Charlotte Church was just 12 years old when she made her 1998 debut album, Voice of an Angel — and that's what she seemed to posses. The tween rocketed into success with classical and religious music, singing for the pope, the Clintons, Nelson Mandela and the queen of England.
"If I look at it cynically, I was just a little bit of a freak, really: This small little girl with this big adult voice," Church says. "And I was a commodity for a while, you know. But I think that's also just the bare truth of it, really. People are always curious about child stars."
Over the years, Church has lent her astonishing voice to musicals, pop standards and folk. She has started a family and even hosted her own talk show. Now, she has a new album out, One & Two, which the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper has described as a "bonkers orchestral fusion of Kate Bush, Bjork and Radiohead."
Here, Church speaks with NPR's Scott Simon about her young fame and the evolution of her sound.
On singing for world leaders
"It's not that weird, actually. Because when I was, you know, that young — 12 to 16 — generally you're pretty fearless, and it just wasn't that much of a big deal. If I did it nowadays whilst I'm an adult, it would be a huge deal. But back then they were just people to me. I knew who they were and I knew how important they were, but I didn't quite understand what was going on. And so I just enjoyed going to all of the, you know, the cool places and the nice food."
On the song "Beautiful Wreck"
"This song is basically about consumerism and commercialism. I'm really not a fan of a lot of chart music and the uses of inhuman elements such as Auto-Tune and timed rhythmical things, you know — that everything is super perfect. So "Beautiful Wreck" is sort of about, you know, cast yourself out on that island. Be that totally different musical experience and don't be afraid of that. That's totally fine. There's room for everyone. Why be salty brine water when you could be something else? You could be a beautiful wreck."
On the song "How Not to Be Surprised When You're a Ghost"
"There's a Nabokov novel called Pale Fire, and at the start of Pale Fire there's a 999-line cyclical poem which has a really interesting idea about death. [The song is] basically about the idea that everybody who would currently still be alive — everybody who was passed — will all be there when you get there, which in itself may cause some problems. Say if you have had a partner or a friend or whatever who has died, and then you have a new partner and everybody's there together. ... The idea is if you can make that work, then that's your heaven. If you can't make it work, then that's sort of your hell."