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U.K. talent champ: ‘Can’t believe it’

In a rags to riches story, Paul Potts, who had been a cell phone salesman in Wales, wins ‘Britain’s Got Talent.’
/ Source: TODAY contributor

A cell phone salesman who sought refuge from bullies as a child by singing opera still cannot believe he was able to overcome his lack of confidence to win “Britain’s Got Talent,” the U.K’s version of “American Idol.”

“I just can’t believe it. I’m waiting for someone to pinch me and say, ‘Get out of bed. You’ve got to work. You’re late again,’” Paul Potts, 36, said during an exclusive interview Thursday with TODAY host Meredith Vieira.

Potts still has to get out of bed to go to work, but now his work will be singing for the Queen and recording albums for Simon Cowell’s label. His remarkable rags to riches story may even be made into movie.

“I think I am somewhere around Planet 66 at the moment. I just can’t believe it,” Potts told Vieira, before performing live on the Plaza.

“It’s been a mind-blowing experience, really, to be on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ and meeting Simon Cowell, and get the response I had from them,” Potts said. “It’s incredible. It’s changing my life.”

Performing a song made-famous by Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti, Potts made audience members cry and nearly made Cowell, a judge, speechless during Sunday’s finale. The show is similar to “American Idol,” which Cowell also judges. (There’s also a U.S. version on NBC, “America’s Got Talent.”)

Potts plans to pay off debts, which built up during years of health issues, fix his teeth and start a family with the $240,000 he won by finishing first in the television talent contest.

Within three days of winning, Potts signed a deal with Cowell’s SYCO label that reportedly will pay him $2 million. He begins recording his first album on Saturday.

Voice has been ‘best friend’Potts road to fame and fortune is an inspiring one.

As a child growing up in southern Wales, Potts was teased about his weight, his clothes and called names by other boys in school. At home, he found comfort singing opera.

“I’ve just always sung. That’s always been something I’ve done,” Potts explained. “My voice has been my best friend. When other things have gotten me down, my voice has always been there.”

Lacking confidence and beset by health problems, Potts racked up debt. But he never gave up.

In 2003, he married a woman he met through an Internet dating service. With the encouragement of his wife, Julie-Ann, Potts did some voice training with Pavarotti and others before entering “Britain’s Got Talent.”

“I almost never even sent the application off. I didn’t really thing I was going to make that first [cut],” Potts told Vieira.

Now that the world is learning about Potts and his powerful yet silky smooth voice, Potts is going to have to learn to deal with both success and celebrity.

“What would you say now, Paul, to all those people bullied you as a kid, who had you lose a lot of the confidence you had?” Vieira asked.

“I think in some ways the bullying I had made me the person I am,” Potts said. “I hope that people who feel that their confidence is down because they have been bullied actually see a source of inspiration and get out there and take a risk.”