Sun, Oct 16, 2005 - Page 18 News List

A star is born in cardiff

Child stars are meant to burn out. So how come Charlotte Church is still soaring?

By Jess Cartner-Morley  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

To one side of the stool on which Charlotte Church is perched while she has her make-up done is a shelf piled with very expensive jewelery. Semiprecious gems the size of babies' fists hang from chunky gold chains; a tiny diamante tiara dangles from a silver necklace. To her other side lies a cardboard box from which peep out a sheepskin waistcoat and a couple of handbags. Just a few of the gifts sent to her by adoring designers since she last came to London.

Char -- everyone calls her Char -- is in her element, with a favorite accessory in each hand: carton of strawberry Ribena in one, cigarette in the other.

There is no doubt that Charlotte Church was born to be a performer. She has been in the studio less than five minutes and already she is regaling me, the make-up artist, the hairdresser and the stylist's assistant with an impression of her beloved Nana (grandmother). Charlotte is trying to give up smoking, but finding it hard, partly because, as she puts it with her usual delicacy, "I fucking love smoking," and partly because at home in Cardiff she is surrounded by her mum, dad, Nana and grandad, all of whom smoke 20 a day.

The previous evening, she had been scratching irritably at a nicotine patch, trying to hold out without a cigarette, while her Nana (in Charlotte's pantomime impression) leaned back in her favorite chair, taking exaggerated, drags on her cigarette and sighing contentedly. "I was miserable as fuck and she was just going, `You'll be fine, love.' And then, after five minutes she got sick of me looking so fed up, so she said, `Stop moaning and have a fag (cigarette), you silly cow.' So I did and it was lush! I felt so much better."

It is a classic Church story: down-to-earth, bawdy, and not remotely what her record company wants to hear. Since leaving her Voice Of An Angel days behind, and turning into the party girl and pop star of her late teens, Charlotte has endeared herself to the British public in a different way. Liam Gallagher, famously, is a fan, "because she can sing and she knows how to get fucking hammered (take her drink)."

Church became an international celebrity at 12. Child stardom is, in pop-ular wisdom, a tried-and-tested road to neuroses, self-destruction and general loopiness. Yet she believes that it is precisely having become famous so early that has kept her normal.

"I'm exactly the same person I would be if I wasn't famous," Church says, "because I was so young when I started out that the people in charge of me couldn't try to change me. When you're 12, you're very well protected, legally, so no one was allowed to tell me what to do or what to say. And then I sold so many records that by the time the gloves were off and they wanted to tell me what to do, I didn't have to take any shit."

So far, so Charlotte. What I wasn't expecting was for her to be beautiful. And she is: huge, almond-shaped, grey-green eyes, a feline, heart-shaped face that flips from aloof to cheeky when she smiles, peachy curves and creamy skin. Today, she is here to model her favorite pieces from the latest collection by her favorite designer, Roberto Cavalli.

It is a good match. She is the ultimate party girl; his Milanese label has become the go-to name for the best party dresses in town. Charlotte found and fell in love with his clothes when she 16, and about to go on stage in Las Vegas. "I suddenly realized, this is Vegas and I don't have anything to wear that's full-on enough. So I went shopping and I found this amazing dress: sort of lemony-cream, painted silk. I'm not really into designer stuff, so I'd never heard of Cavalli, but I just fucking loved this dress. It was US$7,000 -- my trustees went nuts."

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