Melanie C has been famous for 24 years, since the Spice Girls first high-kicked into our lives, turned us all into Wannabes and made the entire world wake up to the power of well, girl power.
She has since sold 105 million records including the sales for the biggest-selling album by a girl group ever, the aptly named Spice.
Here, as Melanie prepares to release her latest solo album, she joins our latest episode of GLAMOUR Unfiltered – our biweekly chat show hosted by Josh Smith – to talk about how depression, “never really goes away,” how she managed to overcome an eating disorder, the lessons it taught her, the pressures of everyone expecting her to be empowered, how being an ally of the LGBTQ+ community has helped her accept herself – and the possibility of a Spice Girls reunion. We applaud Melanie for sharing her story at a time when talking is more important than ever…
The stats are staggering and the success even more so, but at the peak of her fame in the late ’90s Melanie was battling with depression and an eating disorder, the results even made the queen of girl power feel “like I’d failed everybody”.
I’m having to really be quite disciplined. Obviously, this is such a difficult situation and there’s so many people going through some really challenging times and I think everyone’s situation has its own challenges. I have my family here in it, trying to get the children to do work and to exercise and get myself to exercise is full on. I’m working loads, cleaning, cooking and all those things, which I don’t usually do, too! I’m having this constant dialogue in my mind and I want to try and get some benefits from this slow down because even though it’s busy, you have no choice but to slow down and to sit with yourself and your thoughts.
That’s almost the hardest thing to do of all, to face yourself?
Absolutely. I feel the same. I feel like I’m really observing myself and it feels like a relief that I have this time to be in one place, to be in my own bed. But I think all of the crutches, whether it’s going away on a promo trip or going to the gym or to the hairdressers or seeing friends, it feels like we have all of these things that make our lives full, but without them, there’s kind of no escape. And I sense myself wanting this time to be over, but then I think, “No. Try and make the most of this time.”
You have literally been famous over two decades and faced everything in the public eye, throughout your career how has your relationship with your own mind changed?
I’m definitely a lot kinder to myself, which I think everybody needs to be. As a young person, I think I was searching. I was searching for who I was, who I wanted to be. Then I was being bombarded with who people thought I was and who people expected me to be and I found that really confusing – I never felt good enough. I think, like a lot of people, I experienced a lot of guilt as well. I felt guilty about my success. I felt guilty about earning money.
I didn’t feel like I was worthy. I think that’s when I kind of got into hot water because I was trying to make myself worthy of all these things when really, we’re all enough. We are actually enough, but I didn’t feel like I was. My daughter always laughs at me and says, “You’re a perfectionist.” And I say, “Well, I’m not a perfectionist because there’s no such thing.” I’m a failed perfectionist. There’s no such thing as perfect.
Can you remember a time when you were trying to be this ‘perfect’ image of yourself?
I think probably the early days in the band with the girls in the mid-90s. There were lots of different events that led to this, but I think one of the big things was being in the public eye and reading about yourself in the tabloid media, because nothing prepares you for that. And when you’re reading about yourself it’s like reading about a stranger, because we all meet people and we all have opinions on people, but you’re not used to knowing everybody’s opinion about you. It was very odd to read about yourself and think, “Who’s that?” And I think that’s what wobbled me quite a lot.
Do you think having this alter ego of Sporty Spice has almost been like a blessing and a curse in a way?
I think there’s been times in my life, I suppose in the early days because I wasn’t that sure who I was, and I thought Sporty Spice was something external to me. But when we did the stadium shows last year and I had the opportunity to get back on stage with the girls and perform our songs again, which was just incredible and what was interesting for me was, for a few years I’ve been thinking, “How can I walk around on stage to Wannabe? I’m in my forties. I’m a mum. It’s ridiculous.”
But once I found myself in that situation, it was like second nature and it made me realise that actually Sporty Spice isn’t something I become, it’s in me. It was really lovely, and it just made me feel really reflective and just really able to embrace every part of myself. Even the sh*t bits.
Did being Sporty Spice put a pressure on your body image, in a way you didn’t expect?
Do you know, I don’t know with that because I grew up dancing and doing gymnastics and when I was a kid, I was so active, and I never even thought about body image. I went to performing arts college and I was actually quite close to some people with eating disorders and I know a lot of dancers, a lot of people in that environment. It’s very difficult. Obviously, you look at yourself in the mirror all day and, I mean, I’m sure things are a little bit different now and I know the modelling world is the same, but you’re told to lose weight.
There’s a certain way you’re expected to look in that profession and it never affected me. That was through my late teens and it wasn’t until the Spice Girls really took off that I became very self-conscious about the way that I looked.
That’s when I was exercising obsessively and I wasn’t eating properly, I lost a lot of weight and I was living in an unsustainable and unhealthy way for a couple of years. When you’re young and you leave home, you start eating a bit of rubbish and going in the pub and having a drink and all of that. But I never had an extreme, I never dealt with any of that in an extreme way until what happened, happened. I think a lot of that was due to just how crazy the whole situation was.
How did you manage to pull yourself out of that time?
Oh gosh, it took a long time. I was in denial for a long time. People did reach out within the band, in my family, but I was embarrassed, and I didn’t want to admit it. It was very obvious because I think when people have an eating disorder, it’s a very visual thing. It’s obvious to look at somebody. It was obvious to look at me that I was underweight and people who were close to me could see I wasn’t eating properly, but I wouldn’t go there. But it really took until my body made the decision for me. I became very depressed around the millennium and I just couldn’t cope. So, I ended up going to my GP and I was diagnosed with depression. And that was really my first step to recovery.
For me you are such a great symbol of empowerment. Did you ultimately use this negative situation to empower you and what did you learn about yourself during that time?
For many years I’ve been regretful about everything and just thought about what a waste. I feel like, and I’m sure there’d be people watching this who have had similar issues, or they may be going through it right now and it’s so overwhelming. An eating disorder is all you think about. All you think about is what you’ve eaten, ways to avoid eating or avoiding social situations.
Life is for living and so much of our lives is about food and being sociable. I used to be so, so sad for so many years that I missed so many opportunities to have a great time and to really enjoy everything.
And now, as I’ve got older and as I’ve become a mm as well, I’ve just thought, “Do you know what? There has to be positives from that.” And what I’ve learned from it is that I’ve been there, and I’ve got better. I’ve recovered, I know the signs and I don’t think I’m an authority on it and I absolutely would know how to deal with it, but at least I can have empathy with somebody in that situation and hopefully my experience can be helpful to other people.
If you could take the you that was going through that and they were on the screen right now, what would you want to say to that person?
Oh, I would say, “Don’t be afraid,” and “There’s help.” The one thing I do wish is that I’d got professional help earlier. I think for people who have friends who they might be concerned about any mental health issues or people in their family, I think it’s really hard to broach it. It’s hard to know what to do, what to say, how to deal with it. My advice would always be, “Get professional help.” One of the great things about the internet is, there are wonderful resources out there, you can reach out and you can get information. If I was talking to myself, I would say, “Don’t be afraid. There is a much better life that you deserve, and you should be living. So, let’s work together and make that happen.” I feel a bit emotional. I’m emotional all the time at the moment. It’s like sometimes, I don’t even know why I’m crying.
To me you always seem so positive, have you felt a pressure to be positive all the time?
If any of the people who live with me can hear you now, they’d be like, “She isn’t positive.” I save it for you! Well, I think it’s hard when you’ve got kids, right? That’s one thing, because I have had depression, personally for me, it never really goes away. I’ve never found myself in such a dark place as I did when I was first diagnosed, I think because I didn’t understand what was going on, there was other issues around it.
I hadn’t had any help; I didn’t know how to deal with it. Mental health is an ongoing thing. It’s a work in progress so I have my ups and downs and I think as a parent there’s two things. There’s one, you don’t want your child to see you down and upset and that’s exhausting because you’re trying to be up for them. But then on the other hand, it’s good, I think, for children to see that their parents can be vulnerable. It’s part of being human. So yeah, it’s a balancing act, isn’t it? Like everything.
There is so much power in being vulnerable, and when you are such a symbol of girl power there must be some downsides to people expecting you to be empowered all the time?
Well, do you know what? That’s interesting that you bring that up because obviously everything the Spice Girls stands for is girl power. I was embarrassed. I felt like I’d failed everybody. I was living this lie. But you’re right, I think the thing about vulnerability is, we all have it and that’s what I’m learning at this time as well. It’s like all over the world, all these cultures, all these countries, whatever your status is, if you’re a celebrity or one of the amazing key workers, we are all the same, we are all feeling the same feelings, we’re all going through the same experience and that is powerful. Supporting each other really feels like one of the positives from this whole thing is. There’s this magical little support network out there and we’re all helping each other through it.
Seeing you on stage last year with the Spice Girls again was incredible. What were the lessons you learnt between the first time round and last year?
The biggest lessons were to be more relaxed about everything. The girls make fun of me because I do have that failed perfectionist nature, and the beauty of the Spice Girls is, we are a bit rough around the edges and we do go wrong. That used to frustrate me because I wanted it to be amazing and I’d really relaxed and let go. With this show it was more fun because I wasn’t so uptight.
Do you think being in isolation right now makes you crave another Spice Girls reunion more?
The shows were so incredible, and we are constantly talking, and we would love to do more. And at the time it felt so magical and so special, it felt like we had to do more, like it’s a crime not to! So, I hope and pray that we’re able to, at some point.
One of the amazing things you have done recently is champion the LGBTQ+ community, especially when you toured with Sink The Pink. What have you learned about being an ally?
I learned so much. When I toured with Sink The Pink last year, we went and toured the Prides all over the world and it was straight off the back of the Spice Girls tour. I literally did three sell-out shows at Wembley and three days later I was on a plane to Sao Paulo and then I was on a float going down Paulista Avenue with over 3 million people on the street. It was insane and it was brilliant. The Spice Girls have always had an incredible support from the LGBTQ+ community and we’ve always appreciated that, but I’ve never worked that closely with people from that community.
I’m super proud to be an ally. I feel more than an ally. I feel like I am part of that community and the reason why is because I was working with drag queens, non-binary people and working alongside them, learning their stories and the challenges that they faced growing up has just helped me to accept myself again on another level entirely. I just feel like last year it was such an important year for me. With the Spice shows, kind of everything came full circle. And then I knew I’d have fun with Sink The Pink and touring Prides, but I didn’t realise the profound effect it would have on me.
With that in mind, what does the new chapter for Mel C look like?
I’m all of those things. This is what I’m learning. I am Sporty Spice. I’m Mel C. I’m Melanie C the solo artist. I’m a mom. I’m a girlfriend. I’m a friend. I’m an ally. And at the moment I’m a cook, I’m a cleaner and I’m a teacher. I am all of those things. We aspire to be something, but we’re not one thing, nobody is one thing. I think we just really, at a time like this, need to appreciate that, “OK, I’m lazy. Sometimes I’m really lazy, but that’s OK. Sometimes I’m really annoying. Well, isn’t everyone?” It’s just self-acceptance.
Your latest single, Who Am I is out now, more new music is on the way and you’re still serving up those bangers. Do you feel like you’ve had to modify your relationship with success and that idea of success and failure?
Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the things about being part of something which is an incredible success is that there’s always so much to live up to and you can’t. You can’t top the Spice Girls. That’s just impossible. I think it took a while to adjust to that, as a solo artist. My first album, Northern Star, was really successful and I had an incredible time with that. But like all careers, I’ve had my ups and downs and definitely as I’ve got older and being a person who has suffered with depression, knowing that without happiness nothing means anything is the most important thing. I love what I do and that’s why I keep doing it. Sometimes people say, “Well, you obviously you don’t need to work.” I’m like, “Well, I do. But also, I bloody love it and I’d be lost without it.” I’m so excited about the new music. It’s sounding great. I’m working with some incredible people and there’s some bangers on this record.