Chatting up: Heather Peace
The "Lip Service" actor turned singer-songwriter is ready to take the U.S. by storm.
Photo By: Andrew Whitton
Heather Peace is a star. The out actor and musician boasts roles on not one but two hit U.K. television series, Lip Service and Waterloo Road, and her new album, Fairytales, is tearing up the indie charts. She’s also a drop-dead gorgeous butch. As steadfast, square-jawed, husky-voiced Detective Sergeant Sam Murray on Lip Service, she looks so hot in a vest it should be a crime. But to talk to the down-to-earth and effortlessly likeable Peace you would never guess it. She may have been Britain’s best-kept lezzie secret, but Peace is about to earn herself a horde of new American fangirls. After two successful seasons in the U.K., the thoroughly addictive Lip Service, which follows the lives and loves of a group of thirty-something lesbians in Scotland (think The L Word but with sexier accents), has finally made its way here and is now available on Netflix’s streaming service. This incredibly sexy series, with its perfect balance of drama, romance, and humor, is the lezzie show you must track down by any means.
Fortunately, in season two of Lip Service, the role of Sam Murray expands from a supporting character—the cuckolded member of a love triangle that includes Cat and Frankie (who many have called the British Shane)—to a full-fledged cast member. “They’ve really built the part,” says Peace. “They go a little bit more into her work stuff and her relationship with her male—you know, straight—partner, which I think is a really interesting dynamic.”
This expanded role requires Peace to go to some very dark places. Her character is dealing with the death of a loved one, living through turmoil on the job, even fighting panic attacks, an issue that the actor has had to deal with herself in the past. Perhaps it was this link that caused Peace—who typically isn’t a method actor—to struggle to keep her onscreen role separate from her personal life. “We see everyone’s vulnerabilities this year, and we see breakdowns because of the things that go on, and so it was a tough part to play this time, and I sometimes couldn’t shake it off when I came home.” Peace would even find herself crying uncontrollably after certain episodes had wrapped, but the result speaks for itself, and her performance in the second season is riveting as well as heartbreaking.
“You know, the thing about Sam is that I think she is so brilliant at everything else as a detective…she is so instinctive with her work, and yet the one thing that is right in front of her nose she either chooses to ignore, even though she knows it is going on, or she just doesn’t see it. I think that’s really poignant.”
While Peace hasn’t been closeted for quite some time, her role as the dashing DS—and the fact that she’s the only openly lesbian cast member—has made her very visible, but it’s an opportunity Peace revels in. “You know, what’s been really fab is being able to wear a pair of really sturdy flat shoes, and knowing that you can sit with your legs open, because I’m a little bit like that myself anyways.”
But don’t think that because Peace is the resident lezzie on the set she’s doling out sex tips to her cast mates. “They didn’t ask me about having sex, because I’m really bad in bed,” jokes Peace. “I’m really crap. No, you know what? I think the sex aspect of it, apart from the fact that it is usually well written out, with stage directions, I think when you’re acting and play out the scene, the girls were really in strum with it, they just went for it. So, no, they didn’t ask me for tips.”
Peace came out to her friends and family at 19, while she was still in college. However, things were a little trickier professionally, and early on she chose to keep her sexuality private. In fact, at one point early in her career Peace was contacted by a member of the press who was intent on outing her. “Today, a paper could just not contact you, and could legitimately print something like, ‘Oh, they’re gay.’ But then, it was considered kind of like a bloody witch-hunt, and they were doing it to all sorts of people,” says Peace.
Photo By: Andrew Whitton
“When I was in London’s Burning, which was the biggest TV drama here in the U.K., we got a call from London Weekend Television. They’ve got this building on the South Bank, and we all joked that the 22nd floor was somewhere you never wanted to go—because that is where you would go if you were sort of in trouble, or if something was going to come out in the press. I was summoned in, and they just said, ‘They’re going to out you tomorrow.’ And I thought, What? Why? They said, ‘You have two options. You can either cooperate with them and have an interview—that way you get your part of the story, they get an exclusive—or you don’t do an interview and they’ll just say what they like, and it will basically, probably, sound more smutty than it actually is.’ And I remember standing there in tears, and thinking, You know what? I’m not giving them an interview. I’m not giving them an exclusive. They can just say what they want. And so I left, and it was that night that I thought that the story was on, but then another story broke about one of our soap stars, and that was the big story, and they just never bothered me again.”
Despite having dodged the outing bullet, Peace can still recall how it felt to have her sexuality used as a threat. “It was really frightening. I was 24 years old. You’re so vulnerable at that age. People shouldn’t be able to do that. But they wouldn’t, now—that’s how much things have changed.”
Peace has come a long way since then, both in her career and in how she feels about being out publicly about her sexuality. “I don’t think I was ready, earlier in my life. But in the last 10 years, things have changed. I always talked to the producers of the shows that I have done, and they said that it would be better if people didn’t know that I was gay. Because I was always playing a female character in a male world. I played a firefighter, and then I played the only woman in the SS, so there was a lot of action stuff. Once I started with Waterloo Road, which is set in a school, I was a little worried. But [my] music career had taken off and I thought, So be it. But as soon as I got the role in Waterloo Road, I knew I had made the right decision.”
Being out hasn’t slowed her down one bit. In fact, with all her success, Peace now finds herself juggling two careers, and she seems to be handling it well. But in the past, one career has had to bail out the other. “I’ve been a professional actress for 16 years, so my career’s gone through [ups and downs]. I know there are actresses that hit that 30 barrier and they sort of go by the wayside a little bit, so I had a couple of really tough years where I was just trying to make ends meet.”
Pictured: Heather Peace and Alison Moyet, Photo By: Michelle Robek
In 2000, before her success with Lip Service, a career in music beckoned. Peace was briefly signed by Simon Cowell, and released a cover of “The Rose.” When the contract ended, amicably, due to creative differences, Peace decided to focus on her acting. This time around, Peace decided if she was going to return to making music, it would be on her own terms. “That’s when I just started nailing down writing and getting back out gigging, because that was the other string to my bow, something else that I could earn a living from. By then, of course, Lip Service had come out, and I’d booked all these tiny gigs in Britain—they just kept selling out within an hour. And I was like, What’s happening? I don’t know what’s going on. I’ve gigged all my life, why all of a sudden is everybody interested? And it’s all just organically grown from there.”
It’s thanks to all the fervent fan interest that Peace was able to release her first album, Fairytales. “Crowd funding has been the best thing that’s ever happened,” says Peace, who is thrilled to see this direct, participatory democracy at work in music. “People are no longer wanting to be spoon-fed what they think they should be listening to. We’re not told that there are just three major labels that operate everything. We wanted to make a video. We had to raise £7,000 (almost $11,000) . So, we went on Pledge Music—and we raised it!”
Peace is incredibly grateful for all the support. “They’re responsible for my career—the fans, quite frankly. But it’s great, and they’re such a fantastic bunch. Loads of people have gotten together—friendships, relationships—through what I’m doing. So, I’m just absolutely thrilled.”
The fans certainly got what they paid for. Fairytales is a brilliant album, brimming with heartfelt ballads that show off Peace’s classical jazz training and skillful piano work. However, she is quick to say that the sound definitely leans more toward pop than jazz. “There are elements of [jazz]—you know, there’s a bit of scatting and stuff, but definitely the chord structure…is not jazz. There’s a couple of tracks that I specifically spoke to a bassist and said, ‘Get that bass line in there, Sade-feel,’ and that’s the route we went down with those. And then there’s a couple that have really great chords, with strings and a gospel choir.”
The album’s title comes from the last track, and Peace is definitely using the word “fairytales” ironically. “The song is about how we grow, and this image of, you know, the prince kisses the princess and then they live happily ever after. And the song basically is saying, Well, we all know that’s not the case, and we were all cheated when we were kids, because actually, when the prince kisses the princess, that’s just the start of everything. Nobody told us about the arguments, and drinking too much, or whatever. Although the title is very sweet, it’s a very cynical song. It has an undercurrent throughout the rest of the album. There are some dark lyrics on there. And then there are some songs that I wrote since I met [my partner] Ellie, where you’re reaching a place where you’re happy, and you’re settled. But, like with anybody’s album, it’s a little bit of therapy, of churning out all the old stuff.”
Despite its title, the themes explored on the album are anything but twee. In the song “Better Than You” Peace delves into the darker side of love, one that is often left unspoken, the issue of emotional abuse in lesbian relationships. Peace explains, “I’m kind of that type of girl that people fall in love with, but once they’ve fallen in love with me, then they want to change me. I’m very sociable, and once they’ve got me, they don’t want me to be like that anymore. And it’s that very, very subtle emotional abuse that you don’t even notice is going on until it’s too late. And that’s what the song’s about. It’s not like being punched around, or anything like that, it’s just that very subtle, manipulative work going on. And I think most people have experienced that, at some point.”
However, like the best fairytales, Peace’s had a happy ending—“You’re for Keeps” is all about falling for her partner.
As if acting and touring weren’t enough to keep Peace busy, in her spare time she is giving back. “I’ve just gotten involved with a charity called Diversity Role Models—basically, taking people who are gay into schools to talk to kids. I did my first one this week, and I’ve just suddenly made my decision to get really involved with them, ’cause at the beginning of the lesson you have 9- and 11-year-olds putting their hands up to say that they wouldn’t think it was cool to have a gay friend, and by the end of the hour, when you’ve spent time with them and you’ve talked to them and all of that stuff, then nobody puts their hand up.
Photo By: Andrew Whitton
“The word ‘gay’ over here, with kids, means a bit nasty, or a bit rubbish. So they go, ‘Oh God, that’s so gay.’ Meaning rubbish, right? So we’ve been taking that word and we’ve been going in and saying, ‘Listen, would you say, Oh that’s so Christian? Or, That’s so black?’ And as soon as we point that out to 11-year-olds, that when you say, ‘That’s so gay,’ you’re essentially calling me rubbish, they were so shocked. They were like, ‘Oh, I hadn’t even considered that.’ So, you know, hopefully each class that we do, there’s 25 of the kids going out saying, ‘You can’t say that.’ ”
If anyone can change hearts and minds, no doubt that person is Peace.
Having achieved so much success overseas, it’s only a matter of time until Peace will be extending her tour to America. So, when will we get to see her on this side of the pond? “I’m going to sort it out next year. I don’t want to run before [I] can walk. I was thinking of doing it this year, but then I was like, ‘No, keep concentrating on the U.K. and make sure that is sorted, and then we can see about Europe and America.’ Maybe a better way to do it would be to initially play at some of the Pride festivals, you know, like San Francisco.”
Peace is worth the wait, and in the meantime we’ll just have to satisfy ourselves with watching Lip Service reruns and playing Fairytales on repeat. Which is actually not a shabby way to spend some time. (heatherpeace.com)
Lezzie Lightning Round with Heather Peace
On kissing her first girlfriend: “I was sitting on the lawn at a little place called Canal Street, which is the gay street of Manchester. And then I kissed my first girlfriend and it was a hot summer day, and as we kissed it started to rain. I swear people think I’m making that up but it is the honest truth. I remember us getting on the bus home together and there was steam coming off of our clothes, ’cause we were soaked, it was brilliant. It just couldn’t have been any better. It was a sign, you see, I made the right decision.”
On touring with her father: “My dad drives the tour bus. He’s an odd-job man, so basically I pay my dad what he’d get paid to go and do his odd jobs and then he comes and drives the tour bus. So that’s been fantastic, especially when I’m a bit nervous—there’s nothing like your dad putting his arms around you. That’s really cool.”
On her biggest critic, her dog Bungle, who hides under the bed when she plays: “I thought it just might be the sound of the guitar that’s a bit weird on his ears, but I had another musician stay with me here when we rehearsed and she was playing the guitar and singing—and he loved it! Now that’s offensive!”