Don't lose the tune, warns man who taught Susan Boyle to sing

The Hairy Angel's astonishing talent is at risk from siren voices in her entourage, Jonathan Brown reports

With her seemingly guileless talent and extraordinary voice she may have conquered the hearts of all she serenades. But the man who taught Susan Boyle to sing said he fears the world's unlikeliest diva is in danger of squandering her gift amid the blaze of publicity surrounding her appearance on Britain's Got Talent.

Her former vocal coach Fred O'Neil said it was critical that the 47-year-old spinster be given space and time to develop. Having devoted nearly six years to nurturing the raw talent he spotted in the church volunteer, spending countless hours running through scales and exercises at his home in Livingston, West Lothian, he said he was delighted at her success.

"I feel great about it," he said yesterday. "I just feel I ought to defend her. I want to see her go about this with some space to breathe a bit and grow."

Boyle's dowdy frock, frizzy hair and angel-like voice have earned her a rapid following. However, Mr O'Neil said he was increasingly dismayed about the way his protégé was being portrayed in the media, where she is routinely described as the "hairy angel" – a name supposed to highlight the dissonance between her soaring vocal talents and her down-to-earth appearance.

Mr O'Neil, 41, who when he is not offering voice lessons enjoys a career as a singer and performer in his own right, fears his former pupil's dream of being the next Elaine Paige could be crushed under the wheels of the publicity machine surrounding the ITV talent show.

"As a singer she always had a lovely, calm, beautiful rounded voice. It is a very good instrument. But I am concerned about her being surrounded by all these PR people that she will not be given the time to sing," he said.

"She is like an athlete – she has to keep using her voice to keep it. If she wants to keep on singing big show songs she has to keep on practising. It is very different from singing for a couple of minutes on Britain's Got Talent."

Boyle has not had any lessons since 2002 and nearly gave up singing after the death of her mother, Bridget. She decided to have one last stab at achieving her dream and her resulting TV performance has so far garnered 25 million hits on YouTube, turned Demi Moore into a fan and left her fighting off offers to appear on US talk shows. The emergence of a "lost" recording of her singing the blues standard "Cry Me a River", made while working under Mr O'Neil, has confounded suggestions that she is a one-hit wonder.

Her former teacher conceded that there were limitations to her voice but said her steely determination to succeed would continue to help her win over audiences while her unique personality could well turn her into a successful actress, too.

But he has reservations about the TV talent show route to fame: "Sometimes I feel it is so sensationalist. I feel they sometimes are not allowing the more intelligent Susan to come forward. I look at the names people are calling her and I think this is worse than what she is leaving behind. This is not respecting someone, saying they have a voice like an angel and then calling them names," he said.

"Susan is a woman you can sit down with and have a very intelligent conversation. She is one person with whom I can say about my own act 'do you think that song should be dropped?' or 'is that working?' She is one person whose judgement you can really trust."

He said the much-reported mild brain damage she sustained during birth barely affected her daily life.

"She is being portrayed as being lucky but she is someone who is not just a talented woman but she has a real intelligence. She may have had the problem when she was born but it does not affect her 99 per cent of the time.

"Cosseting her in this mad, batty thing – that is all right maybe for five minutes in the programme but maybe not in the long term," he said.

The pair have spoken on the phone since her TV debut and he dropped a tape of singing exercises through the front door of her home in Blackburn.

"She is surrounded by PR people and you are not seeing the real person behind this. She is a sensitive woman. She knows what she is doing with a song. I feel bound to dispel this view of her as some hapless, lucky person who was born with this extraordinary voice."

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
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.

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?