Cardiff's little Callas

She's 12 years old, she can sing like an angel, and her performance at Prince Charles's 50th birthday celebrations won her a five-album deal with Sony. Is Welsh schoolgirl Charlotte Church the new Aled Jones?
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The Independent Culture
I was not, as you may imagine, slaloming towards the station in an embarrassing display of untethered joy when I heard I was going to Wales. Wales is not a glamour assignment. Wales is on a par with Poland, Uzbekistan and Tasmania in charm points. Therefore, it was against my will that I was dispatched to Cardiff. Cardiff, which is home of council estates, Shirley Bassey and uppy-downy accents, amongst its portfolio of generally style-free boasts.

Glumly, I sat on the train. Indignation in a regional medley of accents greeted news of our inevitable delay in reaching the land of coal, rain, Ron Davies and choirs.

Ah, choirs. Yes, Wales may not be viewed as the glittering jewel, the Monte Carlo, shall we say, of the British Isles, but it does do a roaring trade in vocal chords. Think Aled. Think Shirley. Think Tom. Think Bryn. Think a hundred lugubrious yet vigorous male choirs, wet of whistle and baritone of lilt, yodelling through valley, pit and chapel. Enough said.

Thus, with a merrily atrocious cargo of cliches, I was driven through Cardiff in search of Charlotte Church, classical music's latest little Mozart. Ancient and venerable buildings rose in a haze of soft-stoned splendour, leading to side streets of ornate patchwork- brickwork; a pleasant hush; an airport! Um, oh. I see. Actually, Cardiff is rather nice. Indeed, it seems Cardiff is somewhat cool.

Young Charlotte Church, the golden-toned little poppet in question, was to be found at her aunt's house, an establishment bearing a promotional pin-up of the family nightingale in its front window for all Joneses to see. Platform of trainer, neat of fleece, our heroine was with a young cousin. "Charlotte! I saw you on the television!" he piped. A likely occurrence. Charlotte Church has been singing everywhere, entering the classical charts at number two this week with her first album, featuring songs from "Pie Jesu" to "Jerusalem" to "Danny Boy", performing at Prince Charles's 50th birthday celebration, and causing Judy Finnigan to shed a tear on telly with the glory of her vocal chords.

The photographs started, the mother stretched a hand to brush the offspring's locks with an automatic reflex, while our heroine, surely the world's most assured pre-pubescent, continued without even a pause. Has she always been so confident? "Yeah, I was really confident from the age of three. When we used to go to nursery, we used to have the radio on, and I could sing in tune and I already knew all the words. At a holiday camp we went to, I'd get up on the stage and scream over the microphone."

They had to drag the three-year-old off stage sometimes, the little popsicle, Charlotte-bach. This is a tale of the little mite, pretty as a picture, who sang her heart out. Then her cabaret-singer aunt noticed she had a voice, advised singing lessons, and one day, while watching Richard and Judy, our heroine sang live on the telephone in a competition for talented kids.

A subsequent television appearance was spotted by an agent, and in April, at the tender age of 12 and two months, an age when most girls are more commonly mouthing to "Viva Forever" with their hairbrushes, Charlotte signed a five-album deal with Sony.

Lena Zavaroni comes to mind. Anne-Sophie Mutter. Shirley Temple. Pushy stage mothers, bows and curtseys, nervous breakdowns. And, of course, Master Aled Jones, from whom we have heard less, post-testicular realignment. Yet while Charlotte is already quite horribly versed in the art of the interview, saying the same thing twice, word for word, the authenticity of her enthusiasm of the irrepressibly extrovert, shining-eyed variety, seems undeniable.

And then you hear the voice. It's a shock. A standard, pretty 12-year- old stands up and out flows magnified manna. "She's a 12-year-old with the voice of a 20-year-old," says her mother, Maria. The voice is pure, sweet, and quite simply monolithic. You shiver. "My huge ambition is to sing either Mimi, Madam Butterfly or Tosca at La Scala in Milan and get a standing ovation," said Charlotte, and laughed as though the sentence had just had its first airing.

"Is there anything else you want to say?" I asked. Charlotte Church raised her voice: "It's out now, it's called Voice of an Angel, it's got 17 tracks, and my Mum says it's great, but I can't say that, because I have to be modest." She giggled.

Upon the rain-driven platform of Cardiff Central, there were no chimney- pot bonnets or ham-thighed rugby players in sight. Odd, that. I bought the South Wales Echo to read as my in-flight entertainment and felt a strange and creeping sense of fondness as the train bore me to Paddington.

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