SHE lives alone with her ten-year-old cat, has never been kissed, and is teased by children in the street. But 48-year-old Susan Boyle could just be the UK's next singing sensation.
Devout Catholic Miss Boyle has been at the centre of a media storm since news emerged of how she wowed Britain's Got Talent judges Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan with her amazing opera voice.
She has now been tipped to win the hit show and the chance to perform in front of the Queen at the Royal Variety Performance later this year.
Speaking to the Evening News from her home in Blackburn, West Lothian, Miss Boyle – who freely says has "never even been kissed" – insisted she was unfazed by the attention.
She said the success of Fauldhouse's singing plumber, Andrew Muir, on the show last year was a driving force behind her audition at Glasgow's SECC in January, which will be shown on ITV tonight. She sang Cry Me a River from Les Miserables and received a rapturous standing ovation, much like Muir did at his audition.
"Andrew Muir was fantastic last year and somebody local going on a show like that definitely inspired me to go on," she said.
"I like Elaine Paige as an artist and try to model myself on her, but it's all just for fun. I love singing. It keeps me going."
The audience and the judges initially laughed at Miss Boyle when she told them she wanted to be a famous artist like Paige and gyrated her hips. But that all changed after her performance, with the notoriously hard-to-please Cowell describing her as "a little tiger" while Morgan called her the "biggest surprise I've had in three years of this show".
Miss Boyle said she was "very relaxed" about the praise, adding: "It's quite an accolade what Simon Cowell said and I didn't really know what to expect. I just went and sang. It would be a dream to have a career in singing and to be on the Royal Variety Performance. I'm very pro-royal.
"I'm looking forward to watching the show, although I'll probably be critical of any mistakes I see, but I'll take it all in good fun. It's only entertainment after all."
Fellow singing sensation Muir said he was pleased someone else from the area was doing so well.
He said: "I've known Susan for quite a while and sang with her a few times at charity gigs and local talent shows in West Lothian.
"She's quite a character and is a really nice woman. I wish her all the best and would tell her to just go for it. There must be something in the water in West Lothian."
Neighbours told how Miss Boyle had been teased by local children who called her names because she lives alone with her cat Pebbles – but added that no-one was laughing now.
One said: "Susan has an amazing voice and is a really lovely person. We're certainly not surprised she has done so well with her singing. She'll definitely make the final and maybe even win it.
"Her voice is lovely and we'll all be supporting her during the show. Hopefully this will stop kids making fun of her because I know it upsets her sometimes, even though she says it doesn't."
Miss Boyle, who is currently unemployed, has always loved the arts and studied at Edinburgh Acting School in the early '90s before she was forced to leave and care for her sick mother, with help from her other eight siblings – of whom she is the youngest. She has also featured in a "madrigal" show at Edinburgh's Fringe Festival with local children performing a collection of poetry and plays.
MORGAN BRANDS BLACKBURN 'A DUMP'
JUDGE Piers Morgan has branded Susan Boyle's hometown of Blackburn, West Lothian, "a dump".
A camera crew filming the Britain's Got Talent singer were ordered to shoot in nearby Bathgate instead after the area "appalled" Morgan.
Camera crews were supposed to visit the village and film in locations including the community centre and the run-down council estate.
Whilst crew members diplomatically described the views as being "too bland", Morgan announced "it's a dump".
Jackie Russell, manager of Miss Boyle's local pub the Happy Valley Hotel, said: "They were supposed to come here and film for the show, but Piers said the place was a 'dump' so they went and filmed in Bathgate.
"I hope they don't say on the show she's from Bathgate, because she's not. She's ours – Blackburn born and bred. It might not be the bonniest, but it is where she's from."
Local councillor Jim Swan was shocked to hear that the film crew had shunned his village. He said: "That's outrageous. That's just not on at all. Blackburn is not as bad as that would suggest."