Arts

Mel C: Last year made me realise that what we did in Spice Girls is part of history

With a new LP out, Melanie C tells Alex Green about learning to love Sporty Spice again, motherhood and how Jair Bolsonaro is striking fear into the hearts of his country's LGBT community

Melanie C – the Spice Girls are almost engrained into our society

MELANIE C has been on quite a journey in recent years. In the last decade, the singer has raised a daughter through her formative years, reformed the Spice Girls for a second time, and become a vocal advocate for LGBT rights.

It's been a period of positive change, she explains over video call from her home in London home, culminating in this – her self-titled eighth album.

“I have been on this voyage of self-discovery,” she says, perched on her sofa. “I think a lot of the fans out there have probably felt that and probably a lot of the public as well.

“Knowing me from the Spice Girls and being very young coming into the public eye, I got a little bit confused along the way.

“I was always searching, I think like so many of us do. We are trying to find ourselves, trying to figure out who we want to be.

“We are so bombarded with these expectations and after all of these experiences and years and albums and everything I have done.”

Melanie Jayne Chisholm (46) was born and raised in the north west of England. She has operated under a number of names across her 25 years in showbusiness – Melanie C, Mel C, Sporty Spice.

Her latest record is a reflective effort reminiscent of Madonna or Robyn's timeless brand of disco heartbreak. The album, she says, could not have happened without the Spice Girls' reunion last year.

The girl band – minus Victoria Beckham – got back together for a string of tour dates across the UK and Ireland.

“Being back on stage with the Spice Girls last year was almost like…” she says before trailing off. “I could just see everything so clearly. It made me so reflective.

“And leading up to those shows I'd been nervous. It's a long time since I had been on stage with the girls. We were all older. We have done so many different things. And I was like, ‘Can I become Sporty Spice?' Is it within me to still do that?'

“Really quickly I realised that I don't become her, I am her.”

Those performances also helped her confront her tougher times in the band. A damaging pattern of behaviour ultimately led to anorexia, binge-eating and a diagnosis of depression.

She recalls the epiphany which grew each night on stage last year as the band played to sold-out stadiums.

“Within that moment of realising how lucky we had been and celebrating our success, I just started to feel this pride in myself. I started to unfold into this acceptance of not only the amazing things I have been a part of, but also the struggles.

“Instead of having regrets for those times, just being proud I have overcome them and lived to tell the tale.”

Melanie C is apologetic when she breaks off our conversation briefly to text her 11-year-old daughter, Scarlet.

“She's asking about a bloody sleepover,” she laughs.

This reappraisal of the Spice Girls' legacy has left her with a pragmatic approach to the capricious nature of fame.

“When it was all happening we were so young,” she recalls. “We were caught up in the whole experience, which was amazing but so surreal. We couldn't really take it in.

“Then, as years go by, it's interesting about the general feeling you have in the media. Sometimes you fall out of favour, you come back into favour. Sometimes, us girls, maybe it is a personal thing, but you feel like you are not relevant any more.

“Last year made me realise that what we did is part of history. It's an incredible legacy that we are leaving.

“I remember in the 90s when you couldn't switch on the TV or radio or open a newspaper without there being something about the Spice Girls.

“But, to be honest with you, that has never changed. There will be pictures of one of the girls, or a reference on a soap opera or something. It's just there. It's almost engrained into our society.”

Recent years have also seen Melanie C develop close ties with the LGBT community, specifically the London-based party collective Sink The Pink.

Following the recent Spice Girls shows, she embarked on a world tour of Pride events, from Brazil, Chile and the US to Sweden, Germany, Spain and the UK, and released a song, High Heels, backed by the collective's drag queens.

The project had a “really amazing and quite profound” effect on her.

This was put into stark relief during their stop at Sao Paulo Pride in Brazil.

“I was working so closely with people from the community and some of my queens were non-binary people, so I was just being educated constantly.

“We were in Sao Paulo – I get quite emotional about it – we went to Sao Paulo and I am sure you are very much aware [of] the president [Jair Bolsonaro] there. He is very right-wing, quite outspoken, and the gay community are quite nervous about some of the things that are being spoken about out there.

“Hate crime is going up. It's really not good. So to be there as an international ally, I felt really proud I was able to do that.”

Looking to the future, Melanie C can't wait to get back on the road. And after a run of nights at Wembley Stadium last year, the next step up is obvious – Glastonbury.

“It's got to be a headline slot, hasn't it?” she says, pondering whether the Spice Girls would prefer to play the coveted Sunday afternoon Legends slot [filled in recent years by Kylie Minogue, Sir Barry Gibb and Lionel Richie].

“The Legends slot is amazing, but the thing about being in the Spice Girls is – the clue is in the title – we will try and keep hold of our youth for as long as we can.

“But, to be honest with you, if Michael Eavis said to me, ‘Do you want to come and DJ in my back kitchen after hours?' I would be like, ‘I'm up for that'."

:: Melanie C's self-titled eighth album is out now.

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