Poor little rich kids

Reports that singer Joss Stone is at odds with her parents over her £4.5m earnings have an all-too familiar ring. Cahal Milmo reports

Joss Stone did not have to find the money for her first car. Nor did she have to pay for her second. Both - a yellow Mini and a metallic Audi TT - were given to her by corporate admirers; namely her record company and a grateful manufacturer for whom she performed a private gig. At the age of 17, she has not even taken a driving lesson. For the mildly dyslexic teenager from Devon, lauded as the owner of the best soul voice Britain has produced for 40 years, the material benefits of fame and fortune are rapidly mounting.

Joss Stone did not have to find the money for her first car. Nor did she have to pay for her second. Both - a yellow Mini and a metallic Audi TT - were given to her by corporate admirers; namely her record company and a grateful manufacturer for whom she performed a private gig. At the age of 17, she has not even taken a driving lesson. For the mildly dyslexic teenager from Devon, lauded as the owner of the best soul voice Britain has produced for 40 years, the material benefits of fame and fortune are rapidly mounting.

But while the giggly youngster with a voice 20 years older than her body makes light of the trappings of wealth, they are increasingly accompanied by pressures that are likely to make her inability to drive pale into insignificance. Representatives of the singer were yesterday forced to deny claims that she has become the latest in an illustrious roll call of teenage superstar millionaires - ranging from Shirley Temple to Charlotte Church - to be enmeshed in an acrimonious battle with her parents for access to her personal wealth.

With more than two million album sales to her name, a duet with Mick Jagger due for release this Christmas and a list of admirers ranging from Gladys Knight to Tom Cruise, Ms Stone has so far amassed a fortune of £4.5m. By the time she reaches her 18th birthday next April, it is estimated that figure will have doubled. As one prominent London-based agent put it: "Anyone with a successful teenager on their books lives in fear of them reaching 18. Not only do they have to reinvent themselves as an act but most of all the question of filthy lucre crops up. They know it, the parents know it and the media knows it."

It is at this stage that the showbiz rumour mill goes into overdrive, sensing the potential to rehearse its vocabulary of "bitter splits" and "angry sackings" as a wayward and newly-monied teenager achieves financial independence.

Psychologists argue, however, that beneath the glitz of a high-profile row, the normal dynamics of family life are all too easily distorted. Under the adulation of millions of fans and the full glare of a global media, a child star's tantrum or a parent's financial probity can all too easily spark a schism.

From the extraordinary history of Gary Coleman, the star of the 1980s American sitcom Diff'rent Strokes who lost most of his £11 million trust fund in a legal dispute with his parents, to Ms Church's dismissal of her mother as her manager, it seems famous children all too often end up wresting the cheque book back from parental control.

Ever since Ms Stone first shot to prominence as a 14-year-old on a television talent contest, her earnings have been secured in a trust fund set up by her parents; Richard, who runs a dried-fruit import business, and Wendy, her chaperone and some-time manager.

The age at which she will gain access to the money has been progressively lowered, after "discussions" between the youngster and her parents, from the age of 25 to 23 to 21. In the meantime, she has reportedly "sacked" her mother as her manager and, according to a "close friend", is in the midst of an unpleasant domestic struggle to take control of her money when she turns 18.

The singer, who is on the verge of attaining the musical holy grail of breaking into America's multi-billion dollar record industry with her latest album, Mind, Body & Soul, recently complained that she survives on "pocket money" and is "broker than my friend Emily who works in Burger King". One friend said: "She doesn't want to go wild - she just wants to buy a house and treat her friends."

Publicists for Ms Stone, who is rapidly becoming one of the most bankable names in UK music, strongly denied the claims, describing as "conjecture" the idea that she wanted her money next April and rejecting any suggestion of a family split. David Woolf, spokesman for the singer, said: "There is a grain of truth in this in the sense that Joss's parents have agreed for her to gain control of her trust at 21 rather than 25.

"But it is pure conjecture that she now wants it next year and there has certainly been no row with her parents. Things are happening so quickly for Joss that both she and her mother decided earlier this year it was better to bring in an experienced manager. It was a mutual agreement - there was no row. As to her wanting to use some of her money before then, I am sure that if between the ages of 17 and 21 she wants to buy a flat or a car, then her parents would just write the cheque." While the denials were categorical, it is unlikely that the gossip will abate if the debate in the Stoker family (Ms Stone was born Joss Stoker and adopted her stage name on her American agent's advice) follows previous examples of domestic showbiz wrangles.

If Ms Stone does seek full control of her wealth next year, she could follow the example of Ms Church, who consulted lawyers before winning a reduction in the age limit on her trust fund from 21 to 18.

By the time she turned 18 this February, Charlotte Church, whose embodiment of choral innocence helped her to sell 10.5 million records, had amassed a fortune of at least £16m - and a history of parental disagreements and rows that would keep showbusiness editors happy for weeks.

After a bitter disagreement with her professional manager, Jonathan Shalit, which was settled in the High Court in 1998, Ms Church's mother, Maria, took over management of her career. Maria Church ran a tight ship, allegedly complaining about a £9.99 courier fee for documents relating to her mother.

It is a story that underlines the fact that, no matter how exemplary the parents' behaviour as managers may be, there will always be differences with their offspring. Asked before her 18th birthday whether she wanted to be free of her parents' influence, Charlotte Church said: "All the time. We have completely opposing opinions. Teenagers and parents don't get on anyway, and being with them 24/7 you just feel, 'Get out of my face, I can't stand you'."

Ms Church's succession to her fortune has sparked an avalanche of stories about her spending habits - a £10,000 holiday in the Mediterranean for her boyfriend and four friends, an allegedly rejected credit card in Dubai and plans for an £800,000 yacht.

But according to psychologists, the long-term damage in such circumstances is less likely to be to the starlet's bank balance than to their relationship with their parents. Susan Van Scoyoc, a psychologist specialising in family relationships, said: "In all families, there is normally a sense that the parents have the final say - they are more experienced, older and have the economic power to give gifts and finance the teenager's life. But in a situation where a child becomes famous and independently wealthy,, that relationship is transformed.

"The child is suddenly much better off than the parents and the child will be surrounded by people telling them that they are right to want whatever they want. There is a friction of will and a friction of power. If the parents are the guardians of that wealth, there is a sense that it isn't theirs."

Indeed, in the eyes of English law, money earned by a child always remains the property of that child and, contrary to popular belief, the control of the parents over a trust fund is strictly limited.

If a child has a trust fund based on inherited money - and holders of such trusts include figures ranging from Jemima Khan to the Queen - then the parents can dictate when the money is handed over. But a trust fund holding money earned directly by the child can only be withheld beyond the age of 18 with the child's agreement, or if the parents can prove in court that the child is unfit to hold the money.

Dr Van Scoyoc said: "It is completely normal for teenagers to rebel against their parents but in these situations the ramifications are hugely exaggerated. The child is financially independent and lives under the scrutiny of the media and perhaps has a manager. In that scenario, a resolution with the parents is less likely to happen."

The results can be a dramatic falling out. Macaulay Culkin rejected his father's attempt at a reconciliation four years ago after a long legal dispute with his parents over his childhood earnings of £10m. Drew Barrymore, the precocious star of ET, "divorced" her mother Jaid after a very public dispute over her childhood earnings and upbringing. As Ms Barrymore put it: "I never really had a childhood. I was around adults all the time. My favourite book when I was eight was Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex - But Were Afraid to Ask. I was not afraid to ask."

As Joss Stone begins a tour of Britain this month, she may do well to consider the words of one London-based manager: "At the end of the day, these are people who are living an unreal existence. Their parents are their last link with reality and it's madness to destroy that relationship just because you want your platinum card early."

CHILD STARS WHO FELL OUT WITH THEIR PARENTS

Shirley Temple

She was - and remains - the most successful of child stars. The extent of her all-singing, all-dancing fame was such that even during the depression, the bright-eyed curly haired starlet managed to earn up to $10,000 a week. Her financial manager father, however, invested the money unwisely, and failed to make regular payments to his daughter's trust fund. After making 60 films in just 19 years, Shirley discovered that she was worth only a few thousand dollars.

Charlotte Church

When Charlotte Church turned 18 eight months ago, it not only marked the coming of age of the "voice of an angel", it also meant that she was able to gain control of a £5.5m trust fund. The singer, who appears intent on shedding her angelic image, has reportedly had a troubled relationship with her mother, in particular over her choice of boy friends. However, her mother recently came to her defence amid press reports that she was speedily working her way through her trust fund.

Brooke Shields

She was thrust into the limelight at 11 months when she appeared in an Ivory Snow advertisement. With the firm encouragement of her manager mother Teri, a former model, she made five films before the age of 11, then shot to fame in Louis Malle's Pretty Baby at 13. Her status was confirmed with The Blue Lagoon and Endless Love, while her mother also organised lucrative advertising deals. The ambitions of her mother proved overpowering and at 30, Brooke sacked her.

Anna Kournikova

Kournikova recently became embroiled in a legal battle with her parents over ownership of her home in Miami, Florida, where she lives with singer Enrique Iglesias. In April, the tennis star and model counter-sued her parents, Sergei and Alla Kournikova, when they tried to claim their share of the £5m property. Kournikova said she had paid for the property and only put her parents' names on the deed because they asked her to. She has filed papers to have their names removed.

Macaulay Culkin

When Culkin appeared in Home Alone he was instantly catapulted to the ranks of Hollywood's youngest and finest. But there was a price to pay. Eight years ago, Culkin, now 24, endured the separation of his parents. They fought for custody of Culkin, his six siblings - and his £17m trust fund. Two years later, Culkin's father, Kit, who had acted as his manager, relinquished control to his ex-wife, Patricia Brentrup. In the meantime, their son gave up acting.

Gary Coleman

As the young star of the 70s hit sitcom Diff'rent Strokes, Coleman earned up to $70,000 per episode while playing the role of Arnold between the ages of 10 and 18. But despite acquiring an $18m fortune, by the time he was in his 20s he had no money and his career ground to a halt. Coleman sued his parents who had control of his wealth. Now 36, he lost most of his fortune through the legal battle with his parents and has worked as a security guard.

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