Grace O'Malley - Rawtenstall's singing sensation

PUBLISHED: 00:00 24 March 2016 | UPDATED: 09:28 24 March 2016

Grace O'Malley

Grace O'Malley

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18, year old is on course for a career in opera. Julie Frankland reports. Photography by Sara Cuff

The Rawtenstall teenager is now heading to LondonThe Rawtenstall teenager is now heading to London

MANY performers have raised the roof during their careers but few, if any, can claim to have done it quite so young and quite as literally as Rawtenstall singing sensation Grace O’Malley.

To her legion of loyal fans, Grace, who turned 18 at the end of February, is a 21st century Kathleen Ferrier, another Lancashire lass with a voice big, bold and beautiful enough to bring the operatic world to its knees.

To local fundraisers and charities, Grace is the girl who’s all heart, willing to showcase her vocal range that goes from the aria ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’ to belting out a Cilla Black hit or a showstopper from ‘Les Mis’ to help with the cause, whether that’s raising money for a nearby hospice, a local cancer charity or to have a leaking church roof raised and re-fitted.

At the home she shares with mum, Maureen, and dad, John, there’s a High Sheriff of Lancashire Young Citizen Award alongside her Llangollen Eisteddfod Gold Medal. Grace has almost as many certificates and awards for her charity work as she does for her incredible voice, which her late, opera-loving grandad Tommy was the first to recognise.

Grace with her mum, MaureenGrace with her mum, Maureen

He offered to pay for singing lessons for the young Grace, who was more interested at the time in a theatrical career and wanted to follow her big sisters Laura, a new mum and history teacher living in Carlisle, and Megan, a staff nurse in Salford, to Burnley’s Basics Junior Theatre School.

Maureen said: ‘Laura and Megan both danced and went to Basics as a confidence-builder more than anything else and so naturally, Grace wanted to go too. But it was apparent from a very young age where her talent lay. Dad was absolutely right. Grace was a tiny girl with this big, operatic voice.

‘It stopped people in their tracks to hear her. As she’s grown older, she’s grown more into her voice and is now on the threshold of achieving her ambition to be an opera singer.’

For after sitting her A levels at Bacup and Rawtenstall Grammar School in the summer, Grace will be bidding farewell to Lancashire and heading to London and the Royal College of Music, which has offered her an unconditional place, with a generous scholarship, on a four year operatics course.

That wasn’t the only institution keen on her. Totally unprecedented for such a young singer, the Scottish Conservatoire in Edinburgh, London’s Guild Hall School of Music, Cardiff’s the Royal Welsh School of Music and Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music all offered places.

Grace said: ‘It was a really hard decision to choose between them but the Royal College offered me a place immediately after my audition. It’s also opposite the Royal Albert Hall and I used to tell grandad that one day, I would sing there and that’s still my dream.’

Grace’s back catalogue

With her amazing talent quickly identified, Grace began one-to-one singing lessons with Padiham tutor Chris Broughton at the age of six. At seven, she left her local primary school, St James the Less in Rawtenstall, to board at Manchester’s Cheetham’s School of Music as a chorister with Manchester Cathedral Choir.

At 10, she returned to St James the Less for her final year in primary before attending Alder Grange Community and Technology School in Rawtenstall, where she formed a girl band called Arizona, which performed to raise money for local cancer charity, Petal. Grace has since been made an honorary Petal member.

Her coach at the Royal Northern College of Music has been Linda Richardson, a member of the Welsh National Opera. Grace, who also plays piano, said: ‘I enjoy pop music but my heroines are Kathleen Ferrier and Cecilia Bartoli, an Italian opera singer, and that’s the direction I have always wanted to go.’

She is also a big fan of Alfie Boe, the famous Fleetwood tenor. ‘I tweeted him a clip of me singing a hymn. He sent me a lovely tweet back saying I sang it beautifully and that if I kept up my singing, I would be a professional like him.’

Grace has made five fundraising CDs and performed in countless charity concerts that have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for the likes of the Rotary Club, North West Air Ambulance, Rosemere Cancer Foundation, Help the Heroes, animal welfare charities and numerous other causes.

‘Grandad’ Ted

Among Grace’s biggest fans is 90-year-old Ted Davidson, of Padiham. He first heard Grace sing at a Remembrance Day service in the town’s Memorial Park when Grace was just 10-years-old. A World War II veteran, Ted was overwhelmed by Grace’s rendition of ‘Abide with Me’ and spent weeks tracking down mum Maureen to ask if there was a recording of Grace singing the hymn. The pair talked over the phone a number of times before Maureen took Grace to meet Ted, who had recently been widowed and had no local family.

The meetings became a weekly post singing lesson fixture. Ted then visited the family home for Sunday lunch and over the years, has grown to become an adopted member of the O’Malley clan. Last summer, Ted took his first foreign holiday when he joined the O’Malleys for a summer break in the Canary Islands. It was Ted who accompanied Grace on her interviews at the Royal Academy of Music and Scottish Conservatoire.

Maureen said: ‘Ted is like a dad to me, a grandad to all the girls and now a great-grandad to my new baby grandson. He’s fantastic.’ Ted commented: ‘Hearing Grace sing that day and getting to know the O’Malleys has given me a new lease of life.’

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