Mel B on the Spice Girls and her sexuality: ‘I fell in love with a woman and was with her for 5 years’

Mel B (Image: Malachi Banales)
Mel B (Image: Photographs by Malachi Banales)

“We’re eating chips — that’s funny!” cackles Mel B when Attitude shows her the Spice Girls’ Village People-inspired Attitude cover from 1998, for which Scary donned a leather ensemble. (“I stole that hat!”)

As a teen, this writer dreamed of growing up and interviewing the Spice Girls for Attitude. To be doing so — and asking inane questions like “What’s your favourite solo Spice song?” — is surreal. “‘I Turn to You’ by Melanie C,” replies Mel. “Such a big one. The words are like poetry. Whenever she sings it, she loses it! It’s anthemic.”

“One woman a week is killed by their partner” – Mel B (Image: Joe Schmelze)
“One woman a week is killed by their partner” – Mel B (Image: Joe Schmelze)
“I did get offered some stuff in the West End” says Mel of a possible stage return (image: Photographs by Malachi Banales)
“I did get offered some stuff in the West End” says Mel of a possible stage return (image: Photographs by Malachi Banales)
Mel B (Image: Malachi Banales)
Mel B has released an updated version of her book Brutally Honest (Image: Photographs by Malachi Banales)

Another such example or a ridiculous Spice question: if each Spice Girl were a Spice song – and assuming ‘Wannabe’ and ‘Spice Up Your Life’ represent all of them – which song is which member? Mel responds immediately.

“I’m ‘Never Give Up on the Good Times,’ because I’m always the one going… [drums the table],” she says. “And ‘Say You’ll Be There’ – I’ll be there! Emma’s would be ‘Mama’. She’s very close with her mum! Melanie C’s would be ‘Tell Me Why?’ She’s so sensitive, questioning ‘why? Why did it end up this way? What’s going on?! Why am I in Australia doing a DJ tour when I want to be with you girls on stage?!’ It’s that panic. Geri’s would be ‘Denying’. Victoria’s would be [starts singing ‘Let Love Lead the Way’]… Actually, no, it wouldn’t be that. It would be ‘Vamp’. [‘The Lady Is a Vamp’] It’s old-school and classy. I’ve picked some bloody good ones there!”

The Spice Girls on the cover of Attitude
The Spice Girls on the cover of Attitude

I’m catching up with Mel to mark the new, updated edition of her bestselling memoir Brutally Honest, which details her abusive marriage to Stephen Belafonte, who she divorced in 2018. “It was a leap of faith,” Mel remembers of the book’s initial release. “I thought, ‘If it destroys my career, at least I’m going out with a bang, and speaking my truth.’”

Four years later, following her work with domestic violence charity Women’s Aid, Mel was given an MBE in the New Year Honours for services to charitable causes and vulnerable women.

“I’m compelled to speak about this stuff,” she says today. “One woman a week is killed by their partner. Just like I have no choice but to join those girls and sing about girl power, my path was already made.”

Here, we chat to Mel about unreleased Spice Girls songs, her performing in Rent and Chicago, and ‘I Want U Back’ – her number one hit with Missy Elliott.

Mel on being a member of the LGBTQ+ community

I feel like I am. I didn’t start off my sexual journey going, “I’m this, I’m that, I’m bisexual.” I was, and always will be, very open. I happened to fall in love with a woman and was with her for five years. We still talk to this day. I don’t want to put a label on it, but I’ve always thought women are beautiful.

Mel B in her home surrounded by Spice Girls items
“One woman a week is killed by their partner” – Mel B (Image: Joe Schmelze)

On surviving abuse

It’s not a happy ending of, “Oh, you’ve left them now.” As much as that’s what I’m striving for, you have to be honest and realistic. My mum, when I lived with her in 2019, thought, ‘Just have a bath. You’ll be fine.’ I had to re-educate my mum and myself. Even if you leave and you’re not financially abused, you have to learn how to stand on your own two feet, how to have an opinion on what you want to wear, how you want to be in life. Especially if there are kids involved, it’s not easy.

On her kids

I’ve always said, “You are who you are. I don’t care what you identify as. I’m going to love you anyway because you were for nine months in my tummy.” I don’t have those old-fashioned ways of thinking. I’m not tarnished with that.

On being mixed race

I don’t identify as Black; I don’t identify as white — I identify as mixed. I refused to let my mother braid my hair, so my hair was out. Certain hair products still say ‘frizzy’, which makes me think: ‘Well, my hair isn’t frizzy. This is my natural hair.’

I’ve experimented with hairstyles, products and weaves, but I’ve never wanted to be anything other than me and have always ended up coming back to my roots. Why would I want to spend three hours getting my hair done when I like my hair? What could now be seen as me taking a stand for mixed-race power and curly hair — well, that’s just me.

On her debut solo single ‘I Want U Back’ with Missy Elliott

She called me out of the blue, and I was like, “I’ll have to call you back…” I was the first one to do anything solo. The girls gave me permission, and then I was like, ‘I’m four months’ pregnant, and she wants me in a bikini in glow-in-the-dark body paint.’ And we had 34 hours to film it… We’re [still] in contact! I’m always saying, “Come on — let’s do something together again!” I really enjoyed that [album]. I got to work with people I was a fan of: Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Sisqó, Timbaland. I still jam out to it!

On domestic abuse in the LGBTQ+ community

When I do my book signings, it’s such an array of people: old, young, gay, trans, multicultural, multiracial, multisexual. It was an eye-opener. It’s not discussed enough [in] the LGBTQ+ community because so many other issues take the forefront.

A portrait shot of Mel B in black and white
“I did get offered some stuff in the West End” says Mel of a possible stage return (Image: Photographs by Malachi Banales)

On friendship

The reason I can speak so passionately about this is because in the depths of my abuse, my gay physical trainer, my dear friend, was going through exactly the same thing I was going through. He was my saviour. At 6am, that ring on the doorbell, I’d think: ‘Yes.’ He’d come to my house with bruises. I wouldn’t have slept from whatever happened to me the night before. We never spoke about it, but we knew we could just be with each other. I later found out he got his partner not only done for domestic violence but put into jail for a very, very, very long time. He was in love with this guy, and yet terrified of him. He noted down the right things and was brave enough to take it to court.

On her fiancé Rory McPhee

St Paul’s Cathedral have agreed we can be married there once we have completed the paperwork and got the final blessing. When you’ve been married twice before, you have to meet the bishop, the dean, and explain why you want to get married now. I explained everything. I can explain eloquently, since my story and my life are in that book. I’ve been given a few dates, but none we’ve said yes to yet. Only 30 couples a year get married there, so it’s quite a thing. Of course, all the girls are going to be invited. There will be some leopard print!

On whether she’d return to the West End or Broadway

I have thought about it. I did get offered some stuff in the West End. I think for me, because I’ve done The Vagina Monologues in the West End when my grandma was still alive, having her shout the c-word in the audience… Then doing Rent, which meant so much to me – the storyline about AIDS and how that epidemic was seen. And then Chicago… Three is always the magic number. And don’t forget, you do eight shows a week with only one day off. And you’re on voice rest, writing everything down on a pad, so I can’t enjoy my kids, I can’t enjoy New York – [I was] cycling to work so I don’t go out after!

On Spice Girls’ fans demanding the release of ‘W.O.M.A.N

It’s funny, because we all have a little look online, so we do know the fans have picked up this song. It’s kind of funny, because even though we’ve done x amount of albums, we’ve done so many songs. It’s crazy. There are songs you don’t even know about that I know we know we’ve got. […] We are, all five of us, talking about doing something. It’s the truth. But we’re working on something which will be announced soon, I think and hope. But when it comes to Forever 25, I haven’t actually thought [about] that.

On whether she’d do a third album

Rory asked me that the other day, actually. He said: ‘Don’t you miss performing?’ It was BBC’s Big Night of Musicals, and I was singing every song! He said: “Melanie… you can really sing!” I was like: “Of course I can!” I do write a lot. Although a lot of it only makes sense to me!

The updated edition of Brutally Honest by Melanie Brown and Louise Gannon (Quadrille, £10.99) is out now. This interview is taken from issue 358 of Attitude, available to order now or read on our app.

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