Nuggets of Gold in a Field of Grass

This morning my cousin, Anita Belt sent me a video that totally caught me off-guard. It was a YouTube video of Paul Potts, the first winner of the television show, Britain’s Got Talent, the counterpart to the America’s Got Talent show. Not being one that has the time or interest in any show starring American Idol judge Simon Cowell, it was no surprise that I missed this episode. In today’s parlance, “My bad!” I missed a huge story here.

After watching the video, or should I say after watching about a third of it, I was already feeling goose bumps. That was before I heard anything of the story behind the man and eventual winner of the contest, Paul Potts. His story is one of those Horatio Alger tales that inspires and motivates. It’s one that shows how you can surely “make lemonade out of your lemons.” For me, Potts’ story is a compelling apologetic for the belief that the greatness among us are often found in the most simple and unrefined places, and often in an environment that is detrimental to excellence. Paul Potts grinds into dust the argument that depressed and distressed environs can only produce low achievement. In contrast, he shows the transcendence of the human spirit above the depravity of profane surroundings. Paul Potts is a nugget of gold in a field of grass, an inspiration to shoot for the stars, even when the night sky is cloudy.

Before watching the video, read the story as described by the Wikipedia entry. It is one you’ll most likely never forget. Here it is:

Paul Robert Potts (born 13 October 1970, Bristol, England), is a British tenor who in 2007 became the winner of the first series of ITV‘s Britain’s Got Talent, singing an operatic aria, “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot. Potts had appeared in amateur opera productions from 1999 to 2003.

Potts was raised in Fishponds, Bristol, by his father Roland, a bus driver, and mother, Yvonne, a supermarket cashier. He has two brothers and one sister. Potts attended St. Mary Redcliffe school, where he developed his love of singing. He also sang with the choir at Chester Park Junior School and with the choirs at several Bristol churches, including Christ Church.

In the interview that was broadcast before his performance in the semifinal, Potts said that he had been bullied in school, and that experience may have had an influence on his lack of self-confidence. He made a similar remark in 1999 — that his voice had always been a source of solace in the past when bullied.

Potts was on a six-month sabbatical as manager at Carphone Warehouse in Bridgend, a mobile phone store some eight miles from his hometown. On 5 March, 2008, he resigned from his management position via email.

He earned an Honours degree in 1993 from University College Plymouth St Mark & St John, majoring in Humanities, and was a Liberal Democrat councillor in Bristol from 1996 to 2003.

Potts first sang opera in 1999 in a karaoke competition, dressed as Luciano Pavarotti. That same year he appeared in the Michael Barrymore talent show My Kind of Music. Although he did not take first place, he won £8,000 — enough to help pay for vocal lessons in Italy, during which he was selected to perform in front of singers Pavarotti and Katia Ricciarelli. He did not however, as was claimed at the time by newspapers such as The Daily Mail and The Sun, receive tuition from Pavarotti.

For the Bath Opera of Bath, Somerset, an amateur company, he performed leading roles on four occasions, after beginning in 1999 in the minor roles of The Prince of Persia and the Herald in Puccini’s Turandot: Don Basilio in Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro in 2000; Don Carlos in Verdi’s Don Carlos in 2001; Don Ottavio in Mozart’s Don Giovanni in 2003; and Radames in Verdi’s Aida in 2003. He also performed the role of the Chevalier des Grieux in Puccini’s Manon Lescaut for the Southgate Opera Company in London, an amateur company, in May 2003. Additionally, he sang with a small ensemble from the Royal Philharmonic in front of an audience of 15,000 and toured Northern Italy as a soloist as part of his music classes there.

In several interviews, Potts revealed that he performed Aida despite doctors’ wishes to remove an adrenal tumor they had discovered during his illness from a burst appendix, and performed Manon Lescaut shortly after the surgery to remove it. Potts broke his collarbone and suffered whiplash in a bicycle accident in 2003, which prevented him from pursuing opera as a career or as an avocation. The mishap and financial difficulties that followed led him to enter Britain’s Got Talent despite not having sung for four years.

On 9 June 2007, Potts’ audition for Simon Cowell‘s new search-for-a-star show Britain’s Got Talent was televised on ITV1 in the UK. The audition was held at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff on 17 March 2007. Potts sang Giacomo Puccini‘s “Nessun Dorma,” for which he received a standing ovation from the audience of 2,000 people. Contrary to popular belief, Potts did not sing a condensed version of the aria, but rather the full rendition. The editing process did not produce a “perfect” condensation, as one can see his lips getting ready to sing the next line after his second “…Nessun Dorma…”, which starts with “Tu pure, o, Principessa…”. This performance has been viewed on video upload site YouTube over 30 million times.

In the semi-final on 14 June 2007, Potts performed the main verses of “Con te partirò” (“Time to Say Goodbye”). He progressed to the final after receiving the highest public vote in that show. He performed “Nessun Dorma” for his finale on 17 June 2007, as well as an encore after he won the competition. Potts defeated co-favourite with the bookmakers, Connie Talbot, and received the highest percentage of two million votes cast to win Britain’s Got Talent, and the chance to perform at the Royal Variety Performance on 3 December 2007, in front of Queen Elizabeth.

Potts has been married since May 2003 to Julie-Ann (née Cooper), whom he met in an Internet chat room. They connected in person for the first time at the Swansea Railway Station in February, 2001. She had the upper hand at this “first meeting” as she had a photograph of Potts, but he had no idea what she looked like.


One Response

  1. Steve,

    The first time I saw that video I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I thought it was a “put on;” that Pott had cheated – that he was a professional wanting to make a big publicity hit. Then I read his story. I was absolutely amazed, too.

    Back to the first time I saw the video. It was in the Spring, and several family members and friends were on the first floor (me being on the second) eating snacks and hanging out. I yelled … called them upstairs. They thought I had hurt myself. Six people came running. That’s when I played the video. All seven of us cried. It’s all we talked about the rest of the evening.

    Your commentary on this event is so right on. It’s not the environment a person is raised in that determines his or her success. It’s what’s in the heart of the individual. Potts, in his heart, longed to sing opera. Now, thanks to YouTube, he may be the most famous living tenor on the planet.


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