From a cleaner to a concert pianist, the Polish immigrant who hit the right note in Britain

It must be the most startling career change of 2007. Today, Aleksander Kudajczyk will return the brush and plastic bucket to the store cupboard at Glasgow University for the last time. The young Pole's days as a 100-a-week cleaner are over. Next week he begins work as a professional musician and concert pianist.

The extraordinary story of how the 28-year-old Polish immigrant suddenly hit the big time has been compared to the plot of a rags-to-riches Hollywood movie.

Mr Kudajczyk arrived at Prestwick airport on a flight from Poland in January, hoping to find a job as a teacher. Instead, he was taken on as a cleaner in Glasgow University's School of Law, working a four hours a day, starting at 6am. On his rounds, he spotted a grand piano in the college chapel, and asked his supervisor for permission to play on it. His supervisor passed the request to the chaplain, Stuart MacQuarrie, who said yes, and thought nothing further of it.

What Mr Kudajczyk did not know was that there was a webcam fitted to the chapel to enable weddings and other events to be seen on the internet.

One day, Joan Keenan, a secretary in the university's chaplaincy centre, logged onto the webcam and was stunned by the beautiful sounds coming from it. So perfect was the pianist, so flawless his playing, that Ms Keenan thought it must have been a classical CD. But it was the college cleaner, doing his daily piano practice.

She emailed dozens of friends, encouraging them to log on and listen. Soon, without knowing it, Mr Kudajczyk was playing Chopin to an audience of hundreds of staff and students.

The college persuaded him to perform in the chapel for two evenings during Glasgow's West End Festival last June playing Chopin, naturally. As he explained: "If it's about the piano, it has to be Chopin."

The university's principal, Sir Muir Russell, then invited him to play for dinner parties. He has since performed a series of concerts and recitals, and recorded music for a film about Tennessee Williams. But those performances, which delighted audiences, were unpaid. Each time, Mr Kudajczyk was back at work at 6am the next morning, with bucket and brush.

But now he has his first pupil; the prospect of a recording contract with a London record company, and has accepted an invitation to play at a benefit for Bill Clinton's Aids Foundation in Marrakesh, Morocco. Last night, he performed at the university's Memorial Chapel at a charity benefit for children with learning disabilities.

When news of the discovery first broke in June, parallels were immediately drawn between Mr Kudajczyk's story and the Oscar-winning film Good Will Hunting in which Matt Damon plays a university janitor who is also an undetected mathematical genius. In the film, he takes a break from cleaning and solves a problem that is up on the blackboard, not knowing that some of the greatest mathematical minds of the day had been working on the same problem, without success.

But the parallel is not a precise one. Matt Damon's fictional character had severe psychological and social problems. Mr Kudajczyk's problems are or were purely economic.

His gift for music had not passed unnoticed in his home town of Katowice, where he started playing piano at the age of four, graduating from the town's Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music, and tried to earn a living by teaching.

Although Poland has been a member of the EU since 2004, job prospects and living standards are still well below the UK level which is why about 800,000 Poles have migrated to the UK looking for work. Even the 400 a month he earned as a cleaner, which put him right at the bottom of the UK pay scale, was a substantial improvement on a music teacher's wage in Poland, which is around 900 zlotys, or 180, a month. "In Poland I played jazz and classical piano in restaurants and I also played concerts on cruise lines in America," said Mr Kudajczyk. "I came to Scotland because I want to settle down, and the opportunities to make a living are better here than in Poland. I found work, cleaning the law department in the university from 6am to 10 am, then I practice when I can.

"It all started because the chaplain, Stuart MacQuarrie, gave me permission to use the chapel piano. Someone heard me play and ever since that day, I have had opportunities to play recitals and concerts. They have been very kind. I was terribly nervous playing my first concert of Chopin, but I'm getting used to it."

The only sour note in Mr Kudajczyk's tale is that the news that a Polish cleaner was giving concert performances dredged up some of the usual anti-immigrant comments. One Scottish blogger suggested that he was a "skiver" who had been practising when he should have been working when in fact Mr Kudajczyk went to the piano at the end of his daily shift. Another sourly forecast: "The PC Brigade will getting orgasmic with this one. Expect this story in every left-leaning rag."

But whatever the future holds for Mr Kudajczyk, he has had a better time in Scotland than his idol, Chopin. In 1848, Poland's greatest composer accepted an invitation from a Scottish heiress to take refuge from the revolutions that were tearing Europe apart. His concert in Glasgow was a runaway success, but during his nine-month stay he fell desperately ill. A few months after returning to Paris, he died, aged only 39.

From humble beginnings

Edith Piaf

Her mother was an alcoholic street singer and prostitute; her father was a circus acrobat. She was raised by her grandmother, in a brothel. She began singing on the street, collecting coins to hand to a pimp, but at the age of 20, she was spotted by a nightclub owner. She soon became a French national icon.

Jamie Bell

His mother was 16 when he was born. He never knew his father. He came from a family of dancers, but growing up in Billingham, he thought it best not to let his friends know that he danced. In 2000, aged 14, he beat 2,000 other boys to star in Billy Elliot. He won the best actor award in the 2001 Baftas.

J K Rowling

After a painful divorce when she was 32, she moved to Scotland to be near her sister, and wrote much of the first Harry Potter book in restaurants. Bloomsbury bought it for 2,000 in June 1997. It won the Children's Book of the Year and the Smarties awards, and she was on the way to becoming the world highest-paid author.

Dustin Hoffman

He was a minor actor who was offered the male lead in The Graduate in 1966 after Warren Beatty and Robert Redford had turned it down. The film was one of the biggest hits in cinema history, and the publicity poster showing Dustin Hoffman gazing wistfully at a woman's leg as she removes her stocking has became iconic.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Voices
Ukip leader Nigel Farage arrives at the Rochester by-election count
voicesIs it any wonder that Thornberry, Miliband, and Cameron have no idea about ordinary everyday life?
Sport
sportComment: Win or lose Hamilton represents the best of Britain
Life and Style
tech
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsene Wenger reacts during Arsenal's 2-1 defeat to Swansea
footballMan United and Arsenal meet on Saturday with both clubs this time languishing outside the top four
News
i100BBC political editor Nick Robinson had a lot of explaining to do
News
A girl plays on a Sony 'PS Vita' portable games console
news
Life and Style
Nappies could have advice on them to encourage mothers and fathers to talk to their babies more often
newsTalking to babies can improve their language and vocabulary skills
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Female Support Workers / Carers - From £8.00 per hour

£8 - £12 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To assist a young family with the care ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Executive is required...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

£55000 - £70000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world lead...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world leading services pr...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines