Bo Bruce: The real winner of The Voice

Aristocrat Bo Bruce has turned her losing talent-show turn into success. Matilda Battersby finds out how

In the week that saw The Voice’s first champion Leanne Mitchell fail to enter the UK Top 100 chart with a debut album which sold just 895 copies, I find myself interviewing someone who is arguably the real winner from the 2012 BBC talent show: Bo Bruce. It was something of a shock when Bruce, a pixie-ish 28-year-old, came second in Auntie’s answer to The X Factor last June. She had been the bookmaker’s favourite all along. And hours after she failed to take the crown, her self-released EP Search the Night rocketed to No 2 in the iTunes download chart, even beating world-conquering Coldplay.

Unlike other talent-show wannabes, Bruce didn’t rush out an album to catch the wave of television interest. That was a risk, obviously. But, after signing to Mercury Records, she instead spent six months writing her debut and collaborating with the likes of Snow Patrol and Athlete. When Before I Sleep came out a month ago it made the UK Top 10, and she is now planning a nationwide tour this summer.

Yet regardless of her recent success, the singer, whose full name is Lady Catherine Anna Brudenell-Bruce, remains best known for going down in reality TV history as the poshest runner-up ever.

Her society connections have been raked over in the press. Stories about playing hockey with the Middleton sisters at the private Marlborough College, her links to Prince Harry’s ex-girlfriend Florence Brudenell-Bruce, and the 100-room mansion she grew up in became regular tabloid fodder – all fuelled in the immediate Voice aftermath by on-again-off-again speculation about her alleged relationship with her mentor, The Script’s Danny O’Donoghue.

The impression reading such stories of her aristocratic background gives is one of impossibly protected privilege. But meeting the waif-like Bruce in the flesh, with her trademark messy crop, and searching, heavily mascara-ed eyes, she seems raw, vulnerable and not a bit cosseted.

Bruce’s mother was having treatment for pancreatic cancer while her daughter was on The Voice and died a few weeks after it finished. Almost 12 months later, Bruce tells me that she is still trying to process the paradoxical emotions that being thrust concurrently into two entirely separate, but equally disorientating, worlds – one of overnight success and fame; the other of impending loss – provoked. “I just haven’t had time to heal,” she says. “I think I don’t really remember it. I sat a friend down last week and got her to explain to me what I was like. Did I know what was going on? If I think about it I can’t quite believe I did it.”

Bruce split her time filming The Voice between rehearsals and her mother’s hospital bed. “I don’t know what’s going on half the time, now, and I certainly didn’t then,” Bruce tells me, bursting into nervous laughter. “I hope that doesn’t make me sound like a complete lunatic. But I think survival stuff kicks in and that protected me from being able to understand what it was I was feeling so I could get on with it, keep functioning.”

The new album is dedicated to her mother’s memory. The title, Before I Sleep, is inspired by the Robert Frost poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, and Bruce describes the happiest time of her life as when “it was just me and my mum and my brother living the middle of a forest together”.

Speculation has been rife that the record, which is heartbreakingly visceral, was written about O’Donoghue and their alleged relationship. She denies this, saying hotly: “I get really frustrated when people are like… all that tabloid stuff, all that ‘who is she shagging?’, ‘who isn’t she shagging?’. The idea that I’d written this whole album about that minor experience, is…” She trails off, looks down for a moment and, regaining her composure, says: “If you really listen to the record you can hear there is someone who isn’t in this world anymore and I miss them so much.”

Bruce gets similarly annoyed with the epithet “posh”. Without going into detail she is keen to stress that her childhood was “pretty unsteady, dysfunctional” and very far from privileged. Her parents divorced in 2005 and she is estranged from her father, the Earl of Cardigan. “You can’t choose what you are born into. I went to a school [Marlborough] and over the years thousands of people went to that school and I guess that because we were there at the same time [the media] wants to make out that we’re friends and therefore I must know the Queen.” She cackles madly with laughter at this. Boarding school wasn’t all hockey with Kate Middleton, either. She says that prep school when she was seven was “like a scene from Annie”. “Every morning we would wake up, Hoover the floors, take out the rubbish, do all the chores and then go to school.”

But things spiralled out of control when Bruce was at Marlborough as a late teenager. “During the holidays I used to stay with mates in London because I didn’t want to be at home,” she tells me.

“For about two years I was living an adult life in the holidays and then going and putting a uniform on and being told I couldn’t smoke or have a drink.” This preceded her going “too far” with drink and drugs and nearly dying aged 17. She was “asked to leave” Marlborough after – she wanted to leave anyway – and abandoned her A-levels.

What followed was a lot of “sofa surfing” in London and New York which culminated in the development of an incredible focus: to become a singer. She spent the intervening decade before The Voice (“God that makes me feel old”) pursuing this dream by working in pubs near record labels and gigging. Her decision to enter the talent show, she says, was despite hating shows like The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent.

“Everything in me was against all that stuff. But we all have to accept that they have taken over the music industry. It was a hard decision because I knew I wasn’t that kind of artist. But I discovered I could use it to shine a light on what I was doing already. And I was also creating a joy for my mum to see.” The Voice producers were good about not thrusting the personal tragedy befalling Bruce into the spotlight as other shows might have done. 

“I’m very aware of the perception of me as poor doe-eyed Bo always moaning about what a hard time she’s having. But it’s so not like that really. I am going to be OK. I’ve got some amazing opportunities ahead of me. Amazing friends. I’m just grieving and it’s a process. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing it front of everybody else, that’s all.”

And how does she feel about her Voice rival Leanne? “I love that girl. I really hope she’s being looked after. Because anyone in this business – and I’ve only been in it for a second – knows that there’s so much more to it than the record that you make.”

Bo Bruce tours the UK from tomorrow to  27 June. Single ‘Alive’ is out on 24 June

Arts and Entertainment
Emo rockers Fall Out Boy

music

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment

film

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links