Big voice of M People's Heather Small

Sarah HardyShe's got one of the most powerful voices in the country and she's bringing it – and a fab frock – to Norwich. Sarah Hardy talks to Heather Small about reality shows, being a 40-plus pop star and nine-year-old sons.Sarah Hardy

Her songs are ones which force you out of your chair and on to the dance floor. They are, quite simply, anthems that always bring a smile to your face and a wriggle to your backside!

As the lead singer of Manchester band M People, Heather, from London, was responsible for Moving On Up, Search for the Hero and One Night In Heaven - all tracks which sound as great today as they did 10 to 15 years ago.

Yet Heather Small, the owner of this voice and, incidentally, a very hearty laugh, isn't your typical monosyllabic pop star who doesn't have much to say for herself. Indeed, once she gets going, it's quite hard to butt in, especially when she's talking about the twin passions in her life - her young son James and music!

She grew up in south London, the daughter of a bus conductor and a waitress, and didn't have any great ambition except to sing and, on becoming a teenager, spent hours in the school library, searching through the likes of Melody Maker for possible auditions.

One ad, she explains, cited Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight as inspiration and this appealed to her as they were her childhood stars, too. Thus she joined the short-lived Hot House band which brought her to the now infamous Hacienda Club in Manchester, where she met Paul Heard and they formed M People. Apart from selling 10 million records, picking up two Brit Awards and touring all over the world, Heather made enough cash to become financially secure for the rest of her life.

Looking for yet more highs, she went solo after a few years and again achieved success with two albums, Proud and Close to A Miracle. A relationship with rugby star Shaun Edwards and the birth of James in 2000 saw her career take a backseat, with the odd gig and recording, but Heather burst back on to the public stage last year when she took part in Strictly Come Dancing, the hit BBC series which was aired on Saturdays and Sundays.

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Partnering American Brian Fortuna, she got a hard time from the judges but the public loved her. 'It was a scream,' she says. 'All that big hair, I was over made up, over dressed - it was great,' she giggles. It was the series that included BBC journalist Peter Sergeant and Heather was one of his biggest fans. 'He was great fun, all the contestants were, it was a great experience.'

Known as the salsa queen, Heather displayed great athleticism and guts during her time in the show and indeed made in through to week eight, which is no mean feat. 'We worked hard, you had to rehearse and rehearse, I am pretty fit but I certainly had to use muscles that I didn't know I had,' she says.

Heather has kept up her dancing skills, saying: 'I try to get to a dance studio most weeks, I really do love it.'

Now Heather is embarking on a short spring tour, mixing up new material and old classics. 'Yes, I can't just disappear from home for weeks, it's not what I would want. I need to be with James, watch him play rugby, I don't want to miss any of it.'

She adds that her son is also musical, playing both the guitar and piano. 'But I don't know what he'll end up doing, he just likes to be with his friends at the moment.'

She thinks that she might one day have a house in the country but feels that she needs to stay in London for her son's school and friends. 'It's not an option at the moment but I don't need all the things London has at the moment - I don't go out all the time to clubs, that's for sure!' she laughs.

She has also branched out into acting, appearing in the Vagina Monologues, where a group of actresses relate extraordinary tales about women and their often tragic experiences. 'It was a learning experience and you have to be so respectful of the material - they are people's real stories. 'If any more acting came along I'd give it a go - I'd really like to be in the No 1 Detective Agency series, it's a real favourite of mine.'

Heather, who is 44, arrives in Norwich for a one-night gig which will see her mix up her back catalogue with newer numbers. 'Well, most important of all it should be a fun evening - I'll perform for an hour and a half - and it will chart my journey as a vocalist. I hope it will be uplifting, a bit cheeky, too,' she says.

And she admits that half the fun is getting glammed up! 'It is rather nice now and again.

'I love Ben de Lisi dresses, but they can be a bit restrictive for the show so I'm not sure yet what I'll wear!' she says. Heather will also be battling with one of her biggest problems - her nerves.

If you saw her on Strictly, you'll know that she definitely does suffer and it is not something that seems to get better with time.

'I guess that I care as much as ever. I always sing like it is going to be the last show of my life, I give it everything that I have.'

After the tour, Heather has her eye on the summer holidays. 'I'm planning a few trips, to the south of France and maybe Mauritius.'

Mmm, one night in heaven, indeed!

t Heather Small appears at the Theatre Royal, Norwich, on Wednesday, May 27. Tel 01603 630000 or visit www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk