Charlotte Church: pop star turned reluctant champion of the left

Church Window

On Saturday 9 May two days after the general election, Charlotte Church joined about 250 others at the statue of Aneurin Bevan in Cardiff, close to her home, to protest at the further cuts planned by the new Conservative government.

The singer turned presenter and actor has rarely been, in the 18 years in which she has been globally famous, shy about voicing her opinions. But until then she had largely stayed away from direct party-political involvement, short of a blogpost written the day before the election urging Ed Miliband, “when you get into Downing Street”, to show that the new Labour-governed Britain could be “a trailblazer for progressive politics”.

She had been wildly wrong about the election result. “Devastated #lostfaithinhumanity,” Church tweeted at 5.27am in the early hours of 8 May. And the following day, armed with a placard she made at home using cardboard, an old broom handle and her children’s paintbox, she joined the protest. Its text: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more.”

Five months and a political earthquake later, the defeated left has been re-energised, and the political ingenue who in June was still apologising that she “hadn’t really been politicised that long”, finds herself one of its key spokespeople. “I don’t want to be a poster girl for [the anti-austerity movement],” the former child star said that month, but that is exactly what she has become – appearing at Glastonbury with members of Pussy Riot, playing a gig outside Shell’s headquarters in London to protest Arctic drilling, and speaking frequently at anti-austerity rallies, most recently at the Tory party conference in Manchester.

Church, now 29 and a mother of two, has been in the public eye since she was 11, enduring in her teenage years some of the worst excesses of tabloid abuse that would go on to make her, for a time, one of the most outspoken campaigners for press reform after the Leveson inquiry. Even for an experienced hand, however, her move into increasingly outspoken politics has been a bumpy ride.

A recent appearance on Question Time, during which she defended Jeremy Corbyn’s position on nuclear deterrence and said climate change had been a contributing factor to the Syrian conflict, attracted criticism from the stage at the Conservative party conference, and mockery in the pages of the Sun, which called her “charlatan Church” for “striving to reinvent herself as the voice of the poor”.

But as those who know and have worked with Church attest, she is not a woman to be underestimated. Dismissed by Michael Gove as “a comfortable millionaire spouting [her] opinion”, Church hit back that, as the child of a working class family who remains close to her Welsh roots, she certainly knew more “normal people” than him. Her own fortune – of which she says she around £3m remains rather than the often-reported £11m — doesn’t exclude her from campaigning on poverty, she insists: she would willingly pay 70% tax to a government committed to protecting public services.

Caught in the whirlwind of child stardom, Church has admitted she would have liked to pursue her education further – she has spoken of wanting to go to university to study physics – but that certainly does not mean she lacks intelligence. Deborah Coughlin, who directed Church in a recent theatre production of Lysistrata at the Almeida Theatre in London, told the Guardian she was “one of the most well read, smart and strong women” she has worked with.

Church has been around for so long it easy to forget that as well as selling 10m albums as a child star and releasing several pop records, she won best female newcomer at the British Comedy Awards in 2006 for her eponymous chat show, which ran for three series.

“She’s bright, and I really like bright actors,” said the Welsh director Kevin Allen, who cast Church alongside Rhys Ifans in his well-received film Under Milk Wood, released earlier this year. “She’s a talented musician, she’s a really good writer ... and I’ve got to know her socially a bit. She’s fantastic company. I think Dylan Thomas would be thrilled at her taking on the part [of Polly Garter], and I think he would have loved hanging out with her socially, because she’s great fun.”

The former Crimewatch presenter Jacqui Hames, another victim of tabloid abuse who got to know Church when they campaigned together for press regulation, said she doesn’t share the singer’s politics, but has “a huge amount of admiration for her”.

“I think she’s extraordinary – very strong, very ballsy, very inclusive of everybody around her, but absolutely determined to try to make things better. I don’t agree with everything she says but I just think we need more Charlotte Churches in the country and in the world, really, who stand up for what they believe in.”

An outspoken Church will continue to attract criticism and worse, but the singer herself insists she is up for the fight. “Voice of an angel, vagina of a / face of a / liver of a / intelligence of a ... and so it goes on and on,” she has written. “I could keep myself awake at night ... but actually there’s some comfort to find in being the target of so much toothless abuse. It means I’m not useless. It means I have a purpose.”

Powered by article was written by Esther Addley, for The Guardian on Saturday 10th October 2015 07.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010