SOUL singer Heather Small was showered with affection by thousands of music lovers after singing in the rain as festival fever gripped South Shields.
The M People star made sure a heavy shower on an otherwise-sunny day didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the 16,000-strong crowd that crammed into Bents Park for the final free South Tyneside Summer Festival concert of the year.
The award-winning performer belted out a mix of her favourite hits, kicking off with One Night in Heaven before closing an hour-long set with a stirring rendition of Moving On Up.
The enthusiastic crowd was warmed up in searing heat by North-East girl group Scarlett Street, whose infectious brand of barbershop pop music got the show off to a great start.
They were followed by dance music favourite Rozalla, who had the crowd singing along to her club anthem Everybody’s Free.
But sun screen and shades were swapped for umbrellas as rain lashed down ahead of Small’s star performance.
In the end, fans were crying out for more after the 49-year-old performed her best-selling song Proud, and she duly returned for an encore performance of Moving On Up, a No 2 hit in 1993.
Speaking after her set, Heather said: “It was absolutely amazing.
“All the people who came out had a great time in the sunshine, and so did I, singing live with my great band.
“I’m so happy. It went fantastically well, and we were given a great reception.”
The temporary bad weather didn’t bother Heather, and she soon made sure the audience all had beaming smiles too.
She added: “It did start raining, but when we started, that seemed to bring the sunshine out. When we came out, there were umbrellas out, then there were just happy, smiling people.”
Heather – who also appeared on Strictly Come Dancing and saw her iconic hit Proud used as the theme music for the Oprah Winfrey Show – says the secret to her connection with audiences is simply that she aims to give her all every time she is on stage.
She said: “I think the fans have been brilliant. When I go out on stage, I am thinking of nothing else other than delivering a great show.”
Heather’s headlining effort was the first time she has appeared in South Shields, and she was delighted with the welcome she received.
Barry Rowlands, 50, and wife Gwen, 44, won a Gazette competition to meet the mega-selling star before she took to the stage.
Mrs Rowlands, originally from South Shields but now living with her husband in Carlisle, said: “It was amazing to meet her.
“We have been fans of Heather since she started with M People.
“We have already seen her live three times. We went to see her in Manchester last year for the M People reunion tour, and it was brilliant.
Husband Barry added: “It was superb to meet her. We are both big fans of Heather. My favourite song of hers would be Colour My Life.”
Sunday’s show was the final free festival event to be held at the park this summer.
A range of popular acts have wowed South Tyneside crowds in recent weeks, including veteran rockers 10cc, former X Factor winner Shayne Ward and Irish pop group B*witched.