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Magazine Article

Source: iD magazine

Date: February 1999

 

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She's got a lotus flower tattooed on the base of her spine and the word 'angel' scrawled across her belly. One of her teeth is made of gold. She's 24 years old, five foot six inches tall and worth £13 million. She goes out for dinner with Madonna, dances with Bruce Willis, sings with Bryan Adams and might (or might not) have shagged Robbie Williams. She's Barbie Girl Mel C, what every little kid who buys her records wants to be.

"I'm one of the luckiest people in the whole world," she coos. "All my dreams are coming true."

Just like Cinderella at the end of her story - although today with hair in twists and make-up smudged like warpaint, Mel looks more like a pretty squaw. Maybe it's this afternoon's role; a good little girl on best behavior for her media-close up. She gives me her smartest interview pose: pert, polite and attentive with a dancer's posture and Bambi-chaste eyes.

It's a winning performance. Such sweet airs might hide a petite fury. I tell her she looks a right little scrapper.

"I got beaten up once at school. It wasn't very nice. She was a big girl with a swimmer's great big shoulders and I was a skinny little thing. I didn't have any muscles. And she was kicking me and really beating me up although I stood up to her and started lashing out and that ended it. I nearly got my prefect tie taken off me because I'd been in a public affray."

You were a prefect at school? "Yes," she replies, all Lolita-prim. "I was a good girl."

The fight, it seems, related to a family feud. "It's like her and her cousin and her cousin's sister didn't like me and it was like her family didn't like my family and didn't like my mum. I think it was because I was going out with this boy and she used to go out with him..."

The first act of this Cinderella story could've been scripted by Carla Lane. She's almost sit-com common. Real princesses might not be born in castles but wannabes are spawned on council estates. Mel C was raised in Widnes, Cheshire, somewhere between Liverpool and Manchester.

"It was very industrial. There were lots of chemical works, power stations. It was drab with a lot of problems, drugs, stuff like that. A run-down place. We were very much working-class. My mum and step-dad brought me up. I lived in a council flat, then we moved to a council house until we'd saved up enough money to buy a little terraced house."

Little Cinders wanted to dance and act. She was sent (and begged to be sent) to ballet classes, jazz classes and amateur dramatic society. A kind of performance analog to My Little Pony, it's the stuff of schoolgirl fantasy: spotlights, applause, the colour pink, floral tributes and a glitter meltdown.

"My pipe dream in childhood, my fantasy, was to be a pop star."

And what bright-eyed little bedroom sweetie wouldn't - your whole life bounced off a global mirror hooped with a million starry lightbulbs. Everyone knows who you are, everyone loves you and you can be rich as Trump ("I've got more money than I ever imagined I could have"). But to check, I ask Mel why she wanted to be a pop star.

"I don't know really. It was just what I wanted. It's all I've ever wanted all my life. I don't know why. It's not the adulation thing or even pleasing other people. It's to please myself. It makes me happy. And now that I've been on stage and done the world tour, it all makes sense. The only place I feel truly comfortable is on stage."

Which is ridiculous - unless she's some insecure wreck. You have to be a needy ego-monster to only feel at home in this world when everyone is looking at you. But Mel's parents split-up when she was just three and both remarried - she lived with her mum and effectively had two families including five brothers and a half-sister Emma, whom she didn't even know about until the tabloids found her. Such childhood neuroses are the blueprints (quite literally) from which stardom is built.

"I went through a lot of not knowing where I belonged. Sometimes I felt like I must be a waste of space. And I was always trying to be something I wasn't, even until I was 18 or 19. I was never content being me. I was never happy being Melanie. I wanted to be more outgoing, I wanted to be more outspoken, I wanted to be loud, funny and I wanted to be liked. But now that I've had success, I can think I got successful through being me. Me's cool. I'm cool with me."

Jarvis Cocker once told me a similar story - he also hungered for the warming and self-transforming energy of fame. So now this Spice Girl's got what wants (what she really, really wants), she won't complain about the media attention or cry against the tabloids. Maybe fame is measured in flash-bulbs anyway - every burst makes your star brighter. So far the hacks nailed her brother when he crashed a £35,000 Mercedes (a gift to Mel from a sponsor) and found an old photo of her at a party with people snorting drugs in the background: 'Spice Girls Cocaine Shame' screamed the headline, 'All Night Binges Shock For Young Fans'.

"It's part and parcel of it all," Mel says. "I put myself up for it. I'm the one who wanted to be famous. I never not want to be famous. I hate people who are famous and get awards and say this award is a lot of shit and being famous is crap. Well, fuck off - I'm sure they don't complain about selling loads of records. It's like, I am famous and I fucking love it. I'm successful and I sell loads of records and I want to keep on doing this for the rest of my life. I love it."

It's a truly frightening thought: the superannuated Spice Girls still roaming the earth like vampires, forever sucking money and attention from the living. Although this is maybe what they're supposed to do - after all, the Spices already exist as symbols rather than singers, Girl Powered supergirls on a global cash rampage. Yet Mel can finger a human soul inside their seemingly (and perhaps gloriously) plastic music.

"Expression, I think, comes more into play when you get older," she says. "The position I'm in at the moment, because we've got such a young audience, it's nice for us to put into words and song what we've felt and what we've been through growing up. Some of us come from broken homes (the secret, tearing irony at the heart of Mama) and we've all been through school, puberty, first boyfriends and lost our virginity. It's nice for kids to hear that and identify with it, I think."

An irresistible diversion. She mentioned it, I have to ask.

"I was 16," she confesses, "it's old enough."

Were you waiting until you were legal? "No, I wanted to do it before I was 16. I was such a good girl that I wanted to do something naughty. I wanted to have sex before I was 16 but I never got round to it."

Where did you do it? "In my bedroom when nobody was around. I had Pierrot on the wallpaper and on the bedspread. I had bunkbeds. Me and my brother shared them. I lost my virginity in a bunkbed. It was getting to the point with my boyfriend where we were getting more intimate with each other. He was pressuring me, he was a bastard... but I wanted to do it anyway. It's scary, innit? Everybody talks about it but nobody tells you what to do. You talk about it with your mates for months and months and then you do it. And then you pretend it's fantastic but you're thinking 'Is that it?'"

Mel understands how close her persona is to that of children's entertainer - it's all about girl as opposed to woman power. As comedian Gerry Sadowitz once commented, the best way to get rid of the Spice Girls is to ban pocket money. When I ask if she gets groupie sex after gigs from fans, she just laughs. "All our fans are little girls so we've got no chance, have we?" Mel knows her market position well so, unlike say Oasis, you couldn't expect her to make an adult-oriented statement on an interview.

"Oasis are very honest, that's there image, and people like that and that's what gives them a lot of their fans. But they've got some quite young fans and I find that worrying. I wouldn't talk about drugs the way they do because I know I've got very impressionable fans that look up to me. I don't want to compromise my personality and not be who I am, but you've got to be aware."

Growing up and doing it in public, Mel has only spent three years of her legal adult life outside the Spice Girls. "I'm still a little girls," she says. "I'm not one for getting me bits out. I don't find myself very sexual. I don't feel sexy a lot of the time." Still, she's the one they call Talented Spice and when she's ready she can call on stylists, producers, co-writers, film directors, publicists, marketeers and merchandisers - a platoon of experts dedicated to making her celebrity last forever.

"There's only so much shopping, going out for dinner, going out and getting drunk and going clubbing that you can do before it gets boring. I want to work, I'm a workaholic and I love to work. I could do whatever the fuck I wanted but I think my ultimate goal is to be a successful solo artist as well as being successful with the band."

Mel plans to start recording solo material in the new year: "It'll probably be more band-oriented than the Spice Girls, a bit more guitar and a bit more rock. I just feel more emotion, aggression in that music, big guitars and stuff - that's what does it for me. It really gets me going. And it's the best way to get out anger and aggression. I'm so laidback but I've got this pent-up aggression inside and I want to get it out."

But after 40 million album sales and her own movie, what can she possibly have to feel angry about? What is there to sing about if all your dreams have come true?

"It's not personal anger, it's anger at outside things. The world has been fucking good to me but it's not always good to itself. I'm angry about AIDS. I'm angry about cancer. I'm angry about children being abused. I'm angry about racism. I'm just angry about general things people with morals are angry about."

It might be fascinating to see what Sporty Spice does with her life. You can be sure of reading about it in the papers, light relief from the hard news - another crucial pop star duty. She might make a ridiculous adult: backflips and giggles hardly seem the right background for guitars and serious concerns. But then the distance between innocence and experience has always been a good mythic journey. This child might yet amaze us all.