Heather Small is looking and sounding incredible. Famous for her distinctive vocals, an incredible ‘fountain’ of hair and for laughter that makes you feel like you’ve known her forever – Heather is still very much on form.
Heather gained fame in the 90s pop group M-People (whose hits included: ‘Search For A Hero’, ‘Moving On Up’ and ‘One Night In Heaven’), before going solo and releasing the song that has gone on to define her career. We caught up with the Proud singer before she takes to the stage at this year’s Cardiff Pride. We talked Olympics, Lulu and hair!
Well, in July I was performing at Kew with M People, but if you mean television I’ve done the Wright Stuff a couple of times, but I get so nervous – oh my good grief, it’s a nightmare!
We’ve seen a few programmes – What is there to be so nervous about, you’re articulate, and you’re very confident with your opinions, you know how to get your point across really elegantly…
(Laughter) Yes, well I’ve got opinions… It’s always that thing about ‘Am I going to get my point across in the right way?’, or ‘Will there be something that comes up and totally foxes you and you look a complete fool on national television?’
Anything to do with ‘live’ is a bit nerve-racking. A month before, I’m really happy to do things, but come the day… Oh good grief, I’m looking at everybody saying: ‘Why did I say yes to this…’ but I know in my heart of hearts the audience wants me to do my best – and that’s the difference between a good show and a great show. You live up to that expectation, I just never want someone to come to a show and leave saying: ‘Oh, she was better last time’. That, to me, would be devastating.
You’re looking incredible at the moment, very trim, very youthful looking, take us through the routine…
(Laughter) Oh oh oh – you can stay… ! I have to say I am African Caribbean, so I started with a little heads up, (laughing) good skin, good hair… It is what it is … (laughing), but seriously I look after myself. From very early on, I learnt whilst on the road that people have paid their hard earned money to see me. They’ve not paid to see me half-hearted or under-par. I’m asthmatic, so I’ve always had to look after myself. Everybody knows I don’t smoke or take drugs; I don’t eat meat or fish; I go to the gym and work on my heart and lungs. It’s not that you’re going to live longer than everybody, it’s just that for however long you live, you want to live well, there’s no point in being 100 and being decrepit, I still want to run for that bus at 100. And I don’t drink – it just doesn’t interest me.
Not even Champagne? On tour with Lulu?
No No… I don’t like the taste, but I like to have fun. Our last night together (on the ‘Here Come The Girls Tour’) Anastasia bowed out early, Lulu came out for a bit, but I tell you, I partied with the band until the early hours – we were in Belfast and everyone was dressed up as Santas and Elves – we had such fun, but I don’t need to be drunk to understand the hilarity of it.
Are you working on new material? Is there a new album coming?
No, nothing new, you know what, when I get the chance to perform that is my joy. I do love it and people still seem to want me to come out and sing and I’m happy with that. I had my time and it was brilliant, but now I’m less of a singer, more of a mother – I have a 15 year old son that I’m so proud of and something has got to give. You can have it all, but not all at once. When he sees me sing he says to me: ‘You should do this more often’, he is quietly proud of me and that means a lot to me.
Does the musical gene follow on?
Well, he’s good on the guitar but his father is a sportsman and we do quite like the sports. His father is an ex-rugby player, so my son is into his sports and rugby…
Did you get into the Olympics?
Oh we have been… Even though some people may have forgotten, I did campaign for it along the way – 7 years ago
What did you think of the opening ceremony?
I didn’t watch that (laughs)
You must have been the only person in the UK who didn’t!
OK… We’ll move on…
If you want…
Unless you want to say something about it… I mean, ‘Proud’ should have been in there don’t you think?
Well, what does it matter what I think? The thing is… Well, what can I say…? I don’t know if ‘Proud’ should have featured in the Opening Ceremony or not, but to have something to do with the ‘party’ when the ‘party’ came to town, that would have been nice. It’s not that I’m bitter, because like I said, it’s not about me, it’s about the athletes, but I would say it’s disappointing. The whole thing with the Mardi Gras is inclusiveness. I grew up in 70’s Britain and I know what it feels like to feel like an outsider and to try and be accepted for who and what you are. Exclusion is one thing, but if you’re treated badly, I can’t subscribe to that. I’m 47 now and what made it disappointing for me, is that when the party came to town, I felt that I was excluded, it took me back 40 years and I felt like that 7 year old again, and thats not a nice place. I will always fight for people who feel disenfranchised and different. If we were all the same where would all the creativity be? Where would our great books and artwork and music come from? It comes from the people who feel excluded or from the people who see life a little differently from the masses and that’s no bad thing. It’s a good thing for the masses.
You’ve done a few Prides before…
(Laughs)… Yes, I’ve done a few…
Is it important for you to get out there and perform on a Pride stage?
Yes, because it’s a community and I love the way that community works. They are supportive of each other. At Mardi Gras there are youth workers helping young people of 16 and under, to try and find their way through this maze – like sexuality, and that’s a real positive. I love the way the community looks after themselves. I have a few gay friends and when I see how they look after each other, it’s important not to generalise and I can only speak about the people I know, but they are very loving to each other and very supportive people and that’s how they conduct their lives.
OK – criticism time… You’re not on Twitter or Facebook… It’s very hard to research you!
Me and technology we’re not friends! People say: ‘I tweeted you’ – I say: ‘No honey that’s not me! Whoever that is, it’s not me.’ I’ve not been the person that spilled my guts in public it’s just not what I do, but these days people aren’t happy unless they can pick through your entrails! (Laughs) It’s just not for me. It’s not just privacy, it’s about intimacy, it’d be terrible if people followed me or saw me all the time – I mean where’s the mystique in that!?
I see – it’s a canny marketing ploy…
It’s not at all, otherwise I would be on Tweet (Twitter) and booking (Facebook) and I’d have followers or something! (laughs
How does it feel when people describe your voice as distinctive or unusual?
Well, when I was young and I got signed, I thought: “Yeah! I’m going to become rich and famous and everyone will know my name’ and then I was dropped and by 26 I was looking for a new deal, so it really focused my mind. Luckily for me, people have said when they hear a song they knew it was me, people say I’m distinctive and I take it as such, it is a compliment, but it polarises opinion, people either love it or they hate it, as I’ve got older people seem to love it more, (thoughtful pause) because I’ve battered them into submission.
I’m going to play this song until you love me…
(Laughter) I’m going to keep singing it until I become a National Treasure!
Many companies, organisations, individuals and even TV shows (Oprah used it as her theme and Queer As Folk used the track in the closing episode) have taken ‘Proud’ as their anthem, how does it feel to be the genesis of this?
I’ve been to choirs, to schools and to Pride and they’ve all felt an affinity with the song – so what does that say about us? The similarities are more than our differences and that’s what makes me most happy about ‘Proud.’ I wrote it for myself as a reminder that life is good by achieving your own goals and you set the goals. You set the standards and it’s about what you want (to achieve) opposed to what is placed upon you.
Will that be on the setlist at Cardiff Pride?
(Laughing) What do you reckon? Do you want me stoned? (More laughter) “We used to like her, now let’s throw rocks, she didn’t sing the song!” From a National Treasure to a public stoning…
You devote much time to your charity work. Which charities are you working with at the moment?
I’m currently an ambassador for Barnardos – they do some really good work; I like the fact that they believe in children – they keep the situation as it is, they are real about modern day life and what our young people are facing. They roll their sleeves up and they ‘get in there’. They are a genuine force to be reckoned with.
Your favourite fruit? I’m sorry but someone keeps on asking our celebrities what their favourite fruits are!
MANGO! That goes without saying… Tropical and sweet, what more do you want?
Will you ever wear your hair up like back in the M-People Days?
What was the last album you bought?
I bought a Queen album – CD – because I wanted to learn one of the songs. How funny is that! But Freddie was phenomenal.
Do you have any rituals before going on stage?
Yeah, running around like I’m about to be thrown to the lions! I always have my lemon and ginger tea and Manuka honey. I do a meditation and relaxation and my vocal warm up.
Previous celeb question from piano playing duoWorbey And Farrell:
In a movie of your life – who would play you?
Oh god it’d be dull! (laughter) Oh dear dear dear. I have no idea! I’ve got a young cousin and her name is Bianca Gerald and she’s a cuter, more talented version of myself – and thats the reason I’d get her to play me! (laughter)
Heather Small is appearing at Cardiff Pride 1st September
To visit Cardiff Pride’s website visit:http://www.cardiffmardigras.co.uk/
To find out more about Barnardos latest campaign click here (www.barnardos.org.uk/cutthemfreeappeal)
The editor and chief of THEGAYUK. All in a previous life wrote and produced songs on multi-platinum records.