News article from the Mail Online:
Her lack of votes on Strictly Come Dancing ignited a row over whether viewers are racist. But Heather Small says, yes, she's faced discrimination but she's having too much fun to give in to her critics. - By Kathryn Knight
Heather Small, 43, is best known as the lead singer of M People. During the 1990s, the band had several chart hits including One Night In Heaven and Search For The Hero, and won the Mercury Music prize and two Brit awards. Heather lives in London with her partner, lawyer David Neita, and her son, James, 11, whose father is her ex, former rugby international Shaun Edwards. Now a solo artist, she has been partnered in Strictly Come Dancing with Brian Fortuna.
How's Strictly been for you?
I've loved it. At my age, and as a mum, you get to the stage where you think, 'Can I learn anything new?', and you assume you can't. Doing this has made me realise that the more you do the more you can do, if that makes sense. It's been a surprise to me how enjoyable it is. What I've found is that the competition isn't so much with the others taking part, but within yourself. When you're in the bottom two, it's not about beating the other person - you just find yourself thinking, 'This isn't how I want to leave the show.' I actually agreed to do Strictly in order to help tackle my nerves, which I struggle with terribly, even in my singing. The way I saw it, if I could go out and dance live in front of millions of people every week, well, it doesn't get worse than that. Nerves can make me look like a total misery guts, but I'm not, that's just the terror taking hold. But it's been a fantastic ride and I've made wonderful friends.
Some of the judges have been quite harsh.
They sure have, but you can either take it to heart or pull yourself up by the bootstraps and move on. My tactic from the start was to try and focus on finding something constructive in what they're saying. But it has to be said, sometimes it's just a whole barrage of nastiness, and when you're standing there it's not nice.
The athlete John Regis accused middle England of racism for continually putting black contestants in the bottom two. What are your feelings on that?
For me personally, if someone wants to have a proper conversation about bigotry and race then great, but not in a context that's salacious. It's too serious a topic for that. If I'm going to discuss it I'm going to be proactive about it, not reactive. Have I ever experienced discrimination, well, of course I have. But there's a time and a place to discuss these things, and it's not something that should be just flung at a situation. In terms of Strictly, if I didn't think people were going to be fair to me, then I wouldn't have taken part. Of course, there were always going to be people who were uncomfortable with me being on the programme - I'm aware of that. But you know what, that's life. You just have to try and work towards a stage where we're all comfortable together.
Your son has been in the audience cheering you on. How did motherhood change you?
Well, if I'd taken part in Strictly 12 or 13 years ago, I would have entered it to win. But now I'm just enjoying the experience, and I think motherhood teaches you to do that. Being a mum has made me realise that you can have it all, just not all at the same time. It's funny, it certainly was never my ambition to be a mother, but now I wouldn't change it for the world.
Do you have a good relationship with James' father?
Absolutely. He's a very busy man, but he still sees him a lot, and we're all supportive of each other and our lives. You'll see me in the crowd at the Wasps games [Edwards is head coach], and he'll come and watch me sing - he came to Ronnie Scott's last month when I was performing at the London jazz club. It's important to us all: at the end of the day, we're still a family and that will never change.
You've been with David for seven years. Any plans to get married?
I wouldn't say marriage is on the cards, to be honest - if it aint broke don't fix it. David's very supportive, but your partner should definitely enhance your life, make you want to be the best you can be, to want to push yourself. I've found that, especially as you get older, you want to surround yourself with people who love you unconditionally.
Do you like being in your 40s?
You certainly get more accepting of yourself as you get older, and of your body. I've always looked after myself, but, of course, as you get older it does get harder to stay in shape. I think the trick is not to aim for perfection, but for what is perfect for you. It's not about pros and cons, like 'I've got lovely eyes but a big bottom'. I grew up in a household with a lot of Afro-Caribbean women. None of them would be seeing a size 16 again any time soon, but you could never say they weren't sexy. Our definitions of beauty are far too rigid.
Do you have a strict regime though?
I look after myself - I don't drink alcohol, I don't eat meat or dairy and I work out quite a lot, but I don't treat myself harshly either. If I want some chips, or some chocolate, then I'll have it. In fact, if you exercise quite a bit you can get away with a lot too, because you can eat what you like and still slip into a size 10. Fundamentally, though, it's not about fitting into a certain dress size, it's about feeling good in your own skin. I don't mind if my backside comes into the room an hour after I do, as long as it's high and proud.
Would you ever consider having plastic surgery?
I know it makes some people happy, but I think the problem with it is that it doesn't make you feel better on the inside.
How would your friends sum you up?
Strong, funny and focused. That's pretty much how I've been since I was eight years old.
What next for that lovely singing voice?
I've really enjoyed performing in a more intimate venue like Ronnie Scott's: it's lovely being able to actually look into people's eyes and see their reaction right there in front of you. It'd certainly be nice if people realised that the big-voiced woman from the 1990s has matured into a slightly different kind of singer. But I've got no firm plans at the moment - let's see what life throws up.