Heather Peace needs no introduction; she’s appeared in several drama series and toured the UK. She takes time out of her busy schedule to tell us about life after being “that bird who used to be in the fire brigade”, her upcoming album, tour and DVD, and her thoughts on the next reincarnation of Doctor Who…
Planet Notion: How did you get into music and acting?
Heather Peace: I was a cantor at a Catholic church, which is someone who stands at the pulpit and leads the congregation with all the hallelujahs and stuff like that. I’ve played piano since I was seven. I was taught for free by a lady who was at the church who believed music should be free. She taught about twenty kids who wouldn’t have been able to afford piano lessons. I also had a healthy interest in literature. I loved Shakespeare; I found the stories really intriguing and passionate. I was doing all the am-dram stuff at home with the council-run drama group called The Bradford Youth Players. I was there for years. Then I got into Manchester Poly and did my three years Stanislavski training.
PN: What drew you to your roles in London’s Burning and Ultimate Force?
HP: London’s Burning was because it was my big break. I think I was only 22 and it was a life-changing role. At the time, it was the biggest drama in the country. Ultimate Force is the only job I haven’t had to audition for. They just went, “Get that bird who used to be in the fire brigade. She looks like she can run a bit.” It’s a job that boys die to do: running around with guns, nonsense really, but a lot of fun.
PN: Lip Service is quite a departure from your previous roles. Why did you audition for it?
HP: I was really keen to get on board. I’d seen a couple of scripts; instead of just lots of dialogue, there were scenes where nothing is said. It was really good writing. Also, I’ve done so much mainstream stuff. I think it was really good to do something cutting edge. I was really keen to start challenging myself.
PN: Queer as Folk aired over a decade ago and The L Word started in 2004. Why has a British programme about lesbians taken so long to come out?
HP: It’s about getting the right production company (which I think Kudos is), the right directors (we had Sallie Aprahamian, who did This Life) and the right people (Harriet Braun wrote quite a bit of Mistresses and she’s gay herself). Assembling a team like that is harder than you think. It’s been well overdue. But, it’s different from The L Word in the sense that a lot of my straight mates were watching it because it becomes more about a group of friends. I loved The L Word, but it really was just about lesbians. I think Lip Service is truer to a British gay life; we’ve all got a lot of male mates and straight friends. We just took it to the next stage, which made it more accessible.
PN: Lip Service prompted questions about visibility and representation. Why do lesbians and bisexual women remain largely invisible and underrepresented in the media and politics (e.g. compared to gay men)?
HP: I often think that when gay men are represented it’s when they’re not sexually predatory. You’ve got your Paul O’Grady or whoever; it’s all a bit cheeky. The only one you have to accept is a sexually active man is probably John Barrowman.We do have some good representation with Sue Perkins, Clare Balding; they’re out in the mainstream. But, we’re still underrepresented, absolutely. I think there’s a real pressure. I didn’t come out in my early 20s when I was playing romantic leads opposite boys; I was told not to… We are out there now, but there’s not enough of us, and certainly not enough young lesbians. I think we’re going to see a lot more coming through though.
PN: Has being out affected your career?
HP: Being out has certainly had a positive effect on my music. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of the girls. With the acting, I wasn’t sure if I would struggle to find jobs as an out actress until Waterloo Road came up.
PN: Has your experience of the media changed over the years?
HP: I think they’re more worried about putting a foot wrong so I’m on safer ground than in the past, especially after the Stephen Gately debacle. But, since I’ve been more outspoken I haven’t done a lot of mainstream stuff, so it remains to be seen when Waterloo Road comes out. You worry about the “lesbian actress, Heather Peace” label because it would never say “straight actress, whoever”. It becomes the thing that defines you. Also, gay media are looking for people to be positive role models. I did feel like it was quite often my own people that were trying to out me. I was like, “Wait a minute. I’ve been an actor longer than I’ve been a lesbian!”
PN: What attracted you to Waterloo Road?
HP: I thought, “OK, I’ve done the culty BBC3. I should go back and do a mainstream drama”. It’s a well thought of drama and I’ve never worked for Shed Productions before. It’s a cracking role: she’s ex-military (of course!). She’s brought in to bring back discipline to the school and a sense of pride and worth. That’s the best part of being an actor: trying to be everything you’d like to be! Do you know what my dream role would be? I think it’s time for a female Doctor Who and I think it should be me: a kooky Northern female Doctor Who! I’m just waiting for the call…
PN: You performed on the main stage at Manchester Pride this year. Does the size of the crowd or the occasion affect your performance?
HP: It was when it all came together. I’ve got a new permanent band now, which made it a bit rockier. I guess the size of the crowd gives you that edge and it made me concentrate more. It’s the first time I’ve come off and gone, “We nailed it!” It was the perfect place for it to happen because there were a lot of people there who’d never heard me.
PN: What was the highlight of your last tour?
HP: There were two. Well, it wasn’t a highlight. There was a moment when I lost my voice and we had to go back to Brighton; it was horrific and I had to postpone a date. There was a little highlight of having the band, management, my dad, my mum and everybody on Brighton beach. I remember sitting there, watching the sun setting, and thinking, “Look at my posse. This is brilliant! We’re all here because we’re doing music.” And then the highlight of that was when my voice came back. We hit London and I felt like I was flying again.
PN: Your tour documentary DVD is out in October. Where did the idea to make it come from?
HP: We released it as a web series first which was great but there was then a demand from fans to have a physical thing to keep. A fantastic guy called Patrick Stutt follows me around at the shows and does really innovative, funky filming. He came away with us for the whole tour, capturing the banter and all that stuff that goes on behind the scenes. There’s a heck of a lot of extra footage that didn’t get put in the online release; so that’s been added on for the DVD.
PN: What has feedback been like?
HP: I’ve got a really hardcore bunch of fans; they’re really positive. I think a lot of people have made friends at my gigs. They’ve set up this fan thing called the HP Corps. They’re fab! You have to get promoted in the HP Corps. They do these training videos and just have a real laugh.
PN: What can fans expect from your solo performances at the Glee Clubs?
HP: I’ve just done a lot of shows with the full band, so these are going to be stripped back and really intimate. It’ll be me doing all of the raw material from the forthcoming album plus some other stuff. When I’m on my own, it ends up being lots of banter; we have a good laugh, me and the audience.
PN: Will the content of your set be different when you’re performing at the Union Chapel in London?
HP: Yes, it’ll probably be the new album straight through, plus we always stick in a couple of mammoth covers, which are really cool and we’ll have new ones this time. This show will be with the full band and it’s always rockier.
PN: You’re recording your new album soon. What kind of songs will you be making?
HP: The album will be called Sabotage. We’ve been developing the sound as we’ve gone along so the London will solidify it. It’s not a dark album, but there’s some dark stuff in it. It documents a couple of years of my life where everything was a bit tricky, work wasn’t happening and I had bad relationships, but it has a little hopeful end.
PN: Will the musicians playing at the Chapel be on the album?
HP: Yes, they will all be on the album, the only thing I’ll change is possibly to bring in a classical guitarist. I want a string quartet and a pizzicato cello. We’ve worked really hard this year to tour and fund the album ourselves rather than go to any major labels or sponsorship, which has been challenging at points but it’s been a dream of mine to produce my own album and have complete control – and it looks like we’ve done it!
For more information, visit http://www.heatherpeace.com/
- Ann Bartholomew
- Photography: Andy Whitton