Exclusive! Charlotte Church Interview

Charlotte Church is having a fag when I arrive, dressed in a black jumper dress and Ugg boots to ward off the October chill. She requests some honey from a woman outside of the room we’re ushered into, and I ask if she’s ailing. “No, but I’m doing Graeme Norton tonight and I’ve got to sing – all this talking is no good for the voice.” She’s currently on a full-scale media onslaught to promote her first album for five years Back To Scratch, a body of work that’s difficult to categorise apart from saying that it’s unmistakably Charlotte – beautifully sung. “I’m hoping the music will be the focus soon once we get through the shit…” she tells me…

Like many people I know, I’ve always had a soft spot for Charlotte Church. The voice of an angel has grown up to be a beautiful, feisty woman still blessed with golden pipes, but it’s her private life that’s interested most. How do you go from being in the spotlight from such a young age into adulthood without a few bumps along the way? The answer, of course, is that you don’t. So how is it being back in the spotlight?

“It’s good – tiring with two children though,” she sighs, leaning back on a huge biege sofa. “I’m hoping when we get through all the shit about my personal life, the music will be what people are talking about.” She pauses. “Obviously my personal life isn’t shit, but that’s what the tabloids make it out to be. I shouldn’t complain too much about the press as I’ve done alright out of it, but you know…” she tails off, shrugging.

So let’s talk about the music. Her new album is her first recording for five years since her first foray into pop with Tissues And Issues. I never really bought her pop persona – Char (as she constantly refers to herself) was never a Sugababe or a Spice Girl. She’s more about the music and she ain’t no pop muppet – which she readily agrees with. “I want to make beautiful music now,” she says. The new album is probably best described as adult contemporary, flexing Char’s vocal range with the odd operatic warble and showtune styling thrown in. She began it a year and a half ago.

“I started writing with local singer-songwriters, did some demos in my house and then I decided I needed to go to Nashville to complete it. So we hired a house and we all went – me, Gavin, his parents, his sister, her fella and baby, my kids, mum and dad – all of us. And having all of that around me really helped – I was able to get up with the kids, go to work and then come back and bath them. It was a good routine.”

She’s a fan of Nashville and its rich musical heritage. “Everyone there plays or sings,” she says animatedly. “In the town we were in there’s a shop called Puckett’s Grocery Store and every Thursday and Friday they move the food out of the way, the cash desk becomes a bar and they have an open mic night where cowboys turn up with guitars and sing beautifully.” Did she sing? “Yeah – mainly because my mum was nagging me, saying ‘go on Char, sing’.”

She met a load of musicians out there, recorded around 20 songs and a lucky 13 made the final cut for Back To Scratch. Charlotte wrote most of the lyrics and the melodies – “I can’t play yet, it’s a downfall which I’m trying to rectify” – and says her classical training came in handy too. “My brain works in a musical way, so I know when chords need changing, when strings will work and that sort of thing.” When it’s laid bare, Back To Scratch is a break-up album which she clearly penned while she was still together with Gavin. So are there some songs on it that are hard to sing?

Story Of Us is a difficult one, as is Snow, although I didn’t write that. But as soon as I heard it I wanted to record it – it’s such a beautiful song.” Snow was in fact written by her current beau and collaborator Jonathan Powell about a relationship that’s coming to an end – an interesting conundrum. I mention that the album smacks of theatre and West End productions – especially Honestly. “I was going for 50s Walker Brothers-style song with that one, with big strings and a rousing chorus,” she says. Does she have any West End plans in the future? She shakes her head with finality. “I haven’t got the attention span or the work ethic,” she laughs.

And what about her chat show – any plans for a revival? “Never say never, but my singing is my career – this is serious stuff filled with pain and emotion. The chat show was nothing like that – it was the other extreme, I became an exagerrated version of myself for comedic effect. I might do something next year but I don’t want it to take away from the music or spread myself too thin.”

We must, of course, mention Gavin – is she watching him on Strictly? “Of course – and the kids love it. It’s so cute watching them watching him, but it’s a pain because it’s close to bedtime and they’re never ready to sleep after it, they’re so hyped. I always have to dance round the lounge with them for another hour.” And what does she think of him on it? “I think he’s doing really well. I never saw him as a dancer but I think his sportsmen competitiveness will get him through. His salsa was a bit dodgy though wasn’t it?” she says, leaning forward conspiratorially. I say that they seem to be behaving terribly adult about the break-up. “We are, aren’t we? I guess we both realised we had to deal with it for the kids’ sake. I speak to him every other day on the phone, especially now he’s doing Strictly so he can’t see them.”

Since Gavin, she’s also started on a new relationship with her guitarist and collaborator Powell. How’s that going? “It’s going very well but it’s very early days. Working together is great – we’re on the same musical wavelength, both massive Jeff Buckley fans. I’ve worked with a lot of different guitarists but as soon as I worked with him it just clicked – I didn’t have to explain things. We’ll see how it pans out,” she says, her voice trailing off to signal she doesn’t want to talk about that anymore.

What’s next for Charlotte – is there a tour on the horizon? “I hope so – I think a live version of the album will be much better than the actual album because I can push it a little further. Expect me to rock out a bit more on-stage.” Coming away from the interview, I hope that Charlotte has the chance to rock out a little more in life now too. She’s done a heck of a lot of growing up in the past few years and she’s still only 24. Her new album is a snapshot of where she is now – as she says, there’s a lot of emotion and pain. Here’s hoping the next one has some more upbeat moments.

Charlotte Church’s new album Back To Scratch is out this week.

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