Heather Small, 54, helped define the sound of the 90s. She rose up from humble beginnings to become a pop sensation as the lead singer of M People, with chart-topping hits Proud and Search For The Hero. Her life has been far from plain sailing, however. In an interview with the Daily Mirror, she revealed she suffered from crippling allergies as a child which threatened to jeopardise her career.
When it was home time I had to be carried to the car
Small experienced the first signs of trouble when she was eight years old. The pop star said: “I was always a sickly child and was diagnosed with an allergy to feathers.
“I had an eiderdown full of them and was really ill when I went to bed, but when I was in my mum’s room I was fine.
“The doctor told my mum, ‘you’re slowly killing your daughter’, so we realised that we had to get rid of the duvet quickly.”
The allergies did not stop there. Small also revealed to The Mirror that she found out she was allergic to cats too. A realisation that struck the pop star after becoming poorly from playing with her aunt’s cat.
As she explained: “One day I sneaked out and played with it all afternoon without anyone knowing.
“When it was home time I had to be carried to the car as I couldn’t move. I was very ill, sneezing and finding it hard to breath.”
“It wasn’t until much later in life that blood tests finally confirmed I was allergic to animals, dust and feathers.”
According to the NHS, allergies are very common. They’re thought to affect more than one in four people in the UK at some point in their lives.
Allergies are particularly common in children. Some allergies go away as a child gets older, although many are lifelong, as in Small’s case.
The pop icon also suffered from asthma, and then she developed eczema. “When it got bad I used steroid cream as a last resort. I also had to be really careful about my clothing – man-made fabrics don’t help,” she revealed.
Small found her asthma started to encroach on her career: “The asthma played havoc with my breathing, making me short of breath and irritating my lungs.
“My chest would be so tight and I’d be wheezing so much I couldn’t sing.
“When I first joined a band before M People, my symptoms would get so bad I would have to pull out of gigs as I felt so awful. And cancelling studio time is so expensive.”
She added: “I also suffered from nerves before going on stage and I’d worry it would trigger an asthma attack so I’d try my hardest not to get too nervous.”
Fortunately, the singer found a way to manage her symptoms. A holistic healthcare practitioner recommended that the singer shun dairy products, which turned out to be an underlying trigger.
She said: “I discovered dairy products such as milk and yoghurt were very mucus-forming, so that built up in my throat which would then affect my voice.
“Amazingly, the diet worked and it really helped with my asthma. Since then I haven’t had to cancel any shows. It’s been a revelation.”
The NHS echoed this advice to alleviate allergies: “In many cases, the most effective way of managing an allergy is to avoid the allergen that causes the reaction whenever possible.”
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