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Heather Small: Feeling proud

STILL GOT IT: Vocal sensation Heather Small

SHE'S CELEBRATING three decades in the music industry, but UK singing sensation Heather Small has no plans to hang up the mic anytime soon.

After selling several million records, winning two Brit Awards and the Mercury Music Prize, performing across the globe and recording a track that has become an unofficial national anthem - international anthem even, Small is one of the most successful female recording artists of recent years.

As part of the group M People, hits such as Moving On Up and One Night In Heaven and albums like Elegant Slumming and Bizarre Fruit achieved massive worldwide success and Heather became one of the seminal British voices of the 1990s, with the band winning the Best British Dance Act Award at the Brits in 1994 and 1995, as well a Mercury Music Prize.

Not that Small is bothered about the accolades now, admitting that her awards are now “in the back of my wardrobe somewhere”.

“The best award, the testimony to your talent, is people still going out to buy your music and still going out to buy your tickets,” Small says.

“And if they're still willing to do that for me after all this time, that truly makes me happy. That's where the joy comes from. I'm still able to call myself a singer and go out there and have an audience. Most people want to share their music because it's a communal thing and when it feels really good, it can almost feel like a spiritual thing.”

Small has since had great successes with two solo albums - the title track of her Proud album has gone on to become the soundtrack to a whole host of very special events including London's successful 2012 Olympic bid, the 60th anniversary of VE Day in Trafalgar Square, the launch of Queen Mary 2, the Tsunami Relief Concert, England's victory at the Rugby World Cup celebrations, and the official ceremony marking the handover of the Olympic Games from Beijing to London.

And how does it feel to know that the record has stood the test of time? “It's a gift from God,” the 50-year-old tells Life & Style.

“As a young girl, dancing around my council flat using a hair brush, that was my dream - to have a few signature songs that fans will remember for years and years. It's a dream come true. You feel like you're floating.”

She adds: “It's not for me to say whether something is iconic or not because it's not my place, but I'm more than happy to still sing those songs.”

And when Oprah Winfrey was looking for a song to sum up the work she'd been striving to achieve over her twenty-year career, she got in touch with Heather, who somehow managed to squeeze in a trip across the Atlantic to perform on the show right in the middle of her last UK tour with M People.

“If Oprah calls, you go!” she laughs, adding that the first lady of chat was “very sweet to me”.

CELEB PALS: The UK singer with media mogul Oprah Winfrey

In the early noughties, Small took a break to raise her son. Not that you might have noticed her absence. Her deep, rich, slightly raspy voice is a mainstay of televised sporting events. Sometimes it seems whenever you see an athlete running in slow motion, or a rugby player launching a ball into the sky, there will be Small on the soundtrack, suggesting we search for the hero inside ourselves, or inquiring what we have done today to make ourselves proud.

The star continues to perform to audiences around the globe; highlights in 2013 included headlining the world-famous Sydney Mardi Gras and re-uniting with M People for a very special 20th Anniversary Tour. This year, she'll embark on a two-month tour across the UK, where she'll perform all her best hits.

Interestingly, Small has picked up a new generation of fans thanks to an unlikely source.

Miranda actress Sarah Hadland has become well-known for her trademark impression of the singer. In the BBC1 comedy series, her character, Stevie, often goads her friend Miranda by wielding a cardboard Heather Small face on a stick while singing: “What have you done today to make you feel proud?”

Luckily, Small is flattered by the impression, rather than offended by being the butt of the ongoing skit.

“I'm totally flattered,” she laughs. “Anyone who knows me, knows I like to laugh a lot and laugh at myself mostly.”

First signing a record deal at the age of 21, the star will be celebrating three decades in show business this year.

“For people to still come out and see me, that's something worth celebrating. This is a business where you can be made to hate what you do, but that hasn't happened to me.”

Famous for her distinctive vocals, an incredible 'fountain' of hair and an infectious laugh Small is still very much on form. And even though she's passed the big 5-0 mark, she shows no signs of stopping.

She says: “To tell you the truth, I love my age. I'm going on tour, I'm still able to get on the stage and do my thing unassisted - it's all good!

“I just try and enjoy every stage in life. We all have our own trial and tribulations, but I look at it like this - 'would I rather be here or not?' and I'd rather be here.

“It's a great age,” she adds. “My niece, she's 23, she said to her mother and myself 'you make me look forward to getting older', and that's the biggest compliment you can ever get about being mature.

“I'm mature, I have the experience, and I bring all of that to the stage - personality wise and vocally. It's joyous for me.”
So what gives Small the impetus to keep moving forward, to keep challenging herself, to keep trying new things and not resting on her laurels? “If you got the feeling I do when I sing,” she smiles. “You'd understand.”

Heather Small is touring this year. For more information, visit

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