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She may be a music legend, TV star and pop culture icon, but, as Mel B can testify, all that glitters is not gold. For the Spice Girl, her fame and fortune have paled in comparison to the heartache and pain she says she suffered in an abusive relationship – and as a mother of three girls, she tells us it’s something she’s determined to raise awareness of.
Having recently released a harrowing film with Women’s Aid that depicts her getting brutally beaten, Mel has also teamed up with Avon UK to raise awareness of the Women’s Aid Live Chat service, which is partly funded by the beauty company.
Giving survivors a means of talking and finding help is a cause close to Mel’s heart, and follows her own alleged experience of coercive control in her marriage to film producer Stephen Belafonte, in which she claims she suffered years of physical and emotional abuse. Stephen has always vehemently denied the allegations.
“My challenge is always to keep fighting and keep the conversation going,” she tells OK! during our exclusive chat.
Mel, who is mum to Phoenix Chi, 22, Angel, 14, and nine-year-old Madison, is now looking to the future back in her home town of Leeds, following years in LA. And she’s thrilled to be home, despite the disruption of the pandemic. “We’ve just about managed,” she says. “Now, I’ve never been happier.”
Here, Mel explains why it’s so important women come together to tackle domestic abuse, fills us in on her home life with her girls, and teases some very exciting Spice Girls news…
Mel, it’s been a tough 18 months. How have you managed?
I’ve been living in the UK now for more than a year, but everyone still thinks I live in LA! That part of my life is over. After 10 years of being isolated from them, I’m now back in Leeds with my family. I’ve never been happier. But it’s been tough during the pandemic. My mum is in her sixties and my sister, Danielle, has asthma, so we had to be really careful and obey the rules. But we live in a lovely part of Leeds, with countryside around us, and we have just about managed. Health-wise, we have all been well and no one has had Covid, thank God.
You’ve spoken about how hard it will have been for women suffering from domestic abuse.
As patron of Women’s Aid, I’ve been aware of so many terrible situations that women all over the country – and the world – are in. But it’s also been a time for talking about these issues and trying to do something about it, which was why I was so happy to support the incredible Avon campaign to share the Live Chat service.
According to research from the campaign, the pandemic has led to increased feelings of doubt for over half of women globally. What has been your biggest personal challenge since the Covid era began?
I think one of the biggest challenges society has faced in lockdown has been the increase in violence towards women, as they’re trapped inside with their abusers. One of the positives, though, is the fact we’re now talking about it more. Women are coming together to do something and we need to make sure these movements continue if we want to see change. My challenge is always to keep fighting and keep the conversation going as a Patron of Women’s Aid. That’s why I think it’s so brilliant that Avon is speaking out about the issues, too.
As a single mum to three girls, what does life look like for you now?
I’ve been a single parent for a long time, as I’ve always been the one who financially and emotionally supported my family. Unfortunately, due to the justice system, a difficult situation with my ex, and the fact that my youngest is an American citizen, I have shared care of Madison – and because of Covid, flying between America and the UK has been really difficult. Not having my baby with me for months at a time is the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with.
It sounds awful! Did you home school the girls?
I have so much sympathy for all the parents who went through home schooling, and so much respect for teachers. I had no problems with Angel because she’s 14 and pretty academic. Madi loves school but she’s nine, and her classes were in LA so we had some pretty late lessons. As far as juggling is concerned, my life has been one long juggling act, but now I can lean on my family, which is a massive thing for me.
Phoenix is now modelling – are you giving her lots of advice about handling the world of fame?
I’m super proud of Phoenix. She did her first campaign for George at Asda and she absolutely rocked it. I was even more proud to hear she had been really polite and hard working on the shoot, because at the end of the day, it matters so much more to me that my daughters are respectful, have good manners and have a good work ethic. Like me, Phoenix loves clothes, but our styles are completely different. She’s so cool and has a really laid back vibe, so I have always just encouraged her to be herself and express her own personality through her clothes, which she does. Phoenix and I are really close so we do talk about this celebrity world – be it fashion, music or television – and she’s grown up in it, so she has her head screwed on pretty tight.
And what about Angel and Madison? Do you think they will follow in your footsteps?
My daughter Angel has an amazing voice, but she has a passion for animation and she’s unbelievably good at it. She spends hours working on her drawings and has done for years, so I think her path will lead her into that world. Madi has always been a mini-me but she’s a really clever kid, so who knows what will happen? The only thing I know for sure is that I will always be there for my girls.
You’ve been in the fame game for a long time now. What are your favourite memories from your many TV appearances?
I loved working on The X Factor and America’s Got Talent. For me, the TV shows I’ve worked on have been interesting and enjoyable to be part of. In terms of things I’d love to do? Well, I can’t do Strictly because I’ve appeared in Dancing With The Stars, but I’d love to host my own game show. I watch Saturday night TV and think, “I’ve got to come up with something.”
You starred in Chicago on stage, too – any plans to do more acting?
Being on stage is my happy place. I’d never rule out doing another musical, but my first loyalty is always to my girls and my Spice Girls fans, so next I want to walk out on stage with them.
Ooh! So will you be working with the Spice Girls again soon, then?
We are always working on plans and I’m normally in trouble for spilling the beans, so I’m trying to be good at the moment.
You tease! Can you give us a sneak peek at some of your other plans over the next few months?
I have a massive show coming up next year, which is right up my street. It’s called The Fashion Hero and it goes out all over the world. The idea is to turn the whole fashion world on its head and get normal, interesting people to win campaigns and brands. We want people of all colours, body shapes, nationalities and walks of life to be contestants. I’m so looking forward to doing the show, and I’m also looking forward to be able to make some announcements soon with the Spice Girls.
As Patron of Women’s Aid, Mel has teamed up with Avon to raise awareness of the Women’s Aid Live Chat service, proudly part-funded by Avon UK. Together, they hope to signpost support and encourage others to speak out. Find out more at avon.uk.com/causes. For help and support, visit womensaid.org.uk.
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