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Nicholas McCarthy, the one-handed gay concert pianist

By Christian Guiltenane

Playing the piano is hard enough for most people – just imagine having to play it with one hand. Meet Nicholas McCarthy, a concert pianist who does just that. And brilliantly too!
aTEEN hooked up with the super-talented Nicholas to hear his very inspirational story about how he’s never let any obstacle stand in the way of achieving major success.


You don’t hear of a one-handed concert pianist every day. How did all this come about? 
I was born without my right hand. The interesting thing was that during my mum’s pregnancy, the situation with only having one hand never showed up on the scans. So the first time my parents knew I had one hand was when I was born, which must have been a shock. Because I was born the way I was I never knew any different. To me, having one hand is completely normal. My parents instilled in me a lot of self-belief, so I never felt as if it would stop me from doing something.

You started learning to play piano quite late, at 14. Did people think you were mad to undertake such an challenge?
I think people just accepted it, ‘Oh there’s Nick, he plays the piano but with one hand.’ My main knock backs came from people in the classical music profession early on in my career. The first time I tried to audition for a music school they turned me down (before even seeing me in person) because the headmistress felt I wouldn’t be able to play the piano due to the fact I only have one hand. I wouldn’t have minded being turned down once they watched me perform, it was the fact the door was closed in my face before being given a chance.

How does it work when you’re playing?
I perform pieces that were written specifically for the left hand alone. Composers of the 19th Century would write pieces for their weaker left hand simply to show off to their audiences: “Look at what I can do with my weaker hand.” The audiences used to love it and the repertoire was developed from there. If you were to close your eyes when I was playing you would never know it was just one hand playing.

Was coming out a big deal for you? How did you do it?
It was a big deal, I think it’s a big deal for most people. I came out involuntarily on my 18th birthday, a close friend wrote in one of my birthday cards ‘Dear Nick, my fabulous gay best friend, Happy Birthday’! I didn’t think anything of it, until my mum (who liked to read all my cards from friends and family) got to this one particular one. She read it and asked me what it was about so I had to tell her. She then rang my dad who said ‘You’d have to be dead not to know Nicholas was gay.’ To this day, I always find that hilarious. My dad said he always knew, which doesn’t surprise me as I think he has a great gaydar due to the fact he’s one of three children and his brother (my uncle) is gay and his sister (my auntie) is a lesbian. My mum found it quite difficult at first, but then quickly got over it.

What’s coming up for you?
I’m performing a lot in the UK this year as well as in Istanbul, USA and Ireland. I just hope my career continues to grow as it has been each year.

Visit Nicholas McCarthy’s website, or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

Read our full interview with Nicholas in aTeen issue two, available to download now from Pocketmags