Tuesday, 24 November 2009

It's Bathgate not Broadway

It's early morning in Bathgate’s main street, and there is an unaccustomed buzz of excitement. The small queue outside WH Smith disappeared as soon as the shop opened, yet half-an-hour later there is still a steady stream of people struggling upstairs to its music department to purchase their copy of I Dreamed a Dream, the debut album by Susan Boyle.

For those who have been holidaying on the dark side of the Moon, Boyle is the last word in local-girl-made-good stories, transformed from pub singer into “SuBo”, the Diva, in the space of just seven months. Her album is already the biggest pre-ordered CD in the history of the online retailer, Amazon, and she is the bookies’ favourite to be Christmas No. 1 on both sides of the Atlantic.

Under the circumstances, it’s a shame that the Bathgate store has only 70 copies of the CD, because it is destined to be sold out by noon, says Winnie Campbell, the manager. “It’s normally absolutely dead in here before 11 o’clock,” said Mrs Campbell, smiling in wonder. “This morning we just can’t get anything else done.”

Such is the magic of reality TV. A year ago, no one in Bathgate would have looked twice at Boyle, 48, whose only real work had been with the local Catholic church in her home village of Blackburn, three miles away.

Then, in April, she went to audition for Britain’s Got Talent, the ITV show, changing buses six times before she reached the studio at the SECC in Glasgow. She was a sensation, and within 48 hours, her sweet soaring voice, and her awkward manner had made her famous all over the world.

Nowadays her extraordinary story is so familiar, it seems only natural that on Saturday, she should be jetted off to New York to sing outside the Rockefeller Centre, on American’s leading network breakfast programme, The Today Show.

Bathgate is as far from the Rockefeller Centre as it is possible to imagine. Every other retailer is a pound shop. British Leyland shut up shop in the town long ago and there has not been a substantial employer here since 2003, when Motorola pulled out, laying off 3,000 people. It can seem a bleak and broken place and for the locals, Boyle’s success and her resilience burn even brighter.

“The town has been dying a death — Susan has done a great thing,” says Thomas Burns, whose wife, Liz, is clutching the couple’s treasured CD. She agrees: “It’s nice that people get to hear about the place.” That they have. Within days of her first TV appearance, paparazzi were following SuBo as she bussed into Bathgate to visit Stein’s the butchers, or meet her friends at the Balbairdie Hotel. So many reporters sat on her garden fence, outside her drab house in Blackburn, that the fence fell over and had to be replaced by the council.

James Murphy, 77, a former miner, has bought eight copies of the album, to give to friends and family. He has more reason than most to invest his hard-earned pension in the music — he organised concerts for Boyle 30 years ago, when she was a teenager.

“The first time she won a competition, she gave the prize money away,” remembers Mr Murphy. “It was at the Happy Valley pub in Blackburn and she won £300. She said: ‘I don’t do money — what would I need it for?’.”

Mr Murphy, a singer himself, toured with Susan around the clubs and pubs of West Lothian. Was it a proving ground for Broadway? Mr Murphy has no doubt that Susan will hold her own in New York. “She’ll do well as long as no one takes a loan of her — some people can latch on and bleed you dry,” says Mr Murphy. “But I’m not too worried for her. Susan’s no dolly bird and in America, they love that rags to riches thing. Last week she went to M&Co to get her outfit. She’ll never change.”

By now, its 10am, at the Balbairdie Hotel and the sound of Cry Me A River, the album’s third track, is seeping through the window. The landlady, Lorraine Campbell, 47, has been a friend to Susan since childhood, and her hotel is a refuge for the singer.

“Susan is a very independent lady,” says Ms Campbell. “She went and found success on her own terms and she deals with it on her own terms. There’s always been a purity about Susan: she not after the fame or the money. She just wants to be accepted.”

That's from the Scottish edition of the Times. There's also a splash about Trump, and a something in the national edition about the Fringe.