Former Charlotte Church agent challenges Leveson evidence: 'Media were not villains'

  • Money was never involved in deal to sing at Murdoch's wedding, says former agent
  • Church's account 'could only ever be second-hand'.

The former agent of Welsh singer and press reform campaigner Charlotte Church has challenged evidence she gave to the Leveson Inquiry last year claiming she waived a £100,000 fee to sing at Rupert Murdoch's wedding in return for positive coverage from his media empire.

Jonathan Shalit has written to Lord Justice Leveson over concerns that the story “is now being quoted and re-quoted and is in danger, wrongly, of being taken as gospel”.

“This is simply not true and distorts the facts,” said Shalit. “Money was never discussed as part of these negotiations and no figure of £100,000 – or any other financial figure – was ever discussed as an appearance fee at the wedding.”

During her Leveson appearance in November 2011, Church alleged that she was asked to sing at Murdoch's wedding to Wendi Deng in 1999 and asked to waive the £100,000 fee in return for positive publicity.

She claimed her family were initially reluctant but were later convinced by management to accept the offer.

“I remember being told the offer of money or the favour in order to basically get good press, to be looked up favourably,” she told the inquiry.

“I also remember being 13 and thinking, 'Why on earth would anybody take a favour over a £100,000?' and me and my mother being quite resolute on this point – that £100,000 was definitely the best option – but being advised by management and by members of the record company to take the latter option, that he was a very, very powerful man and that I was in the early stages of my career, and could absolutely do with a favour of this magnitude.”

Church went on to claim that the waiver failed, adding: "In fact Mr Murdoch's newspapers have since been some of the worst offenders, so much that I have sometimes felt that there has actually been a deliberate agenda.”

In Shalit’s letter to the Leveson Inquiry, published in full by the Daily Mail, he gives hia version of events on the background to the 1999 deal: “… I was seeking to launch Charlotte's career in America and had been asking for help from all my professional contacts and, indeed, everyone with whom I had any sort of relationships.

“Quite simply, when I was able to help create the opportunity for Charlotte to sing at Mr Murdoch's wedding I saw it as an unparalleled opportunity to secure the exposure from the Murdoch Empire both in print press and broadcast to advance Charlotte's American career.

“It was, in anyone's books, a great deal all round and one on which I have been complimented since. I am also bound to say that, contrary to what was implicit in the evidence given to your enquiry by Charlotte Church, Mr Murdoch honoured totally his side of the deal.”

Shalit and Church were involved in a bitter legal dispute in 2000 when he was allegedly sacked without warning and took legal action against her parents.

He later received a settlement said to total around £2m plus court costs.

In his letter, Shalit insisted that money was never discussed during the negotiations over her appearance at Murdoch’s wedding, adding: “The benefits which accrued to her from the deal were those of the promised favourable publicity around the launch of her US career.

“This included, for example, the attached article from the Murdoch owned New York Post a few weeks later on July 5 (attached). Fox News also followed with a great News piece on Charlotte.

“It is also vital to remember that in 1999 Charlotte was a 13 year old child. Because of this every business discussion was with her mother without Charlotte being present – which would plainly have been inappropriate for a child.

“Thus, any account she chose to give to your enquiry of such dealings could only ever be second-hand.”

Shalit also challenged Church’s claim at the inquiry that The Sun had run a countdown clock to her turning 16 and reaching the age of sexual consent.

The Guardian was forced to publish a correction when columnist Laurie Penny repeated the allegations in January 2012. The “countdown clock” appeared on a website but was never run by The Sun.

Shalit added: “You must understand that I in no way condone any hacking or bugging of phones that appears to have taken place later.

“However I do not think that it is right or fair that wrong statements given by Charlotte under the protection of your enquiry should be allowed to form the basis of long running and oft-repeated stories which are fundamentally inaccurate and damaging to the reputation of other parties.

“In my respectful submission, the very remit of your enquiry was to attempt to regulate against the appearance of such stories rather than, inadvertently, to help spawn and perpetuate them.

“In considering the issues raised in my letter I absolutely believe that it should be remembered that the Murdoch media, both in the USA and the UK (and very much including The Sun) was hugely helpful in providing a public platform for the success of Charlotte Church which made her the multi-millionairess she now is.

“Equally it is also wrong widely to portray the broader media, and the Murdoch press in particular, as continual villains towards Charlotte.”

Lawyers for Church told the Mail: “For the avoidance of doubt, our client stands by the evidence she gave under oath at the Leveson inquiry.”

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