HEATHER Small has good reason to feel proud.

The girl with the big hair and bigger voice who shot to fame with M People in the 1990s went on to sell several million records, win two Brit Awards and the Mercury Music Prize, perform worldwide and record a track that's practically a national anthem.

The title track of her first solo album, Proud, was the soundtrack to London’s 2012 Olympic bid, VE Day anniversary celebrations in Trafalgar Square, and England's victory at the Rugby World Cup.

And when Oprah Winfrey was looking for a song to sum up her 20-year career, she contacted Heather, who performed Proud on her show.

"I've sung Proud with children's choirs, a gay choir, a Christian choir. I feel it's no longer my song; the people own it," says Heather, 51. "It's often sung in school assemblies. That's what music is all about - bringing people together and making them feel good."

The song was also adopted by Miranda Hart in her sitcom, and Heather made a cameo appearance in the final episode. "It was fun but respectful," she says. "If people turn up to my concerts wearing Heather Small masks I'll know why!"

Next month Heather is in Bradford, with what she describes as a "joyous, celebratory" show. As well as performing her own hits, she pays tribute to singers who inspired her.

"Listening to the radio growing up in the '70s, I admired people like Gladys Knight, Elkie Brooks, Bob Marley, even Abba," she says. "Watching singers like Joan Armatrading, an artist of Afro-Caribbean descent who loved her craft and had her own individual style, I saw there was a place for me.

"There are two types of music; good and bad. The genre shouldn't matter. M People were big in the Britpop era, we were on Top of the Pops with Oasis. It was a good mix."

London-born Heather joined her first band, Hot House, while a teenager in the 1980s. She was the voice of the re-recorded version of Number 1 Black Box hit Ride On Time.

M People's hits included Moving On Up, One Night In Heaven and Search For The Hero, and the albums Elegant Slumming, Bizarre Fruit and Fresco. After going solo in 2000, Heather reunited with M People in 2013 for a 20th anniversary tour.

"I'm a better singer than I was, and I've got more to give. There are different layers to my voice," she says. "I set myself high standards and I'm careful about the songs I choose.

"This tour is about celebrating my songs and the women I admire. February is a cold, miserable time; this is a feelgood show, I want the audience to get up and dance.

"My songs are played at important times in people's lives; events such as weddings and funerals. Performing them is an honour, a privilege, and when I sing them I feel I could fly off the stage and the audience would catch me."

Does she feel more comfortable as a solo singer? "Sometimes part of me is terrified!" she laughs. "But I can do the songs justice; it comes with age and experience. That's not to say that younger singers don't have passion - look at Adele and Amy Winehouse."

In 2008 Heather took part in BBC1's Strictly Come Dancing, reaching the eighth week of the contest. "It was a bubble and I learned so much - those professional dancers are hardcore - but Saturday nights were terrifying. I won't be doing any waltzes on stage," she says, breaking into her infectious laugh.

* Heather Small is at St George's Hall on Wednesday, February 3. For tickets call (01274) 432000.