The world and reality TV’s chronically rude critic Simon Cowell had rolled their eyes when Susan Boyle, a 47-year-old Scottish woman, a little frumpy and very chubby, turned up for the auditions to sing in Britain’s Got Talent five years ago. They had scoffed at the accent, and sneered at her appearance when she dared utter the name of their Elaine Paige, the First Lady of British Musical Theatre.
Indian sport should know what it’s like to be Miss Boyle, and looked at with contemptuous skepticism. Delhi’s Commonwealth Games were declared an unmitigated disaster even before they kicked off. It had taken the final day’s twin gold medals in badminton to finally stop the English from carping about all that was wrong, and admit their athletes had been pipped to the second place on the medals tally by the confident home contingent.
Back on Britain’s minutely scrutinised reality-entertainment show — they’re the only specimen who cop it worse than their sportspeople — after a nervous shimmy and jiggle, Miss Boyle was to give the cynical world a rousing rendition of ‘I dreamed a dream’, as Cowell & Co. were won over at the first high notes of her mezzo soprano tenor, biting their lips and swallowing their snorting words.
This ought to have been a fairytale which ended in us saying the lady with the bold and deeply powerful voice, has never looked back since.
Except, she did. Several times, and that’s where the real story begins.
Of a woman suffering from Asperger’s and prone to frequent and tearful anxiety attacks who spent close to a year wrestling with her internal demons of self-doubt, low confidence and lower self-esteem, before she could achieve what musicians world-over crave — a Live concert and a big audience spellbound by her voice alone. Boyle started out touring at Inverness in front of the kindly home folk from North Scotland, and it took her more than a year for her breakout performance where she wowed a full-house in Houston, Texas.
Good old days
Indian athletes, who hit all the high notes at the Delhi Games defying modest expectations, have suffered from a collective anxiety attack since those dazzling days of Delhi four years ago. Banned by the international Olympic body, as they fell back into the chaotic lurch, which they thought they’d freed themselves of, at the heady home Games, Indians have frittered away the gains of London, and head into the 20th edition of CWG looking uncertain, edgy and wry of their chances this time around. SuBo, as they call Boyle here, may well empathise with this diffidence.
At Glasgow, where she will once again take a deep breath to settle her nerves before she unfurls her rich, talented voice at the Opening Ceremony, India can hope that when the Games begin, its new young guns — the Sindhus and Bajrangs, Jitu Rais and Poovammas, can go up on that stage and express their rawest talent, their truest voice as this multi-sports gig moves to Glasgow, known for its unparalleled live-music scene.
The city’s magnificent sports arenas like where the Old Firm clubs Celtic and Rangers play, are rivaled only by its music Colosseums that host modern music’s latest international acts — with Hampden Park and Hydro, being common to both concerts and sport.
Hitting right notes
Scots find true talent in sport, like they do in music, irresistible. Even if it’s English. Legend has it that Oasis, the alternate rock band from Manchester, were first spotted at Glasgow’s ‘King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut club’, a sort of a temple for live music here. Oasis’ Gallaghers never once doubted their musical capabilities, but it took the right city for them to catch the big break.
If they can force their way in, Glasgow can do the same for the likes of boxers Shiva Thapa and Devendro, two supremely self-assured pugilists, born to entertain while they excel.
India’s medals tally will be nothing like Delhi: there’s no archery or tennis or Greco-Roman, shooting and wrestling events have almost halved, track and field athletics won’t enjoy the home advantage and the tune-up to the Glasgow Games has been anything but ideal with India’s sports administration in near shambles and athletes just a shade clueless than four years before.
It all sounds a little underwhelming, and looks a bit frumpy. But then, so did Susan Boyle, before she sensationally aced ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ that uplifting ditty from Les Misérables.
In high spirits
You don’t need to go chasing the dram in Glasgow. The dram comes coyly to you – a bottle of The Famous Grouse, tucked inside the media-kit for all the newspaper hacks. It’s called a nation of heavy drinkers, but this gesture with a wink, makes Scotland delightful hosts too in the eyes of the visiting media.
So, everyone knows Scotland is known for its Scotch Whisky. What has me, at first sip, though, is the other National drink of Scotland – Irn Bru. It can pull off any colour, even that of the best malt produced by distilleries around this country. But it’s the butter-scotchy flavour, and an implacable whiff of citrus and coffee to it that threatens to make it addictive.
It’s rare for sporting events around the world to not be monopolised and carpet-bombed by one of the two cola majors, as sponsors. But the Scots have loyally stuck to their Irn Bru, headquartered at Cumbernauld, not too far from the Games site. “It was like your Thums Up,” 56-year-old Andrew Saker, a volunteer at the media centre who doesn’t dig Irn Bru very much, tells me.
It’s not the strong taste he’s talking about, though. He explains how only 3-4 indigenous soft-drinks around the world could stand up to the sweeping might of the giant Colas and not get gobbled up. “Irn Bru stayed defiant, Thums Up tried, but couldn’t,” he rues.
Trust a proud Scotsman to weave a brave ballad around a beverage, and it’s not even Whisky.