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13 Questions: pianist Nicholas McCarthy

by Ivy Broadhead

8th June 2010

Nicholas McCarthy was born without his right hand. He started playing piano at 14 and quickly realised that he could use his 'stump' to play one-note melodies. Originally self-taught, but clearly gifted, Nicholas's parents soon sent him for professional piano lessons. Just three years later he was studying a fully left-handed repertoire at the Guildhall School of Music, London.

Now 21, Nicholas is a student at the Royal College of Music, where he juggles piano practice with academic work and his own concerts, as well as fitting in telly work here and there. We caught up with him in between rehearsals and he single-handedly answered our 13 questions...
Nicholas McCarthy

Uppermost in my mind today is ...

Going to the shop to get some celery. I’m on a juice detox at the moment because I’ve got a photo shoot coming up next week.

People think I am ...

A singer. When I meet other musicians, they never think I’m a pianist. I don’t think I look much like a classical musician, I’m very fashion conscious and looking good is important to me.

To chill out I like ...

I go to the gym every morning and I do a lot of pampering. I love a massage and that sort of thing. As a performer you get very tense, and playing piano is hard on your shoulders. You do need to learn to relax.

I struggle with ...

Staying inside practising the piano when it’s a gorgeous hot day. I really do have to force myself. It’s fine in the winter months, but in summer I really hate it.

I excel at ...

Playing the piano. I was always average at school as a kid, getting Bs and Cs, but when I started playing piano it came so quickly and naturally, I just loved it.

Someone should invent ...

A pill to stop me ever putting on weight. I’ve always struggled with my weight, I used to be 21 stone, and even though I’m fine now it’s something I’ll always have to watch. Whoever invented it would make millions.
Julie Walters
Julie Walters is invited to dinner     &nbsp

My dream dinner party guests would be…

Julie Walters. I met her when I appeared on This Morning. She was just so lovely and funny and down to earth. She’s such a celebrity and I wouldn’t expect anyone to know who I was, but she came and talked to me. Also Katie Price; she reminds me of myself in terms of her business mind, and the way she switches between her personal life and her business life. It’s a tricky thing, but she does it well. I don’t know how well my two guests would get on though!

My first job was…

Working at a video shop during my gap year after A-levels. I worked in the evenings so I had time to practice piano during the day which was great, but looking back I don’t know how I did it. Sometimes it was just so boring and quiet.

I couldn’t live without….

My piano and my car. I live in Surrey, and it’s about a mile just to the train station. When I’m not at the piano I’m hardly at home, so without my car I’d be stuck.

My motto is...

Work hard, play hard. I’m a very social person, I’m always out; lunch, dinner, clubbing. Sometimes after a big concert I need to just go out, let my hair down.
Left hand playing piano
Practice pays off when the crowd applauds     &nbsp

A lot of people come to my concerts…

Out of curiosity, because they’ve never seen a left-handed pianist, rather than because they know a lot about classical music. A lot of my repertoire is Russian Romantic music, very Rachmaninov-like, the kind of music people will love even if they don’t know the piece itself. Rather than playing the accompaniment with my left hand and a one-note melody with my stump, the music I play was written just for the left hand. But to hear it sounds like there are four hands playing.

Playing live is…

Such an adrenaline rush. Practising alone for six hours a day can be quite a solitary job, but when you get out on stage the wall of applause just cancels it all out. Sometimes I lose sight of that, but performing is what it’s all about.

The future for me is…

Hopefully to be with a major classical agent, flying around the world performing, having a full international concert pianist’s career.

About Nicholas McCarthy

Nicholas is performing around the South of England this summer, before getting ready for a Ravel Piano Concerto performance in September. For full tour dates and more information about what Nicholas is up to, check out his website.

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