Richard raises his voice to win reality show

JOHN HARVEY

It is said that it takes a village to raise a child, and never has that rung more true than in the case of South Africa’s latest singing sensation, Richard Stirton.

Rondebosch may not possess the bright lights of a world music capital, but there is no questioning the role the local community played in developing The Voice SA’s first ever winner, who on Sunday night pipped KwaZulu-Natal’s James Freedom to take home prizes valued at more than R800 000, including a recording contract in the popular reality show.

This week, everyone from Mr Stirton’s parents and former teachers to the star himself recalled the enormous support he has received from the Rondebosch community, no matter what path he chose to pursue.

“I’m feeling very lucky at the moment,” the former Rondebosch Boys’ High School pupil and UCT BCom management student told the Tatler from Johannesburg, where he met with producers from Universal Music to plan his debut single.

“It really is quite surreal. Right now I’m just going where I’m told to, from photo shoots to doing interviews and meeting with executives. It’s all happened in the blink of an eye.

“The people at The Voice SA, they have been amazing. I never expected a reality show to have such a family feel, but that’s really what it’s been like. The show’s director, Darren Hayward, is an incredible guy. Here was this industry heavyweight who spoke to each of us (contestants) individually at the start of the show, just to make us feel more relaxed. You never would have imagined that.”

Asked about the support he had received back home, Mr Stirton said he owed his alma mater and his community so much.

“At Rondebosch Boys’ they taught us about the importance of interacting with people, and I’ve never forgotten that. We always say that you should remain a ‘Bosch gentleman’, no matter what you do in life.”

Mr Stirton’s mother, Jane, a Rondebosch estate agent, was still trying to let her son’s victory sink in.

“I have received messages from everyone, including a former client who now lives in New Zealand. Everyone has been so supportive,” she said.

Recalling the journey her son had taken to become South African music’s hottest property, Ms Stirton said sport had been his first love until a back injury thwarted his ambitions as a cricket star.

“However, Richard had always loved (music video game) SingStar, even as a child. After he had sustained the injury to his spine, he took up guitar lessons. And just as passionate as he was about sport, so he was about his guitar playing. In fact, we got sick of it. He was always belting out songs in his bedroom, and we would make him close the door. We felt so bad for our neighbours. Fortunately, they have been among those to have sent messages of support and congratulations,” she quipped.

Ms Stirton also payed tribute to Rondebosch Boys’ for its role in shaping her son’s attitude towards life.

“The music teachers,Terrence Scarr and Marc de Kock, were brilliant, and gave him so much confidence. He didn’t have any formal music lessons, but the support he received was magnificent.

“Richard is very focused on everything he does. He lives by the theory of 10 000 hours; that it takes this amount of time to master something. Above all though, I think he is just a good kid. I spoke to one of the people involved in the show, and he told me that Richard had spent his entire Saturday night – a day before the finale – writing thank-you cards to everyone involved. That makes me happy. I hope he always stays so grounded.”

Mr Scarr said the “interesting thing” was that Mr Stirton had never been a formal music pupil at the school.

“We used to have a cabaret show at the school, in which the Grade 11 boys would sing. Richard pitched up at the auditions in June, and just blew everybody away,” he said.

“He had an amazing voice. The way it worked was the boys would choose the songs themselves, but there were songs he didn’t want to sing. ‘Aww, why do I have to do that one?,’ he would ask. But I told him it was good to stretch himself. I remember he liked to sing Mustang Sally with a gravelly voice.”

Mr Scarr added that fellow music teacher Mr De Kock ran a band called The Gig Band, which focused more on pop and rock hits, which he encouraged Mr Stirton to join.

“He really enjoyed that in his last year at school. One day, Richard came to us to ask whether he should take a gap year to focus on his singing. Marc organised him an audition at a local show in Cape Town, and he was outstanding. The next thing, he found himself singing for The Barnyard Theatre group, performing in Durban and other parts of the country.

“Unfortunately, The Barnyard people had trouble with the fact that he couldn’t dance. Suddenly, he had a mad scramble to try to get into university. Typically, Richard picked himself up and carried on. That is his biggest strength – he is incredibly committed but at the same time he remains down to earth as a person.”

Rondebosch Boys’ headmaster Shaun Simpson said the school was delighted about Mr Stirton’s “well-deserved achievement”.

“He showed his promise first at the Grade 11 cabaret in 2011 where he was one of the lead singers and as a result he went on to front the school Gig Band in 2011 and 2012.

“The Stirton family have been stalwart Rondebosch supporters at their sons’ school events. In recognition of their and their sons’ great association with the school and Richard’s unique talent, we encouraged the Bosch family to support him through our social media platforms. We will watch his progress in the music world with interest.”