The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - Best Weekend - - FRONT PAGE -

M elanie Brown isn’t very good at ac­cept­ing praise. It’s just not the way of Scary Spice, and never has been. When asked about her many suc­cesses, the Bri­tish singer and TV star changes the topic to her kids, mu­sic, the weather — al­most any­thing but her­self.

“I’m not good at com­pli­ments,” the woman known to all as Mel B tells BW Mag­a­zine, cross­ing her legs un­com­fort­ably on an arm­chair as a make-up artist straight­ens her hair for a shoot later in the day.

“Of course I work hard. That is from my up­bring­ing. My mum and dad are work­ing­class peo­ple. They took on two and three jobs each. All my par­ents did was work their ar­ses off to pay the bills, so it is kind of in­grained in me to work.”

And all that work has paid off. Brown truly is a global su­per­star. She’s a judge on TV tal­ent shows in three coun­tries — Amer­ica’s Got Tal­ent, Lip Sync Bat­tle UK and, of course, The X Fac­tor here in Aus­tralia.

And she’s about to star in a ma­jor pro­duc­tion on Broad­way — Chicago, the script of which sits on the cof­fee ta­ble in front of her at the Syd­ney ho­tel she cur­rently calls home.

But she never for­gets where she came from — a sim­ple home in Bur­ley, Leeds, in north­ern Eng­land, with par­ents An­drea and Martin.

“I am an un­der­dog,” says the women who also coaches the un­der­dog con­tes­tants on The X Fac­tor. “That is what makes my job more colour­ful and more com­fort­able for me be­cause I have been through ev­ery­thing. I’ve had highs, I’ve had lows. I’ve been pop­u­lar, I’ve been un­pop­u­lar ... Ev­ery­thing I’ve done, whether that be a fail­ure to some­one else, has ac­tu­ally been a mas­sive learn­ing curve for me, both pro­fes­sion­ally and per­son­ally.”

It has been 20 years since The Spice Girls re­leased their de­but al­bum, Spice, launch­ing Brown on to the global stage along­side Baby Spice (Emma Bun­ton), Sporty Spice (Me­lanie Chisholm), Gin­ger Spice (Geri Hal­li­well) and Posh Spice (Victoria Beck­ham) with their girl-band mes­sage of fe­male em­pow­er­ment.

The al­bum went to No. 1 in 17 coun­tries and spawned hits still played on the air­waves to­day — Wannabe, Stop and Who Do You Think You Are among them.

De­spite the girls call­ing it quits af­ter three al­bums, Brown’s star has con­tin­ued to shine bright. And it couldn’t be any brighter now.

Tak­ing chances is a com­mon theme for the gutsy en­ter­tainer, who never holds back from speak­ing her

I’m still an­noy­ing, I am all of that

mind. “I am a bit of a spon­ta­neous, im­pul­sive per­son and any­thing that gives me but­ter­flies or makes me scared, I just have to go for it.”

Fel­low X Fac­tor judge Guy Se­bas­tian says Mel B’s cool man­ner be­lies a driven woman.

“She can come across as abra­sive, mat­ter-of­fact or even some­what blasé but be­hind the scenes she is one of the hard­est work­ing peo­ple I have ever seen,” Se­bas­tian says. “She gives ev­ery­thing 100 per cent and I don’t know how she finds the time to jug­gle ev­ery­thing while still be­ing a lov­ing and at­ten­tive mum.” B rown is self-man­aged, over­see­ing all of her en­ter­tain­ment in­ter­ests, as well as sev­eral busi­nesses. She and hus­band Stephen Be­la­fonte re­cently opened a restaurant, Ser­a­fina, on LA’s famed Sun­set Strip.

“In this day and age in the en­ter­tain­ment world, you have to be an en­tre­pre­neur and a busi­ness­woman,” she says. “You are giv­ing your­self. Ev­ery­thing I’ve ei­ther en­dorsed or am owner of com­pany-wise, it has to make sense. It is not like back in the day where you got given a shit­load of money just to be the face of, and take a picture.”

She con­tin­ues: “Now, if you are go­ing to do that, it is a sell­out and it doesn’t work be­cause peo­ple don’t be­lieve it any more. You have to be in­volved and be prop­erly on board with what­ever you do. And I like be­ing a pro­ducer in this and part-owner of that, so I have more con­trol over my im­age.” Brown says she and her hus­band are in­still­ing a strong work ethic and un­der­stand­ing of the value of money in their three daugh­ters. “My kids get pocket money for tidy­ing their room; they know the value of money, as in they have to earn it and they don’t get given ev­ery­thing.”

Brown’s el­dest daugh­ter, Phoenix, has re­mained in LA be­cause of school while the other two — Angel, 9, and Madi­son, 5 — are with her and go­ing to school here in Syd­ney.

“They have one iPad be­tween the two of them and they’re only al­lowed on for an hour a day,” Brown says. “You have to make it a spe­cial treat. They can’t walk into a shop and think they can pick what­ever they want. For ex­am­ple, Mad­die turned five and she got two things. She got a bike and a dolls’ house ... You can’t overly spoil your kids. My kids are lucky; they do live a great life­style but that is be­cause I’ve worked my butt off for them. It didn’t get given to me; I didn’t grow up like that.” L ike many work­ing mums, Brown strug­gles with guilt when her ca­reer keeps her away from her daugh­ters. “I get my most low when I feel guilty for not spend­ing enough time with my kids. I don’t spend too much time away ... but you get that pit feel­ing in your stom­ach some­times.” Brown and her fam­ily are due to fly to the UK when The X Fac­tor wraps this week to be­gin work on the sec­ond se­ries of Lip Sync Bat­tle UK. Then, on De­cem­ber 28, she will make her Broad­way de­but in Chicago, play­ing the clas­sic role of Roxie Hart for a nine-week run. Af­ter Broad­way, it is straight into the next sea­son of Amer­ica’s Got Tal­ent, on which she is a judge along­side Simon Cow­ell, Heidi Klum and Howie Mandel.

And then there’s the on­go­ing talk of a Spice Girls reunion. Re­cently, much has been made about GEM, a Spice Girl project Brown has been work­ing on with Geri Hal­li­well and Emma Bun­ton, but to­day she is tight-lipped.

“I wish there was some­thing to say. I’m fed up with talk­ing about it be­cause un­til it is ab­so­lutely set in stone and ev­ery­body gets their arse in gear, there is noth­ing to say,” she says.

“If the girls said to me in Jan­uary, ‘We’ve booked five shows in the UK,’ I’d drop ev­ery­thing and be there ...

“With­out those girls and with­out me be­ing a Spice Girl and be­ing part of that crazi­ness, I wouldn’t be sit­ting here in Aus­tralia say­ing, ‘Yeah, I’m Scary Spice.’ I owe those girls ev­ery­thing.”

It’s in­ter­est­ing and per­haps a lit­tle sur­pris­ing that, af­ter all her suc­cesses, she still talks about her­self as Scary Spice.

“I am al­ways go­ing to be that per­son,” she says sim­ply. “As well as be­ing a ma­ture, re­spon­si­ble woman, I am still a kid, I’m still Scary Spice, I’m still an­noy­ing, I am still in­ap­pro­pri­ate. I am all of that.”

Picture: Sam Rut­tyn

Mel B, re­lax­ing at Ivy Pent­house, is on a ca­reer high, with TV roles around the globe, an up­com­ing Broad­way show and talk of a Spice Girls (inset) reunion.

“I’m an un­der­dog,” says Mel B, re­flect­ing on her work­ing-class back­ground. Picture: Sam Rut­tyn

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