Close friends of overnight singing sensation Susan Boyle have revealed the tragedy behind her TV success — and pleaded with the British media to stop making her new life a nightmare.
Irishman Fred O'Neil, who has known Boyle for 15 years, told The Irish Voice newspaper and IrishCentral.com in an exclusive interview that Susan quit singing after the death of her Irish immigrant mother Bridget in 2007.
“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,” he said.
"When I watched her performance 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 - who has begged the tabloid press in Britain to leave his friend alone - said "The reason I’m talking to you is because here in Britain the press is following this other line now,” O’Neil told IrishCentral.
“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.”
“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.”
O’Neil, who was born in Northern Ireland and now lives in Scotland, is a voice coach and first began working with Susan in 1996. "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.”
"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 100 percent sincere,” he said.
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.
On Britain’s Got Talent, Boyle next plans to perform Andrew Lloyd Webber song Whistle Down The Wind. O’Neil is confident of her chances. “She’s sung it many times and she’ll sing it very well. I think it will show a Susan who’s a little softer voiced, a little more sensitive. I actually prefer her singing this kind of material.”
Boyle's video on YouTube has been viewed 100 million times worldwide, five times as much as 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,” he said.
Boyle, a devout Catholic, visits the shrine at Knock in County Mayo every year with the annual Legion of Mary pilgrimage. She usually stays at the Knock House Hotel.