A Glass Half Full

In my early 30s, my acting work suddenly dried up, and it was a shock to the system. I was considered too old to be the romantic lead and too young to be the matriarch. That's what often happens to women in television, although thankfully we can see a gradual shift away from that now.

I've always been a 'glass half full', type of woman. An optimistic lass who believes that positivity can surmount most obstacles.

I've been a professional actress for 18 years. I went straight to drama school after my A-levels, then into long stints in theatre before landing my first major role on mainstream TV in London's Burning when I was in my early 20s. Making music and playing gigs was something I always did as a hobby. I learned to sing and play piano and guitar as a child and I paid my way through drama school with a jazz residency, but I never felt entirely confident describing myself as a musician and I didn't know how to take it to the next level.

In my early 30s, my acting work suddenly dried up, and it was a shock to the system. I was considered too old to be the romantic lead and too young to be the matriarch. That's what often happens to women in television, although thankfully we can see a gradual shift away from that now.

There were constant repeats of London Burning and Ultimate Force on the Dave Channel but unfortunately we all signed buy-outs back in the day because we had no idea that cable TV would become such a thing. So there I was, in ASDA, buying Savers potatoes and toilet roll being recognised by lots of blokes that looked like they could be called Dave and I was broke. Really broke.

I sent texts to friends asking if they wanted any cleaning/painting/anything done so I could earn some cash. When you're an actor, you're self-employed, so there's no popping down the job centre to sign on.

I got by but it was stressful and I got a bit lost. I questioned things about myself and I felt ashamed that I couldn't get myself out of the cash strapped hole I was in. I started to sleep in; I lost whole days, weeks and months. And then I remembered, I was a glass half full kind of woman. I thought what else can I do to really get myself back on my feet?

I got out my old song books and started to write music again but the real obstacle was that in my youth I'd play with a band or a partner and I was really lacking the self-assurance to just get up there on my own and perform my songs. But, considering I was running out of friends' houses to paint, I decided to just make myself do it anyway.

I put the structure back into my life. I'd get up, rehearse and make this my new working day. I didn't have a rigid plan driving me to showcase myself or get a record deal, I just felt instinctively that this is what I needed to do and playing and writing music was almost like a kind of therapy.

After a few months, I was booked in to play some really tiny music venues across the UK with the help of a friend. Instinct had shown me the way. It was around this time that a little indie show I filmed the year before came on air; it was called Lip Service. I was unprepared for the reaction to that show - a big pouring of gay appreciation came my way and I was suddenly catapulted into the top ten of the Independent On Sunday's Pink List, invited to Stonewall dinners and named as a gay role model - all very amazing if not a little scary.

All of the venues I had booked started to sell out within minutes. Lip Service was a cult hit and people were googling my name, seeing my gigs and booking tickets. Not used to this kind of reaction, some venue owners went a little crazy at the number of phone calls they had to contend with. One owner, having had enough of the constant stream of phone calls, chucked his mobile in the river.

I would have continued to just zigzag around the UK playing these small shows had I not had a chance meeting with my now manager who had booked me for a small show in Glasgow. She asked me if I was still writing new songs and when I said yes, she had confidence in what I was doing and the path to proper touring and turning my hobby into an actual career was ignited.

That first tour of 500 capacity venues sold out and we then went on another couple of acoustic tours and watched more and more loyal fans returning and bringing their friends along to the next one until there was a really solid fanbase who were demanding an album.

In my early 20s I was signed to BMG off the back of London's Burning and it just wasn't for me. As an opinionated Northerner it didn't suit me being told what to sing and wear and I didn't like miming on TV shows. And my efforts were very unconvincing at best. So this time I decided to set up Kaleidoscope Records - my own label and get the job done that way.

I saved the profits from touring and asked my fans to help raise the rest of the funds to make my first studio album, Fairytales via Pledgemusic. On release in 2012, it went to number seven in the independent charts - no small feat for a first time independent and I was over the moon.

Since then, I've had another few sell out UK tours and two sell out tours of Australia. I also had a good stint on BBC One's Waterloo Road - playing a part that was both the love interest and a matriarch - but I'm obviously a lot braver these days and I bit the bullet recently to leave that comfortable TV job to make album number two.

The Thin Line is the record I always wanted to make, a warm, organic record, recorded on tape with the vibe of the whole band in the room together, creating energy. It has real strings and brass and not a hint of digital schizzle about it.

My early 30's were a real lesson in determination and resilience and here I am, a few years later, doing exactly what I want to be doing.

The Thin Line is released on 9 June on Kaleidoscope Records. For full tour dates and appearances visit: www.heatherpeace.com


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