It's a tangled tale involving child stardom, prurient tabloid exposure and a very modern, multi-platform media career encompassing angelic classical singer, misfiring pop star, chat show host, actress, author, DJ and very possibly trapeze artist and lion tamer.
Church is still only 26 yet she already seems to have lived through numerous celebrity incarnations, at times spreading her talent so thin we could be forgiven for forgetting what it was she actually did. To her credit, she is positively bursting to agree. "Dude, absolutely," she says. "The thing is, when you're popular you get offered all sorts of stuff. Do you want to be in a movie? Do you want to write a book, a soundtrack, how about an exercise video? We think that you should write a dietary plan. You get all these offers chucked at you. With hindsight I could berate myself for certain decisions I made, but I also have to take into account my age and the fact I thought it was kind of cool and the right thing to do at the time."
It's hard not to warm to Church. She is funny, swears like a Welsh, female version of The Thick of It's Malcolm Tucker and is refreshingly non-evasive. She says "lovely jubbly" without any apparent irony and claims "I can hardly dress myself reasonably. I'm not very stylish in anything I do. I don't believe in that. I believe in emotion, mostly."
The good news is that she seems finally to have remembered the reason she became famous in the first place: because she likes to sing. This month sees the release of One EP, supported by three low key concerts in small Scottish clubs. This is grassroots, labour of love stuff. Whereas in the past her music was bolted together using a variety of industry songwriters and name producers, Church now has her own record label, her own band and her own songs, into which she pours not only her heart but her love of Bjork, Sigur Ros, Radiohead, James Blake, Pavement, opera, orchestral music, jazz and "anything else I can get my hands on, basically".
She is clearly energised by the freedom of fronting the kind of vaguely alternative group she never had the chance to join when she was younger. There is a lot of very earnest – and undoubtedly heartfelt – talk about the "creative process", "artistry" and "connecting" with lyrics. She is passionately proud of her "phenomenal" band, which includes her partner Jonathan Powell, with whom she also co-writes the songs. "This is entirely DIY with friends and musicians from the local area," she says. "It's unbelievably freeing and much more creative and original because of it."
Although "not embarrassed or ashamed of any of the music I've come out with", Church regards her previous albums as "much more of a product of the system". Such was her growing dissatisfaction with both the process and the end result that she contemplated a retreat away from music. "I had to coax myself into doing something else," she says. "I was like, bugger this for a laugh. No more, I've had enough. I was a bit disillusioned with it all, but after going through the Leveson inquiry I felt some things had been balanced. I thought, right, I want to be able to control every part of this and have a final say on everything."
This release is the first of five planned EPs, and she claims "we'll carry on writing and recording for the foreseeable future. It's boundless". But what if no-one buys it? "Being commercial isn't something I give a stuff about these days, but I'd love for it to be viable. I'm in a great position where I'm able to do this because of my success when I was younger but I can't fund it myself forever. I need to at least break even."
The public at large and critics in particular are generally sceptical of mainstream artists who suddenly succumb to the urge to "express themselves", but Church believes "if you can hear the real emotion and honesty in the music I feel it will be hard to disregard". In any case, she has always seemed driven by her instincts as much as any grand game plan. "I've tried to be honest and truthful and genuine and transparent throughout my whole career," she says. "I'm not a very good pretender and I'm also not very ambitious, and those two factors lead me to only be part of things I think I'm going to enjoy and that I think have worth. Once I stop enjoying them or stop being interested I can't pretend anymore because it just looks c*** and I have to leave. Immediately." She gives a throaty laugh. "That has caused some issues, in life and in music."
She says that as a writer she has "to be pushed to some heightened emotional state to want to get stuff out", which may explain why some new songs directly reference her recurring role as a tabloid plaything. "It's something I'd always just accepted as a really rubbish part of my job, even though it was constant and basically espionage. But as I got older and I had children I became more fiercely protective and aware of who I was, and I became more and more p***** off when people tried to make out I was something entirely different."
The toppling of the News of the World last year gave her little cause to mourn. Having given – impressive – evidence at the Leveson inquiry, she is now a patron of the Hacked Off campaign.
"I was really proud to be part of it all because I think it was hugely important for society," she says. "The job's not done, but I see it less now as a problem and more as an opportunity to change things for the better."
Does she recognise that you can be just as exposed singing your heart out in a small room filled with sceptics as you can on the pages of a Sunday tabloid? "Ah yes, but I much prefer this exposure," she says. "It suits me much better, it just feels more real. Now I can see the people it's touching."
The EP One is out now on Alligator Wine. Charlotte Church plays Bobgain Barn, Inverness, tomorrow; King Tut's, Glasgow, on Monday and Electric Circus, Edinburgh, on Wednesday.
Contextual targeting label: