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The Strain Is Plain as Boyle's Fame Is True Pain

By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, May 29, 2009

LONDON, May 28 -- Now the tabloids are calling her "Susan Boils Over."

Susan Boyle, the Scottish singing sensation, lost her temper and engaged in a "four-letter rant" with two reporters at her London hotel this week that led to police intervention, according to British news reports. Her family said she is struggling with her sudden fame.

"I feel proud of her and I feel sorry for her," said her brother, John Boyle, 60, in a phone interview, following reports that she had been crying and threatening to quit the TV competition show "Britain's Got Talent."

"It shouldn't matter if she loses her temper," he said. "It should only matter if she can sing."

The finale of "Britain's Got Talent" is Saturday, and Boyle is expected to win. In the six weeks since she first sang "I Dreamed a Dream" on the show, which is similar to "American Idol," her performance has been viewed a record-breaking 235 million times on YouTube.

But the growing number of reports about her public outbursts -- including over the praise a 12-year-old Welsh singer got on the show -- have led many to wonder whether this unlikely star will be able to cope with stardom.

"It's been a tough six weeks for Susan," said John Boyle, who lives a few blocks from his sister in Blackburn, a small former coal-mining town in Scotland. "It's been a heck of a big change. She is now a celebrity, but she doesn't have any of the support, insulation and experience of dealing with publicity that other celebrities have."

Until last month, a big night out for Boyle, 48, was sitting at her favorite table in a small local pub awaiting her turn at the karaoke microphone. She rarely left town and never got a driver's license. She has a mild learning disability due to lack of oxygen at birth and has said she was bullied by other children who called her "Susie Simple." She has said she never had a boyfriend.

But after a stunning singing performance that defied expectations last month, she has become a household name who has been interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, has been mentioned on "The Simpsons" and has topped the news in China.

Thursday, as her "rant" in the lobby of a London hotel made front-page news, Piers Morgan, one of the talent show's judges, said Boyle has been in "floods of tears."

A spokesman for the show said the police were already in the hotel and came to talk to Boyle only after a journalist "wound her up."

In his Daily Beast blog, Morgan wrote that Boyle is "finding it very difficult to cope, to stay calm."

He said the "downsides of fame" are that "people start criticizing you, sniping at you, trying to trip you up, belittle you, harass you. . . . Everywhere you go, people recognize you and want a piece of you -- an autograph, a photo, a quick song, a chat to their mum on a mobile phone."

He said "she's had to read stories and columns and listen to radio and TV phone-ins calling her arrogant, insincere, spoiled, fake, mad and so on. I am calling today for everyone to just give her a break."

In Britain, the concept of Morgan, a former editor of the Daily Mirror, telling reporters to butt out drew hoots. Morgan himself has been talking incessantly of Boyle, and has lifted his profile by doing so.

Noted media critic Roy Greenslade said it took "gall" for Morgan, of all people, to tell others not to intrude on Boyle's private life. "As a tabloid editor he got up to unspeakable things," Greenslade said.

Simon Cowell, the "American Idol" judge, is also a judge on "Britain's Got Talent." Greenslade said Boyle may have been particularly unprepared for Cowell's exceptional "publicity machine" that stokes controversy and rivalries.

John Boyle said his sister is grateful the show has given her the chance to be heard beyond her village: "She does love the limelight." But, he said, he wishes the show had provided her with more "insulation" from the tsunami that has hit her once-quiet life.

In the "cruel world" of celebrity, he said, she can be deluged with fan mail one minute and told the next, "Off you go, like a tin of beans."

"The world she has entered is full of sharks," he said. "I feel afraid for her."

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