In early March, Stellar photographed singer Melanie Chisholm during her visit to Australia.
Six months later, we catch up with the woman best known to the world as Mel C, as she discusses the highs and lows that came with being a Spice Girl, surviving an eating disorder and depression, and why her daughter thinks she’s a “mean mum”
When we were at your Stellar shoot back in the first week of March, you suggested we chat again now because, as you said, “Who knows what could happen between now and then?”
Wow, so I did! Well not this, hey? The pandemic was just beginning. I remember when I was there everyone had started going mad for toilet rolls.
Not our finest moment.
It happened here in London, too. Don’t worry.
How have the past six months been for you?
It’s been so challenging. One of the saving graces for me was work, because it gave me a focus. I did lots of live streams and performances. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with social media, but this has enabled me to really appreciate the good bits, and stay connected to friends, family and the fans.
Will your new-found appreciation for social media remain?
I think, like everyone, I was having very low days where I was feeling isolated. To have that contact with people all over the world felt quite comforting. But I do like my privacy, so I don’t know if I’ll keep it up [laughs].
You’re going on tour next year in Europe. What are your plans and what are you most looking forward to about that?
I just can’t wait to bloody travel. I think the most frustrating thing during this time for me has been not being able to perform for people in a room. I’ve done lots of stuff online, but it just isn’t the same. I want to feel that energy from people.
Will we see you back here eventually?
I adore Australia and I think now it has an even more special place in my heart as it was my last place before lockdown. It’s my last memory of normality. I will be back as soon as life allows it.
Speaking of coming back, many Australians have been patiently waiting since the ’90s to see the Spice Girls perform live here. There have been rumours, and Mel B even announced it at a London show last year. Can you tell us now: will the Spice Girls come on tour to Australia?
Ah ha! That is very high on my list of priorities, if not at the very top. Myself and Melanie [Mel B] constantly talk about getting to Australia with the tour. Melanie said it on stage because she so badly wanted it to happen and thought if she just said it then it would definitely have to happen.
What I can promise you is that it’s a topic of discussion between me and the girls. We are talking about doing more shows and I feel like we owe you a show. I’ll do my best to make that happen.
What is the situation when it comes to chatting with the girls? Do you have an email chain? Is it a group-text situation?
We have various message groups and we occasionally FaceTime each other. But we saw each other about a month-and-a-half ago. All five of us went to Geri [Halliwell]’s place out in the countryside. With what’s going on right now, we just felt like we wanted to reconnect.
We didn’t talk about work, we just wanted to see each other and that was a really good afternoon. But we’re always in touch.
Your new solo album is almost out and it’s a self-titled one, which is surprising considering it’s your eighth. Why does this one feel like the right one to call Melanie C?
I had always thought about a self-titled album, but it just never seemed to fit with what was going on. And now I know why! Because the theme of the album was this new self-acceptance that I have experienced, or begun to experience over the past few years. I feel comfortable to be me 100 per cent, and so here it is.
The lead track on the album, ‘Who I Am’, has the lyric “When I look in the mirror, I finally like what I see.” How did you arrive at this point of self-acceptance?
It’s been a long road. There have been times when I’ve felt quite sad about that, and how long it has taken. I grew up as a kid feeling very confident and ambitious. When I was with the Spice Girls I found it very hard to deal with being scrutinised, being photographed constantly, people commenting on the way you look, the way you speak, your personality and the way you dress.
I started exercising obsessively, I stopped eating properly and I began to become very, very ill. I think that was around the millennium, when I was feeling very low and was struggling to get out of bed.
I felt quite hopeless. I wasn’t excited about anything and I was really worried for my sanity. I was binge-eating, as well. I went to my doctor and he said to me, “The first thing you need to address is your depression,” and I never thought for one second that I could be depressed. But it was a huge relief to me, and that’s when I started my road to recovery.
I’ve come to realise that I shouldn’t regret anything. I should be proud because I survived that and that’s what compels me to share it with people.
As you say, the press used to scrutinise every little thing during the ’90s. Do you think that has improved in the past 20 years?
In some ways, yes. When I look back over articles from then, the language that they used was quite shocking and you would never see that today. But I am still shocked at the way [British media] speak about women. It really p*sses me off. It just seems archaic that they’re commenting on the way women look all the time.
It’s definitely not as cruel as it once was, but it’s so patronising. But then again, young people now have social media to deal with and that’s a whole new pressure.
How do you think you would have fared during the Spice Girls years if social media had existed?
I dread to think. I feel very grateful that we didn’t have it in the ’90s. There’s a real pressure from labels these days to use it as a promotional tool. Where does their worklife end and their private life begin? The lines are very blurred. That pressure on young people concerns me.
Your faces were on everything from body sprays, chocolate bars, bedding and toothbrushes to the sides of buses. Was there a point where you felt as though you yourself had become a product?
Yeah, totally. The Spice Girls changed things. There were artists that were heavily marketed before, but we really took it to another level. We all had different reasons for coming to the decision to leave our manager Simon Fuller in 1997, and for me that was a major part of it.
Actually, it was a discussion we had at the time between us. We had done so many sponsorship deals, like with Pepsi, Cadbury, crisps… and me and the girls felt it had gone a little too far.
In ‘End Of Everything’, you talk about fresh starts and change, and how you’ve learnt to adapt. As someone who has been through a lot of change, why is this topic resonating with you now?
For many years I was petrified of change. I stayed in certain environments that probably would have been better to change sooner rather than later. And when it finally got to the point of needing to change things, it was so liberating and exciting.
What I love about life is that you never know what is around the corner. Your life can change with one phone call – for the better or the worse.
Earlier this year you jokingly referred to yourself as the “mean mum” for not bringing your daughter Scarlet, 11, on stage last year in London when the other members of the Spice Girls brought out their children. Has she forgiven you for it?
[Laughs] No, she hasn’t! She brought it up the other day. It’s so hard. She’s getting a bit older and it’s hard.
Keeping her out of the public eye and off social media is harder now?
Up to this point, she’s been quite understanding about it because at school she’s had the experience of being pointed at because she’s a “Spice Girls kid”. But she’s getting to that point now where she is really into TikTok and she wants to be on Instagram and have loads of followers. She’s not far away from being a teenager, so I think I’m going to have a few battles on my hands in the next few years.
How has being a mum changed you?
Being a mum has changed me in more ways than I had ever imagined. I started to truly appreciate my body for the first time after I had given birth to this perfect little human. She is my teacher. She made me treat myself better because being a mum made me realise that I have to show her the way to be treated. I cannot even imagine what life was like before she was here. She’s literally the light of my life.
Millions of fans grew up with the message of “girl power” and that slogan was met with a bit of criticism at the time. What does “girl power” mean to you today?
It’s something that has completely taken on its own life. The Spice Girls had a huge impact on a generation of people – girls, boys and gender-neutral. It’s transcended anything to do with the band. I feel really proud because I think it made feminism and equality really relatable to young people.
Whereas before it could maybe feel a bit intimidating or political or boring. So for whatever criticism it may have had, I think it has done incredible things.
If you could tell the Mel C who answered the ad to audition for a girl band all those years ago one thing, what would it be?
Oh, wow. What would I tell her? I’d say, “Just enjoy it.” Life is an incredible ride. We get so caught up in our day-to-day and I suppose our time being in lockdown has made us more reflective. I just think, “Wow, what an incredible and crazy life so far.” Hopefully there is lots more craziness to come.
Melanie C is out October 2 and is available to pre-order now. If you suspect you may be suffering from a mental illness, call Lifeline (13 11 14) or Beyond Blue (1300 22 46 36) for help.