The ‘hooded look’, as her team have taken to calling it, descends suddenly and inexplicably.
One minute Susan Boyle is joking and even dancing as we make our way to a restaurant for lunch; the next – when the chat hasn’t yet moved on from who likes pulled pork and who prefers prawns – her shoulders have hunched, her head has slumped and all warmth has disappeared from her eyes, leaving dark dots of fury.
At first I think she simply hasn’t heard her manager ask what she would like to eat, or her PR adviser joke about the copious food available on this, her first US tour. Then it becomes clear her mood has altered, startlingly. Direct questions from her own people are met with a glare, to the point that food is ordered for her. Someone asks if she’s cold. She rolls her eyes and mutters under her breath.
Attempts are made to try to cajole a sweeter mood out of the star. ‘She’s just having a moment. She’ll be fine when the food arrives,’ says her PA and old friend Lorraine. ‘Come on Susan, would you like a banana milkshake?’ The milkshake arrives. Susan glares at that too, then stabs her straw into it. Food appears. It too gets a death stare, as does everyone who tries to help her to some, me included. The anger in her is palpable. There’s an awful moment when I’m dangling an onion ring in mid-air, unsure whether to risk putting it on her plate or not. Her manager asks if she’s unwell. She snorts, then swears, then turns her back on him, on all of us. She scrapes her chair around so she’s facing outward, like a toddler in a strop.
Andy – one of the most experienced of showbiz managers and a man whose charges have included challenging stars like George Michael and Geri Halliwell – can ignore the situation no longer.
‘OK Susan, what’s wrong. Was it me? Did I do something wrong. Did I take the menu away too quickly?’ he asks. She starts to erupt, then is suddenly on her feet, tearing at her hair and walking away, saying, ‘I can’t deal with this.’ With what? Onion rings? Her PR scurries after her, apologising profusely. Andy sinks his head into his hands. ‘Welcome to our world,’ he says, wearily. If this were simply diva behaviour it would be rude, ridiculous and off-the-scale unacceptable.
But it isn’t. Susan’s meltdown is the result of a medical condition, not a wilful temper. It was only last year that she was able to give it a name – Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. Before this diagnosis, she (and everyone else) put her ‘eccentric’ or ‘unpredictable’ behaviour down to brain damage. She had been starved of oxygen at birth, the story went.
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