'I'd tell myself that I was stupid, I was nothing, I was thick. I hated myself'
'X Factor' sensation Mary Byrne tells Niamh Horan how she has fought to overcome feelings of worthlessness
She looks so strong and confident as she sings her heart out to millions of fans on the The X Factor.
But behind the image of a show-stopping diva, Mary Byrne has struggled for years against feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy.
Ireland's newest singing sensation has a fantastic chance to scoop the crown, which could mean saying goodbye to her job in a Tesco supermarket
It will be the ultimate triumph for a woman who has gone through the torment of depression and weight gain.
In an interview with the Sunday Independent, she has told how she was once a svelte nine stone but has struggled with her weight ever since her daughter Debbie was born -- and she split from the child's father.
"I had Debbie at 27 and I started comfort-eating after she was born," she said.
"It was probably due to my feelings of rejection after Debbie's dad and I split up. Some people lose weight during stressful times -- I just gained it."
The 50-year-old Ballyfermot-born singer recalled how, when she was at her lowest ebb, she would stare into the mirror and constantly convince herself that she was worthless.
"I'd tell myself 'You are stupid, you are nothing. You are thick'. I hated what I saw and I hated who I was," she recalls.
Mary gained three stone over a short period of time. From a healthy and trim nine-and-a-half stone, she was soon tipping the scales at 12-and-a-half stone. The weight gain crippled her self-confidence.
"Looking back, it was terrible. My confidence was so low because of the weight and it was a vicious cycle. I would then turn to food and comfort eat -- and the problem would just get worse. I thought I was worthless, I really did."
She says those dark time have made it difficult for her to come to terms with her overnight fame on The X Factor, where she is now watched by millions in Ireland and the UK. When she is given a standing ovation by the studio audience, Mary can't hold back the tears. It's an emotional rollercoaster.
"That's why it's so crazy to think I'm up there at The X Factor now. Back then, I couldn't even look at myself in the mirror, now 13 million people are watching me every week," she laughed. "It's incredible."
The Tesco checkout assistant has been tipped by Irish judge Louis Walsh to win the coveted title. Louis clearly believes there's something about Mary. "This girl is going to do so well in this competition. She's going to get a record deal, she's going to fulfil all her dreams, and she's great. She's 50, she's got soul, she's Irish. She ticks all the boxes for me. And she can really, really sing."
He added that Mary didn't need any showbiz tricks on the show. "For Mary, it wasn't about tricks and make-up and hair and dancers and things. Just one thing -- her voice.'
Other X Factor judges- including Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole are also huge fans of the Dublin woman, admitting that they would not like their acts to face her in a sing-off. Mary's odds of winning the competition have been cut since the first live show, when she received her standing ovation for her spine-tingling renditions of It's a Man's, Man's World and Dusty Springfield's classic You Don't Have to Say You Love Me.
Despite rumours that she is in a relationship with fellow contestant Wagner Carrilho, the popular contestant said she had no time for romance and needed to concentrate on her singing and the competition.
"Music is my first love. That's what I feel I'm married to now -- I've no time for anything else."
On Wagner, she said: "He's a lovely man, but he definitely wouldn't be my cup of tea and I don't think I would be his. He likes the young women, you know! I'd go for someone around my own age or about 45."
Meanwhile, the show's other contestants have complained that supermarket giant Tesco has sent out a "vote for Mary" email to over 300,000 employees, which would give the Irishwoman an unfair advantage.
But a spokesman for the supermarket chain said that although the company was supporting its employee, it was not trying to influence how people voted. "She has reached The X Factor finals on her talent alone," he said.