Laura Doyle suddenly fell in love with football while in Rio de Janeiro
She went on to help with Gareth Bale’s world-record transfer to Real Madrid
Laura has just launched another career as a jazz singer
Laura Doyle has dressed in polka-dotted socks, red noses and outlandish wigs to study clowning under Philippe Gaulier, the inspiration for Ali G, in his illustrious Parisien École. She’s slipped into an uber-chic Italian suit and acted as hostess to Prince Ernst August of Hannover on his private yacht.
She’s translated for Fidel Castro. She’s run a stand-up comedy show. She’s authored books, performed French chanson, and lived in Rio de Janeiro, Marmaris, Rome, Valencia, Oslo and Florence.
But at 25, the Liverpudlian charisma ball felt handcuffed into humdrum. She was living, like millions, the nine-till-five, skirt-and-blazer life of an office worker in England. Until, that was, a comment she had made in a pub a couple of years earlier – one she couldn’t remember after a few too many strawberry Caipiroskas! – came to bear fruit that transported Laura into meetings with one of the most famous and feared football bosses on the planet, albeit one she referred to as an “absolute pussycat”.
Laura was working for a PR and marketing agency when they were enlisted to promote Tsunami Soccer Aid – a charity match involving celebrities and former footballers – in 2005. Afterwards, everybody involved went to a local pub to celebrate and Laura got chatting to David Lockwood, a director at football agency Stellar Group, about her love of Rio de Janeiro. She told him, strawberry-red-tongue-in-cheek, that if he was ever dealing with any Brazilians, she’d love to chat Portuguese again.
Laura didn’t remember it. David didn’t recall it. It remained a trivial exchange for three years. Then, in 2008, incombustible wingbacks Fabio and Rafael joined joined freshly-crowned European champions Manchester United.
“The Da Silva twins were the next big thing,” Laura told FIFA.com. “They were on their way over, but for some reason their translator didn’t make the flight. Nobody knew until they were an hour away from landing. Panic!”
David and his staff began frantically scouring their contacts for a solution when he had a flashback to that conversation. He discovered where Laura worked via LinkedIn and rang its offices.
Laura said: “The director of the company I was working for called me into her office and said ‘Close the door’. I thought, ‘Oh, gosh, what have I done wrong now?’
“She said she’d had a call from Dave Lockwood, that there were two Brazilian players landing in Manchester in an hour, and they wanted me to translate. She said, 'Go and get ready, there’s a car on the way to pick you up.’ I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of Fabio and Rafael – I had to Google them while I was grabbing my things.
“I thought I’d be meeting them at the airport, making sure they were alright, asking if they needed anything and that would be it. But nobody at the club spoke any Portuguese.
“Suddenly I was in meetings with Sir Alex Ferguson, in with the club doctors and lawyers, mixing with the family, taking them for their medicals, their haircuts, everything. Sir Alex was amazing. Every one of them adored him, but they feared his wrath at the same time. Me on the other hand, I thought he was an absolute pussycat.” (laughs)
So impressed with Laura’s handling of the Da Silva twins were the Stellar Group shot-callers that they soon made football her professional genre. She went on to aid the 2013 deal that saw Gareth Bale outrank Cristiano Ronaldo and become the world’s most-expensive player.
“I think what helped me in football is that I’ve never been star-struck,” Laura said. “Gareth Bale would walk into our office and I’d just ask him, ‘Do you want a cup of tea?’ Mixing with others – Ashley Cole, Louis Saha, Marcus Rojo, Yan Valery – I’ve never been star-struck. If Iggy Pop or Madonna had have walked in, I probably would have lost it!
“I think that’s because I wasn’t a big football fan growing up. I’d watch cup finals, the World Cup, but that was about it.
“But I was working with an Italian diplomat in early 2000 and I was posted over to Rio. That just started this love affair with Brazil – the culture, people, music, football. Living in a land where football is almost a religion, I was just captivated by the passion for it.
“And I was captivated by bossa nova. Because I was involved in the diplomatic service, we got to meet a lot of the big Brazilian musicians. We would have jamming sessions with them, they taught me a lot. Since then bossa nova has always been my passion.
“That’s what it remained until I started doing it last year. Funnily enough that was football-related."
A friend of Laura’s, intrigued by her love of bossa nova, asked her to perform it at one of his shows in London.
“It was the first time I’d performed it,” she said. “I thought, ‘This is very niche, people are not going to really get it’, but it went down a storm.
“That was on the Friday. On the following Monday I was telling my director about it and I said I’ve love to start a band but didn’t have a clue where to start.
“He said, ‘Funnily enough we’ve just had a letter in this morning from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, who are wanting to do a project together bringing the worlds of music and football together. Why don’t you come along to the meeting?
“I went and they were absolutely surrounded by musicians from all over the world. Within a week, I’d auditioned for them, we’d put a band together and had a first rehearsal. Baiana (it means ‘something from Bahia in Brazilian-Portuguese) has been a bit of a whirlwind.”
The band rapidly won residencies and performed at prestigious festivals. Its debut single, Miso Loco (It’s a fine time in the sunshine), has already had thousands of plays since its release last month.
“Football has been a massive help to my music,” said Laura. “I work a lot with young players – Yan Valery, Tahith Chong at Man United, Aliou Traore, whose just gone from United to Caen on loan, Claudio Gomez at Man City. I see how you take a young player with talent, and you apply the best coaches, dedication, hard work and commitment. And I thought, ‘If I can apply that football model to my music, that’s going to give me the best chance of developing my talent and being noticed'.
“And I’ve chatted a lot to the players – everybody has a bad game, everybody has a bad gig – how do they bounce back from that, what do they do when they’ve taken a knock to their confidence, how do they respond to criticism?
“The players have been a real sounding board for me behind the scenes. We like talking about the parallels between music and football.”
Laura's ultimate dream also intertwines música and futebol.
“We really want to release our album, to tour it in the UK first,” she said. “Ultimately, Our biggest dream would be to take this to Brazil and introduce them to our Scouse version of their music! I close my eyes every night and fantasise about performing at the Maracana. Wow, it would just be incredible.”
To go from making calls in an Merseyside office to manning a mic at the Maracana would be some journey. If anyone has the energy for the marathon, though, it’s surely Laura Doyle
“I’m like a female Forrest Gump in a ginger fright wig!” she concluded, laughing.