Laura Barton on the rehabilitation of Cerys Matthews

The former Catatonia singer's campfire performance on I'm a Celebrity brought the viewing public out in goosebumps. What a rock goddess, says Laura Barton

By any stretch of the imagination, she seemed a startling addition to this year's I'm A Celebrity line-up: jostling with the washed-up TV presenters, chefs and supermodels, there was Cerys Matthews, Welsh songbird and sweetheart of Britpop, the woman who serenaded Bill Clinton with her head on his chest, frequently wore a T-shirt that read "fast-risinglagersoakedriproaringpoptart" and once, following a gig in Southampton, woke up the next day in the south of France with very little idea of how she got there. Even I abandoned my long-held dislike of television to watch her weather two weeks in the "jungle".

For many, Cerys was the impetuous, rollicking frontwoman of Catatonia, famed for her lusty voice, for songs such as Mulder and Scully and Road Rage, for duets with Tom Jones, as well as her taste for booze and drugs. I'd had a soft spot for her since I was 16, when I first saw Catatonia in a support slot at St Helen's Citadel; standing on a tiny stage, singing in Welsh, she was thoroughly bewitching. Years later, after all the Britpop shenanigans and the heroin addiction, after she'd left both Britain and Catatonia behind, I visited her at home in Nashville, and found her heavily pregnant, pointing at raccoons and happily barbecueing on the back porch with her husband, her mother, her neighbours and her daughter Glenys Pearl. Last January, I met her again, to interview her about her album Never Said Goodbye. She was toned and strong, like some modern-day Britannia, and I found her smart and funny and warm. She had come back to Britain, she said, with the intention of raising her children in Wales. "I miss the news," she told me. "I miss the eccentricity and the individuality and the education of people and I miss the sea. So for all those things we hotfoot back."

To those more accustomed to her rowdy behaviour of the late 90s, Cerys' appearance on I'm A Celebrity has revealed an unexpectedly softer, sweeter side - the side that corresponds better, somehow, with that mellifluous voice. We've seen, too, how physically strong she is, seen her gung-ho attitude to life in the jungle, and even her quiet wisdom: after evicted contestant Marc Bannerman offered, lovestruck, to fly back to Australia to meet her when she came out, she sent him a message: "There's no rush," she said gently. "None at all. It's a long life."

There have been some who have been less impressed, of course. After her flirtation with former EastEnders actor Bannerman, there were some - not least his furious girlfriend - who labelled her a home-wrecker. I have to admit, the Bannerman fandango was unfortunate - she was newly divorced, he was still attached, and is he worthy? Others have been unkinder still: yesterday, one tabloid columnist wrote that he was no longer "hot for" Cerys (try not to weep, Ms Matthews, won't you?), describing her as a "pouty, man-pleasing, spunkless, manipulative, self-obsessed girlie" before concluding, "Cerys is a rock goddess no more."

Au contraire. If there is one thing that has been made overwhelmingly evident during Cerys' stint on I'm a Celebrity, it is the length and depth and breadth of her talent. On this week's show, as the remaining celebrities sat round the campfire, Cerys gave a lilting rendition of Chardonnay - a track from her Cock-a-Hoop album - and performed her cover of the Handsome Family's Weightless Again. It was enough to dampen the hot fuss of the whole Bannerman incident, it was enough to stun her campmates into silence, it was enough to bring the nation out in goosepimples. So while Christopher Biggins and Janice Dickinson are frolicking about in panto, while J is touring the reunion circuit with 5ive and Gemma is busy posing for lads' mags, I hope Cerys' appearance on reality TV translates into record sales, into thronged concert halls and albums galore; it is time, I think, for Cerys Matthews to be once again celebrated as one of our most extraordinarily beautiful singers.


Laura Barton

The GuardianTramp

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