FROM A HUMBLE HOME TO GLOBAL SUPERSTAR
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.”
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