Bath Spa University

BA (Hons) Music

Saturday, 4 September 2010

What is the Definition of Success?

How would you consider yourself as a success in your career? Is it fame? Is it fortune? Do you have people working for you? Do you own a luxury car? Have you worked your way up from rags to riches?

Everyone has different definitions of success, or aspirations of what they will achieve when they become successful. For example, my sister Jo ( has just completed a degree in Womenswear Fashion Design and Technology at the London College of Fashion. To me, to get a place to study in a place like this is pretty good going. I mean, Jimmy Choo studied there! I went to Bath Spa University, and as much as I loved my time there, I can’t say some extraordinarily famous musician or composer that is worldly known and unmistakeable studied there, because they didn’t. I would have loved to go to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama or The Royal Northern College of Music, but I didn’t realise this until after graduating. But don’t get me wrong, I am glad I went to Bath – the tutors were great and supportive and I had lots of opportunities and generally a fab time, and I have made some lifelong friends! Anyway, I am going a bit off the point I want to make. I was reading my sisters blog (design cut sew) and on the side where the “about me’s” and personal details go, she has a section which says “When I’m successful, I hope to…” and there is a list of things. As I was reading each of the 5 items, it really made me think about what it is I want to do, have or be when I am successful. The things she put were:

• Have a vintage Louis Vuitton Trunk (wouldn’t we all love one of these?!)

• Own a Burberry Trench coat

• Have nice people to spend time with

• Fly my parents to Australia first class

• Carry a Prada bag

Now, I think these are all great things to want and I think that having nice people to spend time with is a very modest aspiration. However, when I think of things I hope to do when I am successful; they include performing a Concerto in the Millennium Centre accompanied by the National Orchestra of Wales! My sister’s definition of success (except for point 3) is to have made a decent amount of money. These are things she can do so long as she makes money, not necessarily being a success in the career she wants. I am not saying that is wrong I am merely trying to discover the meaning of success to different people. There are things that I wish to do with the money I make from my success. These are to live in a big house, own at least one pair of Christian Louboutin shoes, own some Louis Vuitton Luggage and be able to provide for my family.

I hope my musical success means I get to play full time with an orchestra, be a recognised soloist, be invited onto dessert island disks, do recordings for radio 3 and classic FM and lastly, own a business, of which I am not go to say as I don’t want my ideas stolen!! Maybe I should copyright them! I want to get up to go to work every day and feel happy about what I am doing and feel like I am doing the best I can at what I love.

I watched a programme today called Paul Potts: by Royal Command as it caught my eye on a random re-run channel. I wanted to see the whole thing, so I watched it on You Tube. Now, I haven’t taken much interest in Paul Potts before. I have not seen much in the way of The X Factor, Britain’s got talent or any other Talent shows that have reached our screens. When Susan Boyle was on Britain’s Got Talent, I was aware of the fuss about her, but I still didn’t even know what Britain’s Got Talent was at that stage. I never saw her audition or any of that series (or previous to this) of Britain’s got talent. And it is only recently that I found out who Paul Potts is; what he looked like or sounded like. I was intrigued by the show and felt like I had to watch more and took an interest in this man, who was once a phone salesman. Okay he had obviously had training and had a masterclass with Luciano Pavarotti, but he was still an ordinary man who had not made it in the Classical Music or Opera Industry.

Because I had been thinking recently about success and what it means to different people, it interested me that there are different arguments to Paul Potts success. There is his opinion about how he feels about his achievements (surely that to me is the only opinion that matters, but being in the public eye it doesn’t always work that way). There is the public that love him and helped him achieve millions of album sales (not just in Britain, but every continent) and finally, the Operatic World – which I will get to later.

So I watched the full show (all five parts) on You Tube. What I couldn’t believe was the run of bad luck this man had been through prior to his success. He was a Carphone Warehouse salesman. I have looked more in depth about his life and found out he was badly bullied at school. He quotes “I find sad arias easier to sing than happy ones, because I can always find an unhappy memory from somewhere.” On the show it says he had a long period of illness. I found out this was that his appendix burst, then a tumour was found (all while struggling to save for his wedding) which he didn’t have removed until after he had performed in some amateur opera productions. He said if he hadn’t taken the opportunity to perform he might not get to do it again. He was only back in work four days (and not long back from his honeymoon) when he was hit off his pushbike and fractured his collarbone, leading to nine months off work. By then he had over £30,000 worth of debts and had been out of work for two years. I think this guy really needed his big break.

When Paul first came on stage, everyone was judgemental because of what he looked like and when asked “why are you here?” his reply was “to sing Opera”!. Simon Cowell admits that he automatically had his hand ready on the buzzer. The judges and Ant and Dec said he was quiet, nervous and awkward. It wasn’t looking good…until he began to sing. It gave me goose bumps as I had never seen him sing before so obviously had never seen this audition. It certainly took the audience and judges by surprise.

A week after winning £100,000 on the show, Paul was in a recording studio recording his debut album. He said he doesn’t understand why people like him. “I don’t know what it is. I’m just me.” Paul put on a performance in his hometown of Port Talbot and then went on a world tour. This is surely a huge overnight success story of a normal (and usually unlucky) man who has come from tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt to having a wealth of £5million! Paul also said “I’ve never felt quite so complete. It’s like there was a piece missing. I worry about that piece becoming incomplete again.” What a humble guy. This completeness surely is his way of explaining success.

According to Simon Target, an Opera critic, not everyone is a Paul Potts fan because “Opera is a brutal business, much worse than TV talent shows. If he wants to do it, he’s up against some of the most competitive people he is ever going to meet.” Another Opera critic, Norman Labreque, thinks that the public feel sorry for Paul Potts and that it is just the entertainment that has any value. If he looked more like an Opera star, he would not have got anywhere and he will not encourage anyone to go and watch an Opera! However, he explains this in a quite cruel way, by saying “it is the audience for the fat lady and the bearded lady and the baby with two heads”, which I think is a bizarre explanation. He goes on to say that “the judge’s, in all probability have never set foot inside an Opera House and don’t know what an Opera means. They say it is wonderful, because compared with the dog that walks backwards, yes it is.” Ouch! A dig at both Paul and the judges. But it hasn’t stopped Paul doing what he is doing.

“I really think we have almost reached rock bottom with Paul Potts. I’ve listened to about a third of his album and I have to say, I really couldn’t bear any more of it. I thought it was very ugly, charmless, characterless singing and it slightly depressed me to think how many copies it had sold”. The words of Rupert Christiansen, an Opera critic for the Daily Telegraph. What I want to know, is that if he had listened to this album not knowing who had been singing it, what he looked like or how he came to be an Opera singer, would his perception of Paul’s album be different?

We get to a point in the show where we see the comparison of two completely opposite opinions of his success. One is Rupert Christiansen’s , through the eyes of the Opera Community and the other is through Amanda Holden and represents the public’s perception of Paul Potts. The public see Paul Potts as this huge success story. He is someone who has fought his way through some really tough times and gone from rags to riches over night. Because Paul Potts looks different and doesn’t perform in Opera’s the Opera society think he is not an Opera singer. That to me is BS! He may not perform in Opera’s in Covent Garden, but he sings in an Opera style…he is an Opera singer! He is popular with the public, but that doesn’t make him a pop singer! Rupert says how there is no way Paul could be a success and is not an opera star, “everybody goes “ooh, he must be good because he is an Opera Singer… He is not an Opera Singer…If you put him up in front of an audition panel…where people know more about singing than Simon Cowell does, he wouldn’t get past the first round”. But that may not be what Paul wants to do anyway! He may just want to sing, rather than be in a full blown Opera! Rupert does make a fair argument, that there are people who say that people like Paul introduce their fans to Opera. I totally agree that this is not true. If someone liked the style of singing and then went to see an Opera, they would probably have a huge shock. You have to really concentrate, watch and listen to an Opera, and unless you really appreciate it, it is difficult to follow. It is certainly not for everyone. Other than this point, I certainly think that the Opera community are a bit unfair to people like Paul who don’t necessarily get the opportunities within that community

But as I said earlier, there is only one person that can identify the success of this man, and that is Paul Potts. “I think that everybody is entitled to their opinion. I just love being able to sing and I am just truly humbled by the fact that there are people that love what I enjoy doing.”

If I had done the things Paul Potts; a world tour, a recording contract, fame in every continent, (and particularly if I stayed as humble) I would most certainly consider myself a success in classical music. But is there a short life span to his success? Well I guess that depends on him and circumstance.

I would really appreciate anyone’s thoughts or comments on this subject of success. What does it mean to you? Have you thought about it?


  1. I think to me success is being recognised and appreciated for what you do and having people think that you do it well. I also think that to be successful you must derive a sense of satisfaction from what you do and be happy with what you create. I think it means going as far as you can within your industry and always pushing a little bit further. For me, recognition from my industry is important. If I didn't have the respect of my peers, the people who live what they do and know it inside and out, I would feel like a failure.
    Sometimes though I think success can be beating the odds and prevailing despite everything being against you. It means different things to different people.

  2. Critics like Rupert Christiansen resent being rendered insignificant by popularity that doesn't fit within their narrow parameters of what warrants success with the general public. Insulting performers who have touched so many people (insulting all those people in the process), says far more negative about them than it does about their targeted subject.

    What is a "professional" critic, after all, other than merely a wannabe, doomed to pick apart that which they could not possibly do themselves? Those that can, do. Those that cannot, end up sniggling like a Rupert Christiansen/Norman Labreque.

    Anyone who can sing these songs without hitting flat or sharp notes are MILES above these two pretentious prats, and those of their ilk.