Date: April 2, 1999
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In the pits at Oulton Park motor racing track in Cheshire, men in oil-stained overalls are hunched over the bonnets of souped-up Seats and Porsches, and the air is thick with the smell of gasoline and rubber. Engines are revving, tyres are squealing. Suddenly, a hush descends, as a slender young woman dressed in a mix of Dolce & Gabanna, Gucci and Nike emerges from one of the garages that line the pit lane.
In a matter of minutes, a crowd has gathered and grown men beg for their crash helmets and time sheets to be signed. Even the race track's resident paramedic joins the queue far autographs. This may be the macho world of motor sport but no one, it seems, is immune to the charms of a Spice Girl.
Melanie Chisholm is here with her half-brother Paul O'Neill to witness the first public outing of her Christmas present to him, a £22,000 gold Rover MGF sports car. Paul, who is being sponsored by OK!, has just joined the John Bintcliffe Motorsport team and, at only 19, he's the youngest driver on the circuit.
Mel, why did you decide to help Paul achieve his dream of racing his own car?Cars are Paul's lifelong love - he knew how to drive by the time he was eight. But motor racing is a very expensive sport and because we're from a working-class background he never thought it'd be possible for him. Then I struck it lucky and was happy to help him out. But it wouldn't matter how much financial help I gave him if he didn't have the talent in the first place.
Paul, do your colleagues at the race track know who your famous sister is?
At first nobody knew - I don't go around saying, "Our Kid's this and Our Kid's that". But people read things in the paper. I'm quite a good judge of character so I usually know when someone's only interested in me because of who my sister is.
Mel, do you two have similar personalities?
I think Paul's more of an extrovert than I am. He's quite confident in social situations. I love being on stage but I'm naturally quite shy. I'm still very shy when I'm talking to people I don't know. Paul's the comedian of the family - and he's a better singer! It was our mum's 50th birthday party the other night and we were both up on stage, singing Johnny B Goodewith mum.
Mel, you were six when Paul was born - how did you feel about your new brother? Up until then, I'd been an only child and I was glad when Paul was born because I was sick of being on my own. I can remember mum coming home from the hospital with him. It was a funny time because Paul's birthday is on New Year's Eve, so I was excited about Christmas anyway, and then he arrived! When Mel G and Victoria were pregnant, their bellies seemed really small to me, because I remember when my mum was pregnant with Paul, she was like the side of a bus, absolutely huge! Or maybe it just seemed that way because I was so small. I kept waiting for Mel and Victoria to get that big, but they never did.
Paul, what's your earliest memory of Mel? I remember her teaching me to ride my Chopper bike. She was holding on to the back while I pedalled. We'd been trying all day. Suddenly I looked round and she wasn't there any more because she'd gone down the chippie. I was going down the road all on my own... and I didn't know where the brakes were!
Did you always get on well together?
Mel: No. As children we used to fight like cat and dog and really batter each other, but I think all brothers and sisters are like that. He used to break my toys, he was a right pain, although now he's turned into quite a thoughtful chap.
Paul: When Mel was a teenager, we went through a bad patch. She had spots and I'd call her Pizza Face. We used to really fight and Mel would usually win because she was strong and would hit me with her ballet shoes with the hard things in the toes... what are they called?
Mel: He means my "pointes".
Paul: And when I was about eight, she tried to get me to go to dancing class - she said I had "ballet dancing feet" because I've got high insteps!
Your mum, Joan, is a singer. Was there any pressure on you to go into showbusiness?
Mel: Not at all. She just wanted us to be happy and do whatever we wanted to do. It was a decision I made on my own. I always wanted to be famous. What's happened to me is phenomenal and I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams that things would turn out the way they have. But it's wierd. As a kid, I always used to think I'd be famous. If kids ever picked on me, I'd say: "I'll show you one day". I don't know if I made it happen, or if it was destined to happen.
Paul, has fame changed Mel?
No, not at all, except that she's become more confident. She isn't bigheaded at all. People sometimes say that I've changed, and that annoys me because I haven't at all - I'm the same as I was at school, just like Our Kid.
Mel, you have properties in Liverpool and London. Which is home to you?
Liverpool's home and it always will be. It's got such an energy and such a vibe. It's a great place to be at the moment, it's really thriving, and I can go out without being hassled too much. Like all the girls, I don't let my fame inhibit me or stop me from doing anything, but I do feel that the people in Liverpool are really proud of me, and they do tend to look after me.
Mel, what does your mum mean to you?
When I was growing up she was my idol and she always will be. We've got matching tattoos on our arms - Oriental symbols which mean "woman" and "strength". When I had mine done, I thought my mum would kill me, but she loved it. The next time we were in America she saidshe was going to have a tattoo and she had the same one as me. I was really flattered. Paul's got a tattoo, too - his is the Oriental symbol for "dangerous".
Mel, you have a large extended family - stepbrothers Stuart and Jarrod, the sons of your stepfather, Den O'Neill; three half-brothers - Paul, the son of Den and your mum Joan; and Liam and Declan, your dad Alan Chisholm's sons by his second wife Carol. You also have a half-sister, Emma, who's your dad's daughter from a previous relationship. Do you all get on?
It's great having such a big family. Even though my mum and dad are divorced, everyone knows each other and gets on. Paul's always speaking to my dad, for example. There's no animosity between anyone.
How are the Spice babies doing? Has their arrival made you feel broody?
The mothers and babies are all doing very well, but it doesn't make me broody at all. I want to have children one day, but at the moment I really respect the girls - it's the right time in their lives and they're happy with their partners, but I'm not with anyone right now, so babies are in the distant future for me.
So you are single then? You've been linked with Paul Byatt who plays Mike Dixon in Brookside, after he accompanied you to your mum's 50th birthday party...
We've been on a few dates, but it's nothing serious.
Your solo career is taking off, with a recent, highly successful collaboration with Bryan Adams. What else is in the pipeline for you?
Bryan and I have written two more songs together for my album, which I'm working on now. I have plans to work with other artists in the future, but I can't talk about it. I'm happy to have two careers at the moment, as long as it's feasible and they compliment each other. The Spice Girls are back in the studio in a few months and we'll have an album out sometime next year.
Tell us about your meeting with Madonna.
I'd love to work with Madonna and she loves the Spice Girls. When we finished the US tour, she wanted to talk to me about doing some stuff together, so she invited me for dinner. She's been my idol since I was a kid and I was nervous about meeting her. I've met her a few more times since then, and I still get nervous every time, and then as soon as she walks in the room she's just got this aura about her which makes you feel really calm and relaxed.
Your image seems less sporty and more feminine these days, Is that on purpose?
No, not really. I think I'm just growing up. I still wear my trackies and I'm never out of trainers, but I've discovered make-up artists and hairdressers... It's not that I'm trying to look more glamorous, I'm just trying to pull a fella! In the beginning, being labelled "the plain one" did hurt, but everyone's got an opinion and you've just got to live with it.
What's been the most memorable event since you shot to fame?
I think it has to be the birth of the two babies. The day that Melanie G went into labour, we all went to see her and spent the whole day going through the contractions with her. We went to another room when she gave birth, and went straight back in to see her immediately afterwards. That was the most amazing day of my life. It was so emotional. When I heard that she had gone into labour I just burst into tears.
How do you relax?
The same as anyone, really. I go out with friends, go out to dinner, go to the pictures. I spend a lot of time in the gym, which I find very therapeutic. I've got a trainer in America, and no, I'm not dating him, which I read in the paper. How embarrassing! He's my trainer, full stop. And I've got a friend who I work out with in London.
Do you use any alternative therapies?
Yes, if I've got any health problems, I usually go to a homeopathic doctor. I also have acupuncture. I prefer holistic treatments in general. I haven't been ill for ages though. When I was younger I used to eat a lot of junk food, but since I've become more aware about nutrition and vitamins, I've only had the odd dodgy stomach.
Do you have lots of celebrity friends?
We've become quite good friends with Nic and Nat from All Saints, and Skin from Skunk Anansie, and I went to Natalie Imbruglia's birthday party the other day. It's nice because there's a little crew of us, and we'll all be at the same party and when we see each other it's like "Wow! I didn't know you'd be here!"
Do you have any ambitions left to fulfil?
Yeah, loads. I think that whenever you fulfil one ambition, you strive for the next one. Music is the most important thing to me but in the future I'd like to try acting, if the right film script came along. I don't know if I'd be any good, but I'd like to give it a go. I think everyone dreams about being a movie star.
Are you happy right now?
Yeah, very. Things are going really well for me, and I'm relieved now the babies are born and they're fine.
Will things change within the Spice Girls?
It is different but I quite like the change, it's exciting. There's a little bit of me which feels like I've lost my mates now, but I haven't really. I haven't been out with Victoria because she's still recovering. But me and Mel G were up on stage at my mum's party singing Sisters Are doing It For Themselves, so nothing's changed! I don't worry that the group will split up because we all love it too much.