At only 23, openly-gay British musician Nicholas McCarthy is already an accomplished pianist who enjoys international recognition.

This young talent’s achievements are even more astounding considering that he plays only with his left hand, because he was born without his right.

Nicholas has never let this hold him back. In fact, he says, it has probably been his biggest motivator in pushing him to accomplishing greatness at such a young age.

He discovered his talent for the piano as late as age 14 but his perseverance and determination to succeed as a teenager when others thought he’d fail paid off as it won him a place at the Royal College of Music in London. Nicholas graduated in 2012, making history as the only left-handed pianist to ever graduate from the prestigious 100-year-old institution.

Since then, he’s become one of the busiest pianists in the United Kingdom, playing solo and with the premier orchestras. Nicholas has also made regular appearances on British television and radio but he rates his playing at the 2012 Paralympics closing ceremony in London as one of his biggest highlights.

Described by The Times as “sheer poetry”, he’ll bring his talent and message “that anything is possible” to South Africa with performances in Cape Town, Durban and Joburg this February. Nicholas spoke to Mambaonline about his astounding career.

What about the piano appealed to you over any other instrument?

Everything about it. The sound it is capable of producing and even the way it looks as a piece of furniture. I just love everything about it.
You started playing quite late. Did you immediately have an affinity for the piano, or did it take a while to realise your talent?

Looking back, I did progress phenomenally quickly with piano, so yes, I think I did have an infinity with it when I started to play. I just don’t think I realised it until a few years later.
To what extent did having one hand affect your sense of being able to accomplish things when growing up? Did you feel limited by it?

Having one hand never got in my way, and I think that was to do with my parent’s attitude. They always instilled in me that I could achieve anything with hard work and they never treated me differently just because I had one hand. Therefore, I think it made no difference to me whether I had one hand or not. I’m sure they didn’t expect their son to be a concert pianist though. It’s not the first thing you would expect me to do as a career.
What has driven you in the face of what would probably cause others to give up?

I think any industry takes a lot of guts to enter into as one never knows what to expect. With me, I have always been a very determined person, so if I set my sight on something I won’t stop until I’ve achieved what I wanted to achieve.
Has being gay affected your drive to succeed?

Not at all. I don’t think sexuality has anything to do with success or drive. I think it is down to each individual person.

Did you ever imagine that not only would you become a remarkable pianist but also a famous one?

I never imagined I would be where I am today. I count myself very lucky and fortunate that I have had the opportunities that I’ve had to date. And I feel blessed that people want to come and see me perform and hear my message through music. I’m looking forward to seeing how the next few years pan out as there are lots of exciting things coming up.

Are you single or involved?

I am very lucky to have an amazingly supportive fiancé who often travels with me when he can. It’s great to have that support there from someone who I know only ever has my best interests at heart. Also, he loves classical music, yet isn’t a musician himself, so it seems to be a perfect match.
What would you say to people that might feel that your style of music is too sophisticated or inaccessible to them?
I would urge them to come along and see what they think. More often than not, people who don’t like classical music come to my concerts as they’d seen me on television. They often say to me afterwards that coming along to my concert has proved to them that they do like classical music.

What musicians or performers have inspired you in your career?
The Argentinean concert pianist Martha Argerich is a great inspiration to me. She is such a fantastic artist.

Here in South Africa, we’re particularly proud of our very successful Paralympic team. What was it like to perform at the Paralympic Games closing ceremony?

It was the most surreal and exciting experience of my life. Classical pianists don’t ever get to perform to an audience of half a billion worldwide viewers so it is certainly a memory that I will hold with me forever.
Do you see yourself as a role model?

I don’t see myself as a role model, though I do know from letters that I receive that a lot of people do see me as one, which, of course, is very flattering for me. I just hope that I inspire people to have the strength to follow their dreams like I have.
What would you say to someone who is facing adversity – whether it be towards a perceived disability or homophobia?
I would say to them that with courage and strength you will rise further than those who are causing you problems.

What do you do to relax and socialise; on weekends or when you have time off?

I enjoy lots of different things. I’m very interested in film and often go to the cinema. I enjoy cooking as I used to want to be a chef, so when I get chance I enjoy cooking for family and friends. I also go to the gym a lot because I like cooking (and eating) so the gym enables me to eat what I like a lot of the time.
Good call! So, what is your signature dish in the kitchen?

I’m very interested in Asian influenced cuisine, so my family and friends often ask me to cook dishes like my salt and Szechuan pepper king prawns with chilli fillet beef and Singapore rice noodles. Also, my vanilla soufflé is requested a lot.
Have you been to South Africa before?

No, I’ve never been to South Africa but have always wanted to visit. So it’s amazing that I’m getting to see the country whilst performing there.
Are you a bar or club kind of guy – can we expect to see you at any local hotspots?
My schedule tends not to allow for too much socialising whilst I’m touring, but I’m definitely more a bar kind of guy, as opposed to a club.

Nicholas McCarthy will perform in Cape Town at the CTICC on Saturday 9 February, at the City Hall in Durban on Wednesday 13 February, and at the Linder Auditorium in Johannesburg on Friday 15 February.  Tickets, from R300, are available through Computicket.

Watch Nicholas in action on the piano below.

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