Review: The Woman I Was Born to Be by Susan boyle
Bantam Press, €22.22, Hardback
Published 06/11/2010 | 05:00
'He who sings, prays twice," said St Augustine. On this score, Scottish singer Susan Boyle is doubly blessed.
Singing and praying are the twin features in Susan's life. A terrified wee lassie from the village of Blackburn, outside Edinburgh, she soared to global superstar fame through her enchanting voice.
This was in April 2009, on reality TV programme Britain's Got Talent at Glasgow's Clyde Auditorium.
In her refreshingly revelatory and spirit-inspiring memoir, which reads as beautifully as she sings, Susan recalls the audience's scornful attitude before she belted out 'I Dreamed a Dream' from Les Misérables.
Susan recalls: "I knew what they were thinking. 'Just look at her! She's got a bum like a garage, a head like a mop . . . she cannae sing. Well, come on, let's hear you then.'
"The whole theatre erupted again and, buoyed on the great wave of triumph, I started running on the spot like a child."
Susan was on the way to becoming a professional singer, as successful as Elaine Paige.
Within weeks her first album was the number one best-selling CD in charts around the world.
The media dubbed her the greatest discovery since Scottish shortbread. But even before she came second to dance troupe Diversity, the tabloids, like Scots terriers, mauled her.
Adored by millions of fans, her melodious music brought love to drab lives.
The Susan Boyle story began on April 1, 1961, in a hospital by emergency caesarean.
Doctors told her mother, Bridget, to have a termination.
This was anathema to a devout Catholic who wanted to give new life a chance.
Bridget, who had already given birth to four healthy boys and five girls, delivered Susan in a difficult birth during which she was briefly deprived of oxygen, resulting in Susan later having learning difficulties.
As a bairn in a pram, 'the girl with the curls' swayed slowly in tune with ballads, jiggling faster to the rhythm of the quicker tunes.
As a wee lassie, she played a banjo. She spent hours in front of the television mimicking Paul McCartney.
As a teenager, her big crush was Donny Osmond.
Nicknamed "Susie Simple", she raged sulkily at home and was bullied at school.
After leaving with only two Ordinary Levels (the equivalent of the junior cert), she tried to better herself.
A psychologist diagnosed that she was not stupid and explained her gaucheries and inhibitions were rooted in insecurity. She then began believing in herself. She took part in government training programmes, sang karaoke in her local pub and was a member of her church choir. She took singing lessons, attended Edinburgh Acting School and participated in the Edinburgh Fringe.
She fled an audition for The X Factor because she felt people were being chosen for their looks. Auditioning for Michael Barrymore's My Kind of People in East Kilbride, next door to my village of Blantyre, the TV host only mocked her.
After her father Patrick died and her siblings left home, Susan cared for her ageing mother in their council house until she died in 2007, aged 91. Bridget extracted a death-bed promise from Susan to do something with her life and enter Britain's Got Talent.
Susan loved and trusted her mother. Bridget's special devotion to Our Lady provided Susan with a second mother. Since childhood, she has been going on pilgrimage to Knock Shrine, Co Mayo, and has sung there at the Marian basilica.
Her biggest fan is Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who persuaded her to sing for Pope Benedict XVI in Glasgow this September.
"The multitude in Bellahouston Park listened enthralled as this wee woman with a huge voice, braved the biting cold wind and rain to sing magnificently for the Holy Father and entertain the people she loves most, her ain folk," said Scottish journalist Bill Heaney, reflecting my own awe that evening.
"Susan is one of the 'ordinary' people of Scotland, so many of whom are descended, as she is, from the turn of the century emigrant Irish, most escaping the grinding poverty of Donegal and the West of Ireland.
"Initially, they worked as 'tottie howkers' in the potato fields, eventually on building railways and working in the pits, shipyards and factories."
As a product of the same socio-religious and ethnic culture as Susan, I endorse her description of how religion means more to Scottish Catholics; it is a badge of identity for Scots-Irish-Catholics trying to speak the Queen's English!
Her father, Patrick Boyle, a World War II veteran and miner, sang 'Scarlet Ribbons' at the local pub, about a small miracle that happens to a wee sleeping lassie.
Each Sunday, Patrick proudly walked his family to Mass in "the chapel".
Conflict only infiltrated the Boyle home when two of Susan's siblings defied the papal code by entering into mixed marriages with Protestants.
To honour her pledge to her mother, she recorded 'Cry Me a River', 'Killing Me Softly' and 'His Song' for a charity Millennium CD. Her repertoire also included 'I Don't Know How to Love Him'.
Her book reveals how her father ran her first boyfriend during her 20s, whom she never saw again.
Teachers and community workers caring for teenagers with learning or physical disabilities must give them this book for Christmas.
Susan's story will inspire parents to encourage their children to try and do what they can do instead of what they cannot. Susan teaches us all to do our best no matter what life throws at us. She is an honest, humorous, kind, generous lady.
The real Susan endured pain and derision following her dream; but her story is a real triumph of faith over adversity and real hardship.