“I REMEMBER coming back up the road after my maiden speech and my brother telling me I was trending second in Nigeria. Nigeria. I mean…whit?”

Welcome to The Mad World of Mhairi Black. This isn’t my description, though. It’s how Black and her staff describe the global media frenzy that has followed the 21-year-old since she was elected as a member of parliament a year ago this month.

The term overnight fame is overused, but you get the feeling Black’s life really was turned upside down the moment it was declared she had beaten Douglas Alexander, the Labour heavyweight who had held the seat of Paisley and Renfrewshire South in one form or another for 18 years, marking a swing to the SNP of more than 30 per cent.

Within 24 hours, she was on the front of most newspapers in the UK. Within 48, Black’s face was splashed on news bulletins and newspapers all over the world, from the US to the UAE, Switzerland to Swaziland.

Still a student at Glasgow University at the time – she admits she could have referenced her own election win in her final politics exam, but “didn’t want to be a tube” – Black is officially the Baby of the House, and the youngest MP to enter the Commons since 1667. Since then she has thrown herself into every aspect of the job – including membership of the influential Work and Pensions Committee – earning the respect of political friends and foes alike; Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Old Etonian Tory backbencher, has called her “an incredible orator” and “a real asset to the Commons”.

The Herald:

Mhairi Black says she can't wait to 'get back up the road' from Westminster every weekend

Black's maiden speech – an eight-minute attack on Conservative welfare policy – was event politics at its best in the digital age. Her passion and articulacy stunned the Commons and media alike, especially since maiden speeches are traditionally chummy, non-political pieces of fluff. Now the most watched maiden speech in British parliamentary history with 10m views and counting, it confounded those who scoffed at her age and won her a legion of fans around the world.

So, can she believe it’s a year since the general election?

“Sometimes it feels like a lifetime ago,” she says, smiling. “Sometimes like it all happened yesterday. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to people stopping me in the street and asking for a photo. It’s mental. London was the worst for ages – I couldn’t go anywhere without being stopped. But it's died down a bit, thankfully."

I’ve come to Paisley to talk to Black about her extraordinary year. What’s it like to be the most famous 20-year-old in the world (if only briefly)? What’s it like to take on a job that many people twice your age would find daunting?

Over the course of the next couple of hours I get a sense of both of these things from Black, who, true to her down-to-earth reputation, is open and straight-forward.

In person, she is smaller than she seems on TV, quieter and less combative. Instead of the black suit and plain shirt uniform she wears at Westminster, today she’s dressed down in blue jersey, black jeans and desert boots; the signature pulled-back blonde hair hasn’t changed.

The other thing that doesn’t come across on TV is how funny Black is. She and advisor/chief-of-staff/spin doctor Declan McBride – who at the grand old age of 22 is older than his boss – continually riff off each other, cracking jokes and regularly bursting out into peals of laughter. “You couldn’t do this job without having a laugh,” she says, and you sense that both view much of the last year’s events as surreal.

The Herald:

Black recorded a swing to the SNP of more than 30 per cent to take Paisley and Renfrewshire South from Labour heavyweight Douglas Alexander

You couldn’t do it without enthusiasm either, of course, and Black has this by the bucketload, especially when talking about the left-wing politics that shaped her. Many parliamentarians are articulate, of course, and Black, as her maiden speech attests, is certainly that; what is perhaps more unusual in this politician is the genuine outrage you sense she feels when discussing poverty, “unfairness” and what she views as the gross privilege of the British establishment. This is a young woman that wears her heart on her political sleeve; she talks with absolute conviction about the actions of governments formed before she was born.

As we discuss the detailed policy knowledge required for committee work, I forget that Black, who gained a first in Politics and Public Affairs, is younger than Justin Beiber. Then, all of a sudden, when discussing our respective student days, she points out she was a toddler when I graduated. It’s like that feeling you get when you first realise policemen and Wimbledon champions are now younger than you – times ten. Then you think back to yourself at 21 and that's when it hits you just how exceptional – and impressive – Black is.

The London-based media in particular went mad for her. There was a rather condescending edge to much of the coverage, an incredulity that voters had chosen to elect not only a young person, but an out lesbian who has “never been in”, and one who would clearly not be changing her broad west of Scotland accent for Westminster.

Black can't see why her age is such a big deal and has mixed feelings about the “fame” aspect of the last year – she repeatedly makes the point that she is a politician, not a celebrity – and admits she had a healthy suspicion of the media from the off.

The Herald:

Black says Paisley has a lot of problems but it remains a buzzing place with a strong sense of community

“Obviously there was the natural interest during the campaign, either because of my tweets [journalists extensively reported her teenage Twitter use, including the infamous “maths is shite” tweet from 2010], or because Douglas Alexander might lose,” she explains.

“But we noticed that on the doorsteps nobody cared how old I was. A journalist from The Guardian was coming round with me and she kept saying she was surprised no one was bringing it up. Then at one of the doors she brought it up and the guy said ‘Why would I care what age she is? It’s about politics.’ That was my mind-set too – the mind-set of England and the London media just wasn’t there for me. They couldn’t grasp that it was about policy and argument – it wasn’t really anything to do with me personally.”

She admits elements of the initial media scrum following her election were “unpleasant”.

“A lot of media outlets assumed I was a daft wee lassie that they could do whatever they wanted with,” she says. “I spent the first three months phoning up editors of national newspapers and complaining.” She recounts a story of a London-based reporter bothering her father while he was on holiday. She went straight to the editor.

“There was a 10-minute conversation after which he saw he didn’t have a leg to stand on and said sorry. I had to have many conversations like that.

“That was always a marker I was going to have to put down, pretty much everywhere, whether that be in the chamber or elsewhere. I know I’m young, but I’m no’ daft.” This much is obvious.

Black is a good tour guide who knows Paisley like the back of her hand. It’s been a while since I’ve been in the town and I’m struck by how many beautiful buildings and vistas there are; but you can’t miss that much of the grandeur has faded. Like many other Scottish towns, Paisley still suffers the effects of industrial decline; around a third of children live in poverty, while the town’s Ferguslie Park remains one of the most deprived communities in Scotland.

Black says she loves her hometown, misses it when she’s away and can’t wait to get “up the road” from Westminster at weekends. She supports its bid to be City of Culture in 2021.

“I’m biased, obviously, but Paisley deserves it,” she says. “It’s a buzzing place, it always has been. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of problems, but it needs some recognition. It’s a confidence thing. The people are the best thing about this place. Everybody’s got a very dark sense of humour. And there’s a sense of community here that you often don’t see in Glasgow.”

Countless people give Black a wave as we walk around Paisley, and she stops to talk to those who have a specific query for her, answering some questions on the spot, referring others to one of her surgeries. She seems at ease talking to her constituents, even those many years older than her. The best part of her job, she says, is when she gets “a wee win” for one of them.

We come across Paisley YMCA, which offers training and support to vulnerable young people, and I ask if we can pop in. Many of the volunteers and clients are the same age as their MP and the unique nature of this isn’t lost on either the volunteers or clients.

Channi, one of the volunteers, is full of praise for her contemporary. “It’s mad that Mhairi is the same age as us,” she says. "But she’s great. Really easy to talk to. And she understands what young people are going through.”

While Black is talking to her young constituents, I ask McBride how he thinks she has changed in the last 12 months.

“I suppose what I’ve noticed most is how super knowledgeable she has become,” he says. “I often play devil’s advocate with her when we are talking about policy and often she used to say ‘I really need to think about that’. Now she is much more confident – she knows what she’s talking about.”

There are few young people in Paisley or elsewhere who could relate to Black’s current life. I ask if she ever worries that it will all go to her head, or totally overwhelm her.

“I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t,” she admits. “After the maiden speech I was treated like a pop star. Instant fame must be great fun when you don’t have the responsibilities I have. If Noel Gallagher falls out of a pub steaming no one bats an eyelid. If I was to do it…can you imagine?”

But she insists she hasn’t fundamentally changed.

“Although I’m living this mental life, I think I am still normal, and that’s important,” she says. “I still have a reasonably ordinary life in my own time. I still have all the same friends. They slag me rotten all the time. We have a group chat where they scour the internet for the most amusing insults about me and send them to me. It’s hilarious, actually.”

The most important factor in her success, says Black, is being surrounded by trusted people – Declan, her office manager, her parents, brother and close friends – and she is aware that they often protect her from the worst aspects of fame – the bits that might have the power to destroy any 21-year-old – so she can get on with serving her constituents. After a "mental" start, they’ve all settled in, she adds.

“Look, I know I’m lucky to be surrounded by folk who “get it”. They understand that it’s not a good idea to be in the taxi queue on Sauchiehall Street at four in the morning – they suggest leaving a bit earlier. It’s wee things like that. But on the whole I still have my life. I still have my Partick Thistle season ticket.”

The Herald:

Black outside Paisley Abbey

A bit further along the road is The Music Centre, the shop where keen musician Black bought her first guitar. As we look in the window at the rows of guitars, Black’s eyes light up. She’s never been in bands, but has performed at plenty of open mic nights over the years, and regularly jams with her brother and her father, who is a teacher.

We go in and after a bit of coercion she shyly picks up a £700 Gretsch guitar and plugs it in. She knows the owner and staff well and they chat away about music rather than politics.

She sits down on a stool and starts to play an accomplished version of Personal Jesus, the 1990 Depeche Mode song later covered by Johnny Cash, before moving into the theme from The Godfather. She’s a pretty talented guitarist. I ask if she has ever thought of joining MP4, the resident House of Commons rock band that includes fellow SNP MP and former Runrig member Pete Wishart.

“Eh, naw!” she laughs, at this most uncool of suggestions, though she later admits her musical heroes – including the aforementioned Gallagher and U2 guitarist The Edge – are hardly contemporary.

She likes the sound and feel of this guitar and unlike many 21-year-olds, she could probably afford it; MPs, after all, earn £75k per year.

Black is scathing of the Westminster system that pays her this amount, and says being a complacent MP in a safe seat would be “the best job in the world because you could skive, get paid a fortune, and get away with it”.

She must miss her old life, I say, the carefree one that most folk of her age enjoy, the one with the freedom to make mistakes. The pragmatic answer Black gives shows perspective and maturity.

“I don’t kid myself on – I will do or say something that puts me in a spot, whether I deserve it or not,” she says matter-of-factly.

“The tide will turn on me at some point, I have no illusions about that. The media are waiting for me to mess up. But that’s part of the job – it came as part of my election, rightly or wrongly. I don’t lose sleep over it. If I end up getting burned, then so be it. If I can say I tried my best, I’m OK with it.

“I genuinely don’t have career plans. The problem with the House of Commons is that many of the people have been trying to get elected for 30 years and then they finally do. Obviously I've not had that, I don’t feel that way.

“I'll just take things as they come. If I judge that I can still do some good, then I’ll stay in politics. If not, I won’t.”

We’re return to The Mad World of Mhairi Black. Does she ever regret standing for parliament?

“It depends what mood I’m in,” she says. “Sometimes I say to myself ‘What have you done?’ I remember a conversation with a close pal when I told him the [SNP] branch had asked me to stand as a candidate. He said ‘Don’t do it’. Of course, I went ahead and did it. He reminds me of that whenever I complain.

“Sometimes I think all this is murder, and sometimes I think it’s brilliant. But I suppose no matter what happens, it’s been a hell of a ride.”

You get the feeling this determined old head on young shoulders would succeed in any area of public life she chose to enter.

If not, there’s always the music.