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BBC Radio 3 - 10 May 2020 - Private Passions Andrew O'Hagan
In a moving and personal interview the novelist and journalist Andrew O’Hagan talks to Michael Berkeley about his family and the music that inspires his writing.
Author: Andrew O'Hagan
Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition
Hardback: 7 April 2003
ISBN: 0571195016 / 978-0571195015
Author: Andrew O'Hagan
Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition
Paperback: 1 April 2004
ISBN: 0571217753 / 978-0571217755
Author: Andrew O'Hagan
Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition
Kindle Edition: 25 November 2010


Maria Tambini is a thirteen-year-old girl with a great singing voice. Growing up on a small Scottish island, she is ready for the big time and keen to escape her ordinary life.

When she wins a national TV talent show, she becomes an instant star, yet all the time ‘the girl with the giant voice’ is losing herself in fame and in a private battle with her own body.

Can Maria be saved by love or is she destined to be consumed by celebrity, by family secrets, and by her number one fan?


An enormously impressive, frequently curious and consistently ambitious novel.

Sunday Times

Personality plucks a wealth of literary art . . . What he manages brilliantly is allowing us only restricted access to Maria’s mind, so that the reader is put in something like the same relation to her as the sharkish agents and managers who suck her dry.’


There is boldness and beauty in this finely wrought merging of mythical epic, historical resonance and contemporary detail, and it is emblematic of O’Hagan’s wider ambition . . . Few young novelists would have the nerve to undertake such a task and fewer still could accomplish it with such command, such grace, and such compassion.

New York Review of Books

The Mirror: 22 April 2003

THE family of Lena Zavaroni have accused an author of cashing in on the late singer’s memory, I learn.

Andrew O’Hagan, deemed in the literary world to be a bright young thing, is publishing his novel, Personality, this week.

His “work of fiction” tells the story of Maria Tambini, of Scottish-Italian origin, who was raised on the Isle of Bute, wins a TV talent show called Opportunity Knocks, becomes a child star and dies of anorexia.

Zavaroni, on the other hand, was of Scottish-Italian origin, raised on the Isle of Bute, won Opportunity Knocks and became a child star before dying of anorexia in 1999.

Zavaroni’s sister, Carla Bush, says of O’Hagan: “He’s making money out of somebody else’s life. He is using Lena’s name for his own ends.” O’Hagan admits he was inspired - “touched and intrigued” - by the singer’s life story. But he denies his book exploits her.

The Mirror, 22 April 2003 via The Free Library← follow the link to read the full article

The Guardian: The Observer Review - 23 March 2003

Andrew O’Hagan follows the rise and fall of a 70s celebrity in his rags-to-riches tale, Personality.

The Guardian, 23 March 2003 ← follow the link to read the article

Logical Outcome of The Mirror's comparison

So as we can see from the comparison between Maria Tambini and Lena Zavaroni’s life stories is the fact that the only fictional element of this work is the claim that it’s not about Lena Zavaroni.