Interview: Nicholas McCarthy, the one handed pianist

PUBLISHED: 11:04 04 March 2016 | UPDATED: 11:06 04 March 2016

Nicholas McCarthy

Nicholas McCarthy


Nicholas McCarthy was born without a right hand and only took up the piano as a teenager, but he has defied all the odds to graduate from the Royal College of Music and win a record deal. Holly Eells met this Colchester star with a can-do attitude

Colchester’s one-handed piano star, Nicholas McCarthy, was at one point told he would never have a musical career, but Nicholas is not your average musical artist. Born in 1989 without a right hand, he only began to play the piano at the late age of 14 after seeing a friend play Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata, but was driven to fulfil his dream of becoming a concert pianist. The piano star explains that he has always been very determined to succeed and believes it has always been in his nature.

‘Being born with one hand has always pushed me forward to believe I am capable of anything,’ says Nicholas. ‘I didn’t start playing the piano until I was 14 years old and from there on, I instantly set my sights on the Royal College of Music, which is one of the best schools in the world. I have always set my standards quite high and I always try my best to achieve them.’

Nicholas’ career so far has been quite the rollercoaster ride. As a teenager seeking a place at a school for young pianists, Nicholas was refused an audition and was told he would never succeed in the industry.

‘They told me having one hand would always hold me back and it was better not to waste mine or other people’s time. However, I was fortunate I had very supportive parents, even though this industry was very foreign to them. They brought me a keyboard because they were not going to invest in a piano, so they thought it best to start small first.’

Nicholas McCarthy, Royal Festival HallNicholas McCarthy, Royal Festival Hall

He continues: ‘By that stage, I started to teach myself and I got good at it quite quickly. It was the only thing I had experienced in my life that I found easy! I was an average grade person and I had to work really hard to get an A. When I got a local piano teacher, that’s when it all started and I got the piano bug. I didn’t stop practicing and I wanted to achieve all of my grades!’

It is evident that the young piano star didn’t take no for an answer and his graduation from the prestigious Royal College of Music in London in July 2012 made history and drew press headlines worldwide. He is the only left-hand alone pianist to graduate from the Royal College of Music in its 130-year history.

He has now signed a record deal with Warner Classics and last September he released his debut album, Solo, which has received great acclaim.

‘I never imagined in a million years I would be signed to Warner Classics, which is the classic division of the same label as Ed Sheeran and Coldplay — this massive machine of a record label. I never thought I would be that person going into the office and signing the record deal, yet it happened for me.’

Nicholas McCarthyNicholas McCarthy

A short time after, Nicholas flew over to Boston to record his debut album and he didn’t expect it would be quite as successful as it was. ‘The first week, when the label rang me to say that the album went in at number four in the specialist charts and number 10 in the general classical charts, was absolutely unbelievable. It was so nice to hear this news because it was my debut album and I hadn’t released a record prior to this, so no one knew me apart from those who had seen me at live concerts and TV performances.

‘It feels great for people to like this kind of music, because most people haven’t heard this specialist repertoire before. It is also exciting that I was able to record my first professional album with a label that shares my vision and passion for sharing my musical style with a wide audience.

‘I tend to play London once or twice a year, which is really exciting because I’ll have all my fans from across the UK who have supported me throughout my career and that’s when I see those familiar faces,’ adds Nicholas. ‘I tend to get a really lovely mix of audience members, including people who have never been to a classical performance before, but have seen my TV performances. Afterwards they tell me that they absolutely loved the show and they are the ones I see time and time again.’

He continues: ‘The venue I have chosen for the Essex leg of my tour is St Botolph’s, which is a beautiful church at the bottom of Colchester and I have played there for a couple of years now. It is St Botolph’s Music Society’s 50th anniversary and it is nice to have my concert coincide with it. It is a really lovely place and I am really looking forward to performing there on June 5. I always like chilled, Sunday afternoon gigs!’

However, Colchester is more than just a musical pit stop for the pianist hit maker. More than two years ago, Nicholas moved to Colchester after discovering his dream home. ‘I was visiting one day and saw this house and instantly fell in love with it. Moving from Tadworth in Surrey to Essex was the best decision I made. Being a pianist is quite inconvenient, because you have a massive piano and Surrey prices are ridiculous. I needed a detached house, so I thought as I’m self-employed and can move out and have quite a few friends around Essex and Colchester, it could definitely work for me.

‘The town has got better since I have moved; it’s full of lovely, independent restaurants and it is really turning into a hub. I can’t remember when I last ate in a chain restaurant, because the range of eateries here is just so great. I also love the countryside and my dog loves it too!’

Find out more

For the latest information on Nicholas’ music and tour dates, visit

Latest from the Essex Life