Excerpt from The Woman I Was Born to Be
In the mornings my oldest sister, Mary, who, at twenty-three, had recently qualified as a teacher, used to bathe me and dress me, and during the long summer evenings she would push me round Blackburn in my pram. When I was settled, I was a smiling baby with a head of soft, dark curls. Neighbours used to look into the pram and coo over what a lovely wee curlyhaired thing I was—the ones who weren't within earshot at night, that is.
The Boyle family were fairly recent newcomers to Blackburn. It's a small town about fifteen miles outside Edinburgh, just off the M8. My parents originally came from Motherwell, a larger industrial town on the outskirts of Glasgow. My father, Patrick Boyle, served in the army during the war, but afterwards he found employment as a miner. Every night he used to catch a bus from Motherwell to the pit near Whitburn, the next town along from Blackburn.
My sister Bridie tells the story of him tucking them up at night, saying, 'It's all right for you lassies going to your bed when your daddy's going away on a cold, cold bus...' And she and Mary chorusing, 'Don't go, Daddy, don't go!' In 1949 the bus was discontinued and my father had to decide between unemployment or moving closer to the pit. I don't think my mother was very happy about leaving her roots in Motherwell, but she had no choice.
Blackburn was like a lot of small communities. If you haven't got ancestors in the graveyard, you don't belong, and so my father and mother were always very anxious to be seen as respectable members of the community. My mother, whose Christian name was Bridget, was Bridie to her friends in Motherwell, but she was always Mrs Boyle in Blackburn. She dressed and behaved like a lady. My parents lived in a brand new council house with a garden and a lawn that my dad tended so carefully that his growing family of children weren't allowed to play on it.
At the time, Blackburn was a wee village with no streetlights, and to Mary and Bridie and their younger siblings Joe, Kathleen, John, James and Gerard, who arrived at regular intervals throughout the forties and fifties, it was a country playground. They used to roam the nearby fields, dig up potatoes and bake them in little campfires. As teenagers they used to reminisce about the idyllic times they'd shared in their first house, and I used to listen entranced, wishing I'd been around when they were all having so much fun together.
When my mother fell pregnant with me, the family needed more room, and this is how we came to move to Yule Terrace and the house where I have lived ever since arriving back from Bangour Hospital in my Moses basket. It's a standard semidetached council house with a dining room at the front, a living room at the back, a small kitchen downstairs and three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. My four brothers were in the back bedroom, my three sisters in the small room at the front. It was the beginning of the sixties. Elvis Presley was on the radio. You can imagine the noise. And that was before I arrived!
Traditionally, as a ninth child, I should have been baptized by a cardinal, but a new Catholic church was being built in Blackburn and it wasn't ready, so instead I was baptized Susan Magdalane Boyle by our local priest, Father Michael McNulty. My godmother was my sister Mary. During the day, my white Moses basket was set in the corner of the living room at the back of the house. My babysitter was a budgie called Jokey. I can't remember him, of course, but my mother insisted that the wee bird used to know when I was about to cry and he would ring his bell. That would distract me as I looked to see where the noise was coming from. You could call it my first musical training.
There is a photograph of my mother holding me, taken when I was about six months old. I am still small for my age. I'm wearing a bonnet and a white matinee jacket and booties. Unusually, I am asleep. My mother looks very thin and frail. You can tell she has not been well, but there is determination in her eyes. She looks like a woman who has not had an easy time, but has found the strength to go on. She has both hands firmly clasped around me. For me, the photograph sums up our relationship. My mother guided me and I relied on her. She was the lodestone of my life.
Memory is like a jukebox: push the right button with a song, a photograph or even a smell and you're transported straight back to a time and a place.
The contrast between my life now and my life before Britain's Got Talent could not be greater. One of the many things that's different—one of the nice things, actually—is having my hair and make-up done. It's quite calming to sit in a chair getting pampered. What woman wouldn't want to get used to that? When the finishing touches are being made to my hair, the sweet, sticky scent of the hairspray always takes me back to the choking cloud of Bel Air in the girls' bedroom at home.