She was just 13 when Rupert Murdoch asked her to sing at his wedding.
Charlotte Church was given a choice: a 100,000 pound fee, or a chance to generate good will with the media magnate by performing for free. She wanted the cash, but her record company and manager said no, it was better to make friends with Murdoch, head of a global news and entertainment empire.
“Despite my teenage business head screaming ‘Think how many Tamagotchies you could buy!’ I was pressured into taking the latter option,” she told Britain’s press ethics committee. “This strategy failed … for me.”
Church, 25, told Britain’s media ethics inquiry Monday that the Murdoch press, and other British tabloids, had ruthlessly tormented her since she was a child singing sensation, blowing her credibility “to bits” and badly damaging her career.
She said press intrusion had a devastating impact on her family life and particularly on her mother. Church said her mother had tried to kill herself in part because she knew a newspaper was planning to expose her husband’s extramarital affair.
The former teenage singing sensation told the inquiry in calm, measured tones how cameramen tried to take photos up her skirt and down her blouse and published “intimate” details about her sex life when she was just 17.
“I couldn’t get my head around that,” said Church, 25, who blamed tabloid phone hacking for much of her lost privacy.
“I’ve been made a caricature for so long, and this person portrayed in the tabloids really isn’t me,” she said. “It’s not the person I am, and it’s had a massive impact on my career. As an artist, I find it hard to be taken seriously because my credibility has been blown to bits.”
Church also described how one newspaper had a countdown before her 16th birthday to mark the moment when she would reach the age of consent and be old enough to legally have sex.
“It just felt horrible,” she said.
Church, a pop and opera singer with a spectacular voice, was the latest prominent person to tell the committee how Britain’s unscrupulous press has invaded their privacy and damaged their lives. She said she suspected her closest family members of leaking secrets when in fact the media were getting details about her life from illegal phone hacking.
Prime Minister David Cameron set up the inquiry in response to the scandal that began with illegal eavesdropping by the News of the World tabloid.
Murdoch closed the newspaper in July after evidence emerged that it had illegally accessed the mobile phone voice mails of celebrities, politicians and even crime victims in its search for scoops.
More than a dozen News of the World journalists and editors have been arrested, and two top London police officers, along with Cameron’s media adviser and several senior Murdoch executives, have resigned.
The inquiry, led by Judge Brian Leveson, plans to issue a report next year and could recommend major changes to Britain’s system of media self regulation. In its first two weeks, the committee has heard a stunning litany of press abuse.
Church told the inquiry how impressed she had been with Murdoch’s power when she went to sing at his wedding in the United States – and how her effort to gain his favor was a dismal failure.
“He flew us on his private jet to New York, which was amazing, then we went onto his boat, which had a grand piano on it, which I was amazed by, and I sang at the ceremony,” she said.
Before Church testified, a man who had been arrested on murder charges and then cleared told the committee that tabloids had destroyed his reputation with false front-page stories.
Christopher Jefferies said the negative coverage of him was so widespread that some people still assume he is a “weird character” who should be avoided, even though he was cleared of wrongdoing. He was arrested last year by police investigating the murder of his tenant, Joanna Yeates. Another man has since been convicted of the crime.
Jefferies said he felt he could not go out in public because of the smears.
Broadcast journalist Anne Diamond told the committee that the Murdoch press had waged a vendetta against her – even sending a reporter impersonating a doctor to the hospital when she was giving birth.
Last week, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, Hugh Grant and Sienna Miller all testified about the devastating impact that unscrupulous British media have had on their lives, along with the parents of murdered 13-year-old Milly Dowler and missing 3-year-old Madeleine McCann.