Deborah Orr: Talent is never enough – you need grit to survive celebrity

Share
Related Topics

Susan Boyle is by no means the first famous entertainer to beat a retreat to the Priory. But she has certainly moved from discovery to exhaustion with exceptional alacrity. Poor lady. It was all too much for her.

No wonder. "It" was always savage. From the beginning, the "novelty" of Boyle was that she did not look or act like she could sing (however that looks), but could. The audience and the judges in Britain's Got Talent were all geared up to have a laugh at Boyle's expense until she opened her mouth and confounded her would-be critics. They didn't even bother to hide their ignorant prejudice.

If Boyle had not been correct in her own assessment of her singing ability, her public humiliation would have been brief, but it would have been public humiliation nonetheless. That, apparently, is wholesome family entertainment. It is why Simon Cowell's talent shows depart from the shows of the past, and make a great fuss about broadcasting auditions.

Instead of ridicule, Boyle attracted curiosity – lots of it. A dotty, homely, middle-aged woman was very good at something. Hold the front page. Boyle's back-story – a lonely lifetime in a small village, given purpose in her isolation by her local church – promised a wonderful tale of triumph over adversity. What, exactly, that adversity might be, was paid little heed.

Why, after all, would the media encroach on a woman's privacy, by plastering that she had learning difficulties on their front pages? That might have interfered with a schedule that involved encroaching on her privacy in the usual way, by hanging around her home taking photographs, and publishing those showing her with her trouser zip unfastened.

And why would the executives at Britain's Got Talent have asked the media to lay off either? Boyle's appearance – in both senses – was getting them international attention. What canny television apparatchik would have risked complicating such golden publicity? Much better to let the "fairy-tale" run, and let the whole world believe that Boyle's sudden fame was a triumph of the extraordinary-ordinary, a home-spun comment on how obsessed the silly entertainment industry is with youth, glamour and surface, instead of sheer, raw talent.

But here's the sting. Being exceptionally good at what you do is only a little part of the complicated business of being famous. That's why so many people achieve fame without, seemingly, being terribly much good at anything. That's why, at 48, Boyle was still languishing in West Lothian dreaming her dreams.

You do have to be reasonably attractive to be in the public eye, especially if you are female. If you are not, it will be made an issue of, not just by the media but also by potential audiences.

If you have a very strong character, you may be able to withstand such criticism. A strong character can mean all sorts of things. But it helps to be single-minded, hard-working, determined, resourceful, willing to put up with disappointments, focused, confident, socially adept, charming, able to create an impression, manipulative, shrewd, opportunistic or able to identify and follow good advice.

You can have many of these qualities, and depending on how much you have of some, you can get away without quite a number of others – providing you don't much mind ending up in the Priory sometimes yourself, or becoming a monster of egotism. When someone becomes justly celebrated, but is clearly still decent, unaffected and "normal", we recognise that this is truly remarkable.

Life, let alone "the pressures of fame", is too tough, and competitive and ruthless for fragile people, whatever their talents may be. It was always a nasty trick – against not just Boyle but against her naive supporters as well – to pretend that matters are otherwise. It will be a great thing if Boyle can salvage an interesting future that she can cope with from the ruins of her 15 minutes. Plenty before her have not.

React Now

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

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Renewable Energy Construction Manager

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Modern housing is not fit for purpose. It’s eroding our privacy, and suffocating the life out of Britain

Janet Street-Porter
 

A woman’s power is in her laughter – no wonder men are scared enough they want to silence it

Howard Jacobson
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices