Susan Magdalane Boyle (born 1 April 1961) is a Scottish singer who came to international public attention when she appeared as a contestant on reality TV programme Britain’s Got Talent on 11 April 2009, singing “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables. Her first album was released in November 2009 and debuted as the number one best-selling CD on charts around the globe.
Global interest in Boyle was triggered by the contrast between her powerful voice and her plain appearance on stage. The contrast between the audience’s first impression of her and the standing ovation she received during and after her performance, led to an international media and internet response.
I know what they were thinking, but why should it matter as long as I can sing? It’s not a beauty contest.
– Susan Boyle
Within nine days of the audition, videos of Boyle—from the show, various interviews and her 1999 rendition of “Cry Me a River” — had been watched over 100 million times. Her audition video has been viewed on the internet several hundred million times. Despite the sustained media interest she later finished in second place in the final of the show behind dance troupe Diversity.
Boyle’s first album, I Dreamed a Dream, was released on 23 November 2009 and became Amazon’s best-selling album in pre-sales. According to Billboard, “The arrival of I Dreamed a Dream … marks the best opening week for a female artist’s début album since SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991.” In only six weeks of sales, it became the biggest selling album in the world for 2009, selling 9 million copies. In September 2010, Boyle was officially recognised by Guinness World Records as having had the fastest selling début album by a female artist in the UK, the most successful first week sales of a début album in the UK, and was also awarded the record for being the oldest person to reach number one with a début album in the UK.
Boyle was born in Blackburn, West Lothian, Scotland, to Patrick Boyle, a miner, World War II veteran and singer at the Bishop’s Blaize, and Bridget, a shorthand typist, who were both immigrants from County Donegal, Ireland. She was the youngest of four brothers and six sisters. Born when her mother was 47, Boyle was briefly deprived of oxygen during the difficult birth and was later diagnosed as having learning difficulties. Boyle says she was bullied as a child and was nicknamed “Susie Simple” at school.
After leaving school with few qualifications, she was employed for the only time in her life as a trainee cook in the kitchen of West Lothian College for six months, took part in government training programmes, and performed at a number of local venues.
Boyle still lives in the family home, a four-bedroom council house, with her 10-year-old cat, Pebbles. Her father died in the 1990s, and her siblings had left home. Boyle never married, and she dedicated herself to care for her ageing mother until she died in 2007 at the age of 91. Boyle has a reputation for modesty and propriety, admitting during her first appearance on Britain’s Got Talent that she had “never been married, never been kissed”. A neighbour reported that when Bridget Boyle died, her daughter “wouldn’t come out for three or four days or answer the door or phone.”
Boyle is Catholic and sang in her church choir at her church in Blackburn, West Lothian, Scotland. Boyle remains active as a volunteer at her church, visiting elderly members of the congregation in their homes. On a 2010 episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show, Boyle summarised that her daily life was “mundane” and “routine” prior to stardom.
Before appearing on the TV programme, Britain’s Got talent she had tried sending demo tapes to various recording companies but didn’t get very far. She mainly sung in her local choir, but, inspired by the memory of her mother she applied for auditions at Britain’s Got Talent and was accepted.
After finishing second in the 2009 final of Britain’s Got Talent, Susan was admitted to a clinic for five days after suffering exhaustion from the intense media scrutiny of the previous five weeks.
However, she made a full recovery and completed an arduous tour. In 2010, she brought out her second album – The Gift.