Susan Boyle’s presence in popular culture is more important than ever after revealing she has Asperger’s Syndrome

She’s not, and never has been, an ordinary woman to whom we can all relate

Share

Susan Boyle is no ordinary pop star – but then you knew that already. In a newspaper interview over the weekend she revealed that she has Asperger’s Syndrome, a disorder on the autistic spectrum, and spoke of her relief at receiving the diagnosis. Asperger’s is characterised by difficulties with social interaction and non-verbal communication, but has no relationship to IQ which, in Boyle’s case, happens to be higher than average. “Asperger’s doesn’t define me,” she said. “It’s a condition that I have to live  with and work through, but I feel more relaxed about myself. People will have a greater understanding of who I am and why I do the things I do.”

By any definition Boyle has been very, very successful, despite the fact that she has always been “different”, in some unspecified, but much speculated-upon way. Her albums have sold 19 million worldwide and she was the first UK female pop artist to have a No 1 album in the UK and the US simultaneously. Her most recent single is a duet with Elvis Presley (albeit, posthumous), and Meryl Streep is rumoured to be in line to play her in the film version of her life. Boyle didn’t need to reveal her Asperger’s diagnosis to make people like her, but  by doing so she is sharing with other sufferers the acceptance that celebrity has afforded her. As the National Autistic Society (NAS) noted, she is to be praised  for “bringing the issue to the nation’s attention”

For people who feel isolated or stigmatised, it is usually a comfort to know there is someone else in the same situation – especially a successful person. It’s now slightly less stigmatising to suffer from depression (Alastair Campbell, Stephen Fry and Rebecca Ferguson from The X Factor all have) or to go bankrupt (Miquita Oliver and Burt Reynolds know all about that) and we’ve been thanking Tom Daley since last week for making it that little bit easier for teenagers to come out as bisexual or gay.

It’s not just about the potential impact on the individuals affected, however. I suspect the NAS are equally excited about the way Boyle’s personal account can help broach the empathy gap for people who have no idea what it might be like to live with Asperger’s. An articulate Boyle described her own experience in the interview: “I would say I have relationship difficulties, communicative difficulties, which lead to a lot of frustration. If people were a bit more patient, that would help.” Thanks to these words, she and others are much more likely to encounter such patience.

In fact Susan Boyle has already done so much to make us all more kind, less superficial, more tolerant people. When she first walked on stage to audition for Britain’s Got Talent in 2009 with her grey hair and bizarre hip thrusts, Simon Cowell rolled his eyes and Piers Morgan scoffed and the audience laughed. She had already revealed in the VT that she was a 47-year-old, long-term unemployed woman who had never been kissed, and lived alone with a cat. Then she started singing a confident note-perfect and inspiring version of the Les Miserables standard “I Dreamed a Dream” and so began the perfect celebrity fable.

But what exactly is the moral of The Susan Boyle Story? At first she was celebrated as a victory for talent in a culture obsessed with physical attractiveness, and a reminder to not judge a book by its cover, but as she’s become more successful, the PR blurb has morphed into something more familiar and much less interesting. Susan is now a classic underdog, a rags-to-riches success and a reminder to ordinary people to dream their own impossible dream. It’s well-worn trope of reality TV, and in this case it’s more than just trite, it obscures the real triumph of SuBo. She’s not, and never has been, an ordinary woman to whom we can all relate; she’s a very unusual woman with an extraordinary talent and specific needs. Her presence in popular culture is a much-needed reminder to never underestimate people who, for whatever reason, don’t fit the mould.

It’s great news if Boyle’s diagnosis adds Asperger’s to that list of conditions the public are comfortable with, but the real challenge remains as it always was; to accept people who are different in ways we might not have a word for, whether they happen to be able to sing or not.

You can read Ellen E Jones on Facebook's new 'Sympathise' button here.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Recruitment Genius: Invoicing Clerk

£14500 - £17500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are contractors to...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Administrator / Marketing Assistant

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of packag...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Field Sales - OTE £30,000

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a rapidly expanding offi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

We celebrate the power of a few women, yet ignore the 9,000 who are locked away

Janet Street-Porter
 

Greek tragedy casts a dark cloud over George Osborne's first Conservative-only Budget

Andrew Grice
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy