Susan Boyle made a triumphant return to the stage on Tuesday at the premiere of a musical charting her rise from humble church volunteer to global superstar.
Wearing a glittering red dress, the 50-year-old received several standing ovations as she sang her signature tune, "I Dreamed A Dream", at the opening night of the musical of the same name in Newcastle.
"We love you," shouted out a member of the audience.
"I love you too -- see me outside," replied Boyle, displaying the cheeky sense of humour that has won her millions of fans, some of whom had travelled from as far as Australia and the United States to attend the premiere.
Before this week, Boyle had not performed in public in Britain since singing for the pope in September 2010. Her two-song set after the musical ended left the Theatre Royal buzzing with excitement.
"It was worth coming half way around the world to see her tonight."
It started when footage of her audition for a British television talent show went viral on the Internet.
In the video, the audience and the judges snigger as Boyle, looking dishevelled and more than a little eccentric steps on to the stage.
Then she opens her mouth to sing "I Dreamed A Dream", the hit from "Les Miserables" -- and that was when her life changed.
The footage has since received about 500 million hits on YouTube, according to the musical's producers. And she has gone on to record three albums that have sold more than 16 million copies worldwide.
The new musical is based on Boyle's autobiography, "The Woman I was Born to Be". It follows her from birth, when she was deprived of oxygen, through school when she was bullied for her learning difficulties, to the years spent caring for her mother.
The scene of her breakthrough moment at the audition had the theatre audience cheering and whooping. But they fell quiet as the tale turned to the intrusion of the press and her near-breakdown when she lost the talent show final.
The story is told as if Boyle is narrating it, with her memories revealed like dreams, full of laughter, dancing, music and the love of her large family, as well as heartache at the deaths of her beloved parents and sister.
"I felt that the world hadn't really heard Susan's voice," said co-writer and actress Elaine C. Smith, who Boyle personally chose to play the role.
Smith describes the singer's life as a "fairytale" but told AFP: "I didn't want it to be a sugary-sweet story.
"What fascinated me was that ordinary woman, and what she'd gone through in her life.
"It is a very delicate balance that you play the truth and you play it honestly, and there is fun in the show but there is also great pathos."
The singer approved the script, which is interspersed with hits from her albums and classic songs she associates with key moments in her life.
But she has yet to watch the musical in full, finding it too painful, Smith said.
Boyle remains mentally fragile, although there was little sign of nerves when she took to the stage Tuesday, sending the audience into a frenzy of delight.
"It just took your heart away," said 79-year-old Jeanette Mole.
After a week in Newcastle, the musical goes on a tour of Britain, after which the producers hope to take it to other parts of Europe, to Canada, the United States and Australia -- although many of Boyle's fans couldn't wait that long.
Maire Byrne, a white-haired 70-year-old from Dublin who was wearing an "I Love SuBo t-shirt", was among about 100 international fans who met online and arranged to come to Newcastle together to see the show.
"It was beautifully done -- this is what she wants the world to know about her," Byrne told AFP.
Meg Neiderer, a 52-year-old from Pennsylvania, added: "It's not just her music, her voice -- her story touches people. I can relate to her."
Smith echoed this, saying: "For 20 years we've been living in a completely celebrity-obsessed culture, where if you're not tall, thin, blonde and gorgeous, particularly as a woman, you don't count.
"Susan has sort of put a bomb under that."
Source: AFP Global Edition