LONDON — She dreamed a dream, and it came true. But what happened next for Susan Boyle?
The middle-aged church volunteer from a small town in Scotland became an instant global celebrity in 2009 with her heart-stopping rendition of the “Les Miserables” number “I Dreamed a Dream” on a TV talent show.
A week is a long time in showbiz — and in our hyper-speed online age three and a half years is an eternity — but Boyle is still going strong. She has sold millions of records, received an honorary doctorate, sung for Pope Benedict XVI and performed in Las Vegas. A stage musical about her life has played to enthusiastic crowds across Britain and is headed for Australia, and next month she releases her fourth album, “Standing Ovation.”
But the 51-year-old singer who entered the TV talent contest to make her late mother proud is remarkably unchanged. She’s still a bit frumpy, though she’s acquired a new hairdo, more expensive clothes and a makeover. She still lives in her down-at-heel home town, has outbursts of anger and struggles to overcome her nerves before live performances.
It’s a fairy tale, yes, but with dark shadows lurking in the corners.
“People can’t accept that you can dream a dream, but part of the dream is also a nightmare,” said Elaine C. Smith, a Scottish actress who knows Boyle and plays her in the biographical stage show “I Dreamed a Dream.”
“Fairy dust comes out, but shrapnel comes out as well.”
Boyle now has a car and chauffeur to take her to appointments, but she sticks close to familiar places and routines. She has bought a modern four-bedroom two-story in Blackburn that cost $480,000, but locals say she often stays in the modest row house she grew up in.
And she still shows up occasionally to sing karaoke at The Crown pub.
“She belts them out like she used to and is not averse to a duet,” said 20-year-old local Helen Cameron. “It’s nice that this has not changed her. I think she’s under a lot of pressure normally. Here she can be herself.”
As well as having the support of her community, Boyle is well protected by her manager, Andy Stephens, and a close circle of friends and family — a factor that helps act as a “psychological vaccine” against the pressures of sudden fame, according to Cary Cooper, professor of psychology and health at Lancaster University.
Smith said Boyle’s struggles — reflected in the bittersweet tone of the stage show — disappoints some of the singer’s fans. “They want the dream to come true and her life to be perfect,” she said.
But Smith said Boyle’s flaws are part of what makes her a star. After all, “you didn’t love Judy Garland because she was perfect.”