Susan Boyle cuts a comfortable, elegant figure on the red carpet, wearing a flattering embellished dress.

Susan Boyle cuts a comfortable, elegant figure on the red carpet, wearing a flattering embellished dress. Photo: Getty Images

I hadn't watched Susan Boyle's legendary audition for the 3½ years since she first did it, but after coming across this picture I immediately went to have another look. I needed to be reminded what she used to look like. Was it as, er, challenging as I remember?

Well, yes, but let me tell you, time and growing cynicism about talent shows have not dulled the impact of the moment she starts singing. It made the hair stand up on the back of my neck all over again.

And there was a gorgeous new detail. When the judges asked her - before she started singing - who she thought she might be compared to, she replied ''Elaine Paige'' to the snorting amusement of the audience. ''You?'' their faces clearly said as the cameras switched to them. ''You think you can be a star? Looking like that? Ha ha ha.''

Well, ha ha ha to all of us, because now on the list of suggested YouTube delights to the right of the audition clip, is one titled ''Susan Boyle Performs Duet with Elaine Paige''. It's fabulous. I was fully teared up by the end.

Then I went back to the first audition again, wanting to analyse exactly what has made the amazing difference between the appearance of the woman who walked out on that stage to be sneered at - and the one we see before us here.

The obvious thing is the eyebrows. I can remember the Daily Mail at the time devoting practically a whole edition to Susan Boyle's eyebrows and how she needed to sort them out. In very short order, somebody did. I think the next time I saw her on the telly, they'd been threaded, tweezed, trimmed, whatever it was, to frame her eyes, rather than dominate her whole face, and it was an instant transformation.

Ms Boyle's brows may have been particularly unruly, but the difference a bit of taming made to her is a reminder they are something it pays all of us to keep an eye on. The next obvious change is her hair. It was frizzy and oddly horizontal in shape - now it's benefiting from the lustrous effect of a good dark tint and a more rounded shape. I still think she could lose the fringe, but suspect she combs it back down herself when the hairdresser's not looking. We all have comfort blankets of our appearance that we can't let go of, and while they may not suit us as much as we think they do, they are the details that become part of a signature style.

Then there's the lovely make-up she's wearing now. An excellent base in a creamy shade for her pale Scottish skin, pretty blush on the apples of her cheeks, and a warm ruby red on the lips, picked up again on the nails.

And then there's the dress. I think she looks terrific in it and the really interesting thing is, it's actually very similar to the one she was wearing for the audition. That was also lace, with short sleeves and a V-neck - but it's the details of the differences between the two that are so telling. The audition dress was in a grim yellowy cream colour, not at all flattering to that Celtic complexion. The sleeves were much shorter and it stopped at an unflattering length below the knee, where sheer black tights began.

Here, the black lace over flesh tone is very flattering to her colouring; dense all-black would be too harsh. The three-quarter-length sleeves are ideal, and the hem falling right to the floor draws the eye smoothly up and down, beautifully elongating her frame. It's a very nice dress, but what makes it so right for Boyle is that it is clearly within her personal taste range - not something alien pushed on her by a stylist - so she looks comfortable in it, not unnaturally done up. She still feels like herself, but her best self - and that is the magic of the makeover.

Maggie Alderson's new novel, Everything Changes but You, is out now.