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Authors: John McShane

Susan Boyle

BOOK: Susan Boyle
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To all who have Dreamed a Dream…

Thanks to Richard Rogers for his help in researching this book.


Title Page



1 D

2 T

3 A S

4 M

5 S

6 A W

7 T

8 S

9 R

10 F
& M

11 O

12 L

13 T



he middle-aged woman took a dozen steps onto the stage. Her walk was a combination of nervous hesitancy and dogged determination. At one point her left hand rested briefly on her hip as she entered the spotlight, a gesture both ultra-feminine in its delicacy yet somehow gauche and inappropriate.

She wore a lace dress in a colour best described as ‘dirty gold’, reminiscent in appearance, and to a certain degree shape, of the tablecloths used for afternoon tea in bygone days when front rooms were reserved for ‘best’. Around her waist was a large bow of the type found on cut-price chocolate boxes in discount stores on the wrong side of town.

The woman was short, stocky and overweight, creating an image that was soon to be compared to ‘a piece of pork sitting on a doily’. Her face was square and her muddy-brown
hair, unkempt, untidy and seemingly unbrushed, was flecked with an overgenerous sprinkling of grey.

Her stockings were dark; her shoes were light. On her right arm she wore a cheap watch, its cumbersome face worn on the underside of the wrist, and in her right hand she clutched a large microphone, carrying it in an almost belligerent manner, as if it were a weapon that she would not hesitate to use in self-defence.

Concise Oxford Dictionary
defines ‘frump’ as a noun meaning ‘old-fashioned, dowdily dressed woman.’ As she came to a halt in the centre of the stage, the small figure seemed to become a walking definition of the word: a person who had the air of one who seemed not just old before her time but one who had been born middle-aged. Just by looking at her one could see a sad, working-class, ageing ‘wannabe’ with ideas and ambitions so above her station that they would be comical if they were not so sadly delusional. It was obvious that she had been dealt a loser’s hand in life and only a mixture of pity and embarrassment prevented the 3,000-strong audience at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre from laughing out loud. There was an uncomfortable atmosphere – a gleeful sense of impending disaster mixed with the voyeuristic thrill of anticipating another human being’s embarrassment. Many in the theatre shifted uncomfortably in their seats and glanced sideways in a knowing manner at their friends; their only decisions would be whether to laugh
out loud or silently, and whether to watch unblinkingly or through their fingers to minimise the impact. It was like standing on a stormy promenade looking out to sea where the waves were about to engulf a helpless swimmer. Too terrible to watch; too engrossing to turn away.

Around the woman’s neck was a thin necklace and just below that was a label with the digits 43212 just visible. Alongside them on the tag were the words ‘
Britain’s Got Talent

In between the woman and that anticipatory audience was a desk so large it should have belonged to a James Bond villain, behind which sat three judges: two men and a woman, a triumvirate of modern-day Caesars who would signal whether the gladiators in front of them should live or die.

The man with the cropped dark hair at the end of the panel scratched the end of his nose, played absent mindedly with his pen and looked at the fact-sheet in front of him. He was businesslike as he asked, ‘All right, what’s your name darling?’ It was said with an air not quite of boredom but with a sense that he wanted this to be over with – and over with quickly, too. There would be, after all, no sense in prolonging the agony.

‘My name is Susan Boyle,’ came the answer, delivered in an unmistakably Scottish accent, sharp and clear. Her casually dressed interrogator, leaning dismissively back in his chair, was Simon Cowell. He just happened to be the
most powerful man in British showbusiness, a multi-millionaire with an ever-expanding empire. His image was that of a man who didn’t take kindly to fools and who could be caustically dismissive of those acts he didn’t rate. No platitudes, no euphemisms – no prisoners.

Alongside him sat the actress Amanda Holden. A well-known figure on British television, her role as one of the judges of the talent show – and her frequently emotional responses to the performances and life stories of the acts she saw and heard – had elevated her to another level of fame.

And completing the trio was the Piers Morgan, a former Fleet Street editor whose meteoric newspaper career was marked by controversy and who had gone on to brilliantly reinvent himself as a television personality.

All were to play a role in the events that lay ahead, but on that day in January 2009, none of them could have predicted what was about to happen. Cowell continued the questioning in a manner which seemed to indicate that he was going to be as civilised and professional as he needed to be to get the whole business over with.

‘Okay, Susan, where are you from?’ he asked. ‘I am from Blackburn near Bathgate, West Lothian,’ she replied. So far so good. But things were going to get tricky.

‘And it’s a big town?’ Cowell continued. Susan Boyle wasn’t exactly stumped by the question, but she was in no rush to respond, perhaps understandably nervous in
view of the watching thousands in the auditorium and the television cameras following her every move.

‘It’s a collection of … it’s a collection of … er…’ she began, and then she paused as if she didn’t know the answer, struggling to get clear in her mind what the answer was, ‘…a collection of villages.’ Then she added unnecessarily, ‘I had to think there.’

Perhaps she was tired. After all, she had taken six different buses to get from her home to the theatre.

‘And how old are you, Susan?’ Cowell asked.

‘I am 47,’ came the answer.

Cowell, at the time 49 himself, rolled his eyes. A mixture of laughter and groans could be heard from the audience behind him. A cruel wolf-whistle came from somewhere in the crowd. The people watching in the theatre, and the millions who later saw Susan Boyle’s audition in their homes, must have feared they were watching car-crash television.

Their impression could only have been made worse by what happened next. In the uncomfortable silence that followed the revelation of her age she suddenly interjected: ‘And that’s just one side of me.’ She then put her left hand on her hip and gyrated like a slender teenage lap-dancer. For good measure she thrust her pelvis forwards in a gesture that, on a more conventionally attractive woman, might have been interpreted as provocative but from Susan in her dowdy clothes seemed a mixture of the comic, the
grotesque and the downright enough-to-put-anyone-off-their-tea.

She finished with a vigorous nod in Cowell’s direction, as if half to acknowledge his presence and half to head-butt him. Cowell did what any man would do in the circumstances: he blew his cheeks out and ‘moved on.’ He asked what her ‘dream’ was and when she said it was to be a professional singer he said, ‘Why hasn’t it worked out so far, Susan?’

‘I have not been given the chance before, but here’s hoping it will change,’ she replied.

Normality, if not restored, could at least be seen on the horizon again. But it would not last for long because Cowell then asked, ‘Who would you like to be as successful as?’

Susan shrugged her shoulders. ‘Elaine Paige, or somebody like that,’ was the answer she fired back at him. Again there was a murmur around the audience. It would be difficult to find a bigger female star of West End musicals than Elaine Paige. Her list of shows, many of which she starred in, reads like an anthology of British stage hits:
Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, Cats, Chess, Sunset Boulevard
and, perhaps most famously,
, have guaranteed her place in any theatrical Hall of Fame. And this was who Susan Boyle wanted to be like?

Piers Morgan interjected: ‘What are you going to sing tonight?’ and got the response, ‘I am going
to sing “I Dreamed a Dream” from
Les Misérables
.’ Cowell could be heard to mutter forebodingly ‘OK. Big song.’

Big song, indeed. Some of the many artists who have covered the testing, ultra-dramatic number include Neil Diamond, David Essex, Aretha Franklin, Michael Ball, Martine McCutcheon, Ruthie Henshall and Elaine Paige herself. Now it was Susan Boyle’s turn.

She gave a sign towards the show’s hosts in the wings, Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly – Ant and Dec – that she was ready to begin.

As the opening bars of the music were played, Morgan seemed, quite understandably, to be battling to hold back laughter, Holden looked pensive and Cowell intense. Three thousand people behind them prepared for the worst.

Then Susan Boyle opened her mouth and began to sing.

She hadn’t even finished the first verse before the cheering began. Cowell’s eyebrows soared upwards in surprise, Holden’s mouth dropped downwards in shock and Morgan was at last able to laugh, but this time from sheer pleasure.

Two minutes twenty-five seconds after she began singing, Susan Boyle ended her song to tumultuous applause. It had been pandemonium throughout, a mixture of incredulity and delight. The audience had leapt to their feet several times, like a football crowd.
Holden and Morgan, too, stood and applauded. She could have sung only half the song and the reaction would have been the same. She had been magical from the first few notes.

The dowdy woman with the eyebrows that seemed to meet in the middle, the middle-aged spinster who had ‘never been kissed’ and who lived alone with her cat Pebbles was on her way to stardom. Soon she was to become ‘SuBo’, one of the most famous women in the world.

She would be lauded by the rich and famous and become an internet phenomenon within a few days of the broadcasting of the show in the spring. But Susan Boyle would also see the dark side of fame, the pressure and the torment it can exert on people.

She would also be the catalyst that caused many question to themselves, their prejudices, their precon ceptions about what we expect from the famous in the ‘Age of the Celebrity’; how we want them to look, speak, behave, live their lives. Why should we be so surprised that such talent could arrive in such an unlikely form at such an unfashionable, mature age? It wasn’t to be just a case of wondering what Susan Boyle was like, but also what the judgmental reaction to her appearance and demeanour said about us.

All this and more was to follow in the mayhem that became her life as she went from mundane obscurity to worldwide fame in days.

How had all of this happened? What had her life been up until those eventful few minutes centre-stage in Glasgow? And what did the future hold for ‘The Hairy Angel’ who had dared to ‘Dream a Dream’?



hen she was a little girl Susan Boyle would be asked the question all small children hear throughout their early years: ‘When is your birthday?’ She would reply: ‘I was born on April 1st.’ And before anyone could say anything she’d add, as quick as a flash, ‘I’m an April Fool!’

BOOK: Susan Boyle
13.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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