Last time I met Melanie Brown, she could not have been happier. The artist formerly known as Scary Spice was enjoying success as a judge on ‘The X Factor’, the public adored her once again, and most important of all, she was ecstatically in love with her husband, Stephen Belafonte. Not only were they soul mates, she told me, they shared an extraordinary intimacy; after seven years of marriage, they had sex five times a day. They were so compatible, she said, that she had basically married herself. She showed me the wedding-vow-renewal ring he had just bought her, and told me she was the luckiest woman in the world.
Only it turns out she was lying.
In her new memoir, ‘Brutally Honest’, Brown reveals that her marriage could not have been more unhappy. She claims Belafonte was abusive, and that she could only get through the day by snorting cocaine for breakfast. Had she not finally gathered the courage to leave, she believes she may well have ended up dead. Brown says she didn’t know the word back then, but she thinks she was a classic victim of gaslighting — made to feel so small, stupid and inadequate that she doubted her own sanity.
Two weeks after that 2014 interview was published, Brown attempted suicide. Somehow she managed to drag herself out of hospital to appear as a judge on the final of ‘The X Factor’. Viewers were shocked by her appearance: her cheek was bruised, and there were scratches on her arms. She was not wearing her wedding ring. Belafonte took to Twitter to defend himself: “I don’t usually respond to Twitter msgs but I will respond to comments of hitting my wife which I think are quite disgusting un true [sic]!”
Meanwhile, Brown said she had a stomach ulcer.
It’s an astonishing story — not least because this is Scary Spice we’re talking about, the girl in the leopard skin with a tongue stud, the very personification of girl power. What happened?
“I am a really bad person. I am worth nothing.”
Today, we meet in a photo studio in London. I can hear her laughter — throaty, raucous — before I see her. Brown, now 43, tends to dominate a room. She is in a white dressing robe, getting made up and giving her team the lowdown on Peter Andre, a former boyfriend. “He was so polite. He’d ask before he kissed me!”
I ask if she remembers showing me that ring four years ago. “Yes. I should have said, ‘Look what I bought myself’.”
Why did she lie about the ring being a gift? “You condition yourself. It was just lie after lie after lie, and I got used to lying. I didn’t want anyone to find out what was going on.”
Brown’s friends and family had warned her against Belafonte, an American film producer who already had previous crime records. In 2003, he pleaded no contest to a charge of battery against his former partner, estate agent Nicole Contreras. He also has convictions for theft and vandalism, and admitted to beating a duck to death with a brick.
When they met, she says, she was in a vulnerable place, having recently separated from the actor Eddie Murphy. After Brown became pregnant a few months into their relationship, Murphy had told a journalist: “I don’t know whose child that is until it comes out and has a blood test.”
Brown was portrayed in the press as a ruthless gold-digger — ironic considering she was worth a fortune at the time. A DNA test proved that Murphy was the father, and he now sees 11-year-old Angel regularly; but the relationship was over.
Soon afterwards, in 2007, she met Belafonte. “He was Prince Charming back then. He was sexy. He was very flattering.” She clicks her finger to illustrate each point. “He was loving and caring.” Another finger click. “He loved [her oldest daughter] Phoenix.” After a two-month courtship, they married.
Does she think he loved her? “No. No. No.” She weighs up each no, becoming more emphatic. “What he did, you can’t do that to someone if you love them. No, he didn’t love me.”
It’s hard to reconcile this with the fearless Mel B we thought we knew — the 16-year-old who left home to dance in Blackpool clubs; the 18-year-old who answered an advert in the Stage for a “streetwise, outgoing, ambitious, dedicated” girl to audition for an all-female pop act; the 21-year-old who became a household name as in-your-face Scary. The Spice Girls were an instant phenomenon, still the best-selling female group of all time.
Brown felt she had let her parents down when she divorced Jimmy Gulzar (her backing dancer in the Spice Girls and Phoenix’s father) in 2000, after only 16 months of marriage. After Angel’s birth, she felt she had let herself down again, a single mother of two children by two different men. In 2011, she had a third daughter, Madison, with Belafonte. The last thing she wanted, she says, was to embarrass her family by being the single mother of three daughters. So she hung on. And, of course, there was another factor: she felt terrified.
Last year, she stated in her divorce papers that she had been “subjected to multiple physical beatings”. One example cited occurred in 2012, when she was rehearsing for an appearance on Australia’s ‘X Factor’ with R‘n’B star Usher. She alleged that Belafonte “flew into a rage, claiming I had been flirting with Usher all day” and “punched me in the face with a closed fist”. Every detail was fodder for the tabloids. Meanwhile, lawyers for Belafonte branded the allegations “outrageous and unfounded” and “nothing more than a smear campaign”.
Before long, she felt incapable of fighting back.
But you always seemed so strong, I say. “No,” she says. “I’m only strong in certain ways. I’ve been painfully weak.”
How? “There was a point when I was like, ‘Yeah, I am a really bad person. I am ugly, I am worth nothing. I am a has-been Spice Girl.’ All these negative things that would be drilled into me on a daily basis by him. You start to believe it.”
Ending it all
What happened the day she tried to kill herself? “I just wanted that pain to go,” Brown says. “I didn’t want to exist.” What had brought it on? “The whole 10 years. I don’t remember what happened that day. I’ve got PTSD — I’m very raw about what I felt.”
But as soon as she swallowed the last pill in the bottle, she thought of her girls, screamed, and decided she had to live. She called a security guard, who got her help.
Brown was always the main breadwinner, and thankfully she says Belafonte wanted to keep it that way. “That was when I felt in control — when I was on TV, or in photoshoots, or being interviewed. That’s what kept me somewhat sane.”
She talks about the relief of being able to escape to Australia to film ‘The X Factor’ for a few weeks.
When Brown finally left Belafonte last year, she walked out of the house with just $936 (he controlled most of their accounts). How much did she have at her peak? “Gazillions. Millions and millions and millions.”
She says it was liberating walking away with so little. “I took back my freedom. And I knew, from that day forward, that I’d know where my money is going.”
Two weeks ago, Brown was awarded joint custody of their seven-year-old daughter, Madison, after passing several weeks of drug and alcohol testing. Both Brown and Belafonte were ordered to stay 200 yards away from each other, and Brown was ordered to pay his $350,000 legal fees.
Is she now Poor Spice? She laughs, and says no chance: she’s already on her way back. “Fortunately, in the last year and a half, I’ve actually earned a shitload of money. All the contracts he took charge of, I’m now managing myself.”
As well as the lucrative Spice Girls reunion, there will reportedly be a return to ‘America’s Got Talent’.
She says how excited she is about the forthcoming Spice Girls tour. There will only be four of the band, though — Victoria Beckham declined. Is it true that she told Beckham to, “[Expletive] off, you [expletive]”, as has been reported, when she snubbed them? “Well, anybody who knows me knows that’s my lingo, whether it be in a jokey way or whether I’m frustrated or annoyed.”
What was Beckham’s response? “I don’t think there was one. Hahahahaha! We’re all on a group email, us five. There’s lots of love and lots of history between all five of us, and between me and Victoria. Yeah, I’m feisty, and she can be feisty, too.”
The new Mel B
Having come through it all, she says she feels better than she has in decades. What does she hope people get out of the book? She mentions the final page, headlined ‘Fifteen Signs Of Abuse’. “I want it to be helpful to other women who have gone through it, or who are going through it. There are so many women that this has happened to. It’s an epidemic. I’m not just talking about the #MeToo movement, I’m talking about everywhere.”
But you did get out, I say. “Yeah, I know. Many women don’t make it out alive, and if they do they’re badly damaged. I’m one of the lucky ones.”