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'Kayleigh has such a lovely voice... and she is so brave after savage attack - I feel like her second mum'

SINGER Mary Byrne has revealed how she has become "a second mammy" to a Dublin teenager who was partially blinded in a vicious street attack.

The Dublin singer mentored Kayleigh Cullinan (18) to the auditions for the upcoming series of X Factor.

Kayleigh faces her seventh operation next week as surgeons attempt to re-attach her retina which became detached when she was kicked and beaten in a savage attack close to her home in Perrystown, Dublin, in late 2010.

By her side in hospital will be her mum Kathy, and her new best friend Mary (52) who she says has "turned her life around."

"Kayleigh is like a second daughter to me. In fact, she calls me her second mammy. In her, I see me as a young girl, with all my lack of confidence but blessed with the most beautiful singing voice.

"She was left feeling worthless by a terrible attack but is worth 10 times more than any of the bullies who did this to her," Mary Byrne told the Herald.

Millions of ITV viewers will soon be hearing about the touching friendship between the two women in the new series of X Factor.

The pair first met when they shared the same stage at a benefit gig for charity Pieta House in the Red Cow Inn last November.

"I remember being backstage with Brendan Grace and Dickie Rock after they had just come off at the Red Cow, when I heard this beautiful voice singing out front," Mary said.


"I'd never heard of Kayleigh before, and I knew nothing about the attack. I just went up to tell her I loved her extraordinary voice.

"She had seemed so confident on stage but off stage retired into herself. It was a bit like coming face to face with my younger self and we really hit it off and became good friends."

In the weeks that followed, a strong bond was forged between the pair which led to Mary encouraging Kayleigh to enter the new series of X Factor.

"I never had anyone to encourage me to do music when I was young, that was why I didn't enter X Factor till I was 50.

"Kayleigh was left feeling worthless by bullies, and I didn't want to see her personality and talent lost by that one attack.

"She has a great mum already and I've become her second mammy to help her realise her dream of becoming a singer," said Mary.

In pursuit of that dream, the pair travelled to Glasgow last month so Kayleigh could sing in front of X Factor judges Nicole Scherzinger, Gary Barlow, Louis Walsh and Sharon Osbourne, at the first auditions of the new season. While neither woman can reveal how Kayleigh's audition went, the 18-year-old paid tribute to her mentor.

"Meeting Mary was a major changing point in my life. She has dropped everything for me and turned my life around," Kayleigh said.

"What I have learned most from Mary is how to deal with my bad days and always trying to see the positive in life, not just in my singing, but in me as a person," said Kayleigh.

The young singer has also been asked by Mary to open for her on her first nationwide tour, which sees them performing at Kilkenny's Newpark Hotel this Friday night, and in the INEC Killarney on August 23.

"If we're driving around the country in the van, Kayleigh will sometimes fall asleep with her head on my shoulder. Opening for me is a perfect way of making her more confident because I have lovely fans who only want to encourage her," said Mary.

Kayleigh added: "Watching Mary on stage each night of the tour is amazing as she gets as nervous as me before she goes out to perform, but comes alive when she starts singing.

"I'm going to miss a few of the dates on the tour because of my operation, but in hospital I'll be rehearsing new songs on my headphones," said Kayleigh.

Mary is also keen that the promising singer contributes backing vocals to her new country album.

Having previously been signed to two major labels, the 52-year-old is trying to fund the new record through Pledge music, where fans pay for the recording and pressing.


Mary said she has warned her young protege that you won't get rich in the music business, three years after she became famous as a finalist in the 2010 series of X Factor.

"On this tour I am going around the towns we're visiting putting up my own posters.

"I'm not that worried about my next tax bill because I haven't earned that much money in past 12 months to pay tax on.

"From this tour I'll probably make as much money doing two months of concerts as I did working on the check-outs in Tesco but I'm happy doing what I love: that's what's important and what I keep telling Kayleigh," added Mary.

Mary Byrne tours Ireland nationwide in July and August.