IN 2009 a homely West Lothian spinster appeared on a television chat show and became an almost instant global sensation.
Now the story of Susan Boyle’s rise to global stardom has become a stage hit in its own right in the show "I Dreamed a Dream", which comes to Eden Court next week.
As in other stops on the show’s run, there are also high hopes that the Inverness audience might get two Boyles for the price of one with Susan nmaking a guest appearance at the end of the night.
Taking centre stage as "SuBo" for most of the evening is one of Scotland’s best known actresses and singers Elaine C. Smith — who predicted she would appear in the role even before she knew who Susan Boyle was.
Smith, who co-wrote the show with Alan McHugh, was appearing in the West End in another real life story turned stage hit, "Calendar Girls", when Boyle made her memorable appearance on "Britain’s Got Talent".
"It was Linda Bellingham who first told me about it, running out of her dressing-room going: ‘You should see this wee woman from Glasgow.’ I just laughed and said: ‘Oh don’t! I’ll probably end up playing the story of her life!’
"Then I watched it and sat there in floods of tears. There was something really symbolic about what happened that night. I think all of us felt very guilty about the way that society had gone. We were constantly judging a book by its cover and talent didn’t matter any more. Susan’s story tapped into that in us."
By the time Boyle’s autobiography was published, Boyle had already suggested "Rab C. Nesbitt" star Smith as the person to play her.
Smith initially rejected the suggestion as too obvious, until her sister gave her Boyle’s book.
"It’s a fairy tale. She doesn’t get a prince at the end, but she gets a life and a career," Smith said.
This after one of the most inauspicious starts to life. Even before Boyle was born, doctors offered her mother a termination, which she declined on religious grounds. Then, when Boyle was starved of oxygen during her birth, leaving her with brain damage, her mother was told by doctors not to expect too much of her new daughter.
"She was written off right from 10 days old, but to see where she has ended up, maybe we all need to be reminded of these stories," Smith said.
"I have friends with children who have learning difficulties and what they were always told was what their children couldn’t do and I think that touches a chord in everyone. She was bullied badly as a kid, she’s got a temper — she’s not an angel. People project this very pious, religious view onto Susan and she’s not like that at all. She’s just like the rest of us and likes a laugh."
When Smith and Boyle did meet the two of them got on well and Smith discovered the two had sung in the same clubs while younger, though their paths had never crossed.
"Over the course of writing this we’ve kept the family informed because I didn’t want to do something that was all sweetness, but then again I didn’t want to cause any upset," Smith continued.
"You have to deal with the death of her father, her sister and her mother. That explains why she was feeling so depressed and so lonely and that was the state she arrived in at ‘Britain’s Got Talent’.
"I didn’t want to ignore that side of things. It’s actually quite a dark and moving piece, though you get lots of the fun as well."
As in "Calendar Girls", Smith again finds herself playing a living person on stage and opted to take a similar approach for Boyle’s story.
"When I was playing Patricia Stewart’s part in ‘Calendar Girls’, I met her and tried to capture her essence. That’s what I’m doing here," she said.
"The only bit I’m absolutely accurate with is when she appeared on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. Every word I say is every word she said because it was such an iconic moment."
Though she concedes she might have been tempted to try something like "Britain’s Got Talent" when she was younger, Smith would certainly not exchange her career for Smith’s global fame.
"Susan has a lot more money and a lot more fame, but I’ve had 30 years of constant work and you can’t fault that," she said.
"I’ve also had 30 years of marriage and two wonderful children and a career that allowed me to work in my own country, Scotland.
"Susan’s performance went round the world in six minutes. I’ve had 30 years to get used to a 1000th of the fame she has and I don’t know how she coped. There is a lot about that in the play too, and about how the media turned on her. I can’t believe what some of the red tops said about her. They were scrabbling about for stories because the public had sort of gone ahead of them."
Given the reception, it looks as though "I Dreamed a Dream" can certainly be added to Smith’s career successes.
"We’ve had standing ovations almost everywhere, even before Susan comes on. And then if she comes on, they go a bit mental as well," Smith revealed.
"But unlike ‘Calendar Girls’, I’ve noticed there’s a certain snobbery about it in some areas. Not in Scotland, where it’s through the roof sales, but elsewhere there’s a section of the theatre going public that’s a bit snobby about things like ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ and all pretend they don’t watch it.
"People also don’t know what it is — is it a concert? Is it a play? You’ll have die hard Susan Boyle fans and fans of mine, but I don’t think until the name gets round that it will really take off. That happened to us in Dublin. The first night reviews were so stunning that literally overnight we took thousands of pounds worth of new business because suddenly people wanted to go and see it."
Yet with Susan Boyle’s worldwide fame, surely there is a lot of international potential in "I Dreamed a Dream"?
"Don’t you worry about that!" Smith laughed.
"Australia wants it, Canada wants it, Lloyd Webber is coming to see us, Cameron Mackintosh...If it happens, it happens, but I’m not going to worry about it. I’m just getting on with playing the part.
"There’s a lot of goodwill about this. This whole thing is more than just a show."
• "I Dreamed a Dream" is at the Empire Theatre, Eden Court from Monday 11th to Saturday 16th June at 8pm with 2pm matinees on Thursday and Saturday.