Stepping into a chauffeur-driven car with blacked out windows opposite actual British musical icon Mel B, the words all but fall out of my mouth.
‘I feel like a pop star.’
Cue her signature gravelly cackle – yes, even her laugh has a Yorkshire lilt. (It’s never broader than when I ask her favorite comfort food: ‘Fish and chips. With mushy peas. And curry sauce. And scraps.’)
It’s the same laugh that launches the Spice Girls’ Wannabe: the biggest-selling girl group single ever, and the catchiest pop song since the 1940s, says actual science.
It’s a laugh I’ll become intimately familiar with during our 50-minute dash across London, from Mel’s friend’s house to her mystery ‘business appointment’ during a chaotic week promoting new memoir Brutally Honest.
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‘I’m on my way to meet the girls now…’
She lets slip where she’s really headed when I ask about the upcoming Spice Girls tour with Geri Horner, Emma Bunton and Melanie Chisholm.
‘Will you perform [her 1998 UK number one with Missy Elliott] I Want You Back on the tour?’ I ask/demand.
‘Well, I’m on my way to a creative meeting with the rest of the girls now…’ she replies.
‘No way!’ the 90s child in me exclaims, as I shift around in my seat. ‘Are you kidding me?!’
‘We’re on our way to The Langham….’ she points out, as it dawns on me she’s texting the famed Spice Girls’ WhatsApp group as we speak. I resist the urge to swipe her phone.
‘They’ve started the meeting already. But I’ll get there when I get there…’
As a Spice Girls superfan, I naturally have a thousand tour-related questions, like: will Geri dye her hair red for it? Mel strongly hints yes. ‘We looked at her and were like “Come on!”’ she laughs, harking back to a previous meeting.
Will more UK tour dates be announced? ‘We may release a few more in the next couple of weeks,’ she says. ‘And obviously, I’d say yes to a world tour. But it’s step by step. Let’s do the UK first, have a bloody good time doing it, then the other countries after.’
‘It’s nice to know we didn’t oversell the tour’
‘All of us were just hoping the sales would do OK,’ she says of the 12 planned dates (10 are already sell outs). ‘I mean, I have an inflated ego. I was like “Girls, come on – of course they will!” But it’s nice to know we didn’t oversell it.’
After 22 years in the public eye, and a rollercoaster of ups and downs, Mel – a mom to 19-year-old Phoenix, 11-year-old Angel and seven-year-old Madison – is in a great place right now. Not only has the SG comeback been rapturously received, but Brutally Honest is an Amazon bestseller within a week of release.
A gruelling, hard-hitting but ultimately inspiring read, it sees Mel bravely discuss her drink and drugs battles and multiple suicide attempts. Her tumultuous 10-year marriage to ex-husband Stephen Belafonte is a particular focus.
She includes astonishing stories of coercion and abuse at his hands – claims he’s strenuously denied. After reading all 256 pages myself, I found it impossible not to be moved by her experiences.
‘These women are in hiding, a lot with their children’
If survivors of abuse often face questions about their accounts, Mel being named a patron for domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid was all the validation she needs. ‘I was really shocked,’ she says. ‘I was like “You believe me?” [The Women’s Aid rep] was like: “Of course. This is the situation we deal with with women. They’ve either gone through it, or are going through it.”’
The organization took her to visit a women’s refuge in Leeds as soon as she arrived in England last week.
‘I sat with 15 women,’ Mel explains. ‘Their stories were exactly the same as mine. The levels and types of abuse and control: not being able to use your car, not being allowed to use your phone. These women are in hiding, a lot with their children too. It was weirdly comforting to me to know my story is the same as theirs.’
She’s also had fans reach out.
‘I did a signing the other day and some of the women were physically shaking,’ she says. ‘One said: “I’m halfway through the book, but if my husband sees it, he’s going to catch on that I know what he’s doing.” The book confirmed the abuse for her.
‘It’s been really quite enlightening, to shine a light on such a taboo thing to talk about. But if I can help one person get out, or help one family member recognize what’s happening to their daughter or son, my job’s done.’
‘This girl said: “Are you single?”
A recent fan interaction at a book signing is memorable for a rather different reason, however.
‘This girl said: “Are you single?” I said “yes..” She said: “Oh, so am I! Can I have your number?” I said: “I’m not really dating at the moment!” But she was very sweet, I was very flattered.’
I’m hesitant to bring up Mel’s previous long-term relationship with a woman: it’s the only one near-omitted from Brutally Honest, while her relationships with exes Belafonte, Jimmy Gulzar and Eddie Murphy – the three fathers of her three children – are discussed at length.
To my relief, she’s more than happy to talk about it.
‘I didn’t think it was fair to name her, or to put that relationship out there,’ she explains. ‘Now though, she’s actually laughing. “Why didn’t I get a chapter in the book like Eddie Murphy?!” “Out of respect! I didn’t want to go there with you!” If you care to, you can Google pictures of me and her online. But that wasn’t part of my storytelling for this book.’
‘She’s now in an amazing, committed relationship with a woman,’ Mel adds with pride. ‘They’re starting a family together next year.’
‘I don’t feel the need to be labeled’
And is Mel herself open to relationships with women in the future?
‘For a start, I’m not open to any relationship right now,’ she says. ‘I’m not actively seeking it. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, I’m very happy carrying on. My priorities are my kids, and myself. But if it happened – be it with a woman or whoever – I’m very open.’
‘I don’t define my sexuality at all,’ she adds. ‘I know there are words out there: “fluid”, “pan”, “bi”, whatever you want to call it. That’s good for somebody if you need it. Each to their own. But for me, personally, I don’t feel the need to be labeled.’
As we approach the Langham, I return to the subject of the Spice Girls and a decades-long friendship as inspiring to me as to many of my female friends. Which Spice Girl does Mel turn to with which problem? Mel C for fitness tips? Geri for spiritual advice? Emma if you want to…
‘Eat?!’ she interrupts with a laugh, implying Baby’s a bit of a feeder. ‘Emma likes a good old chinwag over dinner or a cup of tea. I’d go to Victoria if I want to talk about budgets and being more business-minded. Mel C’s very on it with body cleansing and being healthy, fit and active.’
‘It would be so funny to do a Spice World 2’
With Geri, it’s something more intangible.
‘Geri’s more of a creative visionary. She can talk your head off for hours. But I like the fact she’s so imaginative.’
Her love for the girls is clear when I ask her to name her favorite moments from her bandmates’ solo music careers.
‘Emma’s album Free Me was very cocktaily, 60s-ish,’ she recalls. ‘Mel C’s album Northern Star was really good, Victoria’s single [singing] “You’re Out of Your Mind!” They’re all very different!’
Geri’s version of It’s Raining Men, though, is ’probably’ her favorite. ‘It’s so camp, so hilarious – so her!’
Has there ever been talk of a Spice World 2?
‘I always talk about that. I think it would be so funny. Remember Spice Mums? We’re like that now! I watched the movie with my kids the other day, and they were laughing at how silly and funny and quirky we were. I was like “That’s just us.”’
In a first for me, I eventually actually run out of questions. (At which point Mel regales me with showbiz tales for the rest of the journey that make my jaw drop). But not before a scattergun inquiry about random travel experiences yields pop culture gold.
‘I went to a little backstreet spice market in Vietnam with Lady Gaga,’ she remembers. ‘I was hosting Miss Universe [in Nha Trang in 2008], and she was performing. She probably doesn’t remember. It was 10 years ago!’
Brutally Honest is out now