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Interview with Heather Peace

19 Apr 2012

Since making her first appearance in lesbian TV drama 'Lip Service' in 2010, Heather Peace's popularity has soared to new heights and her career has taken off in exciting new directions. Not only has her TV career gone from strength to strength (with a new role in the BBC school drama 'Waterloo Road', and a larger slice of the action in the upcoming second series of 'Lip Service') but Heather's career as a singer songwriter has also flourished. Ahead of her first studio album 'Fairytales', Heather talked to When Sally Met Sally about music, life, coming out as gay, and her fans.

Heather Peace photos © Andrew Whitton

Interview by Wendy Baverstock

Heather-Peace-Album.jpgHeather Peace's debut album 'Fairytales' is a collection of personal, self-penned songs which express some of the darker times in her life. 

Heather has been open about the fact that she started work on her new album in a really bad place, emotionally. 'Better Than You' the first single due to be released from the album (out on 30th April) is about leaving an old abusive relationship. (Watch the exclusive video HERE!) And there are some spiky questions for former lovers in the songs 'Make Me Pay' and 'Sabotage'. 

Makes you wonder why she called the album 'Fairytales' – but apparently Heather preferred stories by The Grimm Brothers, and I suppose many fairytales do have a darker side. Having said that, the album is not all about personal loss - 'You’re For Keeps' is a song with more than just a nod towards her partner, Ellie. 

I wondered what it must be like for Ellie, and other friends and family to observe Heather turn into something of a lesbian sex symbol. She laughs as she remembers when her mother first came to one of her concerts. "My parents live up North you know, they had no idea about my fans!"

Heather's Mum was both surprised and more than a little bemused by the sight of 700 swooning women. "Ellie told me afterwards that her face was a picture!" says Heather.

There is a downside to all this attention though – brought home recently by a nasty incident when posing for a photo for a fan (the women grabbed at her boobs). The incident later exploded into a debate on Twitter, with some women, amazingly, thinking that this was perfectly OK. Heather says, "If that had been a man, there would have been much more of a negative reaction". 

Despite this, Heather and her partner are relaxed about all the attention. "Ellie and I talk a lot, you have to communicate – and we are really strong … she is really beautiful and gets loads of attention too when we are out."

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Her love of music began as a Sunday school Catholic child growing up in Bradford. Learning to sing and play classically, she became a Cantor - leading the congregation with soaring ‘Hallelujahs’.

Bright and studious, Heather did rather well at school but did that canny thing of being popular too. "I was quite successful you know – I would hang out with the naughty kids but somehow never be naughty or get into trouble!"

When she began to recognise her own sexuality, she reluctantly realised that she had to leave the Church behind. "I was really disappointed, I felt I had to move away from it, they would hardly love my sexuality … but my Sundays suddenly felt empty. I had to find a new thing to do."  

Heather took herself to Manchester’s Canal Street where she found the answer - a weekly Sunday jazz residency at a bar. "At the time, there were only a few bars, but I noticed that the scene began to grow, the bar I was in became a real gay-girl hangout -  I am not saying it was all down to me though!" 

album-3.jpgShe also studied drama while living in Manchester, taking her into a successful ten year acting career in some of the most popular dramas and soaps including 'London’s Burning', and 'Emmerdale'. It was also whilst she was at drama school that she realised she was gay. 

"I had to tell my parents when the relationship with my first girlfriend broke down, it left me totally broken hearted and I was visibly not well.

"I expected my parents to be furious (about her sexuality), but my mum said she had guessed anyway and when I told them, they just put their arms around me. They were perfect parents in a way." 

It is one of her more recent roles, as DI Sam Murray in 'Lip Service' that has really elevated her into the ‘lezzaratti’. Heather feels particularly proud of the show.

"I was pleased with the reception the show has got, and in many ways, it’s a mainstream show – its about a group of friends going through life, love and loss. Of course the show can’t represent all lesbians – nor should it try to. I like the fact that it is mainstream and many people, gay and straight, tell me they really enjoy it".

The second series (starting this Friday 20th, BBC 3 at 9.00pm) will see DI Sam Murray grow from being simply a supporting character.

"The new series is great for my character, because we get a chance to get to know her... to explore the relationship between Sam and her work colleague too – a straight guy - so I think you see a much more rounded character." 

Will there be a third series of Lip Service? Possibly - the creative team behind the show are currently waiting to find out whether the BBC will give it the green light. 

As for 'Waterloo Road', Heather is definitely going to stay on for the next series - and filming starts for that in Glasgow soon. 

Heather's acting has really taken off, so that over the last ten years, she has pretty much always been in work, but in her spare time she always remained committed to her music - writing songs in between filming and performing in pub gigs in front of her mates. But it was when she reached that dark place – a place which sparked a period of creativity – that she decided to make the album. 

WATCH THE VIDEO OF 'BETTER THAN YOU' HERE:

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"I just wrote all these songs and then thought, perhaps I should let other people hear some of this stuff to see if they like it."  

Cue an army of fans to help pay for her album through crowd sourcing website PledgeMusic – which enables people to pledge small amounts of money in return for rewards - signed merchandise, previews of album and songs etc. 

Heather has been consistently gigging across the country – in fact to sell-out audiences. She is looking forward to more touring – and because she has self financed the album she is in control about who she works with in the band. Quite handy if you have to spend a lot of time with people cooped up on a tour bus. 

She hopes to repeat her recent magical performance at the Union Chapel in Islington – an old empty church which evoked memories from her childhood.

"That place is so wonderful to perform in! I am looking to do a stripped back, acoustic session there soon.

"I’m just really pleased with how its all going, but if it all ended tomorrow, I would still think – wow, I did that – I hope that my appreciation for the fans comes across as genuine, because it totally is.

"I have no illusions of grandeur and I am just really enjoying it all, I’m in a good place at the moment. My fans have been great, and helped me to make what was a hobby into a proper job".

Heather's debut album 'Fairytales' will be released on 21st May 2012