Actress bids to follow musical dream

YOU'RE at the top of the acting tree with a pivotal role in a prime-time drama, in which you're one of the most popular characters.

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Heather Peace and Laura Fraser in BBC's Lip Service
Heather Peace and Laura Fraser in BBC's Lip Service

And earning a very decent wage in the process.

So what do you do? Well, you walk away of course.

And into a world of sweaty music clubs. And you spend your time (and money) touring the country in a van, writing song lyrics on scraps of paper, while developing a strong shoulder muscle from carrying a heavy guitar case.

That's certainly the current storyline of Heather Peace's life.

The Waterloo Road star - she played Nikki Boston in the series - has decided she's heard the school bell ring for the last time.

"I've been running a music career in parallel for some time," says the Bradford-born performer.

"But the music began to take off. And I was at the point where if I wanted to make it in the music business I felt I'd really have to put in the time.

"I've loved being in Waterloo Road, but it meant working long days and filming for nine months a year.

"And in my heart knew I had to make the move, and told the producers of my decision last year."

Heather is set to appear at Glasgow's Oran Mor venue next month. With two albums and some great reviews behind her - Heather's debut album Fairy­tales reached No.7 in the Official Independent Chart - followed up by a sell-out tour of the UK and Australia - she's an act not to be missed.

However, she admits to make it as a singer-songwriter in Britain (described as 'Eva Cassidy meets Sheryl Crowe') has been close to impossible.

"There was a time you would never make it in the business without one of the big music companies behind you, but that seems to be changing," she says.

"The biggest problem was in not having a big PR machine letting the world know what you were doing. But thanks to social media, if I do a gig and it goes well then thousands of people will be told where I'm performing next. And that sets you up for the next gig."

Heather, 38, admits it will be "scary" to concentrate on music.

"Waterloo Road paid for me to set up my own music business, to get the PR, the organisation. However, I had to make that judgement call."

The lady's personality is such she could not have found out if music could be the main career.

"I suppose music was always the favourite," she recalls. "I grew up loving Abba then Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. I was classically trained on piano as a six year-old and then taught myself guitar."

Heather studied drama at Manchester University, where she also held a jazz residency.

Her acting talent didn't go unnoticed. Heather went on to win the role of Anne Cullen in Emmerdale and appear in numerous theatre productions.

High profile television work continued with roles in the likes of Blue Murder, Coronation Street and Holby City.

Indeed, it was in an episode of London's Burning when Britain realised Heather had real musical talent.

Her character Sally Fields sang a version of Bette Midler's classic The Rose and it was then released by Simon Cowell's BMG. It reached No.56 in the UK charts.

A potential move to music wasn't an option at this stage however. Not when heather was being offered fantastically challenging TV roles such as police officer Sam Murray in the BBC's Lip Service.

In fact, Heather chose the role over a part in a prime-time soap opera.

Yet, while being gay informed her decision to appear in Lip Service (she didn't want to miss out on being part of a production she felt would be successful, that she would watch) it would be entirely wrong to say her sexuality has played a part in her casting.

"I've only ever played two gay characters," she says, emphatically. "That's in Lip Service and Waterloo Road. It's never been an issue."

Heather, who married love of her life Ellie last year, feels the industry is moving away from a judgemental position. That's a position in which she was once told by a TV producer not to come out because it could affect ratings.

However, music, she hopes represents the future for her.

"The buzz you get from doing a gig is amazing," she says.

l Heather Peace, Oran Mor, February 12.

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