Like every other teenage girl in the early 1970s, a young West Lothian lass called Susan Boyle enjoyed nothing more than putting her Donny Osmond records on repeat, and singing and dancing with a hairbrush in front of the mirror.
Unlike the others, this youngster possessed a voice that would make her a legend and open doors she could only dream of.
April 11 2009 – who could forget the dumpy, frizzy-haired, self-confessed “wee wifey” who walked on to the Britain’s Got Talent (BGT) stage to a backdrop of titters and sniggers from the audience? And then she opened her mouth and began to sing I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables. Pitch-perfect notes soared to the rafters as jaws dropped to the ground. Judge Amanda Holden described it as “the biggest wake-up call ever” and within hours the performance had racked up 300 million YouTube views.
SuBo, as she was later to be dubbed, was ultimately pipped to the post by the group Diversity, there was still no doubt about it – a star was born.
But that stardom hasn’t come without cost. “I’ve always said that before BGT, I was like an outsider looking in,” says Susan softly. “Life was quiet, I looked after my mother until she died. Money was exceptionally tight, I used to fret as to how I was going to pay for gas and electric. I lived hand to mouth. I was happy and I had wonderful friends and family but I just knew that there was something missing in my life.
“I promised my mother I would make something of my life before she died. My inspiration for going on the show was to try and change my life for the better and also meet Piers Morgan,” she continues.
Appearing on BGT took a physical and emotional toll on Susan. The day after the final she was admitted to The Prior rehabilitation clinic for three days of recuperation.
“To be honest whilst I was pleased I had got so far in the show, I was devastated that it was over – I thought that was it and I would have to go home and go back and try and find something else to do,” she admits. “Never did I expect to have the career I have had over the past eight years.”
Her debut album, released in November 2009, became the UK’s biggest selling debut album, and Elaine Paige, one of Susan’s idols, called her “a role model for everyone who has a dream.”
Susan has realised her own dream of singing a duet with Elaine – once in 2009 and then in 2015 at the Glamis prom. “Elaine is a fabulous singer and a real pro,” Susan enthuses.
Back at Glamis prom by popular demand, Susan says: “I can’t wait to perform at Glamis again. I had such a wonderful time last time and the Scottish weather held out – it was a glorious sunny day. The castle was absolutely stunning and, well, you can’t beat a Scottish audience.
“I don’t know how to put it into words but when they start cheering or applauding it’s electrifying. I think it’s incredibly special having your fellow Scots there supporting you and expressing their joy. They really are just the best and the most vocal.”
The theme of this year’s Prom is An Evening at the Musicals but Susan is giving nothing away. “I don’t want to spoil any surprises but I’m doing quite a few different songs. But I think – well, I hope – the audience enjoys them.”
Never happier than when she’s singing her heart out she recalls a happy childhood filled with music and love. “My family were all very musically inclined – we were like the Scottish von Trapps!” she chuckles.
“There was always music in the house and it was my brother Gerry who bought me my first record player. I used to drive my family daft with my singing! When I was a bit older I joined the church choir and I loved singing there as well.”
From church choir to global singing sensation, Susan – who cites Ed Sheeran, Adele and Rod Stewart as her inspirations – enjoys travelling around the world to sing.
“I love it. I love meeting fans from around the world and I also ensure that I have some time to go and see the local sights – I’ve learned to be a tourist at warp speed!” she laughs.
“Life has changed beyond belief, travelling the world, meeting idols, performed and sung for extraordinary people. But ultimately I’m doing what I love – singing.”
Touring and all the travelling it involves can be stressful for Susan but at least now she knows the reason why: after a lifetime of thinking she had learning disabilities she reveals how she reacted to the diagnosis of Asperger’s a few years ago – a condition that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others.
“I had a year to come to terms with it before making it public but it was actually a relief, the missing part of the jigsaw puzzle,” she says. “I don’t see it as a disability – of course there are situations that upset me more than non-Asperger’s people but I’m learning how to cope with all of that now and have strategies that help keep me calm.
“Airports do stress me out, but then they stress most people out but I’m learning and trying hard to not react to triggers.”
One such trigger occurred recently when a group of local youths attacked her in the street in her home town of Blackburn in West Lothian. She was unharmed but the onslaught inevitable left her shocked. Is forgiveness something she’s good at?
“I am good at forgiveness,” she says. “They are kids at the end of the day, they should know better and I want to give them the opportunity to see right from wrong. I’ve been bullied off and on for years and it’s always been dealt with – I am always apologised to and I believe in not retaliating. I just wanted them to have the chance to correct their behaviour and pack it in.”
There’s no doubt that this “wee wifey” is a brave and resilient woman, overcoming various obstacles to achieve success, and this is reflected in the tagline on her website: A Wonderful World. Is that something she wakes up thinking every morning? “Well, I’d love to say I am but no, not every morning,” she admits. “I try and be upbeat and positive and make the best of the situation, but I’m human and we have our good days and our bad days! I’m like everybody else.
“In comparison to many people I’ve had it pretty easy. I’m independent and I try to be brave… that doesn’t mean I don’t have my moments where I shut the door and have a good old weep. I’m not superwoman.”
Perhaps not but with another album coming up and more performances in the pipeline, Susan is showing no signs of slowing down. But there are still some important constants in her life. Back at home in Blackburn, West Lothian, she lives in the house she has always lived in and goes about her day to day life just like everyone else.
“Day to day in Scotland I keep myself busy – I may walk to the supermarket or hop on the bus to Livingstone or Edinburgh,” she says.
“I’ll cook, or if I have a performance coming up then I visit my vocal coach for rehearsals. I like being at home with friends and family, doing normal things,
“I love my freedom and independence and being in Blackburn where I have lived my entire life means I’m just Susan back home – that normality means everything to me. Life is simple and low key at home but that’s how I like it- it ensures I don’t get too big for my boots!”
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