And we couldn't find anyone to talk to us in London. All the doors were shut. It was the time of the Tiger Woods exposé and no-one wanted to talk."
So they went to New York where doors opened to them. The duo talked to specialists, addicts, recovering addicts. "That whole week was amazing. It was like Colombo and Miss Marple looking for clues," says McQueen.
The resulting film is naked in every sense. The film's lead, Brandon (Fassbender), hires prostitutes and watches online porn, but can't cope with women who aren't bought and paid for. It's a film about failure in that sense. Not everyone has comprehended that, admits its director. "They don't really understand the idea of sexual addiction. 'He's good looking. He's got a great job. He's got money. What's the problem with him f****** all these women?' If I was making a film about alcohol or drug addiction, it would be totally different. There's a naivety about this addiction."
Access to sexual imagery is easier now than ever thanks to the internet, of course. Is that something we should be worried about? "I don't know. It's a reality. Worry about it? I'm not too sure. It's a fact. It's too late now. Possibly it's helpful for some people. It's like anything else. It's like alcohol or drugs. Sometimes you can have a good time on alcohol. Sometimes you can have a good time on drugs. But if you abuse it, things go the other way. But it's your choice."
He does concede that we live in a more compulsive society "because of what we're being sold". "We're being sold everything – what we're supposed to wear, who we're supposed to be seeing, what food we're supposed to eat – all kinds of stuff," he says. "We are being bombarded with stuff all the time. It's difficult to navigate."
McQueen's films reflect that difficulty. Would that others could say the same. "If you think of all the American films that are up for the Academy Awards, there's this naive American optimism [about them]. It doesn't have anything to do with life and everything to do with Hollywood. It's almost a PR advert for America. It's a nonsense. Everything's got to have a happy ending. Reality doesn't kick in at all."
Are happy endings possible in real life? "Of course they are. We don't know what happens with Brandon. His glass might be half full, it might be half empty. But I'm not going to shy away from the fact of who we are and where we are. I'm not making Disney stories."
There's that brusque bullishness again. You can hear it too when I suggest that the films he's made – about the Northern Irish hunger striker Bobby Sands, about sex addiction and his next one, Twelve Years A Slave, which is going to be about the slave trade in America – are subjects some distance from his own life, that of a black Londoner who lives with his partner and two young children in the Netherlands. He doesn't get that at all. "I'm from planet earth," he points out for a start. "I think these are subjects that are very close to me. When I was 11 years old, Bobby Sands was a turning point in my life, realising my surroundings weren't necessarily how I thought they were. With Shame it's a situation that's about control and of course Twelve Years A Slave is a situation that hasn't been filmed much, in fact hardly at all. No-one's making films about slavery. Name me one film about slavery. Name me one."
All three films are about freedom, he says. Does he feel free? "Sometimes. Sometimes it's just an illusion, of course."
McQueen still lives in Amsterdam. His Dutch, he says, is "still crap". How has his life changed in the seven years since we last met, I wonder.
"Life's changed a lot," he replies. "Am I more optimistic or less optimistic? I don't know. It's a case of just trying to do stuff. I'm an artist. I try to do stuff."
McQueen has only one cinematic hero, the anarchist filmmaker Jean Vigo. He doesn't believe there's any difference between making movies and making art, worries he's been away from home too much of late but can't see that changing, is a Spurs fan but is too busy to follow football any more. He's doing stuff. It's what he does. He thinks it's worth doing. He's not alone in that.
Shame (18) opens in cinemas on January 13.