This much I know: Sandy Kelly

I’ve been performing since the age of three. Nobody gave me a choice.

I was born into a family of travelling entertainers, or ‘fit-ups’ as we were called. My grandfather, originally from Belfast, was the founder of the Dusky Dan Variety Show, and my father, Frank, carried on the tradition. There was no cinema or television in rural Ireland back then so crowds flocked to our visiting roadshows.

One of my first memories is of arriving in a village on a horse-drawn trailer. The ‘venue’ would consist of a small canvas circus-like tent for the show. We lived in the caravans that travelled the countryside.

Now, I realise that I was moulded like a robot for showbiz which, looking back, wasn’t always such a good thing for a child. I quickly learned the value of applause.

For a while, I didn’t appreciate the fact that I was an entertainer. I wanted to be a ‘regular person’ living in a house, going to school and church, so when I was nine I went to live with my grandmother. My classmates called me ‘the showman’s daughter’. I even studied accountancy for a while — but I ran back on stage when I realised I could earn more in one night with my father’s band than I could in a week at a normal job.

The best advice I ever got was from my grandfather — ‘never make excuses when you go out on stage’. To this day I never do. I go out to entertain and take the audience away from their worries. They don’t want to hear about my problems.

I don’t live showbiz. I’m quite shy when I’m off-stage. I find it difficult to mix on a normal social level. But I’m the cheekiest person when I’m performing; it’s nearly like a split personality.

I work in a world full of egos, so my most admired trait in others is modesty. Especially when someone is very talented.

I’d advise anyone on their way up that the key to success is not talent alone, but talent and persistence. And, you need to be ready for your big break — because you will probably only get one chance. I spent years being ready physically, cosmetically, vocally. And nothing happened. Then suddenly, my career took off when I met Johnny Cash.

I discovered Patsy Cline’s music by accident. I got into country in the ’70s, in the showband era. I think I sent the diehard country music fans into cardiac arrest as they were more used to singers with more traditional images like Philomena Begley and Margot. I had my first gold record with ‘Crazy’.

When I reached Nashville, it was love at first sight. But I soon found out it’s a difficult place.

One of my biggest faults — and I have many — is never taking time out for myself.

I’m a neat freak. Any free time is spent doing housework and cooking.

My idea of happiness is having my family sitting around the dinner table. Misery is when someone is missing. My father passed away recently, leaving a massive void in my life.

My biggest challenge so far has been having a special needs daughter — purely because ofthe worry of what will happen to her when I am no longer here. But our family are known for longevity. My mum’s mum lived to 106.

I believe in a spirit world, not heaven and hell as presented by catholicism. But I do pray everyday, it stops me feeling alone, especially when I’m touring. I never go anywhere without a relic and rosary beads.

Sandy Kelly performs her ‘Patsy Cline — 50th Anniversary’ show on Friday, Mar 15, at Theatre Royal Waterford; Saturday, Mar 16, at Set Theatre Kilkenny; Sunday, Mar 17, at The Theatre@The Helix DCU Dublin and Monday, Mar 18, at Cork Opera House.


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