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Something Wickedly Talented

By, Sergio Burns

From the highs of pop stardom to the darkest of dark moments. From the unconditional adulation of fans to the private struggle of life changing decisions. Former Liberty X member Michelle Heaton has walked an often difficult road. Singer, dancer, actor, celebrity, presenter, wife, mother, charity giver, her journey has been one of incredible highs and crushing lows since emerging from her Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, chrysalis.

“I was aware that I always wanted to sing,” she told Ayrshire Magazine of her early years. “I always had the passion in me. I did perform but also held back, because when you’re in school, it’s a bit different. It’s hard. I always auditioned and I was also lucky to get main parts. My school was Emmanuel College and it was quite a privileged school ….privately funded and there was always amazing events that we performed…at Newcastle City Hall.”

Remarkably open and frank, Heaton is best known for her years as a singer and dancer with the enormously successful band Liberty X. But, as she developed into a singer and performer in Gateshead, it was her mother who found the starting point that would lead Michelle to pop stardom.

“My Mum got the Stage newspaper and she was always scanning it to see if there was anything that would fit the bill for me,” She said of the time she auditioned for a place on a new talent show. “She rang me up about an advert that was looking for new singers, under 21, who could sing, dance and act. They would be managed by the band ‘5ive’s’ management team.”

The singer followed up on the ad and, with thousands of other young hopefuls, auditioned for a place in a show called Popstars. Heaton’s ability shone through, and she was one of the 2001 finalists but didn’t make it into the eventual winners band, Hear’Say. Instead, she and four other runners-up, Tony Lundon, Kelli Young, Kevin Simm and Jessica Taylor, formed the band Liberty X. Ironically, they became much more successful than Hear’Say.

“It was amazing, I always wanted to be part of a pop group, not a solo artist,” Michelle said about winning a place in Liberty X. “I was so fortunate to have been in a successful band. I wanted to be on stage, with other people, entertaining and having fun. To fulfil that, oh my god, it was amazing. You hear of sad stories, of people who used to be in the limelight and who… go to a dark place as there is nothing there for them afterwards. I was fortunate. I just enjoyed every second. I look back at it with fond memories.”

Pop is a fickle industry, and it is one of Heaton’s endearing qualities to be positive about her time at the top rather than resentful of the fact that the band had a limited time span. After three albums, eight top ten, ten top twenty hits, including the number one single ‘Just A Little’, their popularity began to wane and they decided to split.

“I think it was a natural end. I kind of knew it was coming,” Heaton told AM philosophically. “We had been talking about it for some time. We were expecting it. I think when our last single didn’t do as well, and before our management could do anything about it we thought let’s go out on a high and not drag ourselves through any more pain if it’s not going to work anymore. That was it, we just made a really adult decision about it.”

Since the break up of the band in 2007, Heaton has not stood still. She has appeared on Celebrity Big Brother, Celebrity Come Dine With Me, worked on Irish X Factor, and toured with the play The Naked Truth.

“I think I really love live TV presenting and if I could continue down that route, I would be over the moon,” she enthused. “I suppose I am really lucky that I still get to perform and I feel that I am not done yet, whether that be in…West End productions or touring, I’m not sure. I am also going away in February for the Atomic Kitten tour, I suppose I’m back where I started in a pop group again internationally. I’m stepping in for Liz (McClarnon) in Australia. I get to go on tour with them.”

Looking in from the outside you might be tempted to think, ‘lucky you’ Michelle. Despite what we read in the media, however, her life has not been all pop stardom, fame and glamour. The former Liberty X star’s life has not only embraced the soaring highs and deep lows of showbiz success and disappointment, but the darkness of life changing decisions. In this latter respect, Heaton has proved herself a courageous woman forced to make heartbreaking choices.

As a carrier of the BRCA2 gene she knew that she had an 80 per cent risk of breast cancer and made the brave decision to have a full masectomy. Selfless as ever, she then turned her attention to raising money for charity and in May 2015 completed a gruelling trek across Morocco.

“I suppose for me, because I was going through a difficult time in my personal life with my gene that I carry…and I had just undergone full hysterectomy and therefore given up my chance to have more children,” she said thoughtfully and candidly. “The trek was to raise money for women’s charities, and to fund research into why women carry this gene (BRCA2). I came out as having this gene and underwent double mastectomy. The hysterectomy was life changing of course. I don’t regret it. I am strong with things that happen to me, I just get on with it. When bad things happen to people I love that’s when I break down. Hugh (husband Hugh Hanley) is stronger than me. When it comes to myself I am matter of fact.”

But we have soon returned to what Michelle Heaton does best, and as a regular trouper she is happily telling us about returning to Ayrshire (she has been a couple of times) with her next show, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, at Christmas ( runs from December 2, 2016, to January 3, 2017).

“We launched the show at a local castle,” she tells us enthusiastically. “It was amazing. I am so excited. I have done panto many times, but not like this. It’s really progressive and exciting. It is like something out of the west end. The stage has been refurbished and the script itself is really dramatic. I think my character is a strong woman, obviously being the Wicked Queen. She is not necessarily as dark as you would remember. She is evil in a way that is sinister a little bit like Elphaba from Wicked.”

What Michelle Heaton really gives, is hope. The hope that anything we might encounter in our day to day can, with a bit of positivity, grit and determination, be overcome. Ayrshire looks forward to her next visit, and make sure you have your tickets ordered, it all sounds like wickedly good fun!