Proms star Susan Bullock on why we must not lose our art

Proms star Susan Bullock, an old girl of Cheadle Hulme School, fears the global financial crisis could have a devastating effect on the arts, as Paul Mackenzie reports

She is one of our most celebrated performers, lauded around the world, her reputation enhanced by a sensational performance at the Last Night of the Proms and well on the road to becoming a national treasure, but Susan Bullock is worried.

The Davenham-born soprano is concerned for the future of her business in the wake of the global financial crisis.

‘I think the arts are struggling, and not just in Britain, because of the state of the economy,’ she said. ‘Whenever there is a financial crisis the arts seem to be the first thing to go. I believe we have got to cherish it a bit more. There could be a real danger of losing things altogether.

‘Money is short but I am saddened by the fact that as a nation our arts are not valued as much as they should be. It concerns me that it goes right down to the teaching of music in schools which doesn’t seem to be given as much importance these days. I went to ordinary schools and there were instruments – if you fancied having a go on the trombone you could do. I wonder if children at school today have that opportunity.’

Susan’s parents met at the police training school in Crewe and the family moved around the county, with spells in Davenham, Great Budworth and Bebington before settling in Cheadle Hulme.

When her older brother Dafydd was 12 he decided to learn to play the piano and Susan, six years his junior, followed suit. ‘Anything he did I wanted to do as well,’ she said. ‘When we moved to Cheadle Hulme things started to get more serious and we took proper lessons and took part in music festivals in Macclesfield and Hazel Grove.’

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Dafydd, now a respected composer, has been head of music at the European School in Luxembourg for almost 30 years and has a catalogue of work which celebrates Snowdonia.

‘I was always singing as a child, I would sing myself to sleep. In concerts at school I think I got singled out because I had a loud voice but when I left school I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a singer.’

After completing a music degree at London University’s Royal Holloway College, Susan went on to the Royal Academy, Glyndebourne and the English National Opera. But although that sounds like an easy and simple progression through the ranks, Susan, who celebrates her 53rd birthday next month, said: ‘In realistic terms there are no overnight sensations, it’s a slow grind and a lot of hard work, and it involves a lot of being away from home and a lot of hard graft.

‘There have been moments when the diary was not exactly full but I have kept singing and practising and learning and auditioning and hanging in there. I have had a pretty smooth time though really, I have been very lucky with the way that things have happened and I know that.

‘There are great moments of excitement and glamour, when the audience is on their feet shouting and applauding and it’s wonderful, but it is fleeting. I still go back to my hotel or apartment on my own, put my pyjamas on and eat my cheese and crackers.

One of those exciting moments came in September at the Last Night of the Proms – ‘A fantastic, wild night,’ according to Susan, who is now in Frankfurt, performing Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

She married tenor Richard Berkeley-Steele in 2009 and she said: ‘Being away from home for long stretches is not always easy but you get used to it. You miss family occasions and birthdays but I try to get a nice apartment – hotels are OK for a week or so, but no longer – and to make it a home from home.

‘I’m very lucky, I’m booked up for the next four years but obviously I’m not 25 any more and I have not decided what I will do when the singing stops but hopefully that will not be for some time yet.’

The print version of this article appeared in the November 2011 issue of Cheshire Life 

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