Immediately after the Pop Dungeon had left the stage on Friday night, Charlotte was back in the green room, out of costume, shattered and still ill. Impressively, she’d made it through the show, but that image of her couldn’t have contested more the perceived impression of Charlotte Church the perma-pisshead, fuelled by Cheeky Vimto (Blue WKD mixed with port). Just moments before, as the O2 Institute emptied, I heard two girls weighing up whether to wait a little longer to see if Charlotte might come back out to meet some fans. “Oh c’mon, this is Charlotte Church,” they reasoned, “she’s probably already getting pissed at the bar.” When I ask Charlotte if she’s ever felt a pressure to live up to the persona that has stuck with her since her late teens, she lets out a loud laugh of disbelief. “Oh no,” she says. “I’ve never felt any pressure. I did that all by myself very easily. But everything about me is sort of like that – it’s proper what you see is what you get.”
I ask if that means that there are no misconceptions about her.
“How much my wealth was exaggerated really pissed me off,” she says, referring to the recurring estimate of her being worth £25 million. “At my height I was worth £7 million, and now I’m worth far less than that because I’ve spent loads, I’ve given loads to my family – I bought everybody a fucking house – I’ve lent loads of people money, I’ve given loads to charity and I’ve paid my fair share in taxes. So whilst I’m really comfortable and will be for the rest of my life if I don’t earn any more and I’m reasonable, I’m not worth what the average Tory politician is worth.
“Some people see Pop Dungeon as a fall from grace,” she says. “Doing ‘Tissues & Issues’ and ‘Back To Scratch’ [her two pop albums in 2005 and 2010] I was trying to carve out my own thing. After ‘Tissues & Issues’ the record company [Sony] was being fucking awful, so I tried to find a different way of doing it, with private investment and not being under the thumb of a label. That didn’t go quite as well as I planned and ‘Back To Scratch’ didn’t do very well. So the EPs [‘One’, ‘Two’, ‘Three’ and ‘Four’, released between 2012 and 2014] were starting from scratch again, recorded in my garage and released through my own label. So I’ve tried to carve my own path.
“I don’t know if I ever could recreate my early success because what I did was really commercial and was fluky and I was a commodity. It was a real time and place thing. It was immediate and mad and completely out of leftfield. So that’s completely unsustainable anyway.”
I suggest that rather than seeing Pop Dungeon as a fall from grace, it’s more likely that people are thinking why the fuck is Charlotte Church playing down the road tonight to 500-odd people? Surely she doesn’t need to do that.
“And I don’t,” she says. “If I wanted to go and present on an ITV daytime programme, or be a judge on X Factor for a million pounds, I could. But that’s not what I want to do – that’s not what I’m searching for. Success for me isn’t about earning the most money and being the most famous I can possibly be. I’ve had that and it’s quite empty. It doesn’t make you feel good, especially when so much of it is somebody else’s vision, and a lot of the time that somebody else is a finance person and their vision is cash.
“I was offered X Factor and I went for the meeting out of curiosity, to see if I could sabotage it somehow, and it turns out that I absolutely couldn’t, and there’s no control there at all.”
Instead, Charlotte has spent recent years interviewing Pussy Riot at Glastonbury; as a member of Hacked Off, campaigning against the intrusion of the press and their unethical methods of reporting; speaking on Newsnight and Question Time in support of Jeremy Corbyn; protesting with Greenpeace against Shell’s drilling for petroleum in the Arctic; and staging a modern dance production of ‘The Little Mermaid’ in 2016 (called ‘The Last Mermaid’), complete with an experimental electronic score, 3D projections and a gender-fluid whale.
The Pop Dungeon is essentially an accident that’s too good to stop now, although Charlotte is aware that it has a lifespan. “I don’t know how long that is,” she says, “but I definitely know that it’s this really sparkly, beautiful little thing, and it needs to be treated with care and really nourished, and then it needs to be done.”
She can do without the fame but not the singing, which she “fucking loves.”
It’s pretty niche, being Charlotte Church, I say.
“Really fucking niche. I haven’t been an artist all the way through. I’ve done really shit things. My path has been really odd. It’s great – I’m having a lovely time.”
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