Susan Boyle's Talent Revealed Early

A video of a trim 22-year-old Boyle performing hints at her bright future.

April 23, 2009, 4:56 PM

May 4, 2009— -- Apparently, Susan Boyle has always had talent.

A 25-year-old video of the "Britain's Got Talent" star performing onstage at a local Scottish club at the tender age of 22 recently surfaced on the Internet.

In a clip posted on the Web site of Scotland's Daily Record newspaper, a slender and fresh-faced Boyle sings "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from "Jesus Christ Superstar" and Barbra Streisand's "The Way We Were" in the Fir Park Social Club singing contest.

Even then, she was turning heads.

"I can remember that she was a shy young girl but also very attractive back then -- she turned a few heads when she came into the club," Gerry McGuinness, a school caretaker, told the Daily Record.

McGuinness, who was at the club in 1984, dug up an old tape of Boyle's performance after seeing her recent audition on "Britain's Got Talent."

"Even back then, I don't think anyone expected too much from her because she was so shy, but when she began singing people took notice," he said.

People have been taking notice ever since Boyle first appeared on British television about a month ago, stirring interest in the sound of her voice, the size of her eyebrows and the nature of her love life.

The British singing sensation confessed, in an interview that aired recently on the TV show "Extra," that she was just joking when she told "Britain's Got Talent, judge Simon Cowell that she had "never been kissed."

"It was meant as a joke," she told Terri Seymour, a reporter for "Extra" and Cowell's ex-girlfriend. "I've got a wicked sense of humor, you know!"

Even Boyle's frumpy appearance -- she's been dubbed the "hairy angel" by the British press for her frizzy brown hair and bushy eyebrows -- seems more well-groomed these days, though she told Seymour, "I wouldn't like to change anything. I'm perfect the way I am."

Britain's Daily Mail on Thursday ran a picture of Boyle with noticeably thinner eyebrows under the headline, "No Longer a Hairy Angel."

The day before, Boyle was photographed wearing a leather-like jacket over a bright patterned dress and faux beads -- a huge update from the beige, lace, prom-inspired dress she wore for her audition on the show.

Now, some on the Internet are grumbling that Boyle may have been too good to be true. When she burst on the world stage -- a YouTube video of her performance has been viewed more than 100 million times -- she was a diamond in the rough. As more details of her life in the tiny Scottish village of Blackburn emerge, some are starting to question just how innocent Boyle is.

But her singing inspiration, British theater legend Elaine Page, believes Boyle is just as humble as she seems.

"She's a country girl, and I think she just has the most lovely, natural voice," Page said on "Good Morning America." "She's very open in her performance ... in such gloomy times that we're all sort of living through at the moment, economically speaking, she was a breath of fresh air."

And villager Jackie Ruffel told, "She's definitely the real deal, sweet innocent Susan."

Boyle told the "Britain's Got Talent" presenters that she was single and living with her cat Pebbles.

"I've never had a boyfriend," she said. "I've never even been kissed."

The most "GMA" could get from Boyle in an interview last week was "no comment" on the subject of romance.

Ruffel said any talk of Boyle being disingenuous is the media much ado about nothing.

"She's had a kiss but nothing romantic, she's not had any romantic involvement with anybody," said Ruffel, who manages the Happy Valley Hotel, where Boyle is a pub regular. "She took care of her mom. The rest of the family all got married and moved away, but Susan always remained in the house looking after her mother. When her mom passed away, she kind of withdrew into herself."

Boyle's Struggle to Reach the Stage

Boyle's withdrawal included retreating from her music for two years.

According to the British media, Boyle's mom Bridget always encouraged her daughter to take part in regional singing competitions. Boyle also performed in her church choir from the age of 12 and, when she was older, sang karaoke in local pubs.

In 1995, she auditioned for another British television talent show but told the London Times on Sunday that she was "too nervous" and never made it on television.

Afterward, Boyle signed up for singing lessons with local voice coach Fred O'Neil and in 2000 she sang "Cry Me a River" for a charity CD, her only previous recording. Last August, when she heard about auditions for "Britain's Got Talent," she decided to go for it.

"I am doing it as a tribute to my mum, and I think she would be very proud," she told the Times.

Details about her voice training and previous singing experience seemed to contradict the media's narrative of an undiscovered talent, but Ruffel doesn't think so.

"Susan loves to sing, she sang everywhere there was a microphone," Ruffel said. "We all knew in the village, it just took the whole world and 'Britain's Got Talent' to find out."

In the end, it shouldn't matter that Boyle has previous singing experience, according to British cultural critic Shane Watson.

"It is a bit disappointing that it turns out she has entered lots of talent contests," Watson, a writer for the Times Style magazine, told "That said, I am glad she's not just a wee spinster from the isles who had never been outside her village, because then she would have been extremely vulnerable. What she is, I think, is an eccentric who is not the fool she makes herself out to be but still a very far cry from the self-aware TV talent we are all used to.

"The point is, even if they do groom her up -- and why not -- and even if she was joking when she said she'd never been kissed, it doesn't detract from the fact that she is an ordinary woman, unglamorous, unmarried, unsophisticated, unworldly, and of a certain age, and as such she is a breath of fresh air," Watson added.

Boyle Suffered Mild Brain Damage

In fact, Boyle, the youngest of nine children, suffered mild brain damage when she was deprived of oxygen during birth. She was diagnosed with learning disabilities and became a target for bullies, who referred to her as Susie Simple, according to Britain's Daily Mail.

"She's such a nice person, and she's really had a bad life," Ruffel said. "The same cads calling her names, she was quite happy to forgive them. She's a better woman than me. I certainly wouldn't have forgiven them."

Now O'Neil, her voice coach, has expressed concern that the world is taunting her with nicknames like "hairy angel."

"I look at the names people are calling her and I think this is worse than what she is leaving behind," he told British newspaper The Telegraph on Thursday. "This is not respecting someone, saying they have a voice like an angel and then calling them names."

He's also worried that the "Britain's Got Talent" media machine will change "the real person" he knew and distract her from nurturing her talent.

"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 told the newspaper.

But Ruffel said the attention hasn't changed her friend at all.

"She's still Susan," she said. "She was in here the other day, and we were saying to her, 'Finally you made it.' And she said, 'I don't know what all the attention is about, I just wanted to sing."

"You won't change Susan," added Ruffel. "We have a saying here: You can take the girl out of Blackburn, but you can't take Blackburn out of the girl. She'll stay the same with her feet firmly on the ground, a sensible girl."