Kirsty MacColl suffered stage fright and relied on the Pogues

Kirsty MacColl suffered stage fright and relied on the Pogues

Kirsty MacColl often suffered from stage fright…not that you could tell as you watched her strut about the stage when performing with the Pogues.

Kirsty MacColl suffered stage fright and relied on the PoguesHer brilliant performance on vocals and on the video of Fairytale of New York made a huge contribution to the unique character and success of the song, yet despite her outward confidence, she was unsure of herself.

Kirsty MacColl female vocalist on Fairytale of New York_PD
Kirsty MacColl Despite her outward confidence, however, she was very unsure of herself.

Her mother Jean McColl, told the BBC documentary, Behind the Fairytale, that Kirsty had been having problems with her public engagements in the early 1980s. “She was very shy. She got stage fright. For a time she didn’t perform; she preferred to work in the studio.

It was when she joined The Pogues on this particular song that she felt that the limelight was not on her, as a solo singer but that she was part of a group. It was this comradeship that got her back to singing full time and eventually enjoying it tremendously.”

Pogues guitarist Phil Chevron said: “We had persuaded her to come out and sing it with us live. I think in some respect because she had persuaded herself she was just a small part of the show where she came on and it was our show really, she was just a special guest coming on to sing a couple of songs. She had kind of kidded herself that it wasn’t her show.

She felt ‘protected by her eight buddies’

Kirsty on stage with The Pogues
Kirsty on stage with The Pogues

“She felt she was being protected I suppose by these eight buddies of hers who were pretending to take on the entire burden.”


Steve Lillywhite, who produced Fairytale of New York and was married to MacColl at the time, said she had decided to go out to Berlin to play just one gig with the band, but enjoyed it so much she wanted to stay on.

“She phoned me afterwards and said oh my God, that was fantastic, do you mind if I do the rest of the tour. I said no, sure, so she just carried on with them and I stayed at home with the kids. That was the catalyst for her to come back and realise she had something to give in a live performance.

Chevron says audiences immediately fell in love with MacColl when she came on for her spot. “From the moment she first stepped on stage to sing Fairytale, The Pogues audience absolutely adored her. They saw in her what we saw. They saw that magic and quality, and I’ve never seen an audience express such devotion to one performer as they did to Kirsty.

She never realised how much audiences loved her

Kirsty MacColl
Kirsty MacColl

“The Pogues’ audience made that song their own and when Shane sings the line, ‘I could have been someone’, Kirsty responds in harmony with, ‘well so could anyone’.

That became the big hook in the song because when we performed it live, four or five thousand people would sing along with her, “well so could anyone”.

“Kirsty never really got it. She never quite understood the depth of it.

Because in coping with her stage fright and in coping with all those sorts of issues, initially it was just a release for her to actually get though the song, so it took her some time to figure out that the audience were there for her as much as they were for us.“

Killed in a boating accident

Jean MacColl - Kirst MacColl's mother
Jean MacColl

Tragically, in 1990, Kirsty was killed in a boating accident while on holiday in Mexico. The Pogues, like her fans, were devastated by the news. Jem Finer said: “Kirsty was a very close friend and any reminder of her gives rise to a sense of loss but also the opposite side to that is, she lives on. That’s a great thing for a singer. Kirsty’s contribution, whether she’s with us or not, is irreplaceable.

Lillywhite said: “Hearing Fairytale of New York is a nice way to remember her each Christmas as well. We live beyond our lives through things like this and so people still remember Kirsty McColl and it’s great and there’s always a smile and everyone raises a glass to her.

MacGowan said: “She was a great friend. She was a very loyal friend. I miss her a hell of a lot.”

The final word goes to Kirsty’s mother, Jean McColl: “I think she was very proud of the song. She thought that Shane and Jem had written a fantastic number and it is. I think it’s close to genius that song. We live in a very dangerous and unhappy world for the most part. This is a song that accepts the fact and still there is a ray of hope in it.”

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