Scottish singer Susan Boyle rose to international fame in 2009 when she stepped out onto a Glasgow stage and appeared on Britain’s Got Talent. The West Lothian natives debut album I Dreamed A Dream became the UK’s biggest-selling debut album and Susan has gone on to sell over 25 million albums globally. Neil Drysdale spoke to Susan on her incredible rise to fame, her love of Scotland and how she has been getting on since the pandemic began.
Life has ground to a halt for everybody in the last two years and Covid has cast a dark cloud over the arts and entertainment industry. Yet, even as singers and musicians have been forced to find new ways of working, they’ve quickly become used to the world of “virtual” concerts and recording sessions.
Susan Boyle is no exception to this brave new Zoom routine, even if she admits it caused her problems at the outset in 2020. But the 60-year-old artist hasn’t been idle during the pandemic and is relishing getting back on the road in the New Year. Susan told the Scottish Banner: “Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to perform or do any concerts. My tour in March 2020 just finished before the world shut down. I’ve still been practicing with my vocal coach, Chris Judge, to keep my singing voice active. To begin with, we would practice over Zoom or Facetime. He’d be at his house and I’d be at mine. Technology, eh – it’s fantastic. But now that restrictions have eased, we can meet and sing in person again, which is great.”
I Dreamed a Dream
Susan Boyle is a resilient character who was the pivotal figure in what remains one of the genuinely jaw-dropping episodes in 21st entertainment; the moment Susan shocked the judges and audience on Britain’s Got Talent (BGT) when she began to sing I Dreamed A Dream. Even now, more than a decade later, she appreciates there was something about her emergence which was similar to the script of the film A Star is Born. At school, growing up in the 1970s, Miss Boyle was a painfully shy youngster, somebody who far preferred being the face in the choir to a look-at-me prima donna. In those days, the idea of her taking centre stage on a reality TV show and singing in front of millions – and then, via YouTube, hundreds of millions of people, and subsequently performing for the Pope and The Queen would have seemed preposterous.
But there again, she wasn’t just putting herself on parade for the Britain’s Got Talent brigade. On the contrary, Ms Boyle says she was paving an escape from the days where she used to struggle to pay the household bills. She told me: “In some ways, life has changed dramatically. Financially, life has moved on from the days when I was unable to afford the gas and electric, to knowing nowadays that I won’t be sitting in the dark again fretting about how I am going to heat the house or keep the lights on. I am still grounded, though. I live in the same family home (in Blackburn in West Lothian) and I don’t need a flashy big house with gates. I have got the same people around me that I always have, and there are wonderful neighbours who look out for me and they would give you the shirt off their back. So, in that respect, life hasn’t changed. I know I have been incredibly lucky to keep such a wonderful balance, to be able to continue my normal life, going to Tesco’s, living in the same house I grew up in and taking the bus. But these are all things I don’t take for granted. It was a conscious decision to try and keep my normal and known way of life just the same.”
There’s a pinch-me quality about her comments which remind you of a star-struck youngster who has seen all her Christmases come at once. Susan said: “There were a few people who helped out in the early days, who have been childhood friends and are still friends to this day. My family were the ones who were so supportive and pushed me to do something more with my life and my mother, in particular, was the driving force who made me promise I would do something with my voice and my life. I started singing as a young girl in school and then joined the church choir and auditioned on a few other TV shows, but it was the support of friends and family who gave me the courage and confidence to try. That said, never in my wildest dreams when I stood on the Britain’s Got Talent stage did I think for a second that, more than 10 years on, I’d still be performing and making albums. I thought it was all over on the night of the BGT final.”
Proud to be Scottish
Her journey has been a whirlwind series of tales of the unexpected. She never remotely believed when she was “sneaking off from school to watch an Osmond’s concert” that she would eventually meet and record a duet with Donny Osmond. But it taught her another lesson which she regards as crucial. She added: “Meeting and performing with him was something else and he was the nicest and kindest man. They sometimes say: ‘Don’t meet your heroes’, but I can honestly tell you he exceeded my expectations and it was unforgettable. I know I have been fortunate, and I am also incredibly proud to be Scottish, and would never consider leaving or living anywhere else in the world. We have everything in Scotland and more. The best people in the world, the kindest and a real sense of community. We have a beautiful country, and while it may be nice to go off and visit other places, there truly is no place like home. I try to have a glass-half-full attitude and while life always has its ups and downs, there really are not many negatives about living in Scotland. We are very lucky.”
As she casts her gaze forward, Susan told me of her hopes for the New Year after being out of the public gaze for too long. Susan continued: “I am really looking forward to 2022 and the exciting things which are being lined up, which are a surprise, but I promise are exciting. I also hope, like everybody else, that life gets back to some semblance of normality. And I’d like to wish my fans a Happy New Year. May 2022 be a better year for us all and I wish you all a year of health, happiness and your dreams coming true.” Even now, Susan has that down-to-earth approach and sense of wonder in her voice. Susan is also a big fan of Adele’s new single and said: “She’s so incredibly talented and I admire her bravery for bearing her heartbreak and creating stunning lyrics.”
Let’s hope we are treated to some new music from Susan as we move out of an awfully long winter.