Charlotte Church looking past phone hacking case

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By GREGORY KATZ, Associated Press

DINAS POWYS, Wales (AP) — Charlotte Church's nearly $1 million settlement Monday with Rupert Murdoch's company provides vindication for a former child singing sensation caught in a web of tabloid intrigue as she grew into her teens.

But she does not believe the company's apology was sincere.

Outside London's High Court after receiving 600,000 pounds ($951,000) in a settlement from News International, Church attacked the tabloid culture that turned her life upside down: "They are not truly sorry. They are just sorry they got caught."

In a weekend interview with The Associated Press at her home in the village of Dinas Powys in south Wales, Church said she was looking forward to putting her legal troubles behind her and concentrating on her career and her young children.

"I'm a singer," Church said, wearing a casual blue dress while sitting scrunched up in a small chair in her home studio, littered with electric guitars and a couple of dirty plates left by her bandmates.

"I've always wanted to sing. I never wanted to be famous. I always want to perform live, and I've really, really missed that. Hopefully it will be a little bit fairer moving forward."

Church, who debuted at age 11 with an angelic voice that soared to classical song, is now a 26-year-old mother of two. Instead of preparing for what would undoubtedly have been a harrowing trial, she spends her free time in a garage studio next to her home, recording comeback tunes with local musicians.

The tracks-in-progress, covering a range of pop styles, are a reminder that before she was tabloid fodder — characterized as a loose teenager with a fondness for booze and cigarettes — she was a showstopping vocalist who had performed for a pope and a president and become a regular on the Oprah Winfrey show.

Her voice still soars, seemingly without effort, despite the occasional cigarette.

Church keeps the studio locked, along with the gate that blocks her driveway, and she doesn't talk freely on the telephone. Suspicion is a residue of the phone hacking scandal, even if reporters no longer hide in her bushes or tap her phone messages.

Church's life offers a case study of the perils of child stardom. She sold out concert halls, made millions from record sales — and became an obsession with the tabloid press. Reporters dogged her every step, eavesdropped on her communications and published shock headlines about her family based on the flimsiest leads.

She said she had wanted the case to be brought to trial but was reluctant to again become the focus of attention for Murdoch's lawyers and reporters. She also said she was concerned about possibly being held responsible for Murdoch's extensive legal costs if the case did not go her way.

"I felt sick to my stomach at what I'd been put through, and what my parents had been put through for this company's gain," she said.

"We were going to take this forward, to know what went on. We had a strong case, a lot of evidence. I wanted it to be as public as possible. But we settled for many different reasons. It's really difficult — they've got 25 lawyers, and you've got four. They had massive resources, and they weren't going to take it lying down."

She does not believe her involvement in the case will end with Monday's settlement.

Church said phone numbers for her American publicist and agent were found in private detective Glenn Mulcaire's notes, which could be significant because Mulcaire was jailed after having been found to have hacked into the phones of some people mentioned in his handwritten notes.

She believes her agent and publicist may have been hacked as well, indicating that crimes may have been committed in the United States, not just Britain, raising the legal peril for Murdoch, whose company is headquartered in New York.

"That shows how large their web is," said Church.

Church was just 11 when she shot to fame with her uncanny mastery of classical standards. The intensity of tabloid scrutiny picked up pace in her mid-teenage years — when she branched out into pop music — as her romantic life, nights out on the town and even her cigarette smoking sparked racy front-page stories.

The pressure has eased in the last few years as Church has stayed out of the public eye while raising her two young children.

She lives in a spacious house with attractive grounds — and neighbors who protect her privacy. The living room is filled with teddy bears and has a casual, lived-in look, but a home-office on top of the garage has been turned into a "war room" for her legal battle with the Murdoch empire.

Church believes the tabloids have done lasting damage to her career. Her voice is intact; she believes her reputation is not.

"I realize now their power, their absolute power," she said. "People really believe the things that are written, and a lot of the things they wrote weren't me at all, not the things I was saying, not my viewpoints, and I just realized they were shaping how people viewed me. I became a cartoon character, a soap opera character. It was constant, every day, from 16 to 21. There was always someone outside my house, following me."

Church said she cut off many of her close childhood friends because she thought they were selling stories about her to the press — only to find out last summer that the tabloids had been getting the information from her voicemails.

She's apologized to her girl friends, but in some cases the damage could not be undone.

"They were really angry, I've had to go around to them and say, 'I'm sorry, I'm really sorry that I thought that of you but it was a really confusing time and we didn't know the broader picture.' I thought, I just have to limit the people I'm in daily contact with."

Her advice to any young, attractive singers likely to draw newspaper attention?

"Be careful, be very careful," she said. "It's dangerous."

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