At the Puccini’s on Platform One the other morning, the Guy at the Coffee Machine (for that is probably his full name) was pointing out Susan Boyle on the muted television. Then at midnight, as I did my last minute browsing, I remembered the gist of the story and put “Britain’s Got Talent 2009" into the search engine. Susan Boyle was the first hit.
For the uninitiated, watch the video. Here is a woman described as a 48 year-old church worker who has never been kissed: three things that should make her technically inhuman for the irreligious, over-sexed and ageist television-watching demographic.
She walked out onto the stage with her bumbling eccentricities, including a very embarrassing hip-wiggle reminiscent of Rod Stewart circa 1987. Simon Cowell raised an eyebrow, audience members pulled faces against her very audacity at standing on the hallowed stage and the music started...
I’m afraid to admit that tears came to my eyes. Her singing was not perfect, but that is to clutch at very pernickity straws. She sang with the timbre and clarity that some recording artists would kill for - once the fog of self-absorption and cocaine had subsided a little. She sang beautifully.
Apart from the fact that I only knew about her because of the station-side coffee shop, what has this to do with commuting? I suppose the tendency to judge so much by appearances. I might find myself between a young skinny white blonde on her blackberry and a tall elegant black guy with a gym kit and a briefcase. I would assume the former was perhaps an ambitious PR shark or a ditzy advertising receptionist; the latter might be a lawyer, a civil servant or even the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the constituency I’ve just left.
If Susan Boyle were sitting next to me, I would think a host of things about her - church worker probably chief among them in my experience - but not that she had the voice of a West End star.
How many assumptions do we make on a daily basis for no other reason than experience, bigotry and lack of imagination? And how utterly fantastic when those expectations are shattered by talent and wonderment.
As if to prove the point, the latest twist indicates that the judges haven’t learned their lesson, as what will no doubt become a journey of epic proportions for both Susan Boyle and the producers of Britain’s Got Talent, hits its next milestone.
Filming on location at Susan’s home town of Blackburn, West Lothian, ex-Mirror editor Piers Morgan declared the town a “dump” and they are now using the nearby alternative of Bathgate as a backdrop to the singer’s life story. Except that she doesn’t live in Bathgate, she lives in Blackburn.
Such reconstructions of reality are not uncommon. In 2004 the crew behind the award-winning film Hotel Rwanda decided that the “real” Hotel Rwanda wasn’t attractive enough either and a more suitable hotel was found in Gauteng, South Africa.
But it is a painful irony that on the heels of realising there is far more to Ms Boyle than her appearance might suggest, her home town has been discarded for the sake of appearance. How long before they decide that Susan herself is not quite telegenic enough, her eccentricities just that little too unsavoury for TV?
(c) Hannah Kowszun works in communications for the voluntary sector. She studied theology at the University of Cambridge and edits the 'Faith in Practice' section of Third Way, the Christian social and cultural comment magazine. Her blog is at: http://commutertheology.wordpress.com/ - this article is adapted and amplified from a recent post, with thanks.