Depression, binge-eating and love split, but Mel C’s back on track now
Ahead of her apperance in Jesus Christ Superstar in Belfast, ex-Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm tells Ed Power that she is finally at peace with herself.
Melanie Chisholm has had a “bonkers” year, but there is good bonkers and bad bonkers, and it's not immediately clear which sort she is talking about.
Professionally, things are peachy. The Spice Girls performed at the Olympics closing ceremony and, contrary to general expectations, did not end up pulling one another's hair out in the dressing room (maybe we were blinded by all the fireworks, but was Posh actually smiling at one point?).
As they sang ‘Wannabe’, it was as if a decade and a half had fallen away and we were back in the glory days of Girl Power.
Chisholm, aka Mel C, also has a blossoming career in musical theatre — she's in town in her role as the original hooker with a heart of gold, Mary Magdalene, in Jesus Christ Superstar — and has just released an umpteenth album.
Off stage, though — oh my. In July, after 10 years and one child, she split from her partner, the property developer Thomas Starr (45).
In a hotel suite on a quiet Saturday morning, Chisholm is still visibly brittle about the break-up. You ask how it feels to be single again — a 38-year-old mother-of-one at that — and see a world of hurt in her eyes.
“I haven't given it any thought,” she says. “My priorities are my little girl and me. I'm very busy with work and busy taking care of her, and everything else is ... you know ...”
Chisholm has suffered from depression in the past; terrible episodes during which she would binge eat, stay up all night crying and sit alone in her house for days.
Since the start of her relationship with Starr — they met holidaying in Barbados in 2002 — things got unimaginably better.
Does she worry that, with the rock in her life suddenly gone, she will be at risk again?
“I found that as I'm growing older, especially having become a mum, I feel very courageous. Of course, you never know what life is going to throw at you. You can't tell what lies around the corner. I feel confident I am able to face the world, at this moment at least,” she says.
Chisholm is, to be fair, looking fabulous, in a long patterned dress. She is more glamorous than you expect, and curvier too — a world removed from the tracksuited Sporty persona that the singer cultivated in the Spice Girls.
Sporty was regarded as aggressive,
butch. There were unfounded rumours that she was a lesbian.
“I would read about myself as being all these things — outspoken and masculine. And I'd think, ‘I'm not! I'm quite feminine’,” says Chisholm. “You know, I do have opinions and I'm not afraid to voice them. A hard person? No, that isn't me.
“The sexuality thing; if you are in a pop group or an actor in the public eye, then these questions are asked. It's a funny one. Who cares if you are gay? Whose business is it anyway. But when you're not, it's like, ‘Well, actually I'm not’.”
If she found it difficult to adjust to life as a Spice Girl, what followed was even worse.
The group fizzled out in December 2000, done in by a duff third album and the departure, 18 months earlier, of Geri Halliwell. It took a lot of getting used to and, at first, Chisholm wasn't really equipped to deal with the transition. As a coping mechanism, she developed an addiction to exercise and an eating disorder. She was all skin and ribs within a few months.
Then, fearing for her health — she was so underfed she thinks she may have permanently damaged her bones — she started putting the weight back on and found she couldn't stop. Curries, kebabs, lager — she gorged on it all.
Tabloid pictures surfaced of her looking bloated, almost obese. She was too embarrassed to leave the house.
“As I put on weight, I became terrified of the papers coming after me,” she says. “It would occupy my every waking thought.” She blames herself, rather the tabloids and their prurient fascination with her weight.
“I didn't deal with that time very well,” Chisholm says. “I had issues with an eating disorder and was exercising obsessively. There was a point my body couldn't take any more. I was diagnosed with depression. Thank goodness I went to see my GP. He told me there was something wrong with me.
“That was a relief in a way. I thought, ‘Wow, there's a reason I feel the way I do. I have a chemical imbalance’.
“I was on antidepressants for about 18 months. I did lots of alternate therapy and acupuncture. It was a slow healing process,” she adds.
When she became pregnant with her daughter Scarlet, Chisholm worried about post-natal depression. “Actually, I had an amazing pregnancy,” she says. “I found that, having become pregnant, I was very much relaxed. That has continued with being a mum as well. It has had a very positive effect on my life.”
Chisholm took six months off work after Scarlet arrived. For a time, she thought that she might never go back, that she would settle down as a stay at home mum.
“I didn't know what to expect. This was my first child,” she says. “So I thought, ‘Well, I'll go with the flow’. I was prepared to give up work and be a full-time mum if that was what my heart desired. But that's not what I felt. I love my work.”
As a working mother, it is a wrench to be away from Scarlet. When she toured with a West End production of Blood Brothers, she experienced horrible pangs of guilt. Scarlet is three now and yet Chisholm feels twinges to this day.
The Spice Girls' Olympics reunion was, by all accounts, touch and go right until the last minute.
“Everyone is busy,” says Chisholm. “Victoria has her fashion. She has a collection ready to go. Sometimes she is working so hard it is difficult for her travel between LA and New York and London.
“Everyone has responsibilities and you can't just drop them because of the wonderful opportunity that comes up to perform with the Spice Girls.” Chisholm has said that she found the performance nerve-wracking, that it was “weird” getting together again. Maybe some of the girls felt even more strongly?
Chisholm's best friend in the line-up was Baby Spice Emma Bunton (they duet on Chisholm's new album). She has a more complicated relationship with Geri Halliwell, whom she believes helped kill off the Spice Girls by walking out in 1998.
The rest of the girls were angry with Halliwell for a long time, says Chisholm. They didn't properly reconcile until their 2007 reunion.
There is a second theory as to why the Spice Girls crashed and burned so spectacularly.
Shortly before Halliwell bailed, they sacked their manager Simon Fuller (who briefly dated Bunton). He had been instrumental in the group's early success. Without Fuller, goes this school of thought, they were unable to sustain momentum.
More than her marriage even, it's clear Chisholm does not wish to talk about Fuller.
“I think our relationship with him at the time had run its course,” she says.
“There were certain things we weren't happy with. It was the right decision. None of us have any regrets about that at all.”