Talking pub politics with Charlotte Church

Published in Refinery29 on October 17, 2016

No-one would have predicted that the biggest hit at po-faced super-muso festival All Tomorrow’s Parties earlier this year would have been former “voice of an angel” Charlotte Church doing pop covers in a spangly leotard. But this is her latest project – her Late Night Pop Dungeon – and the Welsh singer absolutely smashed it: the crowd went wild for her band covering everything from En Vogue to Joy Division to Nine Inch Nails.

Critics also raved, with NME calling it “better than The Fall”. She’s taken the Pop Dungeon to a few other festivals and each time, the audience “absolutely lose their minds for it” – as much to her surprise as, perhaps, their own.

But then, Church has always been unpredictable, whether it’s throwing off the shackles of child-star, Pope-serenading sweetness in favour of a sexed-up teen-pop career, becoming a prominent voice in the Leveson inquiry into press intrusion, or reinventing herself with a series of experimental EPs and an apocalyptic dance-opera version of The Little Mermaid.

In recent years, however, she’s become best known as an outspoken political activist: Church has been a regular face at anti-austerity marches in her hometown of Cardiff, and is refreshingly loud and proud in her liberal views on social media. Alongside touring her “completely joyful” Pop Dungeon to a few more select festivals, including Simple Things in Bristol this month, she’s also starting a new project to get people talking more about politics – down the pub. Here, she shares her own views on the current political climate…

What was your initial spur for getting involved in politics and anti-austerity campaigning?

When the Tories got in for a second term, it was such a shock. All the austerity measures have been discredited, and they’re really, really harming people. The sense of the injustice of it all made me sick to my stomach and I felt like I couldn’t sit back and watch and not do anything about it anymore. It’s about being human, and whether we want to look after each other, or whether it’s survival of the fittest.

What was your response to Brexit?
Absolutely gutted. You can feel things changing around you, maybe irreparably. We see racism on the rise, and people becoming more and more segmented.

I’m starting something called Pub Politics – the first one’s going to be in Cardiff, in Grangetown. It’s the idea of trying to make debate and conversation about this stuff mainstream again. [The majority of] Wales voted out, which is just like ‘what?’ People feel like the UK’s so Westminster-centric, and that they’re not being listened to. And where do people go to talk about politics? They go to the pub. I really want to hear from everyone and I reckon down the pub you’re going to get a whole load of different characters, people who believe a whole range of things. It might get quite heated at times, I should imagine. I’m going to chair it, and then we’ll find two learned folk who are interesting and two people with differing views who are just from the community to come on the panel as well. But I want it to be fun and fiery; it won’t be like Question Time.

You grew up in Wales and still live there – what’s the pulse of the nation at the moment? Is it in a good place, or suffering a bit?
It’s been suffering for a long time – especially the South Wales Valleys, where there’s no industry, there’s no growth… We’ve got some of the worst poverty in the whole of the UK and we’re made to feel like England’s scruffy little cousin, getting shitty hand-me-downs.

What do you make of Jeremy Corbyn?
If you say somebody’s unelectable enough times, you make them unelectable. I am so fucking fed up with the mainstream media – the propaganda is doing my head in. I don’t know; it’s all a massive shower of shit. I think he’s wonderful. He has conducted himself with great integrity, and I’d like my leader to be somebody who isn’t a mad, egotistical person spinning rhetoric and saying empty soundbites, like Farage or Cameron or any of the other tools. You’d think that after Leveson, the media would have to be a bit fairer, and not so biased. But I think it’s all got worse.

How do you feel about the Leveson inquiry – and does it feel like the issue of press regulation got quietly swept under the carpet afterwards?
I saw so many injustices done by the News of the World and others that I wanted to speak out. And it was scary; it was not a nice experience, having to trawl through a decade of articles, all the shit that they wrote about my life, but it was important and I’m proud of myself that I was involved in it. They were particularly invasive with me, while I was still a minor – in fact, I was a child.

But I’m gutted. So much public money went into something so important for our democracy and our ideals as a country, and the judge came to conclusions [recommending a tough new press regulator] that I thought were really fair and balanced – and still protecting freedom of speech. It should have been a chance to turn things around: after Leveson there should have been something in place so that massive newspapers couldn’t spread lies and hate based on inaccurate information. I think a lot of the current bad feeling against immigration and refugees… well, they [the press] have got a lot to answer for.

Do you feel it’s positive to have a woman as Prime Minister?
Theresa May is a massive disappointment. As a fellow woman, I’m disappointed in her for being such a meany! I just think she’s Maggie Thatcher mark two. And her cabinet is the whitest, malest thing I’ve seen in a long time. I would like more women in politics but if you really do care and want to make a change, it’s a tough place to be. There are loads more fun things to do in life! But it is so important. Maybe I’ll do some years of service when I’m a bit older…

Are you following the U.S. elections?
I watched about 20 minutes of the presidential debate and I was like, “I can’t cope – I want to live on an island in a commune.” Trump is disgusting. He makes me sick to my stomach, I think he’s an abhorrent human being. The whole idea of post-fact politics is scary – everything is on emotions, facts don’t matter and nor do experts. This is the start of a descent into madness I think.

What do you make of Hillary Clinton?
I’m not a fan – her policies are far too centre-right for me. But imagine the pressure on her: she is the one person standing between survival and eschaton! She must be thinking, ‘I’ve got to beat this bastard or the world’s going to end.’ If I was American, I would absolutely vote for Hillary Clinton. But I tell you – I’d love to see Bernie Sanders up there.

Is there any more music in the pipeline, beyond Pop Dungeon?
Yeah man – I’m probably going to make an album next year. And it’s going to be about all things woman. I want to collaborate with shit loads of women: I need to make a list! In the past couple of years, when shit started going well in my career, it’s because I’ve been my own manager and just started firing off emails… it’s been amazing thinking that I can do this by myself. It taught me not to be scared.

Do you feel like, at this stage in your career, you’re done with doing what you’re told or worrying about what’s going to be sellable?
Totally. I have been through a wild [career]. I did four EPs a couple of years ago and the music was really different, but I was still so desperate to make it work. Now I don’t give a fuck! I feel super mellow, and I’m just going to make as much awesome shit as I possibly can and if it works, it works, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. It’s not going stop me.

Charlotte Church’s Late Night Pop Dungeon is at Simple Things festival in Bristol, 22 October;

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