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EDITIONS
 Sunday, 1 December, 2002, 10:12 GMT
The growing pains of Charlotte Church
Charlotte Church

Charlotte Church is going through hell, it seems. There have been well-publicised rows with her former manager, her mother and her boyfriend, and more recently tearful scenes at Gatwick airport where she failed to board a flight ahead of her tour of America.

She finally flew out this weekend to start her 15-date tour, but how will her teenage angst bear up beneath the strains of her superstar status?

It's said that when Charlotte Church first signed for Sony records at the age of 11, she asked the company's UK boss, Paul Burger, "What will happen when I'm 15 and I want to dye my hair purple and get tattoos?"

Charlotte Church aged 13
Precocious talent
She's now 16 and, while her hair remains brown, she appears to have reached "that age", so familiar to parents of teenage children.

Unfortunately for Miss Church, her superstar status is such that the space she needs to indulge her adolescent angst is so often invaded by the ever-hungry, celebrity-obsessed media.

And Charlotte Church's cup has runneth over in this respect of late. She was recently said to have sacked her mother Maria as her manager, and this trip to America was to be her first without Mum in tow.

In fact, there is no schism within the Churches' one foundation. As her career has reached an ever higher level, along with her bank balance, so equally higher levels of management have become part of Charlotte's web. She's now looked after by the team that manages Christina Aguilera.

Goodbye Mr 20%

Maria, a former housing officer with Cardiff City Council, has been described variously as "fiery" and "feisty".

Another word beginning with "f "may well have been used to describe her by Charlotte's former manager, Jonathan Shalit, when Maria fired him three years ago.

Bill Clinton meets Charlotte Church and her manager
With Bill Clinton and Jonathan Shalit
When he successfully sued for damages at the High Court in London, he portrayed Maria Church as a woman driven by her love of money and increasingly prone to arguments in public with her daughter.

Maria's view seemed to be that she had learnt enough about showbiz by now to dispense with his services and his 20% cut.

It was Shalit who discovered Charlotte as an 11-year-old. He took her to sing for Sony's Paul Burger. "She blew my socks off," Burger said.

Within a year, she'd become an overnight sensation. Her first album, Voice of an Angel, went double-platinum within five weeks. Its mixture of hymns and folk-songs delivered by a child in the manner of an adult, captured the hearts of young and old around the world.

With angelic looks to match, this young girl was performing for some of the world's most powerful people: the Queen, the Pope, US Presidents, even Rupert Murdoch.

Sell out

Her first three albums have sold more than eight million copies. In 2000, her album Dream a Dream became the number-one selling Christmas record. Last year, she performed before 18,000 at the Hollywood Bowl.

But the innocent image of her early work has had to adapt to the fact that Charlotte Church is growing up.

Charlotte Church with her mother Maria
With mother Maria outside the High Court
And her teenage rebellion has taken the form of cigarettes (not good for the voice) and 17 year-old Steven Johnson (not good for anything, according to Maria).

Steven is a "bad boy" from the wrong side of the tracks who Charlotte has been seeing for almost a year.

Though much has been made up about his gold-digging motives, what particularly worried Mum was his reported attempt to sell his story to the tabloids.

"I don't think he did that," said Charlotte recently. "But maybe I'm just being naïve, maybe it'll come back and bite me on the bum."

Flaunting it

That bum was recently voted Rear of the Year by a men's magazine. Encouraged by Maria's "if you've got it, flaunt it" approach, her daughter has been accentuating her curvaceousness on-stage with figure-hugging leather trousers and bra tops.

Her music style is beginning to change too. "I'd love to become a cross between India Arie, Jill Scott, Eva Cassidy and Sting."

That's some broad church. She's some broad, Church.

Charlotte Church wins Rear of the Year award
Rear of the Year
The way she handles herself on television shows a maturity that belies her youth. How many could survive Have I Got News for You at 15?

Charlotte Church is going through a difficult period in the full glare of the British tabloids that can make or break. She has intelligence on her side.

She says she would love to study philosophy at university. She recently berated Tony Blair for not lowering the voting age to 16.

And she has strong support from what Maria once described as "the Von Trapp family from hell".

Charlotte's millions have been placed in a trust fund, available to her only when she is 21. The girl with the voice from above, has her roots firmly in the ground.


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