Her confidence earned her the nickname Scary Spice. But behind closed doors Mel B – real name Melanie Brown – was a victim of domestic abuse for ten years before finding the strength to speak out, her story immortalised in her memoir Brutally Honest.
In it, she describes her turbulent relationship with ex-husband Stephen Belafonte – who has denied ever mistreating her – and now campaigns tirelessly for domestic abuse survivors. She has become patron of domestic abuse survivors' charity Women's Aid and was recognised for her commitment earlier this year with an MBE in the Queen's Honours List.
In an exclusive interview with HELLO! for our International Women's Day digital issue, the singer – mum to daughters Phoenix Chi, 23, Angel, 14, and ten-year-old Madison – reveals why she stayed quiet for so long, the trauma she still feels today, and the turning point that encouraged her to break her silence.
Congratulations on your MBE for your services to Women's Aid and your commitment to supporting survivors and raising awareness of domestic abuse. How did it make you feel to be recognised for this?
Honestly, I was completely overwhelmed, so much so that I couldn't even speak for a few minutes, I had tears rolling down my face. It was very emotional for me. For years I'd kept silent and one of my fears was that no-one would ever believe me – which is such a common feeling for any woman in an abusive situation.
Even when my book Brutally Honest came out, I still had this feeling: 'Do people believe me?' It's so hard to shake and it's something I've spoken to so many other women in the same situation. It never stopped me doing everything I could to raise awareness but it is still this feeling somewhere deep down. So very weirdly, to see this letter saying the Prime Minister had spoken to the Queen and they were going to give me this award, I felt I wasn't just being recognised, I was being believed.
Brutally Honest, £13.25, Amazon
You've been very open about your experience with domestic abuse. How has that experience shaped you as a woman?
It has changed me totally. As I Spice Girl, I experienced incredible highs and lows of being in this massive band who got so famous none of us in the band could even comprehend it. We were flying around the world non-stop and performing to millions which was just incredible. And then as a woman, as a mother, as a wife, I went through ten years of emotional abuse and went through some of the worst emotional lows I've ever experienced.
But what I went through has driven me to smash the silence that surrounds abuse, to talk openly and honestly, raise awareness and campaign. I'm still not over what I went through. There is a post-abuse trauma that lives with you forever. But I know I am not alone, I feel so much more connected to other women, I've seen the worst of people but I've also seen the best of people and I'm never going to stop fighting.
What was the turning point for you when you were trying to leave your abuser?
Believe me, there is no one turning point. There are many, many turning points when you know you have to leave, when you try to leave, when you come back for one of a hundred other reasons and then you try again. You have lost your self-esteem, your strength, control over your own finances, your friends, your family. It's hard. When my dad was dying in 2017, I promised him on his deathbed I would finally leave. And I did. So thank you, dad.
"There is a post-abuse trauma that lives with you forever," said Mel
What lessons have you passed on to your daughters following your experience with domestic abuse?
My daughter Phoenix also helps campaign for Women's Aid by talking to young kids and teenagers who may be living in a situation of domestic abuse and violence and my other two girls are young so all I try and make them aware of is that they have to respect themselves, respect others, to express their emotions and talk openly about issues, and to know they have a mother who will always, always be by their side no matter what.
How are raising your daughters to be feminists?
You lead by example and you talk about all issues whether it's about sex, respect, being true to themselves and being strong.
The singer's daughter Phoenix also helps campaign for Women's Aid
How important is it to you to put an end to victim-blaming when it comes to abuse and sexual assault?
It's massively important. We've lived for centuries in a culture of 'oh she was asking for it' or 'she's insane' and so many other things that get thrown at women. I think it's amazing we now have so many women writers in books, films and television that really bring this issue to the forefront and we see abuse in so many different ways whether it's even as a sub-plot in the TV show The Defender. Women need to feel they can speak up and not be exposed to shame and blame.
Who is the most inspirational woman you've met and why?
The most inspirational people I've met recently are very normal women who are survivors. They're not famous, they are not rich, they are seemingly everyday women who have been through horrific experiences and to me they are incredible as are all those people who work on help lines and for Women's Aid. These people are the real heroes.
"We had fights but if anyone else said something bad about one of us, the rest of us would go crazy in their defence," said Mel
As a Spice Girl, what does it mean for you to be one of the original symbols of 'Girl Power'?
Very, very proud!
Nowadays, everyone seems much more mindful not to pit women against each other. How did it feel to be constantly compared to your bandmates back in the day?
I genuinely feel we actually fought back against that whole vibe even way back then. We stood up for each other, supported each other, celebrated our difference and we were a gang. We had fights but if anyone else said something bad about one of us, the rest of us would go crazy in their defence. It's exactly the same today. We are sisters.
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