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“I get freaked very easily”

Published: December, 1999
Source: Melody Maker

We take a peek into the mind of Ash’s Charlotte Hatherley and find out about pervy vids, Calvin Klein and the follow-up to Nu-Clear Sounds.

Consider it a pre-millennial remake of Innerspace - you know, that mad Eighties science fiction film where Dennis Quaid gets miniaturised and injected into the body of Martin Short - but you’re about to take a stroll inside the head of Ash’s Charlotte Hatherley. Since joining the band as their kick-ass guitarist a couple of years ago, Charlotte’s become something of a punk rock time bomb. She’s the live-wire performer, psyched on adrenaline and sudden success; the accessible pin-up, a glamour girl for the moshpit masses; and a youth icon, proof that fame can happen to you right now. The question is, though, what makes her tick? Lets take a wander round her psyche and find out…

Family and home life
Despite Charlotte being one of the most sorted popstresses you’re ever likely to meet, her upbringing isn’t exactly what you’d call blissful. “My family?” she blinks, looking a little edgy around the East London pub where we meet. “God, um, certain aspects of my family are warm and certain others are distinctly… um freezing. See, I grew up with a crazy mother and two sisters, so we all kind of bonded through the fact that my mother was fucking weird. She’s just not quite in touch with reality - she lives on her own little planet.”

She lights a cigarette, nervously. “Lets just say I didn’t particularly like living at home. Did I bring people back home after school? Noooo, it was very strict, we weren’t allowed to do anything, and that’s kinda why I left to move in with my dad when I was 17. I was rehearsing with Nightnurse [the band Charlotte quit to join Ash] and it got to the point where my mum was trying to stop me being in a band.”

Were you a precocious little child or a nice little child?

“I was very sweet until I became a teenager!” she laughs. “And then I became very fucking stupid and difficult. Because I was surrounded by this fucking un-ideal family life, I went to school and I was alright, but as soon as I got home it would be crazy.”

Who do you live with now, Charlotte?

“Well, until recently, I was living with my sister, Beatrice. we’re very close and we’ve always looked after each other - I know that’s rare, but circumstances forced it. But we’ve just had to divorce and go our separate ways now. It had to be done for the sake of our relationship, in a sense, she did kind of mother me for two years. I love her dearly, but it’s better this way.”

“So, yeah,” she sighs, “I’m in-between places now. My shit’s scattered all over London, and I suppose I’m going to have to find somewhere new to live. But I’m not sure if I could live by myself - I can’t even go into an empty house cos I get freaked out very easily! So I suppose I better get on with finding a flatmate.” That would make an amazing competition, Charlotte. First prize: a comfy flat in London and a pop star as your flatmate!

“Yeah, go on then,” she cackles, “but I pity he winner! Apply at your own risk! They have to send pictures, though - everyone must be a beautiful Calvin Klein model in my house!”

Coming of age
Charlotte’s only 20 years old, and she’s been doing this since she was 16. So you’d be forgiven for expecting a bit of a Billie/Britney situation, the old ‘childhood lost to fame’ thing. But she’s pretty adamant that she’s not like that at all. “I’m not missing out on my childhood,” she shrugs. “I’m reliving my childhood! I think it’s because I wasn’t able to do what I wanted to, back when I was living with my mum. That’s why I started smoking and drinking - because I wasn’t able to do it before. And that’s why I decided to try drugs - because I defiantly wasn’t able to do that. As soon as I moved into my dad’s, I realised I realised I could do whatever the fuck I wanted, cos he didn’t give a fuck.”

All of which sounds very grunge-ho and confrontational. Truth is, although Charlotte’s become immeasurably more confident over the past year or so, she’s hardly the boldest bunny in the burrow.

“I find it really hard to relax around people I don’t know,” she confesses “and I definitely can’t do acid or mushrooms around people I’m not comfortable with. That just does my head in. Am I a worrier? Yeah. Even just having a conversation, I’m always thinking: ‘Jesus. What did I just say? What am I going to say next? Was that funny? Was it not?’ And that’s the thing onstage, you can do whatever the fuck you like, and you can see all these people appreciating it. If you fall over, who gives a shit? It’s all part of the fun and nothing can spoil that.”

“It really is a fantasy world, doing gigs and stuff. It’s a total dream and nothing can spoil it. But real-life situations are a lot more difficult for me, and after I meet someone really interesting, I’ll always go to bed feeling really, really introspective, analysing the whole fucking conversation. There’s this constant ‘Doh!’ running through my head.”

“You know when your talking sometimes,” she asks, seeming somewhat distracted, “and you feel like your being filmed? Even in private, you feel like there’s a little camera in the corner of the room, making you act in a different way? I feel like that a lot. And I’m a fidgeter too - bitten nails, very bad! I used to pull my hair out as a kid - I had this big receding hairline! That’s why I smoke so much now - I’ve got to be doing something cos I hate being idle.”

How comfortable are you with fame?

“I don’t know,” she shrugs. “It hasn’t really affected me yet. I have gained a lot of confidence though, especially onstage, which is a big fucking thing. But in terms of personality, I don’t think it’s going to change me. having said that, I hadn’t even been out of London before I joined Ash, and I was 18 before I ever went on a plane or shit like that. It was just this whole new world and, suddenly, I could do whatever I wanted.”

Taking it sleazy
Of course, Charlotte’s not entirely alone in being able to do whatever she wants in Ash. You may recall that their cute adorable little singer, Tim Wheeler, was last seen cavorting around with two naked ladies, snorting cocaine, slashing himself with a razorblade and sucking off a terrifyingly humongous strap-on in Ash’s “Numbskull” video. Which wasn’t exactly the way we had figured him, Charlotte.

“Well,” she whispers, “there’s only so much I can say about this, cos it’s Tim’s thing. But it’s funny, cos everyone was saying: ‘You’ve got to see this!’ and I didn’t find it shocking at all. I just thought it was cool, a great way to end Nu-Clear Sounds - going out with a big fucking blow-off! Literally!”

“Anyway,” she continues, “this is what happened. Tim was in New York with our manager, but he checked out of the hotel leaving a message saying: ‘I’ve killed Bambi’. Apparently he’d gone off with the chick who’s in the video. I’ve met her since, and she’s just the coolest chick - so matter of fact about the fact that she has a dungeon in her house! is she a professional mistress? Um, yeah. HaHa!”

So was the video a freebie for Tim?

“Erm, I think it was put through as expenses actually!” she laughs. “Was the coke real? I assume so. The cuts? Yeah, he has scars. He probably had the time of his life, though! I wish I’d been there! We’re all a bit like that, especially on tour. There’s a sleazy side to everyone, but it doesn’t take much to get it out of Ash - just a few cans of Red Bull!”

Mark went totally off the rails a couple of years ago, didn’t he?

“Yeah,” she nods, half happily, half nervously, “and he must have learnt a lot after what he went through. But I think he’s still kind of walking on that tightrope, you know? I’ve heard about what Ash used to do, what they used to be, but actually it’s all fairly quiet…”

“Well,” she adds mischievously, “at the moment, anyway!”

Friends and strangers
Bur-lim-ee! But it’s all to easy to assume that every pop star has that kind of mental life, hanging out with all their glam friends. truth is, it’s just as likely to end up being a pretty lonely life.

“Sometimes I think I don’t have enough friends,” muses Charlotte, “cos I’ve been very shit at keeping in touch with people. I’ve got one best friend who I’m very protective about - she’s my best friend, probably the only person who’s not family that I can talk to properly, but that’s good enough for me.”

“Actually, though, this guy I went to school with died at the end of last year, so I went to the funeral and met up with all my old friends from school. Even though it was a really sad day, it was so great to see them all again. I got all their numbers and apologised profusely for being crap.”

Were they aware of what you’re doing with your life now?

“Yeah, they were going, ‘I saw you on “Top Of The Pops’ and all that! It’s funny, though, when I was at school, I never had any money - I was always the one in the pub going, ‘Buy us a drink! Please!’ So we went to the pub after the funeral and I was like, ‘All right who wants a fucking drink?’ hahaha! Charlotte’s got some fucking money! It was dead weird though, cos they’re all studying and doing all these essays and dissertations and everything, and I was thinking: ‘Fuck, I don’t know how to do that.’ But I’d never feel above them, even though our lives are really different. They’re the same age as me, we’re still on the same level and we still have a lot in common.”

Do you ever get embarrassed by who you’ve become? What do you say when cab drivers ask what you do for a living?

“I tend to just say I’m in the music industry,” she shrugs. “Cos I used to admit I was in a band and they’d always ask which one. So I’d say, ‘Ash’, and they’d go, ‘Oooooh, I know you!’ Either that or they’d go, ‘Never heard of you! What, are you quite successful then love?’ And you just really want to say, ‘No’, just to shut them up! So I’ve learnt to kind of talk to them as if they’re the interesting ones.”

Typical, cautious Charlotte, eh?

“Well,” she smiles, ”I’m just not a confrontational person. I don’t like fights at all, and I’m always trying to avoid upheaval and trouble. I like to stay quiet and… um, complacent, I suppose. I’ve had verbal fights with boyfriends - which I never win! - but never anything physical. Never.”

Strange times these for Ash, especially since their astonishing last album, Nu-Clear Sounds, didn’t sell quite as many copies as anyone with functioning ears had expected.

“Personally, I couldn’t give a shit,” snorts Charlotte. “I don’t want to come across as ‘lo-fi indie girl’ but, like the Manic Street Preachers said recently, ‘We’re gonna make a fucking great album like “The Holy Bible” and we’re gonna be happy and poor.’ That’s an attitude I could definitely stand by. But, at the same time we’ve got to continue having the same kind of success we’ve enjoyed, and I know we can definitely do that.”

Tim and Charlotte debuted a couple of new tunes at an acoustic show in New York recently, suggesting that the writing process for Ash’s third album is already well under way.

“Yeah,” confirms Charlotte, “it is, but we’re such fucking lazy bastards, it takes a load of fucking effort just to get us in the same room together and rehearse, let alone write! It’s communication hell! That’s not me bitching, that’s just the way it is, and it’s a great combination in a way. But sometimes I think: ‘If only we could just… talk!’ Still, that’s what we’re gonna do in a couple of weeks, just get this fucking album written. And it is great when we get back together, cos you think: ‘Yeah, this is cool. I really like you.’”

“I’m a lot happier these days,” she concludes, knocking back her vodka Bull in one. “I wasn’t entirely convinced before. Deep down inside, was this really the music I wanted to be making? But now my heart’s much more confident than I used to be. This thing is, I don’t have my Nightnurse paranoia anymore, and I’ve definitely paid my dues in Ash now. I’m at least a quarter of this band, and it’s mine just as much as it’s anyone else’s.”

Charlotte on modelling for Calvin Klein

“I haven’t seen the finished pictures yet, just the polaroids. They were a bit anal about it, wouldn’t even let me take photos of the set! It was alright, except the photographer kept calling me Dolores, from the Cranberries, which was a bit fucking offensive! Tim looked really fucking hot - all fucked up in smudged eyeliner - and I just had cat-like make-up to the max. I felt like a bit of a Chiswick scruff amid all those cameras, though, so I’m sure they’ll airbrush me to fuck!”

By Robin Bresnark