FRIDAY the first of November 2013; that was the evening I first experienced the power of Saskia Eng’s amazing voice.
As Head Judge of Edinburgh Has Talent, the Evening News’ long-running star search, I remember the judging panel looking at each other as she began to sing.
Saskia was just 12 years old at the time and we knew we had discovered a very special talent.
It came as no surprise when, later that night, the adjudicator tallied up our scores and confirmed that Saskia had won.
Today, nearly five years on, the ‘little girl with the big voice’ is 16 and home again after wowing her mentors and millions of viewers with her stunning performances on ITV’s The Voice.
As we chat, it’s good to discover she’s changed little, still outspoken, still down to Earth, and still remarkably unaffected by the all attention prime time TV has brought her.
One thing she certainly is not is star struck.
READ MORE: Saskia Eng says she’s ‘upbeat’ after elimination from The Voice
“When she met Tom Jones and Will.i.am is was, ‘How you doing?’ not ‘Oh, my god, it’s..’ confirms dad Tony, who is sitting in on the interview.
Later, he will drive Saskia to a photo-shoot at The Mound, where her real journey into showbusiness started at the tender age of 10.
He continues, “Her mum posted a video on her Facebook page the other day; BBC Alba made a series about buskers and went around the Scottish cities filming them, Saskia was in it aged 10, singing Piece of My Heart at The Mound.”
“It was weird seeing that again,” says Saskia, candidly, “Weird because, although everyone thought my voice was good then, it sounds rubbish compared with now. So different. I sounded like a wee girl...”
Thinking for a minute, she adds, “...but then I was only 10, so I suppose people thought ‘Oh, she’s good for 10’, but I sound more mature, more natural now.”
Saskia puts that improvement down to the fact that since discovering her love of singing she has consistently racked up performance after performance.
“I used to sing around the house all the time,” she says, “and the very first song I ever learned was Love Story by Taylor Swift.”
Dad chips in, to reveal, “The first time we noticed her singing, it was along to TV adverts.
“She’d sit on the couch and sing along with the catchy jingles, we could hear that she had a bit of a voice.”
A few months after she started singing, so confident was the young Saskia that, still aged just nine, she applied to go on Britain’s Got Talent.
That decision brought her first live performance - singing Soul Sister in front of 3000 people at the Clyde Auditorium.
“Amanda Holden, David Hasselhoff and Michael McIntyre were all there,” she recalls, “but when you’re nine you just think, ‘Whatever!’
“You just go along to sing, it’s as you get older it becomes more nerve-wracking.
READ MORE: Edinburgh teen Saskia Eng knocked out of The Voice
“I also knew that, obviously, I wasn’t going to win, I was only nine and had just started singing, I just wanted to see what it was like.”
That experience certainly appears to have given Saskia a taste for a life on stage and between the ages of 10 and 12 she performed at numerous charity gigs, weddings and on the streets of both Edinburgh and Glasgow, busking.
It was while busking she finally began to understand what everyone else already knew.
“When I saw people stop to listen, I realised that they must have liked what they heard or they wouldn’t have stopped.”
The fact she once made £430 busking for just two and half hours in Glasgow was also a clue to her talent.
“I went through to Glasgow quite a lot,” she recalls. “People are generous in Edinburgh but I made more money in Glasgow, people there throw money at you.”
Then came Edinburgh Has Talent, which introduced the vocal powerhouse to a whole new audience.
“I’d been begging to enter the year before but I was too young, so as soon as I turned 12 and was old enough, I entered.
“Again I didn’t expect to win. My granny and family were in the audience and there was an amazing dance group they were convinced would win.”
The dancers didn’t win and a very happy Saskia went home £1000 better off, however, it was The Voice, earlier this year, that made the girl from Murrayfield a household name.
It was an experience that started almost a year ago.
“I had to do four auditions before I got to the Blind Auditions on telly,” she explains.
“The first was at an open mic night at Badabing, Fountainbridge, where two scouts were in attendance from The Voice.
“Only about 10 people turned up and it was only me they took forward.
“They spoke to my dad that night and said they wanted to take me down to London.
“Then I had a call back, performing for a group of producers, one singing for the show’s music team, and then a final one.”
Despite a two to three week wait between auditions, the youngster remained confident of getting through.
“I thought I’d get a Blind Audition, they wouldn’t have wasted their time asking me to keep coming down to London if they weren’t interested.”
When the day of the Blind Audition arrived you’d be forgiven for expecting the hopefuls to be racked with nerves as they waited to see if any of the mentors would turn their chair.... not Saskia.
“You think it’s going to be scarier than it is,” she says matter-of-factly. “Some people did get really nervous but they turn if they turn. If they don’t, what can you do?
She continues, “As you’re singing you just have to do your best and wait... Tom Jones turned near the end of my song and, although my face didn’t change and I just kept singing, I was relieved because I’d been thinking ‘Oh no, no one is going to turn...’.”
Saskia went on to perform Florence And The Machine’s Dog Days Are Over in the Battle Round of the series, in which she came up against the ultimate winner Ruti Olajugbagbe, and the Ella Eyre song Came Here for Love in the Knockout Round.
Yet if the experience has changed her life, she has remained the same she insists.
“Whenever I’m out, people are like ‘You’re the girl from The Voice’,” she says, adding, “I was judging a thing the other week and all the wee girls were screaming, ‘Oh my god! It’s Saskia from The Voice’.
“It makes me laugh. It’s cute, but I don’t know why they get so excited. Yes, I was on the TV but I’m still just normal.
That claim is reflected in the fact that she still goes to singing lessons even after all her success.
“I get singing lessons from a great lady called Lorna Brooks, who teaches me at the City of Edinburgh Musical School,” she says, adding, “She likes to try to get me to be a jazz singer but I’m not sure that’s a way I want to go.”
This Saturday, Saskia goes into the studio to record her debut EP, Silence and Solitude, featuring songs co-written by her mum Leeann. She hopes it will lead to an album deal.
“We’re going to do a launch night for the EP at The Corn Exchange in August and, rather than charge an entrance fee, entry will be by downloading the EP.”
The plan is to get Saskia into the iTunes chart to keep her profile high...
“I want to be as big as I can be,” she smiles, “the goal is to be famous and I still have a lot of time.
“I just want my life to be about singing, to be on a stage with the audience knowing every word to every one of my songs and singing along...”
If anyone can make that happen, it’s Saskia.
Saskia’s story: From
busker to national TV
Britain’s Got Talent judge David Hasselhoff is wowed by a young Saskia when she auditions for the TV talent show.
Saskia is regularly to be found busking at the foot of The Mound and finds herself featured on a BBC Alba programme – her TV debut.
Saskia entertains a 12,000-strong crowd at Tynecastle Stadium.
To the delight of her family, the singer is crowned the winner of Edinburgh Has Talent 2013.
She performs at The Pride of Edinburgh Awards and The Forth Awards.
Television beckons once again and Saskia charms and amazes Sir Tom Jones and Will.i.am as well as millions of viewers around the country with her amazing vocals on ITV talent show The Voice.
Saskia is set to wow attendees when she performs as a special guest at The Edinburgh Restaurant Awards on Monday and at the Evening News Local Hero Awards, as well as making an appearance at Glamis Prom this August in the grounds of Glamis Castle.