- November 2009—Susan released her first album, I Dreamed A Dream. Within six weeks it became the year’s biggest seller. Guinness Book declared her the oldest person in the UK to reach No. 1 with a debut.
- May 2010—Time named her the seventh most influential person in the world, fourteen places above President Obama.
- September 2010—Susan, a devout Catholic, performed for Pope Benedict on his British tour.
- November 2010—Her new album, The Gift, made her the third act to top both UK and US charts twice in one year. (The others were The Beatles and The Monkees.)
She was born in Blackburn, Scotland on April 1st, 1961, the youngest of nine children. A hard birth briefly deprived her brain of oxygen, and she ended up with learning difficulties. The other children bullied her, calling her “Susie Simple.”
Although she reported the cruelty to her teachers, they didn’t act because it was “mostly verbal.” But Susan acknowledges, “Words often hurt more than cuts and bruises and the scars are still there.”
A Refuge And Passion
Music became her refuge. But her small industrial town gave her few chances to advance her talent. When she was 12, she joined her church choir. After leaving school, she sang karaoke and performed at a hotel in her Scottish village.
Contrary to the hype, Susan didn’t come out of nowhere. She worked that dream. She took voice lessons for six years, practicing scales like anyone else. In 1999, she cashed in her savings to make a demo tape. She sent it to talent shows, record companies, local and national TV.
Susan tried out for My Kind of People, a British talent show, but the host just used her for comic relief (bet he regrets that). It didn’t stop her. She continued auditioning and became a serial talent show failure.
A Dream Deferred
Susan was about to give up when her mother convinced her to go for Britain’s Got Talent. Then her mother became ill. Like many Later Bloomers, Susan put her dream on hold to care for family. She nursed her mother until her death in 2007.
Because of the learning difficulties, Susan lived under her parents’ roof her entire life. Her mother’s death left her alone and depressed. Her old voice coach finally convinced her to audition for Britain’s Got Talent in her mother’s memory.
But Susan’s siblings discouraged her. One sister said, “You’re not going to Glasgow by yourself.” (Why didn’t one of them offer to drive her?) Susan ignored her, caught six buses and showed up. That famous audition marked the first time since her mother died that Susan sang in public. She was singing to the one person she knew believed in her:
I did the audition for [my mother] because she always wanted me to make something of my life, but I had to wait a bit because her death prevented me from singing for a while. I couldn’t put my heart into it.
Susan reminds us that dreams are never lost. They’re only deferred, and one person’s support can mean everything.
- The Daily Mail
- The Guardian UK
- The Independent UK (on Susan’s voice coach)
- Harper’s Bazaar (on her mother)