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To be able to buy a house, a new washing machine and dryer, I'd love that

They've got her poster in the window of a chipper back home. Which, when you think about it, says everything you need to know about Mary Byrne and her beloved Ballyfermot. There's no airs, graces, or silly showbiz demands -- just an ordinary woman with a powerful voice. The kind who greets you with a warm handshake and a smile, before opening up as if you were her friend, her drinking buddy -- even an old family member.

Indeed, there's plenty of talk about 'living the dream' and all that jazz, but Byrne (51) isn't like other X Factor contestants of years gone by. Everything isn't 'ah-maaaazing' or 'unreaaaal'. Perhaps she sums it up best when she stops me from using the word 'famous' ("I'm not famous -- I'm just Mary Byrne"). Or when she explains that, back in the house, she's still just 'mam'.

Whatever the case, finishing fifth on one of the biggest reality TV shows in the world has done wonders for Mary's confidence and self-esteem. Sure, debut single I Just Call You Mine failed to reach the top 40 in England, peaking at number 12 on these shores, but it wasn't released for the charts, she tells me. More a teaser of the album, really -- a slick collection of typically grand covers entitled Mine & Yours.

If you were a fan of what Mary did on the show, then you'll love the album. Give her a top-20 hit with it, and she'll be a happy camper. Just as long as the former Tesco employee can continue doing what she loves for a living.



fickle

"I'm not one of these young kids who are dreaming of stardom," she says. "Maybe because I'm older, and because I know that this business can be fickle, and it can come and it can go as quick. So I'm grabbing every moment with both hands and I'm enjoying it.

"And that's the only way I can put my head around this," she continues, "because it's just been happening so fast. I'm not sitting here thinking, 'oh, I'm gonna be a global sensation, or I'm gonna be the next big thing'. I'm just sitting here saying, 'I'm so grateful that so many people are listening to it'.

We chat about Mary's relationship with former mentor Louis Walsh. He's been quite supportive since the show came to an end, she insists, and reckons Mary should put out a Christmas album.

"It's looking good from Louis' point of view," she says, "that he's gonna still be there to back me and to get me as far as he possibly can -- to give me the chance that I've wanted."

Mary also has aspirations to go into acting and is excited by recent rumours that she could be in line to sing the next Bond theme.

"I'm a big Bond fan," she smiles, "so if I got it, it would be everything I ever wanted. If I don't, at least I've been talked about in that same circle of Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Paul McCartney -- all those great singers that put their voice to a Bond film."

Mary has recently been confirmed as the opening act for Neil Diamond's concert at the Aviva Stadium in June.

It will be a huge moment for the singer -- one that she hopes to share with 45,000 punters. "The scale of this is something I don't think I will understand until I walk out on stage. Heaven help me what it's going to feel like," she said, following the announcement.

These days, Mary still lives in Ballyfermot -- and has no intention of moving out, either.

"People just leave you to do your thing," she offers, "and what I'd really like to do, if I did earn enough, is to buy my council house for my daughter, and to do it up to the way I'd like it. Not real posh, because I'm not a real posh person. I'm very down to earth. I wasn't brought up with poshness, or with riches. I was brought up with a lot of love, you know, talk about how you feel and never keep anything in. So for me, to be able to buy my house, to put it in my daughter's name, to do it up to the way I want it -- a new washing machine, a new dryer, and a lovely new fridge -- I'd love that."

I ask Mary about her daughter -- 24-year-old Deborah Byrne -- and what kind of affect her success has had on the family.

"People always say, 'there's Mary Byrne's daughter'," she laughs, "and she'll say to me, 'I'm fame by name, mam'. But she's very proud of me. And she said to me long before The X Factor that I was always her hero, because I've been the one that's in her life since she was born, and I've always been there. So she looks up to me and I appreciate that, and I try to be a good mother and try to bring her up in a stable environment, so I've never had relationships in front of her or anything like that -- I never met anybody that I wanted to."

Mary isn't secretive about her personal life. She is, however, annoyed that Deborah's father appeared in the papers despite never having been a part of his daughter's life.

"It wasn't that I wanted to keep it to myself," says Mary. "The people I felt sorry for were his children, because he apparently has two children now, and I just didn't want those children dragged though the papers."

And how did Deborah feel about him featuring in a newspaper, I ask? Her daughter, according to Mary, is used to him never having been around.

Moving on, Mary has no regrets about her experience on The X Factor.

"What I did was me," she explains. "I didn't have anything up my sleeve. I had no game plan. I was just Mary. And I would like to think I came across that way and I think that's why people voted for me and took me into their hearts."

And if all this was to end tomorrow, how would Mary look back on her time in the spotlight?

"With pride," she beams. "I would also look back on the fact that I had lived the dream and it wouldn't matter what happened in the future because, in many years to come, when I'd be gone, my daughter would remember what I had achieved.

"And that's what it's about -- someone that you love remembering what you had achieved. That you got up off your ass and you did it. And that's what I'll remember."

Mary's album Mine & Yours is out now. Neil Diamond, with special guest Mary Byrne, is live at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, June 25