Mel C: 'Another Spice Girls reunion just didn't feel right for me now'
Her solo career is racing on, but a lot's changed for Mel C since her Sporty Spice days. Ahead of next year's tour, she talks to Andy Welch about feeling old, doing things her way and why she didn't want to take part in the reunited Spice Girls
The trouble with once being known as Sporty Spice is that great swathes of your wardrobe and certain shops become unavailable to you.
"I can't wear a tracksuit," says Melanie Jayne Chisholm, aka Mel C - and formerly Sporty Spice. "I love Adidas tracksuits, they never go out of fashion, but I can't go shopping in one. I can see the newspaper caption now, about me not being able to let go of my past or something...
"That ship has sailed, I'm afraid," she announces.
Today, clothes aside - black skinny jeans, white shirt, hair worn long - Mel C looks, well, not that different to how she did when The Spice Girls conquered the world in the mid-Nineties.
Just 25 when the band broke up the first time, she says she was a really angry person at the time, and just wanted to prove that she was different to her football shirt-wearing pop persona.
Her debut solo album, Northern Star, released in 1999 before the Spice Girls officially called it a day, sold four million copies around the world, making her the most-successful solo Spice by some considerable distance.
She released her seventh, Version Of Me, in October, a project she started three years ago.
She'd been on tour with Jools Holland, in Jesus Christ Superstar ("perfect"), and been a judge on Asia's Got Talent ("money for old rope"), but knew she was missing writing, recording and performing her own songs.
"I went into the studio, and went to LA to work with different songwriters, and things took shape from there," she adds.
She says writing with someone new is a bit like going on a first date, with both parties being very polite and on their best behaviour. It worked a charm with London-born, LA-based production duo Sons of Sonix - there were second and third dates - but others were less successful.
More than anything, certain songwriting sessions - and she's careful not to mention any names - reminded Chisholm, who has a seven-year-old daughter, Scarlet - of one thing.
"I'm obviously a more mature artist," says the 42-year-old.
"The people selling all the records are a lot younger than me, and there are people who want to try to shove me in that direction. I get it, songwriters are aiming for big names and big sales so they get their cut, and they want me to be a younger version of myself.
"Musically, I think Rihanna is brilliant. Katy Perry, all those people, great, but I can't do that. I've had that career already, and I'm somewhere completely different now.
"For me, there's an embarrassment... if that's the right word," the Lancashire-born star adds. "I don't want people to think that I think I'm still a young pop star. I know I'm older. I'm not pretending I'm anything I'm not. I catch myself doing it though - 'Put it away love' - but that's a terrible thing to think. We all have different stages in our lives."
It's all helped Chisholm realise she wanted to make an album inspired by the likes of Massive Attack and Portishead, pioneers of Bristol-born trip-hop, dating back to before The Spice Girls had even formed. "I wanted to make an electronic album, and I didn't care about radio edits of songs, or big singles or anything like that."
Being the boss of her own label, Red Girl, she can make those decisions.
Throw in some more contemporary influences, such as Jack Garratt, Sia and The Weeknd, and she was on her way, teaming up with Olly and Gale from Turin Brakes to write Something For The Fire, working with producer Tom Wilding on other numbers, and pretty soon, the album had taken shape.
"It has to happen quickly when you're writing songs. Some people I have worked with for years - some older, some younger - but Sons of Sonix are only 24. They were telling me how they were four when Spice Girls came out," she says.
"It's funny, working in music, you think you're young and you know what's going on, but working with them, it just made me feel really old."
She thinks it takes courage to write songs, especially if you've been in the public eye as she has - although it's easier now than when she was in her 20s and 30s. Back then, she worried what everyone thought of her, and only now she's in her 40s, has she realised what a waste of energy that was.
"As you get older, you realise everyone was too busy worrying about themselves, not what you're doing. I am happy and comfortable in my surroundings," she says.
"I had my time with the girls, and I have been written about a lot, but not in my latter years. And most of it was b******* anyway. Think about your friends and the people close to you; you don't know what's going on with them, really going on with them behind closed doors, so why do you think you do when you read it about strangers?"
Talking of the girls, Chisholm this year decided against rejoining Geri, Mel B and Emma (Ginger, Scary and Baby) in another iteration of a Spice Girls reunion.
"It didn't feel right for me," she says, calmly but firmly. "It's delicate, but Victoria (Beckham) had said after the Olympics performance she didn't want to do it again, and we'd all always said whatever any of us wanted to do was fine. We're too old to be hard on each other like we were. We're parents now, we've all got lives and partners and other things going on.
"They were very gracious about me not wanting to be part of it, so I am very gracious about them wanting to carry on. I can't do things for other people.
"I know there are fans that are disappointed, or friends or family members who think I should take part, but I can't do it for them, it's a big commitment.
"The most important thing is that I am a mum, so I have to be here and present and on hand and happy. I have to look after her (Scarlet) properly.
"For me, going back into that environment wasn't the way to do that."
Mel C's latest album Version Of Me is out now. She begins a UK tour in April. For dates, visit melaniec.net