'She made sure I got my dream' - Harlepool's Michael Rice pays tribute to mother as he prepares to represent UK at Eurovision Song Contest
Hartlepool's own Michael Rice has paid tribute to his mother as he prepared to represent the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest.
The 21-year-old said Stephanie, a single parent, nurtured his dream of finding fame as a pop star - and made sure he took musical theatre classes each weekend from the age of six even though times were tight..
Michael said his mother struggled to pay the £60 fee each fortnight but those early years paid off when he started writing songs.
Rice, the eldest of four, said she had "focused on me and made sure I got my dream - the dream I am living now".
He said: "When I was six my mum put me into a musical theatre school on the Saturdays.
"It was a little bit of a struggle for her because it was £60 every fortnight and she was a single mum at the time - and there were four of us. I'm the oldest."
At 13 he dropped musical theatre and began writing.
Soon he had penned his first song, Lead Not Follow, the title of which he would eventually have tattooed on his right arm.
He said: "It was only when I was 13 that I decided I didn't want to do musicals anymore.
"It spiralled from there. Then I was busking on the streets up and down the country, then All Together Now came and I won that."
Rice has performed on Eurovision host Graham Norton's self-titled BBC One show as well as travelling to European cities including Madrid for pre-parties in the lead-up to the contest.
Next week he will perform the song Bigger Than Us in Tel Aviv, Israel, during the grand final in front of up to 7,000 audience members and many more globally.
Rice has been targeted by trolls online who have attacked his weight and labelled him a copycat of pop star Sam Smith and The X Factor winner James Arthur.
He remained defiant, saying: "For people who are 40 and 50 years old to finish work, come home, get on the computer and just absolutely go in on me on Twitter and YouTube...
"No-one's perfect. I'm here regardless of what you say and I'm still going to be a singer.
"The people who have watched Eurovision over the years have only seen these older people represent us and because I'm 21 they just think I'm a kid, that I've just walked off the street and I'm just representing the country for the fun of it.
"But really I have worked so hard over the years. I've won All Together Now. I've won the You Decide show.
"I'm representing the country. So a little more support would be nice."
- The 2019 Eurovision Song Contest will be held in Israel between May 14 and 18 after the 2018 contest was won by Israel entry Netta with her song Toy.