As she meets her idol Donny Osmond in Las Vegas, Susan Boyle says she may have conquered her demons but now she's terrified it may all disappear
22:47 GMT, 16 November 2012
We’ve only just met and Susan Boyle has already whipped off her heels and shown me the results of some recent pampering – a pedicure inlaid with Swarovski crystals.
It complements her shiny red manicure, not to mention her even shinier surroundings – a room at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills. ‘I went for a massage the other day at a spa shop in Vegas. I love a massage,’ she giggles. ‘What woman doesn’t love a bit of pampering’
This one, now believed to be worth an impressive 22 million, certainly does, and while in Vegas she gambled some of that well-earned fortune.
Susan Boyle is estimated at 22 million and has been living the dream in Las Vegas
‘But the machine swallowed the money and wouldn’t give me any back so I stopped! It was my first time in Vegas and it was great fun, especially since I got to perform with Donny Osmond. If someone told me years ago I’d be performing on stage with him, I’d have laughed at them. He’s been my idol since I was 13, so I feel like I’ve grown up with him in a way. It’s all been a bit mind-blowing.’
Everyone familiar with the Susan Boyle story knows that much of what has transpired in the past three and a half years has been mind-blowing – the ‘wee wifey’ who bowled up to the Britain’s Got Talent auditions in a gold dress and black tights blew everyone away with her rendition of I Dreamed A Dream and then went on to sell 17 million albums worldwide.
She’s just completed a five-day tour of the US, performing alongside Donny both in Vegas and at the LA studios of Dancing With The Stars, the US version of Strictly.
Her American fans, who call themselves the Red Scarf Brigade in honour of her trademark accessory, were there in the audience, raucously cheering her on.
‘Some people think they’re a bit mad, but they’re not,’ Susan, 51, insists. ‘They’re very kind to me and they made me a blanket with Donny’s face on which I still have on my bed because it keeps me warm. This time they made a blanket with my face on it and gave it to him.’
Did Donny promise to return the favour by putting it on his bed ‘Well he did, but he’s a married man, so it really depends on his wife, doesn’t it But he was such a gentleman. I was shaking like a leaf on the show, but Donny held my hand and calmed me down.
Ever since that unforgettable BGT audition back in 2009, Susan's life has been a constant balancing act
'Nerves are good because they help with my concentration but I’m still recovering from the week I’ve had. When you go through the motions of performing, you don’t have time to take it all in but afterwards I was thinking, “Wow! I’ve really done that.”’
Ever since that unforgettable BGT audition back in 2009, Susan’s life has been a constant balancing act between enjoying the incredible opportunities now afforded her while maintaining links to everything that makes her feel comfortable.
There were some who feared that Susan, born with mild learning difficulties after being deprived of oxygen at birth, would find her sudden fame too much to deal with – fears that appeared to be realised when she was admitted to The Priory clinic suffering from nervous exhaustion the day after the BGT final.
‘I’ve had moments of doubt,’ she admits, ‘but it was such a huge thing to happen to anybody. It was a bit much for an ordinary girl just sitting at home with her cat, but you slowly get used to things. I have really good people to support me.
‘You still get your blips though and I had one difficult patch about eight weeks ago. It was a health problem and I don’t want to go too much into it, but it was exhaustion and I didn’t know I had it. My personality changed and I was in a bad place but with the help of others I’m in a better place. I’m absolutely fine now.’
The familiar acts as a particular source of comfort to Susan. Her longtime friend Lorraine Campbell has accompanied her on the trip to America and despite having bought a 300,000 property in Blackburn, West Lothian, which she still refers to as ‘the posh house’, Susan continues to live in the council house she shared with her mum Bridget, who died five years ago.
‘I stay in the old place because it has memories of my mum and I feel her presence there,’ she says.
‘I feel safer there because I’ve got my neighbours around me, whereas where the posh house is they hardly look at you – stuffy lot!
‘After a big trip like this, going back can be a little lonely. If you sit in the house all day it just gets worse, so you need to get out and meet people.
Susan has undergone a beauty transformation and although she owns a 'posh house' she opts to live in her council estate home
'I still walk to the supermarket and get the bus. Sometimes people notice me but that’s fine. I was on my own a lot before, but the best thing about this whole experience is that I’m no longer lonely.’
Having viewed her audition since, Susan believes the reason people took to her wasn’t just the voice.
‘I think people relate to me in some way. Maybe they think, “If she can do it in her late stage in life, maybe I can too.”’ I suggest perhaps what subconsciously touched people was the passion and longing that emanated from her.
She seemed to be a woman with a lot of love to give who perhaps hadn’t yet been able to give it fully. ‘Yes, that’s a very accurate way of putting it,’ she nods. ‘I do have a lot of love to give and that’s why I love to sing – it’s a way of communicating that love to somebody.’
On her new album Standing Ovation – which also features Susan duetting with Donny and Michael Crawford – she gives a moving rendition of the ABBA hit The Winner Takes It All.
‘It’s about a passing relationship and singing it made me a bit tearful because it reminded me of when I first had a boyfriend, John, in my twenties. I was in love with him but the relationship ended. He’s married now.
'We’re not in touch but I know his family knows about me. My dad was very protective of me and wary of him, just like any parent. But there’s always a twinge of regret when you look back. I’m glad my parents were protective though. You make rash decisions when you’re young.’
On her new album Standing Ovation Susan duets with Donny and Michael Crawford
She must get plenty of marriage proposals now though ‘Well, I did get one but I sent the letter back because he was cheeky. I’ve also had a couple of men sending nice photos and cheeky letters that say I look good in my calendar, but I’m not ready for that yet. If I wanted a toy boy, I’d have got one by now. If I meet someone nice I’ll know and he’ll know.’
Is she looking for any qualities in particular ‘Oh, he has to be tall, dark and handsome with plenty of money!’ she laughs.
‘As long as he’s loving and caring and true to himself with no extra girlfriend on the side. But I’m not on the lookout just now. Early on in my life I wanted children,’ she admits, ‘but if it’s not to be, it’s not to be and you can’t be worried about it at this stage in life.’
Susan’s own childhood featured moments of deep unhappiness. In her autobiography she described a chilling incident where a gang of youths chased her and stubbed out a cigarette on her back. ‘But I don’t think a lot of them realised they were hurting me at the time – kids never do,’ she says.
‘They’ve grown up since then and some have apologised. They don’t think I’m silly any more.’
Though she wasn’t able to meet up with her BGT judges Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan in LA, she’s still incredibly polite about Cowell and unfathomably enamoured of Morgan.
‘I’m not that close to Simon because he’s very busy, but he’s a gentleman and not nasty like lots of people think. And I still have my pillow with Piers’ face on it – he’s not been given the bullet. He’s still a tasty wee man yet.’
She may be the only artist, along with The Beatles and The Monkees, to top both the UK and US charts twice in the same year, but she still refers to herself as ‘a semi-professional’ and her modesty has made hers the most touching rags-to-riches story of modern times.
There’s already been a stage show of her life, with Rab C Nesbitt star Elaine C Smith playing Susan, and there’s talk of a movie now, with Glenn Close and Catherine Zeta-Jones reportedly interested in the role.
‘They’d both be good but if a film came about I’d like Julie Walters. I liked her in Mamma Mia! and she’s sort of bubbly and outgoing like me. She’d be wonderful.’
Susan wowed audiences worldwide with her rendition of I Dreamed A Dream
At times she admits she can still be ‘fairly shy and sometimes a bit withdrawn’ and there’s a vivid illustration of this later on when during the photo shoot at Santa Monica beach the photographer, Eddie, accidentally takes Susan, who’s scared of water, a little too close to the ocean’s edge.
She has a tantrum and storms off after a wave laps against her. It takes Lorraine and Susan’s publicist several minutes to talk her round and when she returns, she apologises profusely to Eddie and takes his hand by way of a peace offering.
It comes as a shock after seeing such a bubbly Susan during the interview, but when she feels uncomfortable (and tired after a week of flights and live shows), it’s understandable things might boil over.
Elaine C Smith noted that some fans going to see the stage show were disappointed by its bittersweet tone. ‘They want the dream to come true and her life to be perfect,’ she said, ‘but this is a woman who is conquering the real fears she has.’ As an observation it’s spot-on.
‘We all have our fears and mine is probably that it’ll all disappear,’ Susan admits by way of explanation. ‘But the only dream I have is to continue with this for as long as possible because to tell you the truth, I’ve never been happier.’
It would take a heart of stone to wish her anything else.
Susan Boyle’s album Standing Ovation: The Greatest Songs From The Stage is released on Monday.