HEATHER Small has good reason to feel proud.

The girl with the big hair and bigger voice who shot to fame with M People in the Nineties went on to sell several million records, win two Brit Awards and the Mercury Music Prize, and recorded a track that’s practically a national anthem.

That’s the title track of her first solo album, Proud, which not only was the soundtrack to London’s 2012 Olympic bid, but also the VE Day anniversary celebrations in Trafalgar Square, and England’s victory at the Rugby World Cup.

And when Oprah Winfrey was looking for a song to sum up her 20-year career, she contacted Heather, who performed Proud on her show.

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

“I’ve sung Proud with children’s choirs, a gay choir, a Christian choir. I feel it’s no longer my song; the people own it,” Heather adds.

“It’s often sung in school assemblies. That’s what music is all about - bringing people together and making them feel good.”

The song was also adopted by Miranda Hart in her sitcom, and Heather made a cameo appearance in the final episode.

“It was fun but respectful,” she says. “If people turn up to my concerts wearing Heather Small masks I’ll know why!”

London-born Heather joined her first band, Hot House, while a teenager in the Eighties, and hit the charts at the end of the decade when she re-recorded the vocals for Black Box’s number one hit Ride on Time, which controversially had originally used the uncredited vocals of Loleatta Holloway.

Gazette: Heather Small

But it was as the front singer for hit group M People where she really made her name in the Nineties.

M People’s hits included Moving On Up, One Night In Heaven and Search For The Hero, and the albums Elegant Slumming, Bizarre Fruit and Fresco. After going solo in 2000, Heather reunited with M People in 2013 for a 20th anniversary tour.

As Part of M People, Heather became one of the seminal British voices of the decade, winning the Best British Dance Act Award at the Brits for two years running, as well as the Mercury Music Prize for Elegant Slumming.

“I’m a better singer than I was, and I’ve got more to give. There are different layers to my voice,” she says. “I set myself high standards and I’m careful about the songs I choose.

“My songs are played at important times in people’s lives; events such as weddings and funerals. Performing them is an honour, a privilege, and when I sing them I feel I could fly off the stage and the audience would catch me.”

Does she feel more comfortable as a solo singer?

“Sometimes part of me is terrified!” she laughs. “But I can do the songs justice; it comes with age and experience. That’s not to say that younger singers don’t have passion - look at Adele and Amy Winehouse.”

Although previously Heather has said one of the secrets to her powerful voice is honey, the same that Lady Gaga uses to keep her voice in top shape.

Gaga has listed Manuka honey in her rider for years to protect her voice from wear and tear, and Heather admits she has very specific requests backstage as well including the honey plus white flowers and dark chocolate.

She reveals: “I like what I like, and I like to get it. When you are performing and you’ve got to go out there and do your thing it’s nice to have the stuff around you that settles your nerves. I know if I want something for my throat, I’ve got them. So if everything is good before you get on stage you give your best performance. It is just what you need around you to perform well. I get very, very nervous, so I spend a lot of the time in my room.”

As well as performing live on stage, Heather has made various forays on to the small screen.

After taking part in BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing, reaching the eighth week of the contest, her most recent challenge was taking part in BBC Two’s travelogue series, Pilgrimage: The Road to Santiago, which invited seven famous faces to live as modern-day pilgrims as they set out on the famous Camino de Santiago.

With just over a fortnight to tackle the ancient path, she joined, among others, actor Neil Morrissey, entertainer Debbie McGee and comedian Ed Byrne.

“With Strictly It was a bubble and I learned so much,” she begins. “Those professional dancers are hardcore but Saturday nights were terrifying. I won’t be doing any waltzes on stage.

“For this latest show I always wanted to do a pilgrimage, so when I got the chance I thought I would learn something, either about myself or my faith. I was a believer before I set off, but this trip made me realise my faith and beliefs were much stronger than I had realised. “Sometimes you feel like you could always do better – with everything. I think that’s where I am in my faith and how I live my faith, the day-to-day beliefs that I have and how I treat people, I’m closer to that than I expected.”

The M People frontwoman, who burst onto the music scene 25 years ago and has sold more than 11 million records, is now preparing for her nationwide How Can I Love You More tour, which will feature hit after hit, including Moving On Up, Search For A Hero, Renaissance, Open Your Heart, Testify, Dreaming, Angel St and the anthemic Proud.

  • Heather Small is at the Cliffs Pavilion in Southend on Sunday May 13. Tickets are £33.50 and £28.50. Call the box office on 01702 351135 or visit southendtheatres.org.uk to book.
  • Heather Small is at the Ipswich Regent, St Helen’s Street, on May 12 at 7.30pm. For tickets, priced £32.50 call 01473 433100 or on-line at www.ipswichregent.com