Partially blind winner of The Voice Andrea Begley calls for better gig deal for disabled and vows to prove Will.i.am wrong

 

Andrea Begley, the partially-sighted winner of The Voice talent search, has called for better treatment of disabled fans at gigs and insisted that she will use her victory to launch a successful music career.

The Northern Irish singer, who lost 90 per cent of her vision after developing a degenerative disease in her childhood, was the surprise winner of the BBC series on Saturday night.

Voice coach Will.i.am expressed his disappointment that Begley, 27, had beaten the favourite, Leah McFall. Last year’s Voice winner Leanne Mitchell flopped and there have been reports that Universal Music, with whom Begley has signed a £100,000 record deal, is sceptical about her prospects.

However Begley, from Co. Tyrone, said she fully intended to grasp the opportunity given to her and hopes to act as an inspiration to any young disabled people who are told they cannot achieve their potential.

“We’ve come a long way but it’s still very much the case that the world is built for sighted people,” said the singer, who has been studying for a postgraduate Law degree while working as a civil servant in Belfast.

Disabled people said that going to gigs can be a “frustrating, isolating and humiliating” experience, a report in The Independent this week found.

“I have had some frustrating experiences at gigs and festivals,” said Begley, who celebrated her win by going to a Laura Marling concert. 

“Sometimes access can be poor because of lots of steps and poor lighting. But often the problem can lie with a lack of knowledge on the part of staff. I think it is essential for venues to train all their staff in disability awareness so as they are able to deal sensitively with disabled customers.”

Begley has been seen by specialists at the Moorfields Eye Hospital but was been told that, despite technological advances, there is little prospect of her sight being restored.

“Down the years I’ve had to adapt to the fact that my vision has got worse and worse as I’ve got older,” she said. “My optic nerve is damaged and the nerve can’t be transplanted.”

Ironically, The Voice’s rotating chair “blind auditions” gave Andrea a chance to display her musical talent on the national stage. “I’ve gone for competitions where I’ve been judged on stage presence and performance elements. But for once I couldn’t see them and the coaches couldn’t see me. It put me on a level playing field.”

Begley is on course for her first hit this weekend after her cover of Evanescence’s "My Immortal" entered the midweek Top 20 on iTunes download sales.

A singer/songwriter who plays guitar and piano, she has a clear notion of how to capitalise on her victory, which was watched by 9 million viewers. “It seems absolutely crazy to have an album, a record label and a manager now,” she said. “The key thing is to get something out soon. Last year the big mistake was they waited too long.”

Begley’s wish-list of collaborators for her album includes Adele, Ed Sheeran, Newton Faulkner and KT Tunstall. Her lilting vocal style reflects a love of folk, country and Irish/Celtic music. A duet with her aunt, country star Philomena Begley, is on the cards. “It would be a great privilege to work in Nashville in any capacity,” adds Andrea.

Her blindness means she will never ape the flesh-baring, highly-sexualised stage performances of a Rihanna or Beyonce. “I know that is very entertaining for some but for me, the main focus is just the singing. There won’t be a lot of bells and whistles and dancers and fireworks.”

Growing up in Dungannon, one corner of the infamous Murder Mile during the Troubles, has given Begley, who studied politics at Queen’s University, Belfast, a perspective many talent show winners lack. “I love politics,” she said. “It’s always been a big feature of life in Northern Ireland. I’m very lucky that I’ve spent most of my life in a very peaceful Northern Ireland and you can feel that Belfast is rejuvenating.”

Intriguingly she adds: “Also I have experienced working inside government as well. Obviously I can’t talk about that because of the Official Secrets Act.”

She will quit the Civil Service to pursue her musical dream. But she defends her colleagues. “Sometimes civil servants can get a bit of bad press. You want to put as much effort into it as you can and you’re there to serve the public at the end of the day. Unfortunately in the environment we are in at the moment everything is potentially up for cuts.”

Begley has even won round Will.i.am. “I spoke to him at the after-party. He said ‘Look, if you were on my team I would have supported you just as much as I supported Leah. I wish you all the best and so does Leah’. I appreciate he was disappointed, he wanted his act to win.”

After battling adversity throughout her life, the singer is determined to make her mark. “I’ve been given this opportunity by the public and I’m going to put all my effort into it and with hard work, hopefully I can succeed.”

Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
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.

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor