Mover: Mel B tells Event how she has left LA for the Yorkshire Dales
She is the most outrageous of the Spice Girls who was once notorious for her sex and drugs scandals.
But Mel B – or Scary Spice – has now cleaned up her act and has a bizarre new obsession: doing the washing.
In a surprising confession, Mel says she has used laundry to ease the trauma of the breakdown of her ten-year marriage to Stephen Belafonte, as well as deal with her diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.
She said: ‘I like to do some laundry, which is my new passion. I love it, I find it very calming.
‘I don’t go for facials, I’m not one of those pampering girls. I can’t lie down for half an hour and get pampered – it would do my head in,’ she says. ‘I’ve got better things to do like pick my kids up, get tea ready and get their homework done,’ she tells the Outspoken Beauty podcast.
The revelation comes as the 44-year-old tells The Mail on Sunday’s Event magazine today why she has quit Los Angeles to move to the Yorkshire Dales. She says: ‘I’ve never felt more relaxed, more myself and happier since I’ve been here. I feel entirely comfortable in my own skin.’ The star is also giving Instagram star Sophie Hinchliffe, aka ‘Mrs Hinch’ – who gained 2.6 million followers after sharing simple cleaning tips – a run for her money.
Candid: The star revealed to Paul McKenna’s Positivity Podcast that she had been diagnosed with ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and that she uses exercise to help her focus
Discussing her tiny lap dog Cookie, she says: ‘I have the best cleaning advice because I’ve got my little dog.
‘I mean, her poops are only really small, but if she misses the mat and then steps in it by accident, I’ve found this thing that’s £3.99.
‘It’s got this head on it and the cleaning stuff inside it can take off any stain. I swear by it.’
Against the glorious backdrop of the Yorkshire Dales, fields full of sheep, a handful of hens, four beehives and the smallest dog you have ever seen, Melanie Janine Brown is sitting on the doorstep of her farmhouse, one leg aloft as she points out the direction of her hometown, Leeds, with a pink sequined Ugg boot.
Pink sequined Ugg boots are not standard footwear in this neck of the woods (more battered Hunters or ancient Wellingtons), but then Melanie Brown, 44, aka Mel B or Scary Spice, is not the sort of person you would generally meet amid the sweeping moors, dramatic crags and wild camomile of the Pennine uplands. It is a world away from the hysterical, Swarovski-studded recent Spice Girls tour, which took more than £60 million and was seen by 700,000 fans. It is thousands of miles away from Los Angeles, which has been her home for the past 15 years and the land from where her tiny lap dog Cookie – coincidentally a Yorkipoo – hails. It is also a world away from the working-class council estate where she grew up. But it is all part of what is next for Brown.
The star has recently moved back to Yorkshire after 15 years in LA. ‘All I know is I’ve never felt more relaxed, more myself and happier since I’ve been here’
‘People are surprised I’m living here because they don’t know who I really am or what I’m really all about,’ she says in that treacle-thick Leeds accent.
‘To be honest, for a long time I didn’t know who I really was. I’ve always been known as loud, wild, big-mouth Scary Spice and that is part of me, but it’s not all of me. All I know is I’ve never felt more relaxed, more myself and happier since I’ve been here. I feel entirely comfortable in my own skin.
‘My two youngest girls, Angel  and Madison [seven], who have only ever really known Los Angeles, also loved it immediately, which surprised me. I’ve got my mum and my sister half an hour away and cousins and aunties less than ten minutes away. My sister has just had a baby girl, so all of us go round and coo over her. It’s life as it should be. I like the peace, I like the animals, I spend hours just watching the bees going in and out of the hives. I spent ten years of my life avoiding home, not speaking to my family, not seeing my friends and now I’m back just a few miles from where I grew up. I always felt I needed to break away and prove myself to the whole world, but now I realise the most important thing to me is to come home, mend bridges, be a mother, a daughter, an aunt and a sister. To be with my family.’
She may like the peace of the countryside but Brown has no plans to take time off. The space, she says, gives her time to think, and she has been thinking hard about what comes next. ‘In this business you can be on a hamster wheel. I’ve been in America for 15 years, I’ve done the biggest show on American television [America’s Got Talent] for six years and I’ve worked in Australia and the UK because I was in a relationship where the person I was married to wanted me to work non-stop.’
‘And then that ends. You are on your own and you think: Right, who am I? What do I want to do? Where do I want to live? And it can be scary but it’s also exciting. There’s so much I want to do!’ Like what? She shrugs: ‘Definitely television, but nothing is confirmed yet. And we would all like to get together in a studio and make some more music – that would be good. I’d also like to do my own stuff. I love artists like Stormzy, so maybe he would be up for a collaboration.’
My life was a mess. I didn’t want anyone to know so I just avoided people and pretended everything was great
How does she feel about Victoria Beckham not being part of the Spice Girls reunion? She laughs: ‘Victoria is Victoria. She didn’t want to do it. She missed out.’ She pauses. ‘But my plan is for all five of us to do Glastonbury next year for the 50th anniversary. I’m in the process of persuading Victoria to do it. And I will make it happen.’
Brown is a complex character. I should know, I spent almost two years, on and off, living in her home in Beverly Hills, writing what would become a best-selling book, Brutally Honest. It details her life and ten-year abusive marriage to her ex-husband, Stephen Belafonte, which saw her spiral into drink, drugs, depression and – in 2014 – a suicide attempt when she was at the height of Saturday-night TV fame as a judge on The X Factor.
Her progress from Leeds to world domination, Hollywood and back home began as something of a modern fairy tale before turning into a nightmare. A mixed-race child growing up in Seventies Yorkshire, she rose to fame when she was just out of her teens, riding the wave of Girl Power between 1994 and 2000 with the Spice Girls, whose loud, proud colourful pop sold 85 million records around the globe, and mixing with everyone from Prince Charles to Nelson Mandela and Madonna.
Mel B’s progress from Leeds to world domination, Hollywood and back home began as something of a modern fairy tale before turning into a nightmare
Brown was the wild one of the band, who was married, divorced and mother of a two-year-old daughter, Phoenix, by the time the group disbanded in 2000. After moving to America she fell in love with Eddie Murphy – he remains the love of her life, she says – and by 2006 was pregnant with his baby, but the couple dramatically split before her second daughter, Angel, now 12, was born, and on the rebound she fell for wannabe film producer Belafonte, who married her within six weeks of Angel’s birth. The marriage proved to be a disastrous mistake. ‘In the process of my marriage I lost my family, my friends, my self-respect and I almost lost my life,’ Brown says. ‘And for so long I felt ashamed. I thought I was stupid, that everything that happened was my fault. I had never heard of a coercive relationship. Even after I left him I never realised so many other women have almost exactly the same story to tell. It was only after my book came out that I realised emotional abuse is an epidemic that affects millions. It’s the shame that makes you suffer in silence. But I am no longer ashamed.’
It is a book that has taken her to 10 Downing Street, at the request of Theresa May (to help on a bill regarding the financial aid of women who have been in abusive relationships), and made her a patron of Women’s Aid. It redefined the Spice Girl as a modern-day Boudicca, speaking out for women – and men – in abusive relationships, so much so that she is now appearing at theatres across the UK talking about her ‘emotional, unforgettable and uplifting’ experiences and unveiling the secrets of life behind the scenes with the Spice Girls.
It is something that seemed impossible back in 2017, soon after she had left Belafonte, when the days were like emotional tornadoes with her moods ranging from anger to hysterical tears and sullen silence. At times she would wake me up in the middle of the night sobbing, ‘This book can never be published. I’m so ashamed. I don’t want everyone to know what happened to me.’ There was also a lot of laughter, often at the darkest, most inappropriate times, when I would catch a glimpse of the woman I first met back in 1995 when she and a group of four other unknown girls came into my office at GMTV, jumped on the desks and kicked and danced their way through a song called Wannabe. ‘Put us on the telly,’ Brown insisted as I guffawed and clapped, ‘because we’re going to be massive.’ In a matter of months, they were.
Brown and her then inseparable, equally unstoppable best friend Geri Halliwell were the driving force behind the Spice Girls. But things change. During her marriage to Belafonte, which began in 2006, Brown rarely saw Halliwell (or Horner as she is now, following her 2015 marriage to Christian Horner, the team principal of the Red Bull Formula 1 team). Her ex – whose convictions for domestic violence towards a previous partner, Nicole Contreras, along with several convictions for theft and violence – emerged in the months after their Las Vegas wedding, causing a rift with her family and alienating most of her close friends. Brown says she felt embarrassed to be around her fellow Spice Girls. ‘My life was a mess. I didn’t want anyone to know so I just avoided people and pretended everything was great. I was on the biggest TV show in America, I was living in beautiful big mansions in LA and flying round the world appearing on shows in the UK and Australia. Everyone thought I must be doing brilliantly, but the real story was so different from the image I presented to the world.
Mel B with ex-husband Stephen Belafonte and daughters Angel, Madison and Phoenix in 2015
‘Since the age of 19, when I first became a Spice Girl, I’d been this super-confident version of myself that everyone knew as Mel B. Geri says it’s a Batman suit because I could hide the quieter, more sensitive side of me. I thought I couldn’t ever tell the whole story because it would destroy me. But now I just tell everything like it is, good, bad, whatever – it doesn’t always go down well with everyone though,’ she laughs.
That is true. There were raised eyebrows when Brown announced on stage at the final Spice Girls concert that they would be touring Australia next, despite any firm bookings being in place. ‘But it’s going to happen,’ she says resolutely. ‘I was the one saying we were going on tour for years before we did. There were no dates, no plans, no costumes, but I knew it would happen. All it needed was us all getting back in a room together.’
Then there was a full-on fallout just weeks before the tour was due to happen when Event’s Piers Morgan got Brown to admit on his Life Stories show that her relationship with Geri did – albeit fleetingly – become more than just a friendship. News of her admitting to a one-night encounter with Horner did not just send shockwaves through the celebrity world but at one point allegedly threatened to torpedo their plans for the tour, with Geri angrily responding that Brown’s claims were ‘hurtful’ and ‘rubbish’. Brown frowns: ‘Things got really pumped up in the press and on social media, and yes, it was difficult between Geri and myself for a while.
‘I texted her on the night I did the Piers Morgan show and explained what he’d said and how I’d answered and she was fine with it. The problem was it then got hyped up into a much bigger story, and it didn’t help that we were just about to begin rehearsals.
‘It was awkward. We hadn’t been back in the situation of being together every single day, being on stage, rehearsing, getting ourselves back into Spice Girls mode, and then all the headlines about our relationship were thrown into the mix, which was pretty bad timing.
‘We have all grown up. Geri and I were always the loud, bossy ones, Mel C and Emma were much quieter, but we’ve all changed. Mel C is so much more chilled and sorted and knows exactly what she wants, as is Emma. Geri is different. She’s married, she’s got kids, she’s not the same outrageous Ginger she used to be. That took a bit of getting used to for me. I’ve changed. I’ve been through ten years of a deeply abusive marriage. I’ve lived a lie for a decade and I’ve come out of it wanting to be so honest and so up front about everything.
Mel B with her dog, Cookie. ‘Since the age of 19, when I first became a Spice Girl, I’d been this super-confident version of myself that everyone knew as Mel B. Geri says it’s a Batman suit because I could hide the quieter, more sensitive side of me’
‘Geri and I are in a good place now. On the last night at Wembley, Geri did something which, I think, meant more to me than any of the other girls. She said sorry for leaving the group back in 1998. We had been so close and then she just left and never really said why and never really said sorry until a few weeks ago. She gave me a massive hug after she said it and both of us had tears in our eyes because we knew, deep down, it had needed to be said for a long time, something that had rankled between us.’
Does this mean the Spice juggernaut will continue? She grins: ‘Of course! I don’t want it to end. It was me who spent years and years nagging the rest of them to get back out there. Now we’ve done it, and we loved it. I’m going to make sure there will be more.’