Charlotte Church: The fall and rise of little voice

Angel, little devil, motormouth, mother. Six albums and thousands of column inches in, Charlotte Church talks about life in the limelight to Charlotte Cripps
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The Independent Culture

Charlotte Church is wearing a leopard-print dress and is gobbling down a cheese and pickle sandwich, with a packet of salt and vinegar crisps. She looks happy and radiant and is a lot more grounded than I had first imagined.

It's not been easy being in the public eye ever since she emerged as the 12-year-old "Voice of an Angel". Even when she goes out for a cigarette via the back door of her publicist's office in St John's Wood, where we meet, she is greeted by paparazzi.

"I don't want to be a walking soap opera character," she says. "I want to be a singer."

It's been five years since she released her teenage-angst album, Tissues and Issues. Its first single, "Crazy Chick", about needing therapy, reached No 2 in the UK charts in 2005. Now she's back with her new melancholic break-up album, Back to Scratch, with its twinkling title track about being left on her lonesome.

The 24 year old admits that this song echoes her own feelings over her recent split, in April, from Welsh rugby star Gavin Henson, currently strutting his stuff on Strictly Come Dancing. The period when they "pulled the plug on their relationship", as she refers to it, gave her plenty of melancholic material for her new album.

But she is matter of fact about her return to the pop world. "I'm a bit of a crap pop star to be honest. I'm not skinny enough, I'm not very good with style and fashion, and mainly just because I don't care what I look like most of the time," she says defiantly.

Now she is dating the guitarist Jonathan Powell, who also helped her write the album. She also has a new live-in best friend, Naomi, who doubles as a nanny to her two children Ruby, 3, and Dexter, 20 months.

"Naomi lives on top of the garage," says Church. "It's a really nice self-contained flat. She was still living at home, so I thought why not live with me? We are going to have a blast. I've known her since we were five years old."

Church has come to London today from her home in Cardiff to appear on ITV's Loose Women before heading off to see the new Harry Potter film. Since moving out of the sprawling manor house she shared with Henson just outside Bridgend, she now lives in Canton, a district of Cardiff not far from her parents' new B&B, Dexby Town House, named after the singer's two children.

She fondly recalls her last pop album as the type of music melodramatic teenagers write in their bedrooms. "I'm not saying that in a horrible way. But since then I've learnt life's lessons. I'm more patient – realistic – and I'm a better person. I hope so: you are meant to be egocentric as a teenager," she says. "My writing is a lot more reflective and has more depth. I've found a much more comfortable place to sing within myself. I've learnt how to incorporate my two voices which were warring – this big belter voice matched with this classical voice that can be sweet and high or quite operatic. That's an ongoing process because my voice is pretty versatile. I don't get stuck in a rut; it's boring."

Born in Llandaff, Cardiff, Church is an only child who was adopted by her mum Maria's husband James Church in 1998. Her own biological father left when she was six months old. "He only contacted me when I became famous," she says.

She has a huge extended family and says she has no interest in a relationship with her real father. "I don't need anything to complicate my life – it's already complicated."

These days she knows what makes her happy: "I know what is important to me now: happiness. It's about my family and my friends and of course my children, who are the be-all and end-all of my every decision."

It was at the age of 11 that Church stunned the nation when she sang "Pie Jesu" over the phone on the daytime ITV show This Morning. So angelic was her voice that she appeared on ITV's The Big Big Talent Show. She got a singing scholarship to the private Cathedral School, in Cardiff, before she met manager Jonathan Shalit, who now manages N-Dubz, and he negotiated a deal with Sony BMG. Her first album, Voice of an Angel, at the age of 12, made her the youngest artist to have a No 1 album on the British classical charts.

Since then it's been one scandal after another in the press, from her mum sacking her manager ("that's when mum went bipolar"), her mum going into the Priory in her battle against booze and self-harm ("I love her to bits, but she is high maintenance"), the public countdown to her losing her virginity at 16 ("that was strange") to drunken nights out and bad-boy boyfriends ("I was drinking vodka with my friends – big deal! I was a teenager"), to being called fat ("it could have destroyed me").

Church claims her feet have always been firmly on the ground. "I've never moved away from Wales and don't have celebrity friends," she says. "I stay close to my family and friends. The trouble with Gav is that we were just so different. It was sad because we did love each other, but it was the right decision." Celebrity is a curse, she adds. "At least I know my children will never want for anything financially. I've paid all my family's mortgages off on their houses."

Now Church is planning on a pop career in the US if she gets a deal for her album. "It was my biggest market – I sold more than six million albums there – but I haven't done anything in America for eight years. Apparently my name recognition is still pretty strong there."

Worth an estimated £11m, Church, who has sold about 11 million albums, has always worked hard. Her debut, Voice of an Angel, was followed by her second, self-titled album, which included the Top 40 operatic hit "Just Wave Hello". Her Christmas album Dream a Dream, in 2000, was followed by Enchantment in 2001, which was a bit more upbeat, with some pop and Broadway added into the repertoire. In 2002, at 16, she released Prelude: The Best of Charlotte Church and joined Julie Andrews on the Royal Christmas tour – before switching her singing attentions to pop.

She was often photographed out partying with friends or slouched somewhere drunk. "When you've been the Voice of an Angel, there's only one way you can go. Everyone was waiting for my fall from grace. Which I think I accomplished in spectacular fashion. I was just a normal teenager... As I've grown, I suppose I've got a little more careful. But I think I've come out of it pretty well. I think I'm a good person and a good mum and that's all I really care about. And hopefully I'll be a good artist as well."

In 2006, when her deal with Sony ended, she took a break from music to have two children. Now she has released Back to Scratch on her own record label, Dooby Records. It features her new poppy single, "Logical World", out on Monday, which sounds less bland than the track "Back to Scratch", as well as "The Actors", which Church performed on the talent contest Over the Rainbow, and a cover of "Ruby", originally recorded by the French singer Camille, which reveals Church at her best. The song "The Story of Us" is about her mother, who Church has always been close to despite her problems. The lyrics include: "I'll hold you in my arms, but you can't feel this warm embrace/ And you can't see the steady love from everyone, that's all around but never enough/ That's the story of us... " "The song is kind of sad," says Church. "My mum cries every time she hears it."

But while there is no doubt that Church has the voice of an angel, it is perhaps the lack of any edginess that is missing from her latest album. Older pop songs like "Let's Be Alone", from 2005, about being hated and never left alone in the press were rock chic. Now she is wholesome and sweet again. It's a mixed blessing.

The album 'Back To Scratch' is out now. Her new single "Logical World" is out on 29 November