50 over 50 interviewees – Susan Heaton-Wright – Opera Singer, Speaker, Teacher, and CEO of Viva Live Music

  1. Tell us more about yourself. What do you do and how long you’ve been working in this industry?

I’m an international speaker, trainer, mentor, and a CEO of award-winning Viva Live Music. I’m also the creator of the Superstar Communicator™, which has been created since I’ve reached 50 and had an ‘empty nest’. And I’m a former prize-winning international opera singer and fully qualified teacher. 

Looking at this list of roles, I wouldn’t have believed I’d do this as a girl. I was shy, an underconfident pupil who was often overlooked. Yet I went on to do these things. Yes, it has been a combination of hard work, some luck (we all have to have this), having a vision, working out how to get there, and some supportive people who really believe in you. 

  1. Who did you want to be when you were a kid?

I wanted to be an explorer. This was prompted by me seeing Born Free  and my mother’s cousin returning from teaching in Kenya. As a 5-year-old I followed her around for a whole weekend, bombarding her with questions about the animals. 

I then planned to travel the world teaching and read Geography at University. I taught in Kenya, 30 miles from where my second cousin lived, and then Ladakh in India before I came back to the UK. 

However, I did have a game where I put teddies, dolls, etc. into audiences and I’d stand in front of them. My parents thought this was because I wanted to teach – but clearly, it was to perform with an audience! And I should mention that I’m now a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

  1. What was your ‘punch in the stomach’ or when did you first realise that this is going to become your career?

To be honest, it was only recently. Obviously, l have had a ‘journey’ in my career, but I recognised that I’m now back to where I was at 21 – wishing to see the world. In my present role, I’m having the opportunity to travel, see the world and meet loads of people, whilst also sharing my knowledge. When I realised this – that was my moment! But everything I’ve done has meant I have a unique set of skills and experience to share with others. 

  1. What were the 3 biggest obstacles in pursuit of your career?
  • My own limiting beliefs and lack of confidence. I was a bit of a joke in my family: the butt of all jokes and considered a low achiever. Yet I got to a top university and have had a great series of careers. When I have one of those moments (we all have them) I remember some of the awful things and limiting beliefs that were transferred to me. I’ve learnt to push them away.
  • Lack of finance. I had to self-finance my post-graduate studies for opera school. I took the time to try to get some funding which really helped, but this was always a worry.
  • Being reluctant to self promote. I’m sure this resonates with some other people; not wishing to be pushy, however, realising that other people were getting opportunities because they ‘blew their own trumpet’ or simply asked for them. I really struggled with this at first, because I had been brought up not to show off. I now recognise that self-marketing and having confidence in what you have to offer is the key to success.

  1. Where do you find inspiration?

I constantly get inspired by my clients; their passion, their challenges, what makes them tick, what are they afraid of. By listening to others, reading articles and talking to others is what makes me buzz! 

  1. What challenges do you face in this industry as a ‘50+ artist’?

I’m afraid to say that some bookers only want ‘young and pretty’. But they aren’t your customer. There is a place for everyone in this industry, so find it! Audiences are getting younger (rather like the comment about policemen!). So you might need to think of either niching to a specific audience or being aware that audiences have less attention span and expect to be involved more. 

Certainly, for my speaking, I always include far more experiential learning than a few years ago. So think about how you can adapt to these audiences. And think of your own story/personal journey and how this might inspire your audience or potential bookers.

  1. What advice would you give someone who is about to start their career but is being told that it’s ‘too late’?

Sadly there are plenty of limited messages and beliefs about ‘older’ people whether they are performers or wanting to try new things. Ignore these messages and focus on what you want to do, have a vision and work out how you are going to achieve this.

  1. Do you have any idols and if so, who and why?

I have many. I’ve recently been moved by Michelle Obama’s autobiography and Ruth Davidson’s semi-autobiographical book. Also, my old headmistress who really believed in me and my dreams and my parents. But there are many people I idolise who are not in the public arena, yet who are doing amazing work. They don’t always look around to be noticed!

  1. What’s your life motto?  

“If you ain’t gonna die, just give it a try!” I’m done listening to my little voice who limits my personal and professional growth! A recent business consultant said to me: challenge yourself to think bigger than you believe is possible!

  1. You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What colour would you be and why?

Definitely violet. Violet is at the end of the visible spectrum; it has energy; vibrancy; not quite as regal as Royal Purple – but close. And well I love the colour and I look great in it!

Check out Superstar Communicator to find out more about Susan’s work.