M People’s Heather Small recognised in King’s Birthday Honours

A founding member of Manchester-based band M People, as well as a successful solo artist, Heather Small has been made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the King’s Birthday Honours for her voluntary and charitable services.

Small became one of the most recognisable voices of the 90s British music scene, with hits including Moving On Up, Search For The Hero and Proud.

Heather Small in London
Heather Small became one of the most recognisable voices of the 90s British music scene (Isabel Infantes/PA)

Growing up on a London council estate in 1965, Small replied to an advert looking for an Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight-style singer, joining her first band Hot House at the age of 18.

The group got their first record deal when Small was aged 21, but she was dropped from the group two years later, before her management team found M People.

Indie band M People were formed by Manchester DJ Mike Pickering in 1990 and consisted of Paul Heard, Small and Andrew “Shovell” Lovell.

The group won best British dance act at the Brit awards in 1994 and 1995, as well as scoring the prestigious Mercury prize in 1994 for album Elegant Slumming.

In an interview with SheerLuxe, Small said it was only as she started moving up the billing sheet that she realised “I might not be being treated the same as other stars – probably because of the way I looked”.

Heather Small
Heather Small had a number of hits with M People (Sean Dempsey/PA)

“My sister had to stand outside in a crowd of thousands watching her own sister sing on stage because they wouldn’t give me a ticket for her.

“My mother had to watch from home. And yet other people lower down the billing had their parents, their boyfriends – and we had the same manager.

“The men were always treated better, too – this only dawned on me later,” she said.

In 1997, Small was also one of the lead vocals on the Children In Need single Perfect Day alongside stars such as Sir Elton John, Bowie, Bono and Shane McGowan.

A year later, Small parted ways with M People to pursue solo projects.

The singer scored a huge hit with her solo single Proud, which became the theme song to The Oprah Winfrey Show and was brought back to the mainstream in the British sitcom Miranda.

SPORT Olympic 4
Singer Heather Small leading a troupe of young dancers singing Proud – the London 2012 anthem marking the official start to the Everyone`s London season simultaneously celebrating the capital city’s countdown to the 2012 Olympic Games (Andrew Stuart/PA)

The track was also used as a promotional song for the 2012 London Olympics.

During her career, Small featured on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing with professional partner Brian Fortuna in 2008, placing ninth overall in the series.

While she also appeared on another TV contest 14 years later, disguising her distinctive voice while performing on ITV’s The Masked Singer.

Small was also one of the hundreds of “national treasures” who celebrated the late Queen during the Platinum Jubilee Pageant in June 2022, which paid homage to the past seven decades of the monarch’s historic reign.

The celebrities travelled through the street parade in decorated open-top double-decker buses each themed to a decade.

Meanwhile in October 2022, M People founder Pickering said the band were “livid” that their 1993 hit song Moving On Up was used by Prime Minister Liz Truss on stage.

Ms Truss walked on at the Conservative Party conference to the dance anthem, which features vocalist Small and peaked at number two on the UK singles chart, ahead of delivering her keynote speech.

It came months before Small’s son, James Small-Edwards, was elected a Labour councillor.

Small shares her son with her former partner, former rugby player and coach Shaun Edwards.

In 2012, she married lawyer David Neita.