It’s hard to imagine someone who is on top of the world, just giving it all up for no reason. True, sometimes those at the top fly just a little too high and find themselves crashing to the ground with no parachute. People like OJ Simpson and Anthony Weiner spring to mind.
Sometimes though, it’s not exactly a choice. Sometimes things happen that are out of our control. The Scottish songstress in our story was on top of the world, or as on top of the world as a successful folk musician can be, when something happened that changed the course of her life forever…
Shelagh McDonald had always been a free spirit. From the moment she first discovered music, the slight, dark-haired young girl seemed to be drawn to it. She would sing to herself often as a child and eventually, her parents realized that this lovely singing voice would take her places.
Teenage Shelagh was a delicate-featured young woman with an angelic voice. She began to write her own music, songs full of soulful lyrics and enigmatic self-expression. It was the music of a young woman, navigating her way through all genres: pop, classical, and finally, folk music…
Shelagh was a near-instant hit from the moment she landed herself a recording contract. Her folk-inspired musical stylings struck a chord with the free-loving, open-minded people of the late 60’s. They spoke to people on a level and in a way that other music of the time simply didn’t.
However, in 1972, two albums in and just as Shelagh’s career was beginning to take off, an event occurred that changed her life forever. The popular folk musician suddenly stopped appearing in public. She vanished from the spotlight and before long disappeared from the world entirely…
No One Knows
No one knew where Shelagh McDonald was. Musical collaborators, record execs, agents, even her closest friends had no idea where she’d gone to. Authorities were called in but could find no leads themselves. As expected, rumors began to fly around as to her whereabouts.
A number of elaborate conspiracy theories surrounded her disappearance. Some believed that Shelagh was a time traveler or that she was part of a conspiracy. Unfortunately, without the internet to lend some sort of proof to these unfounded theories, Miss McDonald simply faded into obscurity…
Dead and Gone
A good portion of her fans believed that she was dead, but many insisted that she wasn’t. The more bohemian among her followers surmised that she had become tired of fame and slipped into obscurity willingly. But Elvis Presley she wasn’t, and fame, in this case, is a strong word.
Despite her disappearance, or perhaps because of it, her music maintained a strong following. Her albums were reissued on CD in the mid-2000s. The renewed interest in this 30-year-old mystery spurred a number of articles all asking the same question: What happened to Shelagh McDonald?
Scottish Daily Mail
One such article appeared in The Scottish Daily Mail. It discussed her albums, her disappearance and was released again a few days after its initial printing with an interesting postscript. As it turned out, Shelagh McDonald, wherever she had been, had seen the article and showed up at the offices of the Newspaper.
High on Life
She told the newspaper staff that it was time to come clean about what had happened on the night of her disappearance. She had been at a party on that fateful night and had indulged herself in a bit of the preferred spirit of the day: drugs. A powerful dose of LSD sent her on a trip that defied imagination…
One London Evening
The drugs left Shelagh wandering aimlessly through the streets of London. As she staggered across the city, she battled a host of terrible visions and fevered hallucinations. It went on like this for weeks. In fact, as the days turned into weeks, she realized that perhaps she needed some help.
Mum and Dad
She caught the nearest plane back to Edinburgh, Scotland, where her parents lived. She was still tripping on the LSD most of the way. Her parents nursed her back to health: helping her to stave off the likely permanent damage done by the acid. In time the trip finally ended and Shelagh recovered her wits, but there were some unforeseen Consequences…
Indeed, though the hallucinations had subsided, Shelagh found that the trip had ruined her singing voice. Her once beautiful voice had been reduced to a strangled croak. Her parents, who had always been nervous about her becoming a popular singer in the first place, convinced her that her that the only option left to her was to give up her music career.
With no career and nowhere else to go, Shelagh decided to voyage into the wilderness. She lived as a free spirit and stayed off the grid completely. Which is why no one knew where she was. Eventually, she met a failed academic named Gordon and the two were wed. For the next three decades, the happy couple lived as traveling vagabonds…
Shelagh and her husband had been living in a tent somewhere when she discovered the article in the Scottish Daily Mail. The article led her to discover that her fans were still looking for her, were still wondering where she was and when she would return to make new music. She was pleasantly surprised that people were apparently still interested in her work after all these years.
Life Gets Better
After her initial reappearance, she and Gordon, who were still living in tents and hotels, eventually began to collect on 30 years of royalties owed to her by the record company. By 2008, they had enough for a new flat but within five months of them moving in, Gordon’s health began to deteriorate…
At some point, she and Gordon posed for a photograph and her story began to circulate. This proved to be a bit too much for them and Shelagh went back underground again. Then, in 2012, Gordon passed away. Through grief, Shelagh rediscovered her broken voice. Her love of music had finally returned.
Her voice, when it finally returned, took some time to strengthen. She had thought about returning to the folk scene many times over the years but had decided that eschewing the comforts of society should take precedent. In 2012, she contacted a vocal coach who put her through her paces and eventually saved her voice…
Back in the Biz
In 2014, she gave her first musical performance in over 32 years. “I’m completely recovered from what happened back then and it’s a miracle my voice has been restored,” she said of her resurfacing. “Only one lingering side effect: my mental arithmetic sucks!” She says she has no regrets about the path her life had taken.
When asked about her life as a transient, Shelagh said “I don’t miss the tents – it’s enough to have memories of the good times, and there were plenty. As for London, I miss it as it was in the 60s and 70s when it was cleaner and a lot more relaxed. My ideal living space is definitely the countryside but within reach of a city on the odd occasion duty calls.”