20 May 2022

Noella Hutton - the most famous Derry woman you have never heard of 

Local singer reveals the battles she has endured to get her career back on track

Noella Hutton had no interest in money or fame, but with a voice like hers it was always going to happen.
And it happened in a big way. In the 90s, she was scouted by one of America's biggest record labels and asked to name her price.
She shared the stage with the likes of Stevie Nicks, Sheryl Crow and the Dixie Chicks, and rubbed shoulders with A-list actors. 
Noella is great at telling stories, and she has hundreds - living round the corner from Ben Affleck, hanging out with with Winona Ryder, and partying with Hugh Heffner at the Playboy Mansion
Her life in America was the stuff dreams were made of, with a critically acclaimed album, sold out gigs, luxury hotels and chauffeurs.
But why didn't we know about about all this?
"I didn't tell anyone," she shrugs.
Probably because she didn't care; you can see why the A-list fell for her, the beautiful Irish girl who was deeply unimpressed by fame.
The signs were there from an early age that Noella liked to do things her own way.
She was asked to leave her local folk group aged 11 over creative differences.
"I forgot my song book, but I didn't need it. I knew every song," she laughs, taking a drag of her vape.
"The teacher told me to go and get my book. I said, 'I don't need it' and she said, 'Go and get your book' and I said, 'Shove it up your arse'.
"She came back looking for me, but I never went back."
Derry was always going to be too small for Noella and at 19 she headed to London with her guitar on her back and gigs with the likes of Van Morrison already under her belt.
"There was nothing here in 1990," she says.
"I would have done anything to escape."
Not long after she arrived, 'The Noella Hutton Band' landed a residency at Madame JoJos, a legendary Soho strip club frequented by actors and popstars.
"You'd have people like Robbie Williams, they'd all come in there mincing about," says Noella.
"Before we went on we'd be sitting in the green room with two totally naked strippers.
"But it was just normal. It wasn't a big deal. It was just work and they were so professional.
"Mariah Carey came in one night and she tried to move my friends from the front seats and I said, 'Naw, that's my friends there'.
"She asked me if I had a demo and I said naw. Honestly, I just didn't want to give her anything," she smiles.
Boy George was another regular and after watching her play, he asked her to sign to his label 'More Protein'.
"He said to me, 'No one has ever scared me before, but you scare me," she recalls.
So, you signed with Boy George?
"One of things he said to me was, 'So, you're a big dyke then?'
"That got my back up right away. I said 'George, my sexuality has got f**k all to do with what I am.
"'It's such a small, small part of who I am.
"And it's really nobody's business. It wasn't because I was ashamed, I just thought, 'I'm not going to ride on the back of that honey'.
"If he hadn't have said that, who knows? But it just wasn't meant for me."
The pair still hit it off and Noella sang with Boy George at a string of gigs in Shepherd's Bush Empire, dueting on a punk version of 'Karma Chameleon'.
They also enjoyed wild nights out together, where people used to confuse them for brother and sister.
"He was a good guy - very intelligent.
"And he loved me and he was so proud of me."
Noella was having the time of her life, singing at Paul O'Grady's 50th ("hot semi-naked men walking round serving beautiful food") but still working at Camden Market on the weekends to make ends meet.
She was hanging out with the likes of Oasis, Paula Yates and Michael Hutchence and the buzz around her was starting to grow.
Then she got the call that would change her life.
It was from the head of Radioactive Records who had signed the likes of Garbage and Debbie Harry.
"He asked me how much I wanted, I could barely afford to make it to the bus stop," she laughs.
Radioactive asked Noella who she wanted to produce her album and she choose Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads, who had just produced for the American rock band Live's album 'Throwing Copper'.
The label flew her to LA to record it and soon she was living the American dream with a substantial advance and her own cab driver who was on call around the clock.
"I was just happy to be able to do stuff for people," she says.
"Sure what's the point of having money? You can't take it with you."
Noella released her self titled album 'Noella Hutton' in 1997, toured extensively in the States and was put up in the likes of New York's Chelsea Hotel.
"I slept the best I ever have in my life when I was in New York," she says.
"It was just the characters. Everything.
"I felt at home there."
Her husky, soulful voice was also in hot demand commercially and featured in ads for Lexus, Nike, Coca-Cola and Toyota.
In 1999 Noella played to 30,000 people at Canadian singer Sarah McLachlan's Lilith Fair where she shared the stage with Nelly Furtado and Christina Aguilera.
"We had to do a press conference with Sky News, I just kept thinking 'I'm a wee girl from Derry'."
Despite reaching such dizzying heights, very few back home knew was happening.
"I never told anybody, I just didn't think it was important," she says candidly.
"I don't think I'm anything special, do you know what I mean?
"I was just writing and playing and having a wee laugh. That's very important. You're only here for a wee while.
"Fame never interested me. It was terrifying. 
"I knew too many people who were miserable and had no life.
"I had too much badness to get up to."
And what a life Noella was having. She was dating Taryn Manning (who went on to star in 'Orange is the New Black') and her album was No 1 on the playlist of the Virgin record store in Hollywood.
She was living the kind of life most of us can only dream of, but her mental health was suffering and in 2003 Noella suffered a complete nervous breakdown.
"Everything just crashed in my head at the one time," she says with characteristic frankness.
"It all closed in at the one time.
"I had just been putting it off my whole life.
"Everything that had went on reared its head.
"I'd had a breakdown in London too, but this was on a different scale.
"It was just trauma. You think you've dealt with certain things. But naw, you haven't.
"I'm amazed that I'm still here to be honest."
Noella's sister, Jeanette Hutton, brought her back to Derry, where she worked very hard to get better with the help of Gransha Hospital and the support of her family.
A couple of years later she met American singer/songwriter and producer Justin Black, who had her album as a teenager growing up in Arkansas.
"He said my album inspired him to play the guitar," she laughs.
"He didn't even know I was Irish."
She also formed the band 'Blood' with her sister Jeanette and brother-in-law Ruairi O'Doherty and two years ago they released an album of the same name.
"She's the eldest girl in the family and I'm the youngest and all we do is laugh at stupid sh***," said Noella.
"She's so loved. She's brilliant. She's my hero."
In recent years Noella has also channelled her energy into animal rescue charity 'Friends of Rescue' founded by her best friend Suzanne Fleming.
Together with Suzanne, Keith Rutherford and Carly Russell, Noella helps rescue and rehome neglected and abused animals.
"The day before yesterday we rescued 14 dogs," she said.
"It's the most rewarding, heartbreaking, devastating, incredible all-encompassing thing.
"I'm fearless when it comes to the well being of animals, children or old people."
Noella is now sponsored by world-renowned bespoke guitar makers Emerald Guitars, who are based in St Johnston.
Justin persuaded her to record her recently released solo album 'Love and Liars' which deserves to be heard on the world stage, but Noella has no plans for a big tour.
"I've honestly never made a plan in my life," she says.
"I don't believe in forcing squares into circles, do you know what I mean?
"It's something that has to happen organically, naturally.
"And this feels right at the minute."
To find out more about Noella, visit her Facebook page The First Noella.
Her music is available at
A documentary about Noella's life, 'The First Noella', made by Justin Black is now available on YouTube.  
If you would like to support Friends of Rescue you can find them at Friends of Rescue Ireland on Facebook.
For more information on Emerald Guitars visit

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