Pomeroy’s Andrea Begley is enjoying huge success and growing celebrity as her debut album hits the UK top ten. The Voice champion tells JOANNE SAVAGE about the weird and wonderful world of her newfound fame
How is stardom I ask Pomeroy-native Andrea Begley, winner of last year’s The Voice UK, whose debut album is currently at number seven in the UK Top Ten album charts and by this Saturday could have climbed higher up still? How many red carpets has she slipped down since then to blinding camera lights flashing, has she bean mingling with celebs, decked out in designer gear, being hounded by fans and asked for autographs in supermarket aisles? Does she have her former mentor on UK talent show The Voice, Danny O Donoghue of The Script, in her inner circle of friends now? So many questions.
“It’s all been going really well,” she says, humbly and unphased. “I really can’t complain,” and then she laughs, trying to take in the surrealness of it all - this stunningly quick transformation that TV talent shows like The Voice UK and The X-Factor can bring, where a civil servant from Tyrone, who has only 10 per cent vision since childhood glaucoma, can, after a few months displaying the sheer beauty of her vocal chords, overcome her competitors to record her debut album in a glitzy London studio, with Danny O’Donoghue collaborating with her on the album’s title track.
She looks vampy with red lippy on the album cover, heavy eyelashes, glamorous and starlit, touched by the magic wand of the celebrity stylist and make-up artist.
“I would be quite a girly girl and I love clothes and make-up and with my sight being bad sometimes I’m always relying on friends and family to tell me what suits and what doesn’t. You have these stylists and make-up artists who work their magic and make you feel great.”
Does she think her The Message might climb up to Number One?
“Well I dunno about that,” she laughs, “Who could really compete with Katy Perry [whose album My Prism is also out now]?
“But it’s amazing just to even be included in the same top ten chart as her. Wow. I can’t quite take it in.”
Begley has never allowed glaucoma to hold her back - and why would it affect her chances of a singing career anyway? She always knew she had a good voice, singing in school choirs and dreaming of a career; beautiful vocals run in the family after all - her aunt, country singer Philomena has impressive vocal chords that draw crowds across the Province.
Since finishing first on The Voice UK - beating bookies favourite - the kooky Leah McFall from Newtownabbey - she has been caught up in a glorious tailspin of recording, singing and attending all manner of celebrity events.
“I just have to pinch myself all the time,” she says, laughing. “Last week I sang a song from my album Dancing in the Dark on Strictly Come Dancing, a show I have loved and watched at home for years. So that was pretty fabulous; phenomenal.
“It was nerve-racking because it was my first big, live performance since the final of The Voice, but it was also exhilarating because I felt, yeah, I’m back in the game and ready for it.”
And she recently impressed on Songs of Praise, singing from the Royal Albert Hall just last weekend.
“I sang a hymn entitled Be Still For the Presence of the Lord. It went really well thankfully; there was a big orchestra and choir behind me. My aunt Philomena [Begley] did call me up to tell me how proud she was of me for doing that.”
I ask Andrea if she now feels a confident and assured performer having beaten off such stiff competition to win an immensely popular UK talent show which in this writer’s opinion has a much more humane form of selection and rejection than Cowell’s X-Factor.
“I’d say I’m confident, but not ultra-confident. I’ll always have some degree of nerves - it’s just a matter of channelling that tension to give your performance an edge.
“It something that gets better with practice and it definitely helps to have people like Danny [O’Donoghue from The Script] believing in you.”
O’Donoghue - her mentor on The Voice and frontman of Irish rock group The Script; plus a man crowds of screaming women go utterly mad for - worked with Andrea in the studio in London over the summer on the title track of debut album, The Message. So many people would surely have given a limb to have been anywhere near a recording studio with the handsome, down-to-earth and all round lovely rocker, and Andrea isn’t oblivious to her luck.
She laughs, again, in disbelief at it all. “I know - it’s mad. Not too many people get to work with him. He collaborated with me on the lyrics of the song and he also produced it for me.
“I even have his mobile number on my phone and his email.” (More laughter of incredulity as though this Pomeroy girl never in her wildest, wildest dreams saw any of this coming.)
I want to know more about her entrance into the strange, trippy world of celebrity, certainly many, many leagues away from quiet Pomeroy, Tyrone.
“There have been so many wonderful things happening lately it’s very hard to list them.” But I insist she tells us more.
“Singing at the World Police and Fire Games in Belfast in August was my first big outdoor live event and really there’s just nothing like being appreciated on homeground.
“I loved going to the TV Choice Awards and walking the red carpet. It was held at the Dorchester which I’d never been to and it was pretty fabulous! I saw Shane Ritchie from Eastenders and just couldn’t believe it. I saw Ant and Dec and was pretty gobsmacked when I met Lou Lou at a Specsavers event.”
Is it scary to face a baying mob of paparazzi, lenses zooming, all that shouting and flashing lights?
“It’s unnerving. Especially the first time you do it. You literally step out of the car and there’s like this complete wall of flashes and all these journalists calling your name, wanting a moment of your attention.”
But back to the debut album which showcases all the potency and beauty of Andrea’s voice, something that is at times full of a vulnerability and melancholy that makes it so suited to renditions of moving ballads. But she can do poppy and upbeat too as this album shows. Her voice has real power - an instrument of considerable force, well-controlled, a gift.
“My favourite track on the album is The Message because it’s the one Danny and I worked on and that meant a lot to me.
“It’s very ‘me’ in terms of sound and mood.”
Andrea is, she confides “so excited” to be playing a concert at Belfast’s Uster Hall on November 3.
“It is such a fantastic venue - when you think of all the acts who have played there over the years - I am so proud that I too am getting the opportunity to get up on that stage and sing in front of a home crowd. I’m excited.
“I have had a huge amount of support from people in Pomeroy, in Belfast and across Northern Ireland so that it’s just been fabulous. I think they are probably as gobsmacked as I am that I have got to where I am now with a top ten album, and I’m just this wee girl from Pomeroy.”
Andrea Begley performs at Belfast’s Ulster Hall on November 3, 2013, to book tickets contact the venue directly or visit ticketmaster.ie.