Interview :: Mary Byrne
Words: John Balfe
From Tesco to our TV screens to the Aviva Stadium - it's been quite the couple of years for Mary Byrne. Since appearing on X-Factor under the watchful eye of Simon Cowell, Byrne's star has shone brighter than any of her co-stars from the seventh season of the televised talent show. John Balfe sat down with Mary at Dublin's Westbury Hotel to discuss the fallout from the TV show, her career trajectory and her upcoming six night residency in The Olympia with Phil Coulter.
In the 18 months since you were on X-Factor we've seen you go from strength to strength. You've played in the Aviva with Neil Diamond, you've met the Queen of England. The public perception of you at this point is that of a seasoned entertainer. Is that also how you see yourself now?
I still myself as me. I pinch myself every morning. I'm doing the job that I've always wanted to do. Seasoned entertainer? I'm getting there. I wouldn't say I am at the moment, I would say I'm getting there.
A lot has been made of how you spoke of your lack of confidence held you back before X-Factor and how you didn't really push yourself forward towards things that might have made you uncomfortable. Does that remain or have you conquered it?
I still have some self-confidence [issues]. I don't like to say I'm brilliant because I don't think I am. I think I'm okay. I think I've got a good voice and that I've been given a gift. I do get down a lot and then I'm up just as high afterwards.
What stood out for you in 2011?
There was loads. When I came out of X-Factor, we did the tour which was a brilliant thing to do. I got to come to The O2 and everyone single one of us on that tour said that the best reception of any of the shows was at The O2 in Dublin. The Irish just don't get enough good shows like that and, when they do, they embrace it. It was like going home to your mother's bosom. Every time I came out on stage I got a standing ovation. We all did, but I seemed to get the biggest. That was because I am one of them and they were proud of me.
The Queen was great too. I would never have met royalty in my life if I hadn't got that opportunity, but the big one for me was Neil Diamond and it was because he came backstage to me. Neil Diamond walking into my dressing room and hugging me was one of the most precious moments I'll remember from the whole year.
What did he say to you?
He just came in and the first thing he said was, "hello Mary". He then hugged me and said he was so proud of me and that he knew how the Irish people must feel. He then told me to go out on the stage and sing from my heart. That half hour I was on that stage went like a minute because I was enjoying it so much. Everything he told me to do on stage I did and I can remember every little detail of walking up on that stage. I asked for my family to stand up from the stage and the whole stadium stood up. I just thought that was beautiful.
You recently released your first book too. Does it surprise you that so many people are interested in reading your story?
Yeah because, like yourself, I'm just an ordinary person who has just been given a great opportunity. For me to think about people going to read about my life, which has had its ups and downs, is a great achievement.
I got a letter today from O'Brien's Press saying that the book is being re-printed because it's had so many orders.
That just shows how deeply it's resonated with some people.
I met a girl in a chemist in Ballyfermot recently and she told me "I'm in the middle of reading your book and I swear to god it has me transported right into all the places you mention."
Getting back to X-Factor for a moment... That show is on our TV screens for a couple of hours a week. It's so glossily produced and slickly presented. What's it like behind the cameras?
It ain't like that! It's very hard. You're up at 6am each day, from Monday to Sunday, and we're in the studios until 1 or 2 in the morning practising your song. You get about a day to learn the song you've been given and then it's rehearsal after rehearsal after rehearsal. It's gruelling and I still don't know how it did it but it was a great experience. I was exhausted, but with the exhaustion comes excitement. Every time you hear the crowd cheer, you get the buzz that makes you want to do it more.
When you hear the contestants say that this is all the wanted to do all their lives, they don't actually mean that because they're only young kids. It's so hard but it gives you a taste of what your life would be like if you were given a chance to make it in the business.
Simon Cowell projects a character, it seems. He's got a very defined personality in front of the cameras. Is he the same when the cameras are off?
Yeah, he is. Simon is Simon. The first thing about Simon is that if you meet him at the show, he's in business mode. If you meet him away from the stage, he's a really nice guy. He's down to earth, like you and me. When you meet the real guy you realise that he's just as ordinary as anyone.
You've got a six night residency in The Olympia coming up...
That started out as one night!
So they added five more because you weren't busy enough?!
Well, this it! I'm doing it with Phil Coulter, so he'll be doing his bit as well so you'll be getting two acts for the price of one. And I hope it's going to be a bit of craic!
And Phil Coulter worked with you on your last album.
He did. That came about because I left Sony because they weren't doing another album so soon, but Universal were interested in me and my management felt it was a good move to go there. Simon Cowell has done his bit, he had kept his promise. He said that I would do an album and I did. My management felt I'd done enough with Sony and wanted someone who was more interested in getting my music career up and off the ground.
Over the course of the six nights what can the fans expect to see from the gigs?
They can expect to hear me crowin' and Phil doing beautiful music. I'm going to have a bit of a laugh and crack a few jokes if I get the chance. I think it's going to be lovely. I'm going to put a lot into it so people will feel like they're getting something for the money they're spending on us.
Would this Olympia residency have sounded more daunting one year ago than it sounds now?
I think it would be the same. You must understand that I'm working with one of the best men in the business and I'm going to be doing six nights with this man. He's done more than I've done in my lifetime. He wrote a song for Elvis, so it's an honour for me to stand on the Olympia stage and sing with Mr. Phil Coulter. An absolute honour.
Mary Byrne and Phil Coulter play Dublin's Olympia from 8th to 13th May. Tickets are available from usual outlets nationwide and are priced between €30 and €36.50.
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Friday 20th January 2012 | Music
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