NMP Live Meets Heather Small, award-winning singer songwriter and one of the most successful female recording artists of our time. We sat down for an exclusive chat to talk about her iconic song ‘Proud’, appearing on sit-com Miranda and the stand-out moments of her career. Watch the full interview or read the transcript below.
In conversation with Heather Small
Did you always want to be a singer?
I was born of immigrant parents, living in a council estate, but pride, aspiration, and hard work, are not exclusive to anyone or any group of people. So I came from a family that had been asked to come to this country and had left all they knew behind, it’s like that pioneering, first people kind of spirit, and when they got here the reception they received was none too pleasant. So you learn from a really young age that you’re not always going to be the chosen one, that you have to say that you are, and keep reiterating that to not only yourself, but to others.
I felt that I had a talent and that if I worked hard enough I could make that talent into something that would be akin to a career. I mean you dream about it, you don’t know whether it is going to happen, and it has surpassed my initial dreams because I just wanted to sing, and now, years on I have got songs that people know and love – that was always my dream. So, I feel like I have achieved that and it is still a dream.
Every time I get on stage it’s most enjoyable, I love it, and if I’m on stage with a live band it’s just of the Richter scale, you know, I jump around still like I am a ten year old being given the keys to Willy Wonka’s factory.
What does ‘Proud’ mean to you?
The song Proud has taken on a life of its own. What you do initially is write something that means something to you, and I sang with a very successful band, and people were saying do you want to leave that to go into the unknown? But people hadn’t realized that I was already a success because to be in M People, to write songs, to sell songs, have people come and see me do what I love to do – I was already a success and nothing else could take that away.
I wanted to do something else because you don’t have a dream and think to yourself ‘it’s going to make me loads of money, it will make me really rich!’ You might feel like that, my 18 year old self did, but by the time I was signed at 21 and dropped by 24 I realized that what it was, I wanted to be out there as a singer, and known for my vocal ability. Anything else was, as they say back in the day, gravy.
So, you don’t know what is going to happen, I wrote a song that meant something to me, and that success is measured not only in financial gain, and not in something that is going to be ‘status driven’. I had already made a success of what I wanted to do and my life was successful. I had a beautiful child, and that in it self makes you fearless, and I think that’s what I am now – I’m fearless.
Proud being taken on and adopted by different organisations and individual people in the way that I wrote it, that it translated in just the way that I wanted it to be understood, for me that’s a feat, and that people got that it wasn’t about being prideful, was a proud moment.
Sometimes we have loads of little moments that nobody else is going to applaud, but you know our heart is skipping for joy and you think that’s worth celebrating. Nobody else might know about it, you see your child acquiring a new skill, learning to read for the first time and working those words out, which makes you really quite happy. As much as you’re jumping around the stage and selling records, nobody else is going to feel that joy except for me, and his father of course.
How did your appearance in the sitcom Miranda come about?
The whole Miranda issue - my head on a stick, which people now come to shows with, it’s very disconcerting as well - was something that one of the actors had instigated. They do this thing in the round where they just throw ideas and she said ‘what about Heather Small’s Proud’ and she just carried on this theme. They liked it so they brought it in to the show – I knew nothing about it beforehand, but I took it in the spirit it was intended.
When somebody can go on TV and pretend to be you, and other people know who they’re talking about I think ‘YES, my job here is done, my 10 year old self is satisfied, I am a household name, and people will laugh at me!’ So it was very flattering, and they called me in a few episodes, and to be on the last episode, it was magical, it was a joy. They are a lovely team of people, and just so talented. To sit and watch them doing their craft, that inspires you.
We talked about inspiring before, somebody doing the best at what they do, any endeavor, whatever it is, be it sport, music, be it a nurse in a hospital, when you see that they’re on top of their game that inspires you to push a little bit harder in whatever you’re doing yourself. So everything I think is connected – excellence breeds excellence.
What are the stand-out moments from your career?
I think, the stand-out moments in my career definitely have to be the live shows – always remember the live shows. With a band, doing your thing, you always feel that you can fly.
I did Old Trafford with Simply Red and that was my first big event. I mean I was helicoptered out because there were so many people, so there’s Sean and I being helicoptered out and I am thinking ‘I am a pop star! My good grief, I am a pop star!’ So that was, I think, my first kind of pop starish moment.
Then I did Glastonbury with this pop dance band, and that is what people perceived us to be, and I thought I’m not too sure what our reception will be – it was absolutely amazing. I think any festival is a highlight, because there is an eclectic mix of bands, there is an appreciative audience and you’re all doing something that you love to do to a really receptive audience. It doesn’t get better than that.
So it would have to be, for me, the live shows.
Tell us about some of your more intimate performances?
I did a recent gig for NMP Live and it was in Somerset, a private gig. It was a 25-year anniversary for a couple, and it was so beautiful. It was in their private grounds, they treated me very well, they were just so happy for me to be there.
When you are doing something like that, where it is so personal - you know they had Diversity there, they had their favourite people there - and you are plugged in to people’s special moments, you feel that. They were so lovely, I gave a performance, and when it’s something like that you give a performance that’s more personal, and you do wish the people well, I will go and say hi to family members.
I’ve done things before where I have danced with grandmothers and stuff like that because it’s different. It’s a memory, and a lasting memory, and if people are inviting you in to something so special you have to treat it with the respect it deserves. It makes me feel special to think that they would ask me on such a special occasion.
What can an audience expect from Heather Small live?
I think that the key to a successful live performance definitely is that you bring self to that performance. Because people can listen to you sing more than adequately from a CD, hitting every note correctly.
As a performer you want to hit those notes and you want to show people that you are able to deliver what is on that record. But, if that were it, people would just listen to the CD. They do want to have a sense of who you are, and you have to give that sense of yourself to an audience. So I am quite an energetic performer, I can pick out now what is happening live in front of me in an audience and I can channel that mood, so whatever audience I am in front of I like to empower that audience as well.
It’s not just about me being up there and ‘look at me, I’m great’, it’s more like ‘we’re great, and we are having a great time’. I am very family orientated, and that is what I like to try and do, I like to try and embrace and wrap my vocals around an audience. But I’m sassy with it – I’m not too touchy-feely - more sassy.
If you're interested in booking Heather Small you can enquire online, email us or pick up the phone and speak to one of our friendly booking agents. For further information about Heather, private performance details, testimonials and video clips, view her profile.