The Ugly Duckling Diva

A Fairy Tale Comes True

Sally was the second to be born. Her beautiful sister, Sam, emerged on time, perfect in every respect. Sally’s journey was harder, she arrived all battered and bruised. Sally was very large and, it’s true to say, very ugly.  People tended to smile at Sam and sigh at Sally.

Their first day at school was more of the same. Sally, Sam and their mother met Mrs. Mallard, the headmistress, in the playground. Mrs. Mallard was tall and extremely striking in her red trousers. She beamed at Sam. ‘Lovely, lovely girl’, she announced proudly. Her voice dropped as she was introduced to Sally.  ‘Hello’, she said rather slowly, and glancing at Sally’s mother asked, ‘Special needs?’

‘No!’ Sally’s mother replied sharply, ‘Just special. Very special. And she’s an excellent swimmer.’

‘Of course…Good…’ Mrs. Mallard muttered. ‘Now, come along,’ she commanded as she turned and strode towards the school. Sally, Sam and their mother followed in an obedient line. Sally couldn’t avoid noticing that all the other children were staring at them as they passed. She knew that the gasps of ‘Fatty’, ‘Ugly’ and ‘Spotty’ were for her, not Sam.

That’s how it went on. Day after day, before school, throughout break, after school and even in class. Sally was teased and tormented. About being overweight. Her complexion. Her choice of clothes. Her complete ignorance of fashion and celebrity gossip.  All those things that truly matter.

Sally couldn’t settle at school. Being a strong swimmer merely attracted more criticism. Swimming was for boys!  The only other subject she enjoyed was music. She discovered a love of singing and one day even plucked up the courage to ask if she could join the choir. When the music teacher said she thought Sally ‘wouldn’t quite fit’ everyone roared with laughter. Sally could take no more. She rushed out of the room and ran home.

Sally was so upset her mother decided to send her away for a while. She went to stay with her aunt, Violet Drake, and her cousins Johnny and Jemima. But it was really no better than being at school. The Drakes saw her as an unpaid helper, expecting her to do all the cooking. ‘After all’, as they endlessly joked, ‘she obviously enjoyed her food!’

Johnny Drake was the worst.  When Sally suffered a very bad of bout of acne, he nicknamed her ‘Boils’.

‘Oy, Boils, what you gonna to do when you grow up?’ he sniggered at her.

‘I want to be a singer,’ she replied, softly.

‘Ha, you, sing. You’re too ugly!’ He shrieked with laughter. ‘Me, I’m gonna fly – long haul, see the world.’

And that was how the summer passed. Being laughed at. On her return home, Sally couldn’t face going back to school so she got a job in a kitchen. She worked hard all day and spent every evening on her own, quietly reading or looking at YouTube. Singing along to her favourite songs was the only time she felt happy.

Then one day everything changed. With spring approaching and the weather a little warmer, Sally decided to venture out.  She was waddling and wandering through the town centre when she came across a huge crowd outside the local theatre.  It was the audition for the TV talent show, Star Gazers.

Sally found herself joining the queue. As she looked around she saw two young men pushing their way through the crowd, cheerily chatting. When they reached Sally they thrust a microphone in front of her face and eagerly asked her lots of questions. She recognised the northern accents. It was Rant and Duck, the two presenters of Star Gazers.

She told them her name was Sally Boils. She’d come up with that name one evening whilst watching Cabaret, after yet another spiteful attack from Johnny Drake. But she didn’t tell them that bit. Instead, she volunteered to audition for Star Gazers. Rant and Duck grinned enthusiastically, led her out of the crowd and guided her into the theatre. All the people they passed started to snigger, nudging each other, making the usual nasty comments. ‘They’ll eat me alive,’ Sally thought, but then decided she didn’t really care.

Sally entered the audition room.  There he sat, casual and confident: Simon Shallow, the man himself. The one who could make or break you. He went through the usual questions, between glancing out of the window and rolling his eyes at the other judges.

‘So, what are you going to sing for us?’

‘‘Maybe This Time’, from Cabaret.’

‘Off you go then. Good luck.’ He yawned.

Sally started to sing. All movement stopped. Everyone in the room gasped and stared at Sally. How could it be? She was ugly, yet she could sing. Doubts turned to delight, smirks became smiles. Rant and Duck jumped up and down, beaming and clapping.  Sally was still shaking when they gleefully told her, ‘You’re through to the next round!’

The next few weeks passed in a blur.  She was an overnight sensation. Everyone wanted to know Sally Boils. Even Johnny Drake sent her a good luck text. Then it was the big day. The grand finale. The winner would get a huge cheque plus the chance to ‘Sign with Si’ – the ultimate recording contract.

Then it was the actual moment. Sally was onstage. She caught sight of herself in the monitor. How things had changed. Her recent diet made her look much thinner. She fitted perfectly into her long white dress. Her hair, no longer a dull brown, was now distinctly blonde. The acne was absent. She was a woman. Beautiful even. But the true beauty came from within. Her voice soared and floated above them, almost chilling in its purity. ‘Maybe This Time’ followed by ‘Song Bird’. The crowd whooped with delight. This time, the result was never in doubt.