He's top of the pop lawyers

When the 10 Pop Idol finalists needed to appoint a lawyer, they held auditions to find the ultimate legal superstar. Charles Law, the lucky winner, talks to Robert Verkaik
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The Independent Online

Shooting straight to number one with the fastest-selling single ever is one way of measuring success in the transient career of a pop singer. But a much better indicator of how long Will Young and the other nine stars of the hit showPop Idol are expected to shine in the pop firmament is the news that they have appointed their own lawyer.

The arrival of Charles Law, of the Chancery Lane solicitors Denton Wilde Sapte, amounts to a recognition by the City that the Pop Idol phenomenon is a financial success with a future. The 46-year-old solicitor, whose most famous client to date was the Welsh group Catatonia before they split up, will advise the pop stars on royalties, record contracts and merchandising deals, and the thorny question of who picks up the hotel bill. He will also be expected to act as father confessor and confidant to some of the hottest, but largely inexperienced, talent in the music business.

There are plenty of signs that Law is going to have to sing for his supper. Will Young and Gareth Gates, the final two Pop Idol contestants, are becoming increasingly concerned that Law makes sure their interests are not neglected by their management company, 19.

"Even very recently," Law says, "both of them had said that we don't really feel we know enough detail – we would like to be more in the loop. So I rang up 19 and told them that. But if it needs to get heavier, then it will do."

Law's tough talking has already gained Pop Idol's 10 finalists a doubling of their share of the £1m profits expected from their UK tour, which starts this Thursday at Wembley in London. This means that the finalists are now set to receive up to £100,000 each from the 21-date tour after Law also persuaded 19 to let them in on the potentially lucrative TV and merchandising rights. "The original proposal by 19 was that they would get half of what we have now agreed for their fees and none of the TV or merchandising. You could say that 19 started too low because it was a very cautious offer."

If Simon Fuller, the man behind 19, has any complaints about having to face a hard-ball lawyer every time he wants to cross a T or dot an I on one of his young charges' contracts, then he only has himself to blame. It was Fuller's idea to arrange legal representation for the singers as soon as the final 10 were known. He even used the Pop Idol format as a method of choosing the winning lawyer. Five entertainment solicitors were given just 45 minutes to dazzle the 10 finalists with their practical knowledge of the law and at least a superficial understanding of the pop-music world.

Law is still not sure how he beat his fellow City lawyers to the job. His eclectic musical taste, which includes Led Zeppelin and Elton John, has a Seventies feel to it, and he admits that he hadn't heard of Pop Idol before he got the call for the audition. And his eight-year-old son prefers the group Travis. Perhaps, in the end, it was his surname that gave him a subliminal head start over his competitors.

Now several weeks into the job, Law must surely have had some difficult moments in dealing with 10 prima donnas whose every move is scrutinised by a voracious and occasionally prurient press. "Not really," he says, adding that he played no part in Will Young's decision to reveal his homosexuality in the News of the World last weekend. "I did read a story in one of the tabloids that I felt was a bit grubby. It [said] that Will's parents didn't take much of an interest in his success in the competition, which may be true, it may not – I don't know. I thought that was a bit much, but Will didn't think it was worth making a fuss about. If there isn't any trouble, there is no need to go looking for it."

Of more concern is the problem of people trying to cash in on the idols' names. An information technology company has already registered the domain names Will Young and Gareth Gates. "That's less of a problem, because there's a body of case law to say that registration of a name in which you have no real beneficial interest is a rogue and fraudulent registration," Law says.

The trickiest legal question of all is likely to be this, he says: "If there are going to be just 13 tracks on their first CD, and there are only 10 pop idols, who will be recording more than one song and how much more will they earn than the others? I raised this in a letter last week. That debate is going on now, it's not for me to say."

So which of the pop idols takes up most of his time? "Just recently I would say it's been Paul Gates, Gareth's dad," says Law, who also has to deal with the parents in some cases because some of the pop idols are not yet 18 years old. "Before that it was Tracy Birkett [Zoe's mother]. Darius was pretty active a few weeks ago. Aaron [Bailey] has been vocal about the tour."

At the moment the most vexed question exercising the minds of the idols is who is going to pay the hotel bills. Law has now asked 19 to clarify exactly who is responsible for picking up which tab. "You have got to make sure they know who is paying up front. They [the idols] have had advances [on record sales]... it's not a birthday present; it's meant to secure their exclusive services and fund their activities in the industry. So sometimes they have got to spend their own money."

With so many voices wanting to have their say, there appears to be plenty of scope for conflicts of interest between the singers. Law's secretary was the first to know that each pop idol was to receive equal treatment. "Every time 19 gets back to me – and my secretary hates this – I start with, 'Letter to all 10'."

Perhaps Law's greatest selling point for the idols is the years he spent as an in-house lawyer at a record company. "I have seen both sides of the industry. They are being educated by 19 and by me. Personally, I am trying not to bombard them with too much."

Law believes the pop idols have bright futures. "They have youth on their side. Sometimes you get clients who are very good but they are aged 28 or 29. The A&R [artists and repertoire] man will always go for the 19-year-old." Law says the idols' management company has already signed up Will, Gareth and Zoe on longer-term contracts, and is expected to exercise its option on Darius. He predicts that some of the others will get offers too.

But he is too diplomatic to say who he thinks will stand the test of time. He didn't even manage to vote during the Pop Idol final. "I brought my mobile [to the studio], but I couldn't get through to the number. By the last four or five contestants I thought they were all great, and I was personally upset when one got knocked out."

Was Will the right winner? "It was always going to be tough between Will and Gareth," says the lawyer, who can afford to hedge his bets on this one.