Published: 31/10/2014 16:20 - Updated: 31/10/2014 17:54

Car crash created Camille's career

Camille O'Sullivan. Picture: Sean and Yvette
Camille O'Sullivan. Picture: Sean and Yvette


by Margaret Chrystall

THE kind of twist of fate that can change lives means stage star Camille O’Sullivan’s name is up in lights rather than adding to Irish architectural skylines.

It was architecture she studied in Dublin – and got to be known as "the singing architect" with her urge to perform reserved for spare time.

But a car accident in 1999 changed all that. And by the time she recovered, Camille had decided that she just had to do the one thing that mattered most – perform.

Speaking just after the 10th anniversary year of performing her show at the Edinburgh Fringe, Camille returns to Inverness before a break then a month in Australia and New Zealand at the beginning of next year.

Last time Camille was here as the guest of Irish musician Sharon Shannon, singing with fellow guest Shane McGowan of The Pogues.

The Highland News review found Camille "ballsy, brash and beautiful to watch ... and soon had the place wrapped round her little finger".

Her own show’s set on Friday will include some of her own favourite songs by other people, her interpretations including songs by Nick Cave, Tom Waits and Jacques Brel.

When you see Camille perform, there's almost a kind of transformation into the original performer going on and she almost becomes that performer a little bit.

She agrees: "I think that’s absolutely it. I’ve never ever been able to explain to people exactly what I do onstage. With my own shows they try and call it cabaret, though I don’t see it like that at all. It's more taking someone’s story and song and inhabiting it.

"To me, I suppose what really interests me in music and acting is the emotional part of it. I’m half-French and half-Irish and therefore that darkness, the black humour and the emotional is something you have to go through. And if you don’t go through that - what’s wrong with you?!" Camille laughed.

"A was a bit embarrassed by it for years. I thought maybe I should just be a bit more distant in performing, but then I thought – like music makes me laugh and cry - it’s an initial reaction to something."


As a performer, she often collaborates with other artists or does one-off theatre projects, such as her recent acclaimed performance in Shakespeare’s The Rape Of Lucrece at Stratford.

"I felt very much for that character, I felt – I wouldn’t say haunted, but I know people who have maybe been mistreated and therefore you have an empathy.

"I think it’s very cathartic in a way that you can do it. But it lets me hit the nail on the head in the sense of inhabiting the song.

"That can get you into all sorts of trouble because your life becomes more on the stage than it is offstage because you are inhabiting people’s lives that can be more interesting than your own.

"Unless you’re touring with The Pogues and that’s very interesting..." laughed Camille.

She is now a mum too with a little girl who has helped balance her life and she loves just spending time at home too, she says.

Camille said: "I like domestic chores and my friends and normalcy because it’s a real world. The real world of touring is more ‘Oh is it going OK’ and trying to sleep well!

"Definitely my daughter highlights that there is somebody more important in my life than my work.

"Maybe that wasn’t there before – or maybe it’s that performers are egotistical but have to rely on thinking of themselves to keep the show going and that can drive you absolutely bananas.

"So it’s really nice to actually have this little girl who delights me and exhausts me and – probably karma is going to bite me – but she’s very like me!

"I just came back from New York yesterday I was absolutely shattered and I was going 'I can’t gig any more'. And that’s what performers do, then they take a week off and they go ‘I better go back’.

Especially after Edinburgh, you always feel after a month of that that you can never do it ever again.

"And I love just doing the normal things like cleaning the kitchen out this morning and other things that become very special to you because when you are on the road and you are living in some hotel room which isn’t yours."

But she laughs when reminded that in an interview it was mentioned that friends see her as a show pony who gets edgy when not performing. 

"It is a bit like that when they’re walking the horses round the circle before going in and I feel a bit like that before performing too!"

Looking back to 1999, Camille remembers her life-changing decision to become a full-time performer as very clear cut.

"Anyone who had treated me badly, I wanted them out of my life. Anyone who was close I wanted to tell them that I loved them.

"I needed a big kick to make it happen. I think that accident was a kind of second chance really.

"I’m a bit of a scaredy cat and people judge performers as if they are highly confident.

"But there are a lot of different reasons why people who are performers get up there – and I needed a big kick to make it happen.

"I didn’t know how to translate being a workaholic in architecture into a singer.

"I remember I sent postcards off to venues, asking people if I could play there – very hands on.

"But people who did book me – when we got to the venues – always remembered the postcard.

"The year after it happened I was kind of fearless. The nurse said ‘You’ll be able to grasp life. but it will take a while before you return to who you were’.

"But then the questioning of yourself comes back again.

"When you have a near-death experience it tells you ‘OK, you’ve got just one chance, now get on with it’.

"I need to remember that."

Camille O’Sullivan appears at Eden Court tonight Friday (Oct 31).

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