Rupert Murdoch used the power of his global media empire to cut a deal with the singer Charlotte Church that ensured the teenage star sang for free at his wedding in New York, the Leveson Inquiry was told yesterday.
The pact, which encouraged Ms Church to waive her £100,000 performance fee in return for favourable publicity in the Murdoch-owned titles, was accepted by the then 13-year-old singer and her parents after her management told her that Mr Murdoch was a "powerful man".
The wedding in 1999 between Mr Murdoch and Wendi Deng was on a yacht in a Manhattan harbour. "He flew us on his private jet from LA to New York which was amazing," Ms Church recalled. Accompanied on the yacht's grand piano, she sang what Mr Murdoch had requested: the funeral song "Pie Jesu". "He didn't care whether it was a funeral song. He liked it and wanted me to sing it, so I did," the inquiry heard. News International denied the description of the offer.
But whatever promises the Murdoch-owned media gave the Welsh singer, they soon evaporated. The inquiry heard Ms Church deliver a litany of intrusion, negative press and character assassination in which she named most of the group's British titles.
Dressed in a dark suit and with a tidy bobbed haircut, she looked far from the "wild child" image that has accompanied her since she was discovered as "The Voice of an Angel" at the age of 12.
She said everything changed when she hit 14. She said she felt "horrible" when The Sun ran a "count-down clock" in the run-up to her 16th birthday – the date at which she hit the age of consent and sex became legal. Now a prime tabloid target, she said she believed her phone had been hacked when The Sun ran a story that she was pregnant with her first child. "I'd told no one but my family. Doctors knew too," she said.
Under the headline "Church sober shock", the story told of her pregnancy's first trimester and her sadness at not being able to tell her parents first. The News of the World later ran a story headlined: "Church three in a bed cocaine shock" – but it wasn't about the young singer. Her father had been having an affair. She told the inquiry how she had "blanked out how bad these articles were".
Another story followed, claiming that her mother had tried to kill herself "because her husband was a love rat hooked on cocaine and three-in-a-bed sex". Although the paper knew how vulnerable her mother was, she said, "they printed it anyway". She said it was "unnatural for a daughter to know this about her parents" .
Ms Church admitted she had been given no training in how to deal with becoming famous. "There is no rule book – I've tried lots of different approaches. They made up stories and used old photographs," she said.
Now 25, she said she believed her phone was first hacked when she was 17. This year police showed her entries from notebooks taken from Glenn Mulcaire, the investigator commissioned by the NOTW. She said the numbers, pin numbers and names of family and friends were "quite substantial". Describing herself as "strong" and "a survivor" she said he had been "made into a caricature for so long – that it really isn't me."