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The Voice star Brooke Scullion on growing up in Bellaghy and sharing the spotlight with her two grannies

Brooke Scullion is the drama student from Bellaghy who is wowing the judges on TV's The Voice. She talks about growing up obsessed by country star Philomena Begley - and the two eighty-somethings who are her biggest fans

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The Voice contestant Brooke Scullion at home in Bellaghy for the Weekend Magazine on March 11th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

The Voice contestant Brooke Scullion at home in Bellaghy for the Weekend Magazine on March 11th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

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Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

The Voice contestant Brooke Scullion at home in Bellaghy with her dog Cody (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

The Voice contestant Brooke Scullion at home in Bellaghy with her dog Cody (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

The Voice contestant Brooke Scullion at home in Bellaghy for the Weekend Magazine on March 11th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

The Voice contestant Brooke Scullion at home in Bellaghy for the Weekend Magazine on March 11th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Brooke Scullion backstage at The Voice UK

Brooke Scullion backstage at The Voice UK

Brooke Scullion,  a keen baker along with granny Sheila

Brooke Scullion, a keen baker along with granny Sheila

Brooke Scullion with grannies Peggy (L) and Sheila (R) the day of The Voice audition

Brooke Scullion with grannies Peggy (L) and Sheila (R) the day of The Voice audition

The Voice contestant Brooke Scullion at home in Bellaghy for the Weekend Magazine on March 11th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Northern Ireland's Brooke Scullion wowed the judges and held a TV audience of millions spellbound in a sensational blind audition on The Voice UK.

Now viewed over 800,000 times on YouTube, Brooke's haunting rendition of Lewis Capaldi's Bruises saw all four judges swing their chairs round and battle to be the 20-year-old student's mentor.

But Brooke wasn't alone in causing a stir in the studio, as her two adoring grannies, Peggy (87) and Sheila (81), almost stole the spotlight with their ecstatic backstage reaction.

Now as the weeks go on and Brooke emerges as one of the big talents in this year's contest, Peggy and Sheila's devotion has become an endearing part of the Saturday night show.

And the cameras again captured their joy in the audience last weekend as they watched Brooke sail through the battle stages to secure a place in next Saturday's knock-out round when she will be singing for a place in the semi-finals.

Brooke burst onto national TV screens as the very first contestant on the first episode of this new series.

Her wit, bubbly personality and talent immediately endeared her to all the famous coaches - Olly Murs, Will.i.am, Tom Jones and Meghan Trainor.

Brooke choose to be on US singer songwriter Meghan's team and the star, who was on her feet for most of Brooke's performance, said of the young South Derry woman: "She reminds me a lot of myself."

Back home in Bellaghy this week to prepare for her final exams at university next week, there was no hiding her excitement at the unexpected turn her life has taken. But while stardom looms very close, Brooke is still keeping her feet firmly on the ground.

"It is my two grannies who are the celebrities," she jokes. "They are being stopped every five seconds in the street and they are loving it! How lucky am I that I can have those two icons come and enjoy seeing me on stage? They have really captured the hearts of the viewers which is brilliant.

Brooke says both of her grannies have always been a big part of her life and have helped shape the person she is today.

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Brooke Scullion with grannies Peggy (L) and Sheila (R) the day of The Voice audition

Brooke Scullion with grannies Peggy (L) and Sheila (R) the day of The Voice audition

Brooke Scullion with grannies Peggy (L) and Sheila (R) the day of The Voice audition

Sheila Scullion was brought up in a remote part of the mountains where she had to walk miles to get to school, while Peggy McLarnon is originally from Wexford but came to Bellaghy as a young woman after falling in love with a local man.

Both of Brooke's grandfathers, Patsy McLarnon and Jimmy Scullion, passed away before she was born, making her relationship with her grandmothers all the more special.

She says: "We've always spent a lot of time together and my grannies would have come on holidays with us. I have learned so much from them.

"Peggy is the funny one, she is also very strict about manners and for her it is all about how you treat people. Sheila is the most patient woman I have ever met in my life.

"Both of them are my best friends. I know when I tell them something it will be kept in confidence and I could go to them with anything."

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Brooke Scullion,  a keen baker along with granny Sheila

Brooke Scullion, a keen baker along with granny Sheila

Brooke Scullion, a keen baker along with granny Sheila

While Brooke couldn't imagine performing without Peggy and Sheila in the studio to cheer her on, the ongoing developments with coronavirus has understandably left her nervous about them attending her next appearance on the show.

She says: "Everybody has to put more thought into what they are doing now and be more careful. It does terrify me the thought of my grannies flying over to London now with the coronavirus. Of course that's their decision and although I would be devastated going on stage without them, I don't want them taking any chances with their health."

Brooke is also delighted to be finishing university this year, a chapter in her life she confesses she hasn't enjoyed as much as she expected.

I'm very lucky to come from a small town where everyone knows everyone and people genuinely love to see you doing well

A real home bird, being away from family and friends to live in the halls of residence at Magee College proved tough and she feels she lost her creativity and love for music.

She admits: "I have found uni so hard. I think going to university is glamourised, you think being away from home is going to be fun but it wasn't like that for me at all.

"I didn't like being away from my family and friends.

"I think being in that different environment where I had to fend for myself and be on my own, I did lose my creative streak. I packed my music away for the past few years but since taking part in The Voice it has brought it back again. Now flying to London I am thinking of lyrics on the plane and I have written a good few of my own songs.

"I don't have the confidence to put my own music out there but you never know, maybe Meghan might help me with that!"

Accident prone as a child, she has suffered a number of mishaps breaking her skull, kneecap and leg in accidents which she readily admits "was all my fault".

She smiles as she tells the story: "I was about four when I jumped on my sister's back and I wasn't the lightest and she threw me off and I banged my head of the floor and broke my skull.

"I keep doing these things to myself. I was playing street rugby when I busted my knee cap and that was brutal, and then we were on a family holiday skiing and I broke my leg doing front and back flips. I had no fear as a child."

One of four children, Brooke has two older sisters Jade (23) and Holly (25) and a younger brother Zak (18).

Her first memories of music was hearing traditional Irish tunes at her grandmother Sheila's house in the mountains of Slieve Gallion. She grew up at home listening to country music played by her parents Tracey, a nurse, and dad Mark, an electrician.

Her parents were taking her to concerts at an early age and she laughs now as she recalls how, as a five-year-old, she believed Philomena Begley was the biggest 'pop star' on the planet.

She laughs as she recalls: "The first song I learnt to sing was You Are My Sunshine but the first music I heard was traditional Irish songs in my grannys' houses and then daddy was always playing Irish country music at home.

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The Voice contestant Brooke Scullion at home in Bellaghy for the Weekend Magazine on March 11th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

The Voice contestant Brooke Scullion at home in Bellaghy for the Weekend Magazine on March 11th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

The Voice contestant Brooke Scullion at home in Bellaghy for the Weekend Magazine on March 11th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

"I thought Philomena Begley was the coolest thing ever and I really thought she was a pop star - and the biggest pop star in the world! I knew her albums off by heart. My parents brought us to all the concerts going - Dolly Parton, Tina Turner, big country stars - and I was so lucky to grow up with that.

"I remember when I was about five going to a Philomena Begley concert and they wouldn't let me in because I was too young. I was so devastated and cried so much that Philomena came to the back door to meet me."

Brooke joined a musical theatre company and took part in school musicals. She was also a member of the school choir in St Mary's Primary School in Bellaghy and later in St Patrick's High School, Maghera.

Although she would have loved a career as a singer, she never believed it was possible so instead enrolled to study for a drama degree at the Ulster University's Magee campus.

For the last few years she has been gaining some on-screen experience working as an extra on many big shows including Games of Thrones and Derry Girls.

"I was in the second season of Derry Girls in the scenes at the proms and in the part where Hillary and Bill Clinton were visiting Derry and also in the school scenes.

"I do a lot of work as an extra and I had my first speaking line in the BBC drama Mrs Wilson when I had to put on a London accent. I would love to act and while I always wanted to have a career as a singer I just didn't think it was possible."

Growing up in a tight-knit community, she has been thrilled by the support from the people of her home town of Bellaghy and among her biggest fans are her fellow players in her local camogie team, the Wolfe Tones.

On Saturday nights they broadcast her performances on a big screen in the clubhouse and have celebrated all of her victories so far, which has meant the world to Brooke.

"I'm very lucky to come from a small town where everyone knows everyone and people genuinely love to see you doing well and that's a lovely trait. I've grown up with the girls in the camogie team and we all have a very strong relationship with each other. They message me every day and they are all buzzing for me."

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The Voice contestant Brooke Scullion at home in Bellaghy with her dog Cody (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

The Voice contestant Brooke Scullion at home in Bellaghy with her dog Cody (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

The Voice contestant Brooke Scullion at home in Bellaghy with her dog Cody (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Unbeknown to Brooke, a friend entered her for The Voice and the first she knew about it was when she received an email from the producer inviting her to audition. Coincidentally the auditions for Northern Ireland were being held at her campus in Magee College.

Convinced she had no chance, Brooke wasn't even going to bother attending, but because the audition room was next door to where she was studying, in the end she decided to have a go.

"My friend saw that the auditions were being held and said I should go but I just passed it off and told her to wise up," she recalls. "So she decided to enter me as a joke and honestly I don't think either of us thought I would get this far at all.

"To be honest, I really felt there was no point in going along but because it was in my building where I was studying in the end I thought 'why not?'

"I sang two songs to backing tracks I had on my phone and they were really bad. Then I sang Hotel California a cappella and I still don't know how I got through."

Going from a room in her local college to performing on stage in front of a live studio audience, millions of TV viewers and a panel of famous judges was a huge leap.

The very first contestant on the show, she says that she kept her calm by convincing herself that none of the judges would turn for her.

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Brooke Scullion

Brooke Scullion

ITV

Brooke Scullion

In The Voice, the judges don't see who is singing as they sit with their backs to the stage. They only turn round if they like a singer and want to mentor them further in the show. If no one turns round, then the singer simply leaves the stage and is out of the competition.

Brooke says: "In my head I had only played out the scenario of not getting a turn and I was fine -and I wasn't nervous at all - but as soon as they turned I started to panic.

"All I could think about was that I was going to have to talk and how that would come across on TV. I think it only really sank in for me at 3am that night when I couldn't get to sleep.

"Initially, I was thinking that Will.i.am would be a good choice because he is an amazing producer and I thought of Tom Jones because he is an icon, but I just felt a connection with Meghan and thought we were similar.

"And I'm so, so lucky to have her as a mentor. She is just a dream. I couldn't have hoped for any better. She relates to me on my level, she is so warm and down-to-earth, you wouldn't think she was a big US pop star. She is also so family orientated that it makes it easy for me to trust her. "

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Brooke Scullion backstage at The Voice UK

Brooke Scullion backstage at The Voice UK

Brooke Scullion backstage at The Voice UK

Starting with a team of 10, the last round saw the contestants battle against each other in pairs, to survive the next heat. Brooke was gutted to find herself pitched against the one person in the team she had bonded with the most, Jordan Phillips. They both sang Adele's track Water Under The Bridge.

Brooke says: "It was just sad for me and Jordan to be up against each other. We had such a good bond and are very similar in the way we get on and joke about. To be up against him was really hard for me and I couldn't concentrate on my singing. Thankfully when Meghan picked me, Olly Murs stole Jordan which meant we both got to stay in the competition."

Working hard in rehearsals, Brooke has only praise for the "very professional" team on the show.

Her mentor Meghan does spend a lot of time with her contestants and Brooke says the star is enjoying the fun so much that she chooses to hang out with her and the others in the group.

She says: “She sneaks down to spend time with us in the hotel and she doesn’t have to do that. I think she enjoys the craic and she is just natural and casual with us.”

While she has only met the other celebrity judges briefly backstage, she did have one fun encounter with Tom Jones, whom she confesses to having more than a little admiration for.

She laughs again as she explains: “I met Tom Jones behind the stage when I was getting ready to go on.

“I had lovely clothes on and really bad shoes and I said to him, ‘Don’t be looking at my shoes because I am going to change them’, and he laughed.

I just want to keep creating and being a good role model... The world is my oyster

“He is class. He’s got something about him. If he tried to flirt, I have to admit I would be a wee bit flustered!”

Now through to the next stage of the competition when she will be competing for a coveted place in the semi-finals, Brooke is philosophical about what whether she will go through or not.

Winning the show will almost certainly guarantee a career as a singing star, a long-held dream which she never believed could ever come true.

“I’m a very in the moment kind of person — something happens and then I forget all about it. I don’t think too much about the competition until the day of the performance and then I panic.”

With a smile, she continues: “I would nearly be sick with nerves before I get on stage and then the adrenaline takes over.

“I’m having an absolute ball. I couldn’t be treated any better. I’ve never sung in an environment like that before where you could hear a pin drop. I love the experience, but I am not letting it go to my head.”

Her entire family have been to the London studios to watch her perform and it is their support which she says keeps her feet on the ground: “I didn’t grow up with my family telling me I was a brilliant singer, which is a good thing as they will keep me grounded. In fact, if I started to sing, my brother would leave the room.

“Though I think when I was complaining about feeling tired on the show, my brother thought I was being a bit of a diva and then when he came over and saw how hard I was working, he realised it was a big deal.

“It was great for them all to see me on stage and doing so well and it was lovely for me to get on a stage like that and have their support.”

Just this week, the fun side of Brooke came out when she shot a brief video for TikTok which has gone viral and been viewed over four million times.

She and her friend did an hilarious take on the “Shallow Challenge” made famous on America’s Ellen Show, when a lady from Essex was asked to finish the lyrics of the hit song from A Star is Born.

Brooke says: “We were on the stairs in uni and I was in the middle of a crowd of people and I just burst into song and my friend videoed it.

“We put it on TikTok and it got around 1,000 views straightaway and I thought that was it.

“Then I checked two minutes later and it had gone up to 1050 views and every second after that it went up by 100,000 and we just couldn’t believe it.”

Now with two of her final exams looming next week and the next stage of the competition on Saturday night, the week ahead promises to be a busy one for the local girl.

The knock-out round will see Brooke compete against five others in her team for one of just two places in the semi-finals.

She adds: “Last time, I didn’t get to pick the song and the good thing this time is that I have a bit more say in my song choice and I have chosen something I love and which I know I can sing.

“To get that platform to do it on is just amazing. There are no words.

“I am just keeping my head down and working hard and definitely it would be a dream to win. I just want to keep creating and being a good role model. The world is my oyster!”

You can see Brooke’s next appearance on The Voice on Saturday, March 21

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