A Visit to Susan Boyle's Home Town (and a Brief Chat With the Singer)

By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, April 20, 2009

BLACKBURN, Scotland, April 19 -- Before fame came to town, before all the satellite trucks and fans that come with overnight stardom, Susan Boyle could walk her world in five minutes.

And she did, daily. She's never had a driver's license, never really needed one in this little cuddle of a Scottish village where she has lived in the same rented house since she was born.

From her rusted green front gate, she needed only her now-famous sensible shoes to get to the store and to her Catholic church.

It's just paces to the Happy Valley Hotel pub, a lively spot with plaid carpet where she has often sat by herself, sipping lemonade at her favorite table next to the dart board, waiting her turn at karaoke.

"We would see her five or six times a day. She walked everywhere. Everyone knows her," said Michelle McCabe, a preschool teaching aide who lives across the street from Boyle in this former coal mining village.

But that was 10 days ago -- an eternity in the digital age -- before she sang "I Dreamed a Dream" from "Les Misérables" on the "Britain's Got Talent" TV show. Since then, the woman dubbed the Spinster Songster by tabloids has become the hottest star on the Web. Video of her performance has been viewed more than 30 million times on YouTube alone.

It's all a bit lost on Boyle, who does not own a computer.

A sniffy publicist hired by the television program now stands guard at her door, trying to control the images feeding the global Boylemania -- and the show's expanding coffers.

Boyle has had offers for movies and record deals. She has talked to U.S. television gabbers Larry King and Diane Sawyer. She reached a rare pinnacle of American culture when Jay Leno put on a wig and dress and did his best Susan Boyle -- and everyone in the audience knew exactly whom he meant.

Even Elaine Paige, the legendary British musical theater star whom Boyle cited as her idol, weighed in Sunday, telling the BBC that perhaps she and Boyle should record a duet. Paige described Boyle as "a role model for everyone who has a dream."

Photographers, standing outside Boyle's home, have offered $3,000 for a single old family photo of her. Clothing designers have called, offering to lavish new outfits upon her -- provided, of course, that their names are mentioned just a wee bit.

"When the Beatles got started, there was no Internet so it took a little longer to become a star," said her brother John, shaking his head at all the fuss while sipping a pint of lager at the Happy Valley.

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