Many things were very different in the ’90s, like Mil C Can attest to better than most. Psychological health Hardly anyone talks about it in the public eye, depression was “almost a taboo,” she says, and the woman’s weight was discussed freely — so much so that Victoria Beckham and Jerry Horner (then Halliwell) were evaluated live on TV.
“Shock, isn’t it? It’s my daughter’s least favorite expression, when I say it was a ‘different time.’ And it really was—thank God, things have changed,” says Sporty Spice, real name Melanie Chisholm, and mom to Scarlett, 13. There’s a lot of celebration of body diversity now. Young people don’t want to look skinny anymore. That’s not an aesthetic today, you know?”
But sexy girls“The immediate rise of a global cultural phenomenon (an estimated 100 million records eventually sold) and pressure to fit in a pop star’s aesthetic at the time had a devastating effect on her mental health. At some point, after Horner left the band and when Chisholm released her first album Her solo, Northern Star, was not able to leave the house.
“I felt like getting out of the house was terrifying,” she says. “In the darkest of times, in the depths of depression and eating disorders and this fear, security is from the four walls. I think a lot of that was because I felt the eyes of the world were on me through the media.”
The pain she was experiencing was undetectable to millions of Spice Girls fans around the world. The band had firmly put “Girl Power” into the zeitgeist and happily played Sporty, Baby, Scary, Ginger and Posh characters. Meanwhile, Chisholm felt she had to keep running, “like a treadmill I couldn’t get off of,” she wrote in her long-awaited autobiography, Who Am I, and feeling lonely “with what was now a serious eating disorder.”
Now she says, “In hindsight, I think it was really helpful to take a break. I think in part, I was afraid to stop, because I didn’t know what that would lead to.”
During her battle with anorexia and excessive exercise, she turned into a “robot”, with a daily 10km run followed by two hours of exercise, and restricted eating. She was at her thinnest in 1998, after the release of the group’s second album – their last of five pieces – Spiceworld.
“It’s as if you have a huge price to pay for success,” she explains. She doesn’t think she would have developed an eating disorder if she hadn’t been famous and under constant screening.
Horner – who has since been open about her battle with bulimia – brought up the topic with Chisholm at the time. “She tried talking to me, but I wasn’t ready to admit the problem at that point.” And when she gained weight (but not by much), titles like “Sumo Spice” appeared, which she now describes as “destroying and humiliating.”
And while fans may have seen Sporty as the strong, fun, and relatable Spice, her fragile sense of self was already falling apart. “I didn’t trust my own thoughts and feelings. I’ve spent much of my life distrusting my instincts and thinking that everyone knows better.
The book is also the first time Chisholm has spoken publicly about being sexually assaulted during a massage, the night before the first Spice Girls show in Istanbul. “To this day, it’s something I haven’t fully dealt with,” she says, explaining that she felt it was important for her to share it, “because it happens a lot to varying degrees. Within the range of situations like this, I think it was pretty mild—but it was wrong, too. .
“Now, I had absolutely no hope of finding this person in Hell. But I am thinking, ‘Wow, what could he have done?’ So I think it’s really important that we talk.”
Ultimately though, her story is one of resilience and learning to love herself — from working-class roots and, at times, a rocky childhood (she was left with someone she barely knew for five months at age five, while her musical mother was touring) to stratospheric success. With three Spice Girls albums and eight solo studio albums.
And it’s hard to argue that Chisholm hasn’t had the most success as a solo artist of all the Spice Girls – who could ever forget Never Be The Same again and collaborate with Bryan Adams, when you go? And at 48, she’s still making music, and her voice is as powerful and unmistakable Mel C as it sounded nearly 26 years ago.
“It is absolutely my wish ‘that the five band members meet again,’ she says, ‘obviously we still have to convince Victoria…
“Victoria doesn’t mind me saying [the Olympics 2012 show] It was tough on her, she had a lot of anxiety about this performance. Clearly her life had moved in such a different direction, she didn’t feel like she wanted to put herself through it again – especially when the level of the Spice Girls’ profile was so high; Whatever we do, all eyes of the world are on us.”
Recently, she separated from partner of seven years, music producer Joe Marshall. But she’s good: “Obviously, it’s always sad when things are over, but [writing] The book helped me realize that life is a series of chapters. It’s exciting to wonder what happens next.”
In fact, throughout the Spice Girls years, she was the only one who was mostly celibate, she notes, and the way celibacy was discussed obsessively and negatively in the ’90s compounded her insecurities about it. “I hate the idea that the generation I grew up in, traditionally taught that we need to be part of a couple, and that’s the thing that makes us whole. We need to find our soul mate — all this ***. [That thinking means] We’re not taught that we need to be everything ourselves.”
Girl Power has come a long way since 1996. The Spice Girls wrote “Who Do You Think You Are” in response to the guys trying to order them in the band’s early days (Horner was the main catalyst who pushed to write their own music and leave the managers who put them together in the original)—and what Chisholm calls “early expressions of our version of feminism.”
She says, “It’s crazy, the enormity of what we’ve achieved in these two years and the legacy we’ve left, the impact it’s made, and it still lives on—even if we don’t make music—people are still discovering Spice Girls.”
She says Girl Power has passed on to posterity. “My daughter [from previous relationship with Thomas Starr] She is 13, so I see a lot of teens and a lot of her female friends who are loud, opinionated, and wise. I am very impressed with the younger generation.”
A strong ally of the LGBTQ+ community, she adds, “It wasn’t just girls’ power, it was about equality, and of course, we live in a completely different time. Now there’s a lot of fluidity within gender and the way people define themselves. It’s really about being an individual and being an individual. Being able to be whatever you want to be.”
Who I Am: My Story by Melanie C. (Welbeck Publishing, RRP £20) Available now.