Of course I”ve been kissed! Susan Boyle’s most revealing interview yetSusan Boyle’s had the world at her feet since Britain’s Got Talent in 2009. But the scars from her tormented childhood run so deep, she says she still finds it hard to believe
Susan Boyle is not afraid to look right at you. It’s a bit disarming at first. As her brown eyes pierce me she’s searching for the connection. Communication is important to her. It’s what drives her, because her whole life has been a miscommunication. She has been misjudged, misunderstood, labelled, bullied.
When she sings her voice is laden with not only what she’s suffered, but a plea to be liked. She wants to be loved because all her life, one way or another, she’s been deemed unlovable. Today she’s sparkly eyed in her sparkly top.
I tell her she looks great. She will nottake the compliment. She still lives in the council house she grew up in, where she looked after her mother until she died four years ago, in Blackburn, West Lothian. She sleeps under her Donny Osmond blanket in what used to be her mother’s room.
Susan Boyle will not take a compliment and still lives in the council house she grew up in
Susan now has another house, half a mile away, that is new and modern and has a marble-topped kitchen. She calls it ‘the posh house’. She spends time there but she doesn’t really live there. ‘SuBo is a bit of a tomboy and she lives in the council house. She fights with everybody. Susan Boyle doesn’t fight with anybody. She lives in the posh house and she’s a lady. She rarely gets stressed.’
Then she gives a SuBo chortle that’s both fiery and warm. ‘I’ve got a temper all right,’ she tells me. ‘I’m fiery as hell. Do you want the long list of things that make me lose my temper The number one thing that makes my blood boil, the one that puts me overboard, is if someone isn’t telling the truth to me and I know about it. I like honesty and I like real communication.’
My biggest problem is I feel lonely. Especially at night. I always had a fear of being alone and now I am. Everybody died and left me by myself.
This maybe comes from a life of being protected from what her parents thought would hurt her. She never knew what the reality was. And now she can’t believe her own success. She doesn’t grasp it or understand it. There are various estimates of her worth between 11 million and 18 million. She is the fastest-selling global female artist and the only artist since The Beatles to have her first two albums go to number one in the US and the UK.
The YouTube footage of her Britain’s Got Talent audition of I Dreamed A Dream has been viewed more than 300 million times. That took place in April 2009. As we know, she became an overnight global phenomenon. That was confusing for Susan. And when she didn’t win Britain’s Got Talent, and instead came second, she panicked that it would all be taken away, had a meltdown and had to go into private clinic The Priory to rest.
Home comforts: Susan Boyle back at her home in Blackburn
She is 50 now and after a lifetime of not believing in herself, still finds it a struggle. ‘It’s scary becausehow do you maintain your standard Only this morning I felt overwhelmed.’ I ask her if she’s as frightened of success as she is of failure. ‘Yes,’ she nods her head in agreement, but a little sad. It’s as if she feels I’m telling her off. I say I think it’s more than that. She’s been rejected for so long that now she’s been accepted she can’t quite believe it’s real. Her eyes ignite.
‘You’ve summed it up in one.’ I tell herpeople everywhere identify with her and love her. ‘Well they don’t knowthe real me,’ says Susan gruffly. But that’s just it. Everything Susan has ever felt or suffered is there for everyone to know in her voice. Growing up, she would sing at her local social club, her staunchly Catholic parents fretting that she would be in a room full of drink. Shewas never praised for her talent, yet she kept going.
She auditioned 12 times for various television shows until Britain’s Got Talent. ‘The song You’ll See, on my first album, is about me getting my own back on people. I’m still doing that. But I’m not a vengeful person, honestly I’m not.’ She certainly has a right to enjoy feeling a little smug. She was bullied relentlessly at school. She was thrown in the nettles, her gym bag hidden, laughed at, mocked until she cried. One girl stubbed out cigarettes on her.
Susan thought Britain”s Got Talent judge, Piers Morgan, was handsome
‘At school I was hyperactive which meantI cried easily. I had a slight disability.’ I ask her what that means. ‘Erm, that I was vulnerable. Easily annoyed. And showed my feelings. I was Miss Piggy.’ Isn’t that just being hypersensitive ‘Yes, but I used to drive my parents mad. And this disability label was put on me, very unfairly.’ Much has been made of the story that Susan was deprived of oxygen during birth and how it was supposed to have created disabilities.
‘They were not mental, they were physical,’ she says now. Her parents protected her sensitivity by sayingit was a disability. ‘I was protected in cotton wool. They thought theywere doing the right thing. They called me touchy. At school I used to faint a lot. It’s something I’ve never talked about. I had epilepsy. People in the public eye don’t have things like that. All through my childhood they’d say epilepsy is to do with mental function. And now I realise it’s not. I was up against all those barriers. It wasn’t easy. My hair is white underneath this,’ she laughs, one of her uncomfortable chortles.
She doesn’t want to acknowledge her success, which she prefers to call ‘luck’, because she doesn’t want to acknowledge change. ‘I have insecurity that my friends won’t be my friends after a while. I don’t sleep easily if I think that. That’s why I don’t sleep easily at the posh house. The council house is my mother’s house. Her energy is still there. It’s my comfort zone. My mother said, “Look after my house and look after my cat Pebbles” and that’s what I did. I’ve actually seen my mother in the house. I don’t know how you feel about people coming back’
She’s testing the water in case I don’t believe in that kind of stuff. But when I tell her I do she continues. ‘She wasn’t troubled. I think she was letting me know she was all right. There was a lovely smell. Perhaps it was her perfume, I’m not sure. I used to think she’d abandoned me when she died. Maybe she was telling me she hadn’t.’ She and her mother had a very close relationship. But her mother was often anxious. Susan says, ‘She died anxious.’
Her mother worried how Susan would cope on her own. She was the baby of the family, the youngest of nine, born when her mother was 47. Her mother always worried, and that instilled in Susan the feeling she couldn’t cope on her own. If they were watching television and Susan asked, ‘Do you think I could sing on TV’ her mother would say, ‘Yes, but you’re not ready yet.’
It was the same story with boyfriends. ‘I had a boyfriend. All that never being kissed stuff is a lie. He kissed me, for God’s sake. My dad didn’t like him. He said he wasn’t right for me. In many ways it was a narrow escape. I was in love with him but he made someone else pregnant soon after. My dad decided that particular boy was not for me and I was too immature to handle a relationship.’
Musical talent: Susan was youngest of nine, born when her mother was 47
How old was she For the first time she looks embarrassed. ‘You’re not going to believe this but I was 25. Maybepeople grow up at different rates.’ Yet at the same time as being criticised for being immature, Susan had, from the age of 18, been counselling teenagers and other young people who’d suffered from depression. She was deemed mature enough for that. ‘I was good at it because I’d been there, I understood pain, and I’m a good listener. I wanted to do a psychology degree.’ She mumbles and looks down. It’s another thing she feels she failed at.
Wouldn’t she like a boyfriend now ‘The sensible answer would be I’ll know when the right man comes along. I don’t want to be hurt again. Boys used to really make fun of me so I would like someone who was kind and someone who was not irresponsible and someone who’d treat me like a woman.’ Tellingly, when she informs me she’s thinking of getting another cat she says, ‘If it’s an orange cat I’m going to call it Andy after my manager, and if it’s a black cat with green eyes I’ll call it Simon.’
The name Simon makes her give a mini-wiggle, and she says, ‘Simon is sex on legs’. She is, of course, talking about Britain’s Got Talent judge Simon Cowell. She also thought BGT’s other male judge, Piers Morgan, was handsome and has said how Donny Osmond used to catch her eye. He has serenaded her on TV with Puppy Love. Does she still sleep with Donny every night ‘You saucy devil. Yes. He’s on the bedcover.’
Susan says she feels lonely
A lot has been written about her living on a monthly allowance of 300 or 500, suggesting that some kind of exploitation is involved. ‘I asked to live on an allowance. I think it will keep me grounded. I don’t want to be going out buying Ferraris. I’dlike to give some money towards a project locally, a kind of acting school. I’d really like to do that.
‘My biggest problem is I feel lonely. Especially at night. I always had a fear of being alone and now I am. Everybody died and left me by myself. There was one period within a few years, where my dad, my uncle, my sister, then my mum died. It’s as if I was working with a few building blocks and those blocks were scattered and I had to find them one by one. Nobody would give me a chance with employment. I’d worked in the kitchens of the college and helping the elderly in the hospital, but only bits and pieces. When I first went for Britain’s Got Talent I had such a feeling of failure and that’s still part of me. It’s hard when that’s been the pattern of your life. It’s hard to believe those patterns have been broken.’
There are so many contradictions in Susan Boyle. She’s been hurt so much she fears it so badly, yet within her there is courage. In Scotland she’s still living near the two women who were her main bullies. She also still has the gold dress she wore for the Britain’s Got Talent audition which she finally got the courage to attend two years after her mother died. ‘I’ve kept it to remind me of where I’ve come from and how far I’ve come. Or maybe I should get rid of it. Perhaps I could auction it for an anti-bullying charity. I like that idea.’ And she laughs. This time there’s a little triumph.
Susan Boyle’s new album, Someone To Watch Over Me, is out now.
STYLIST: HELEN BOYLE