LONDON – The economy is scary, jobs are disappearing and taxes are going up. But Britain is buzzing over something else – Susan Boyle’s new hairdo.
Some say the overnight singing sensation who rocketed to fame after a phenomenal performance on “Britain’s Got Talent” has every right to upgrade her dowdy appearance. Others fear she may lose her authenticity – and her amazing connection with the TV audience – if she goes too far in the image makeover department.
The change is startling. Gone is the fusty woman with greying, frizzy hair and a jowly face who joked on air that she had never been kissed, replaced by a stylish, freshly-coiffed lady in fashionable leather jacket and what looks to be a Burberry scarf. The dark, unkempt eyebrows have been shaped and coloured.
Fashion experts say she’s taken years off her looks, but should think twice about making more improvements, particularly if they go beyond styling and involve artificial enhancements.
“She looks 10 years younger,” said Toni Jones, assistant fashion editor at The Sun tabloid newspaper, which featured the new look Boyle on its cover Friday.
“Compared to what she had, it’s a 200 per cent improvement. But our readers think this is as far as she should go. We want her to stay one of us.”
Jones said Boyle’s decision to dye her hair brown was causing some consternation among the powers-that-be at “Britain’s Got Talent” by stoking fears that she may no longer seem real.
“It’s got massive implications for her because the people above her want her to look ordinary,” said Jones, who praised Boyle for spending 35 pounds at a salon near her home in Scotland rather than trekking to London for a 200-pound cut at a celebrity salon.
Jones said she was amazed at the interest generated by Boyle’s new do and warned the singer against going too far by adding, for example, the hair extensions and fake tans favoured by England’s WAGs, as the pampered wives and girlfriends of Britain’s elite professional athletes are known.
Max Clifford, Britain’s most prominent publicist, said the makeover was risky because it could jeopardize the singer’s emotional connection to her audience.
“Keep her as natural as possible for as long as possible,” was his advice. “It’s more about protection than promotion. She’s got the voice. She has to make sure that the person people all around the world fell in love with remains the same.”
The debate has crossed the Atlantic, with Washington Post fashion writer Robin Givhan urging Boyle in print to take advantage of the opportunity to transform her appearance.
“The tale of Susan Boyle will not be complete until the shy spinster blossoms,” Givhan wrote before the makeover. “Those who have been entranced by her story so far should let Boyle’s fairy godmother finish her work.”
But Givhan cautioned that Boyle might be tampering with success: “Boyle would not be mesmerizing if she were not an ugly duckling,” she wrote.
Londoners seem to be split over the new look.
Dean Elliott, a young drama student in London, said Boyle had lost what made her special by altering her appearance.
“Part of the charm was that she wasn’t done up,” he said.
But Helen Gledhill, a London photographer, said she understood Boyle’s decision and would likely have done the same if she was in the same position.
“If I had a bit more money and was exposed, I’d probably have something done too,” said Gledhill.
She said the fact that talent is often less important than looks and sex appeal is a sad commentary on modern society, blaming Madonna for a wholesale change in attitudes.
“Before Madonna, you just had to have talent,” she said. “Now, it’s the whole package.”
The success of the mini-makeover may hinge on how far Boyle progresses on “Britain’s Got Talent.” Judges will decide May 23 whether she gets through to the next round.
-Dean Carson contributed to this report.