“Britain’s Got Talent” singing sensation Susan Boyle, 48, is the definition of an overnight star.
But to her voice coach, the Irish born Fred O’Neil, 41, the formerly unemployed, unmarried singer deserves all the success that has finally come her way.
“I’m delighted for her,” O’Neil told our sister publication the Irish Voice recently. “When I watched her performance on ‘Britian's Got Talent’ and saw her smiling I thought she deserves this because the death of her mother just devastated her. When you’re not married and you’re the youngest child – her sisters and brothers had all moved away from home – really it was desperately hard for her.”
O’Neil says that Boyle’s grief made her decide to quit singing. “She would come on the phone to me in terrible tears and sobbing and say I can’t sing any more, I don’t want to sing, there’s nothing to sing for. It was a tragic time for her. She didn’t have a lot financially either; she was living a very basic life. So her whole life now has been turned around in a minute and a half.”
O’Neil, who trained as a singer in Manchester and Milan, was concerned about some of the mocking tone of the headlines and press reports he’d read after her initial breakthrough.
“The reason I’m talking to you is because here in Britain the press is following this other line now,” O’Neil told the Irish Voice back then. “They’re kind of making a fool of her. They seem to be going out of their way to print unflattering photos of Susan. But that’s not the artist that Susan is. Many of the photos I’ve seen don’t even look like her. There’s no point in catapulting her into stardom if all she’s going to be is an object of derision.”
O’Neil first began working with Susan in 1996 and their association continued for years after. In that time O’Neil got to know the shy but spirited singer. “Susan came to me in late 1996 and we worked together for years. I have worked with thousands of singers in my career but I very rarely meet female singers who are kind to other singers. That’s not usually what happens. She’s a very generous person to her fellow performers. To this day if she compliments me for one of my own performances I know that she’s one hundred percent sincere.”
O’Neil has some advice for the begrudgers lining up to take a potshot at her talent and her good fortune. “I think we should let the real Susan emerge, not the tabloid version. If we do that we’ll see that she’s a gifted singer.”
Boyle, the youngest of nine in a family of Irish immigrants who now live in Scotland, has spent many years developing her talent far from the public eye. And although her rise now looks unstoppable, the truth is Susan comes from a humble working class background in Blackburn, Scotland.
Says O’Neil: “The underdog quality of the story captures your imagination. But the woman I know – and I’m saying this strongly – is a sensitive, quiet and intelligent person who has a lot to give the world. When she gets her hands on fame I think she won’t let go of it too easily.”
The world’s media are now camped outside her door, but the unemployed, unmarried (and unkissed) Boyle still lives in the same small house where she grew up and where she still sleeps in the same room as when she was a girl.
“I feel that she’s getting pushed and pulled so much and they’re foisting a false image on her. Susan will feel very, very crushed by it and it would be tragic if she had to take some time out to recover herself. But it’s a lot to weigh on somebody. Obviously her family is there to support her but she doesn’t have a lot of close friends. I know this. That is a concern.”
O’Neil, who was born in Northern Ireland and raised in Clontarf, Dublin, was a professional singer from the age of five when he first became a choirboy, he says. Now his association with Boyle’s shooting star has seen interest in his own singing career increase. Meanwhile, a video of Boyle on YouTube has been viewed 100 million times worldwide, five times more frequently than President Obama’s historic victory speech.
“All I can say is that she’s the first person I’ve ever heard coming out of these talent shows who has a truly distinctive voice. She’s not another Celine Dion impersonation, you know? I could easily listen to an album of Susan’s songs because she sounds unlike anyone else. I think that’s going to help her going forward.”
Boyle, a devout Catholic, visits the shrine at Knock in County Mayo every year with the annual Legion of Mary pilgrimage. Pat Lavelle, who has been the Manager of Knock Shrine in County Mayo for 20 years, told the Irish Voice:
“People have already asked me have I met her and I say the only reason I would is if she had gotten into some kind of difficulty or mislaid something. We get 1.6 million visitors here every year. We’re so happy that she has done so well for herself. There’s no doubt that we’ll certainly hear more about her.”
Lavelle said that Boyle stayed in Knock House Hotel, and arrived with a group led by her with her Parish Priest Basil Clark.
“We would absolutely be welcome to come back and sing her at any time. We would very much welcome her. To be honest I didn’t watch ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ (the British version of American Idol, where Susan made her bid for fame). I had to watch it on YouTube. I thought the panel treated her badly, to be honest. They sure changed their tune though, didn’t they?”