News that tourists have started showing up in Susan Boyle's hometown of Blackburn in Scotland reminds me of what happened with the Frank McCourt phenomenon from an earlier era.
These days in Limerick, Ireland you will still meet American tourists every summer following the McCourt trail, the places mentioned in his book “Angela's Ashes.”
Well over a decade after the book was published it has now become one of Limerick's biggest tourist attractions.
Will Blackburn, Scotland or even Donegal, Ireland where Boyle’s parents came from, become visiting points for some of the 200 million people who viewed Susan's video on You Tube?
Like Susan, Frank was an unknown figure back in 1996. He was a 66-year-old retired schoolteacher, a first-time writer who was hopeful his new book “Angela's Ashes” about his mother and her hard life in Ireland in the 1930s would sell a few thousand copies. It was hardly a star launching vehicle for a retired New York City schoolteacher.
Like Susan, he had no expectation of great riches or a big breakthrough when his book and his new career were finally launched.
He was the internet sensation equivalent of his day. Overnight the book became a massive bestseller and went on to become a Hollywood movie. Frank would write two other great books. “Teacher Man” and “Tis” about his career as a schoolteacher and his early years in America. He would also win the Pulitizer Prize and become known as one of the most endearing and funny storytellers of his generation.
Like Susan, he wasn't good looking, well known or the type of person you could expect to make a massive breakthrough in the celebrity obsessed culture he came from. What he shared with Susan, however, was a dogged sense of Irish determination they both got from their mothers to prove that they had rare and unique gifts.
Both too had clearly difficult childhoods – Frank's was poverty stricken while Susan had learning disabilities and found it hard to match up academically.
Yet both had one rare gift: the gift of expression. For Frank it was the printed page and the written word, for Susan it was her beautiful singing voice and her ability to inspire.
That ability to express helped both become beloved all across the world. Frank's book was eventually translated into 86 languages. Susan's videos have been seen from Beijing to Baltimore.
They both succeeded because they make us feel better about ourselves. That is a trick our celebrity obsessed culture has still failed to figure out. Long may they both reign.