Branching out when you’ve been part of the biggest-selling girlband in pop history isn’t easy, but, in a post-Spice-Girls age, Mel B has done a pretty nifty job of reinventing herself.
Relocating to Australia after bagging a plum gig judging their version of The X Factor and, more recently, being named as host of Down Under’s Dancing With The Stars, the loudmouth Leeds girl formerly known as Scary Spice has taken telly by storm.
Now married to American Stephen Belafonte, 37, and with a clutch of kids – Phoenix Chi, 13, Angel, four, and six-month-old Madison – she’s shed her latest load of baby weight, looks toned, taut and is living what at first glance seems a very charmed life indeed.
But it is impossible to ignore that she’s also in the midst of a very public and bitter wider family fallout. Her heartbroken mum Andrea, 56, claims she’s been frozen out for the last three-and-a-half years after she raised concerns about Stephen’s relationship with Phoenix, Mel’s daughter by first husband Jimmy Gulzar, 44.
Little sister Danielle, 31, and dad Martin have told similar stories. Danielle has attempted to make contact via Twitter, pleading with Mel for a meeting (minus Stephen). Her stream of pained messages have so far been ignored.
So in her first interview since the drama, we were hoping that 36-year-old Mel would shed some light on what’s become a desperately sad, sorry mess.
Mel insists she’s fine. That the kids are fine. That Stephen is fine.
It’s a gutsy reaction, which is typical of Mel, who’s always been a feisty little devil – it’s what we loved about her – but boy has she taken that ballsiness to new levels of divadom.
It’s the day of our photo shoot and Mel’s first words when she finally graces us with her presence, four-and-a-half hours after originally planned, are: “You’d better make this quick, because I’m bouncing. As in bouncing right back out of here.”
Lovely to see you too, Melanie.
When we eventually get to sit down with her one-to-one two days later to delve a little deeper into the hostilities, she uses the opportunity to launch a passionate defence of Stephen.
“I think it’s terrible,” she says of the public feud.
“I love my family – simple as that – but my own family come first, completely. Stephen comes first with my kids, completely. People are always going to judge what they don’t understand or know about, and I think you [her family] are obviously very unhappy and I feel sorry for you.
“Stephen is a great husband and a great father. I’ve always been very self-sufficient – in high times and low times. The difference is that I am reliant on Stephen and he’s reliant on me and I’ve never been like that before. I trust him 100 per cent with my life.”
So is happiness the best form of revenge? “To me, the best form of revenge is looking f*****g hot.”
Which she absolutely does. She’s dropped 2Â½st since Madison’s birth and is fighting fit. It’s just a shame her behaviour doesn’t match her model looks, but then again, maybe we should have learned our lesson.
Perhaps past experience (when Fabulous last interviewed Mel in October 2010 we were left thumb-twiddling for three hours waiting for her to show) should have told us to prepare for some seriously shoddy timekeeping.
Sure enough, and true to form, it’s knocking on for 4pm before she eventually turns up for what should have been an 11.30am start.
Just like the last time, there’s no apology. Not even the merest hint of an acknowledgement that her lateness has caused so many people to have a panic-ridden and exasperating day. Instead we get a diva masterclass.
“You,” she demands of the first poor sap she claps eyes on, “need to call the driver, right, and tell him to go back to the hotel to collect my diamonds because I’m going to a premiere tonightÂ¿ Is there no sparkling water? Where’s the food? I’m starving.”
The food, as it happens, has long since been eaten and cleared away. Not that Mel would have tucked into our fodder anyway. Because 20 minutes before she arrives, we receive an email asking us to make sure that (and honestly, this is verbatim): “grilled chicken with NO SALT OR OIL very super healthy steamed broccoli and THIN sliced salmon sashimi and albacore tuna” is laid on.
Without these specific luxury foods in the studio (and no, we’d never heard of “albacore” either), we have dispatched our picture assistant in a car to Westfield shopping centre three miles away to source Mel’s requests.
“Has someone called that driver?!” Oh dear.
Our photo shoot saga kicked off shortly before 11am with a call informing us that Mel is feeling unwell and therefore running at least an hour behind schedule.
Not to worry, we replied. We’ll hang on.
Ah, and one more thing. Mel’s husband Stephen had decided she can’t do our Flashdance-inspired shoot we’d agreed upon (so much flesh would potentially scupper an exclusive deal with an Australian mag) so can we come up with an entirely new wardrobe? In the next 10 minutes?
Eager to rescue the shoot, we do exactly as we’re told and so begins ever such a jolly game of “will she, won’t she turn up?”. At one point, hopes are raised when we hear that Mel has got into the car we’ve laid on to bring her to our shoot (hurrah!) only to discover she’s diverted it to a Park Lane hotel (oh…) where she remains holed up. Helpfully, she then stops responding to emails and phone calls.
It’s not until 2pm that we manage to make contact with her again. Apparently, if we get the car back to her hotel pronto, she’ll make her way to us.
Only, she doesn’t get in the car until gone 3pm.
By the time she gets to our East End location, the studio we’ve hired is no longer available and we’re forced to squeeze into a much smaller space. And once her team of hair and make-up artists and her spray tanner have dolled her up, Mel informs us we have just 20 minutes to get the shots because there’s a red carpet she’s due to pose on and an episode of Celebrity Juice to record. (She subsequently arrives at the ITV2 show three hours late, where host Keith Lemon isn’t quite as welcoming as Fabulous. On the show he greeted her with the line: “Where the f**k have you been?”.)
Back at our place and with a shoot (of sorts) in the bag, the day ends with stiff vodkas all round.
Mel appears oblivious to the chaos she leaves in her wake.
“As far as I see it, professionally I’m a solid worker and I expect the people around me to be on their A game. If you are not on your A game you get fired. Simple as that.”
Two days after our photo shoot we pin Mel down at ITV HQ, where we’re due to interview her in between appearances on Lorraine and Loose Women. Only there’s a problem – quite a big one. She has no clothes. She is due on Loose Women in under two hours and her stylist – with all her outfits – is a no-show.
The air is thick with tension. All she has on is a dressing gown. “Someone,” she says in her still-broad Yorkshire accent, audible even behind a closed door, “needs to sort this.”
Her husband, Stephen, is in crisis-management mode bellowing orders from his hotel room across town.
“There’s always a bloody drama,” she says. “I’m not going to panic about it, but I want someone to get me some clothes.”
If Mel wants something, she asks for it. If she’s not happy, she says so and she accepts that she rubs a lot of people up the wrong way. She nods: “I think the biggest misconception is that I’m a bitch. Lots of people think I am, but it doesn’t actually bother me.
“I’m always a diva, I think it’s a lot of fun. I have gone into a room and asked for it to be changed, but only because I think that’s how it should be. If something is horrid or not right, get it changed. My problem is I am always completely honest. If I don’t like someone, I just say so, I come right out with it and that can upset people. But I believe in saying what you think.
“I have high expectations of myself and people around me. But I am always unbelievably professional.”
Yes, she admits, there were problems on the day of the Fabulous shoot. But she insists none of it was her fault. Honest.
“I was late because I had no idea till an hour beforehand that it was happening. We got it done in super-fast time and the results were amazing.
“I’m not constantly making demands. I’ll do whatever it takes to make something work. After that shoot I had a film premiere and an appearance on Celebrity Juice, I was running so behind and I was totally panicking because I didn’t want to let them down.
“I was sitting in traffic in my car, I got out of my car and got on to the Tube to get to the TV station on time. That’s the sort of person I am. I’m a diva when I have to be, but I’m a worker 100 per cent of the time.”
She’s certainly always been headstrong. It was “Scary” who led the Spice Girls back from the brink of a split after Geri Halliwell quit the band in 1998. It was Mel who stood firm after getting pregnant by Eddie Murphy, who went on to very publicly and unforgivably abandon and humiliate her, and Mel who continued to carve out a career for herself and her family in America – and now Australia.
There have been reports that Stephen’s domineering personality has left Mel’s self-esteem at rock bottom. The family have all cited him as the reason behind the feud, the cause of Mel’s isolation from her loved ones.
Did he, for example, bully her into losing weight after giving birth to Madison, as was claimed?
“Not at all,” says Mel. “He always says it’s been like having three different women with me – he’s been with me when I was totally ripped, when I was huge and when I’m just a bit more curvy like I am now.
“He liked me being ripped, but he complained my bum disappeared. Now I’ve got my bum back, but I’m definitely not ripped with a six-pack. I’m trying to get more toned, but I tell him he can’t have everything.”
It’s a fascinating insight into their relationship, and one which brings us neatly to Mel’s amazing post-baby body. The frenzy of the last three days has rather overshadowed all this until now.
“I put on 2Â½st when I was pregnant with Madison because I just ate what I wanted,” she says.
“Pizza, burgers, whatever I felt like. I thought: ‘I’m pregnant, I’ll have what I like’. It’s taken six months to get it off and I’ve got a little way to go yet.”
She adds: “I was very focused. I had a plan and I stuck to it. I’ve never been a skinny minny and never will be, I just want to look good.”
Mel claims the move to Australia has been a much-needed fresh start for the family. Angel (her daughter by Eddie Murphy) turns five on Tuesday, while Phoenix has just become a teenager.
“Phoenix loves it in Oz. We’re very close and having Madison has really bonded us as a family. Angel is in heaven because on The X Factor, [fellow judge] Ronan Keating and I have a crÃ¨che backstage and Angel is always running around in something sparkly and singing into a hairbrush. She thinks it’s heaven.”
A Spice Girl in the making, perhaps…
“I always want a Spice Girls reunion, but it’s not up to me,” says Mel. “We’re getting together for the Spice Girls musical so we’ll just see.”
Clothes crisis averted (thanks to an emergency dash around Selfridges by one of Mel’s team), she’s almost due on air.
“I always have this attitude,” she says, “that everything can be taken away from you at any moment, so you have to always be true to yourself.
“The X Factor, Dancing With The Stars, and beautiful homes are wonderful, but if I had all these things but my kids were unhappy, it just wouldn’t be worth it. None of it means anything if you haven’t got a happy family.”
Thanks to: FabulousMag.co.uk