More than hits
Charlotte Church laughs when I remind her that she published her first autobiography at the age of 14. A preposterous thought with a title to match. Or maybe not. By the time My Life (So Far) was released in 2001, Church was already three albums into an unprecedented crossover career that had started with her singing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Pie Jesu’ down the phone to Richard and Judy on This Morning. It would become the opening song on her 1998 debut album of arias, sacred songs and traditional pieces – the ultimate parent stocking-filler of the day, ‘Voice of an Angel’.
As the album continued to sell into its multi-millions – regimentally followed by Christmas-ready records in 1999 and 2000 – Church toured the world like an opera star should, performing for Heads of States and dignitaries, including the Queen, the Pope and a couple of US Presidents: first Clinton, and then George W. Bush, who asked Church what State Wales was in when she told him where she was from.
In 1999 she first appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show. In 2001, immediately after Bush’s inauguration, she sat one of her GCSEs in the White House. It seems that My Life (So Far) was in fact a read. And then, two years later and at the age of 16, Charlotte Church retired from classical singing to embark on an increasingly lawless career of doing whatever she likes. And what she likes right now is dressing up with 8 or 9 friends and performing virtuoso versions of tightly rehearsed chart hits in a covers band called Charlotte Church’s Late Night Pop Dungeon. So I don’t first meet Charlotte in a palace or presidential home as once I might have; I meet her in Digbeth, Birmingham, on a wet Friday night at the O2 Institute, where the Pop Dungeon is about to make the weeks of 400 people in a room that resembles a good student union.
By the back door I enter through with Charlotte’s tour manager, Gethin, there are three autograph hunters that I wasn’t expecting. They say that they’ve been waiting since 10am (it’s now 7pm) and convince Gethin to take their books inside for Charlotte to sign. “It’s always the same demographic,” she says of the 50-year-old men, although it is out of the ordinary for them to come to a show these days.
Charlotte is feeling terrible with a bug that’s hit her that day. She’s also pregnant with her third child. Her boyfriend, Johnny, who plays guitar in the Pop Dungeon as Curtis Fridge, keeps her company as the rest of the band (“a bunch of complete hedders,” says Church, who also have ridiculous stage names) drift in and out of the extremely unglamorous green room before taking their per diems to the pub. They return as photographer Gem is shooting Charlotte, who looks great but clearly feels unwell and doesn’t speak much. She insists that the show won’t be a bust, though. “Music heals, and all that.”