‘Drink, drugs, the glam­our and the gut­ter. My year with Mel B’

IN­SIDE MY YEAR WITH MEL B

Grazia (UK) - - Contents -

for the last 18 months, Mel B’s di­vorce from Stephen Be­la­fonte has played out in pub­lic, with shock­ing al­le­ga­tions of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, sub­stance abuse and ex­plicit sex tapes used to black­mail her. As the head­lines rolled on, the for­mer Spice Girl teamed up with Grazia con­tribut­ing edi­tor Louise Gan­non to write one of show­biz’s most ex­plo­sive tell-all books. The re­sult is the aptly named Bru­tally Hon­est, a dif­fi­cult and some­times shock­ing ac­count of abuse. In it she re­veals that her trou­bles re­sulted in her snort­ing six lines of co­caine a day dur­ing her time as a judge on The X Fac­tor, as well as at­tempt­ing sui­cide – and that when she fi­nally split from Be­la­fonte, fol­low­ing a prom­ise to her dy­ing fa­ther, she was left with just £800 in the bank.

Here, Mel, now pa­tron of the do­mes­tic vi­o­lence char­ity Women’s Aid, and Louise give their own bru­tally hon­est ac­counts of just how dif­fi­cult Mel’s story was to tell.

Melanie Brown, Spice Girl and tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter

A month ago, my co-au­thor Louise rang me at home in LA to tell me she’d been given the very first two copies of the book. ‘It looks so per­fect and neat,’ she said. ‘ That book should have blood run­ning out of it, ripped pages, a torn cover, an IV drip and it should be beaten up and covered in dirt.’ I laughed. She was dead right.

I went through hell liv­ing that book and we both went through hell writ­ing it. Louise ended up in hospi­tal at one point af­ter hav­ing a panic at­tack so se­vere she was throw­ing up and her arms were paral­ysed. The A&E doc­tor asked her was any­thing caus­ing her stress. Writ­ing a book with me was the answer. She told me she felt like Whoopi Gold­berg in Ghost – that she’d ab­sorbed ev­ery­thing I’d been through. ‘ Wouldn’t wish that on any­one,’ I said.

But then how do I ex­plain that we also had a lot of hys­ter­i­cal, laugh-till-you-cry mo­ments? I can’t.

It makes me laugh now when she tells me what I was like to write a book with. I knew, at the be­gin­ning, I was be­ing re­ally dif­fi­cult – but I didn’t know why. I knew I wanted to talk, but I couldn’t. That I should trust Louise, but I couldn’t. That I was boil­ing with anger and drown­ing in ti­dal waves of guilt and shame, even though I kept say­ing I was fine.

‘In AA, when peo­ple say they’re fine it means Fucked up, In­se­cure, Neu­rotic and Emo­tional,’ she shot back at me one day. ‘Pa­tro­n­is­ing clever clogs,’ I was think­ing, even as I be­grudg­ingly laughed. She was spot on. Not that I was go­ing to ad­mit it. Look­ing back, I was just putting her through one test af­ter another. I’m Scary Spice. I ter­rify peo­ple. It makes me laugh some­times that I have that ef­fect on peo­ple. Our car trips were hys­ter­i­cal. She’d never driven in LA and I lived up in the canyons on knife-edge roads with sheer drops. She never once looked even re­motely fazed. That made me feel safe. She was go­ing to be able to hang on to the roller coaster that is my life. And even en­joy the ride.

It’s funny what makes you trust peo­ple. I can’t help push­ing peo­ple to their lim­its. It’s what I’ve done ever since I was a kid, which is why my mum would beg her sis­ters to look af­ter me to give her a break.

But I’d been pushed way beyond my lim­its in a 10-year mar­riage that had left me trapped, de­graded, ashamed, turn­ing to drink and drugs just to block out emo­tions I couldn’t be­gin to deal with. When I left my ex, I thought that ev­ery­thing would be sun­shine and light and my book would re­flect that. But I was ac­tu­ally let­ting Louise see ev­ery­thing – the dark­est cor­ners, the flashes of light, the good, the bad, the ugly and the Spice Girls. She lived with me, be­came part of my fam­ily and me hers. She even gives me bol­lock­ings. ‘Some­times, you don’t know what is best for you.’ (Her, grumpy.) ‘ Yes, I do. I al­ways know what is best for me.’ (Me, an­noyed.) ‘Hmm… have you read your book then Melanie?’ (Both laugh­ing.)

I can’t be­lieve this book. I’ve read it about 10 times al­ready. I love the way it’s struc­tured like a novel but reads as if I’m speak­ing ev­ery word. It says ex­actly what I went through, how I feel, how other women feel and who I am. It’s made sense out of some­thing that made no sense. 

I’m so proud of it, of Louise, of me. Women’s Aid – who’ve made me a pa­tron – says it’s a book that ‘may change lives’. I bloody well hope so, be­cause it’s changed mine. It’s made me feel un­break­able.

Louise Gan­non, Grazia con­tribut­ing edi­tor

‘ Why should I write this book? Why should I let the whole bloody world know ev­ery aw­ful, shame­ful thing that’s hap­pened to me? I want to stop this whole thing right now.’ It was 2am. I was on hol­i­day with my fam­ily, sit­ting on the floor of a ho­tel shower room as Mel B sobbed and cried down a crack­ling phone line.

‘It’s OK, Melanie,’ I said. ‘ We’ll stop the book. We won’t do this.’

‘It’s just so hard, Louise. It’s just so hard. I don’t know if I can’t do this… any of this. I don’t know if I can even carry on liv­ing.’

And on she talked into the early hours as I lis­tened, in­ter­ject­ing when I could into her stream of con­scious­ness from a hell that was now as fa­mil­iar to me as my own life. As dawn broke, things were calmer. ‘ We can’t stop the book, can we?’ she said. ‘No,’ I an­swered. ‘It’s al­ready be­ing printed. But you needed me to tell you we could stop it and then you’d say we had to do it.’

And then she laughed. ‘ You know me too bloody well.’

I thought I knew Melanie pretty well when I em­barked on this book in April 2017. I’d known her as a wannabe Spice Girl, look­ing for a TV break with the rest of the group. I’d in­ter­viewed her over the years and the last time I’d seen her was in 2014, just weeks be­fore she ap­peared on The X Fac­tor covered in bruises. I’d met her ex, Stephen Be­la­fonte, and, like a lot of peo­ple, I’d loathed him on first sight (and, be­ing a celebrity jour­nal­ist, I’d heard a lot of pretty grue­some stories about him).

When she shocked the world by go­ing back to him, I’d writ­ten a piece for Grazia say­ing how sad I was that she hadn’t had the strength to leave him. I didn’t hear from her again un­til the day she filed a re­strain­ing or­der against him and the story of their split went vi­ral with tales of sex, drugs, three­somes and abuse. I was at home when my phone rang. ‘Louise, it’s Melanie, I want to see you.’ In­cred­i­bly, I hap­pened to be fly­ing to LA the very next day.

So that’s how Bru­tally Hon­est be­gan. We sat in her kitchen and she told me a cou­ple of lit­tle things that made my jaw drop and my heart break. I’d never writ­ten a book be­fore but, in the few con­ver­sa­tions we had, I could see it all – Sleep­ing With The En­emy meets girl power( less) meets #Me­too meets shame and fame; drink, drugs, the glam­our and the gut­ter. ‘ You come and live with me for weeks at a time un­til we get it done,’ she said. This was go­ing to be amaz­ing.

But it wasn’t and I didn’t re­ally have a clue who Melanie Brown was. Armed with note­books, tape recorders and a mil­lion ques­tions, I sat down in her Bev­erly Hills home, but some­thing was wrong. Melanie had gone from friendly to hos­tile. ‘I’m not talking about that. Don’t ask me that,’ she said. As soon as I stopped ask­ing ques­tions and turned the tape off she would be fine again. ‘Don’t for­get, you’re not a ther­a­pist,’ she said. ‘Don’t ask me about my feel­ings.’

I came back with noth­ing apart from a string of anec­dotes about her kids, her faint­ing goats, her Reiki – and in ab­so­lute con­fu­sion about her be­hav­iour. I started to read about abu­sive re­la­tion­ships and PTSD, went to talks on do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, spoke to po­lice who deal with emo­tion­ally abused women. I re­alised I’d been do­ing it all wrong. When I went back, I left my notepads and tape recorder in my room. I kept go­ing back.

We went on trips, watched come­dies, oc­ca­sion­ally got ham­mered, talked about her dad, took the kids to school, she made me drive her around LA, shout­ing at me to go faster in the grid­locked traffic with Name That 90s Tune blast­ing out over the sat­nav, so I had no clue where I was go­ing: ‘Come on, come on, Louise. Name it!’

She laughed, she cried. I met her fam­ily, her friends, her lawyers, ac­coun­tants, hair­dressers, mums from school, sat next to her in a hospi­tal bed, had big rows with her. ‘I am never go­ing to speak to you again,’ she said once. I saw her cata­tonic for days af­ter be­ing forced to watch tapes Be­la­fonte made of her hav­ing sex; I watched her fold her daugh­ter, Madison, in her arms, rock­ing her to sleep, tears fall­ing on her baby girl’s head.

I’d be wo­ken in the night with her cry­ing in­con­solably about her fa­ther’s death. I tucked her up in my spare room’s sin­gle bed, my hus­band would make her roast din­ners and my el­dest son would make her laugh with stories of trav­els with his indie-punk band. I spoke to Geri Horner, Janet ( her for­mer as­sis­tant), her old best friends – all strong, amaz­ing women who were so glad to have her back in their life af­ter 10 years of si­lence.

Her court case kept her name – and sor­did de­tails about her mar­riage – in the press con­stantly. Some­times I would tell her the worst things peo­ple were say­ing about her, things peo­ple were too afraid to say to her face. ‘Drunk’, ‘drug ad­dict’, ‘ bad mother’. I’d watch her eyes as she an­swered me. She looked haunted but al­most re­lieved to talk. I made her watch Ted Talks, told her the sta­tis­tics around emo­tion­ally abused women who self-med­i­cate and then we’d talk about danc­ing in Leeds, the Spice Girls. Nick­ing clothes from Vic­to­ria. What is was like in the crazy, crazy days. How much she loved Eddie Mur­phy, fa­ther to her mid­dle daugh­ter An­gel.

Ten months later she said, ‘Are you ac­tu­ally ever go­ing to do in­ter­views with me for this book?’ ‘ You have no idea,’ I said. I had never stopped writ­ing.

A year later, she got the first draft. Her first re­sponse was some­where be­tween ex­hil­a­ra­tion, ter­ror and shock. ‘Fuck. This is me. Fuck, fuck, fuck. How did this hap­pen? This is my story. What have you done?’ ‘Bru­tally Hon­est’ by Melanie Brown and Louise Gan­non is out now (£17.99, Quadrille)

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