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Friendship never ends: Mel B’s Kiwi catch up

The fun-loving star divulges her spicy secrets

She’s been stuck in traffic on a steamy 40-degree day in Sydney, so when Mel B finally arrives on set for our exclusive photo shoot almost two hours behind schedule, we’re expecting Scary Spice to be, well, just a little bit scary.

But as soon as the smiling star bursts through the studio doors, she instantly puts our stressed-out team at ease with fond memories from our last shoot – she still recalls the zebra-print shoes we were wearing four years ago – and starts pawing through the outfits we’ve sourced from top New Zealand designers.

“Ooh, I like that,” she exclaims in her husky Leeds accent, holding up a suit from World. “I really love it.” And she’s a big fan of the frocks we’ve borrowed from Miss Crabb too. These aren’t the only Kiwi treats we have for Melanie Brown. There’s a packet of Pineapple Lumps, which she reckons taste more like banana, and a bottle of cabernet sauvignon from Hawke’s Bay, which she cracks open halfway through the shoot.

By this stage, the sound system is blasting her “Mel B Megamix” – a compilation of old-school R&B and the latest hits from Rihanna, Justin Bieber and her mate Missy Elliott – and we’re having our own private dance party … with a Spice Girl! It’s a dream come true for anyone who grew up in the ’90s.

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It was 20 years ago now, in 1996, that Scary, Baby, Ginger, Posh and Sporty first burst on to the music scene with their decade-defining debut single “Wannabe”. Amid a blaze of girl power, platform boots and Mel’s trademark animal print, the band’s undeniably catchy pop went on to make them the best-selling female group ever.

“It doesn’t seem that long ago, to be honest,” grins Mel, 40, “but it makes me smile to think we really have lasted that long and are still somewhat relevant in people’s lives. I mean, 20 years ago, it was just us five girls, who started out with no record company and no funding. We were all broke, living off beans and toast, which was fine because I like beans on toast – I still do!

“But we worked so hard to write music, to sing, to earn money, to survive and just to have some fun. All of us five came together in such a unique way and we hoped we were going to leave some sort of fun, pro-woman imprint. It gives me butterflies in my tummy when people tell me we created so many happy memories.”

Top-secret talks

Mel and her bandmates have been in discussions about a 20th anniversary Spice Girls reunion. However latest news swirling round the internet is that Melanie Chisholm is reportedly dropping out of any reunion. And it’s been rumoured Victoria Beckham will only be watching from the front row, having given up performing in favour of her fashion career. During the interview with Woman’s Day Mel says firmly, “We are in talks of doing something, but until we can actually figure that out, then there is nothing to be said on that just yet.”

Mel recently made headlines when she declared that Victoria can be “just a little bit of a bitch to people”, but she insists there’s no feud and says Posh is the Spice Girl she’d most like to be trapped in a wine cellar with, explaining, “She’s a fun person with a brilliant sense of humour. Add some wine to that? Hilarious!”

“We worked so hard to write music, to sing, to earn money, to survive and just to have some fun,” says Mel. [L-R] Mel C, Geri, Victoria and Emma.

It was back in the group’s heyday, in 1998, that Emma, Geri and Victoria (then newly engaged to David Beckham) enjoyed a girly holiday at a fishing lodge in Whangaroa, in the Far North, where they were seen singing karaoke and drinking jugs of Lion Red.

Both Mels skipped the trip, with Scary opting to sunbathe topless in Tahiti with her then-boyfriend. Sporty later made up for her absence with a performance at a Napier vineyard in 2014. So that makes Mel B the only Spice Girl never to have visited NZ, which seems an oversight, especially given she spent two years in Sydney as a judge on The X Factor Australia!

“It’s crazy,” she concedes. “I’ve heard it’s beautiful – insanely gorgeous.” But Mel hasn’t watched any of the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit movies and she’s never heard of the All Blacks, despite the haka being name-checked in her worldwide hit “Spice up Your Life”. That said, Mel does recall the Spice Girls getting in trouble for performing the blokes-only dance in Bali back in 1997. With a throaty laugh, she confesses, “Well, we were naughty girls back in the day – and we still are now!”

A national treasure that’s more familiar to Mel is Kiwi chart-topper Lorde, who she adores. “She’s doing amazing things right now and I like how she’s not conforming to the pop-star stereotype with her unique look – the minimal make-up and androgynous outfits.” And she’s a fan of “hot, hot, hot” dancer Parris Goebel. After the release of her US club hit “For Once in My Life” in 2013, Los Angeles-based Mel has taken a step back from music to focus on her TV work. She recently hosted the UK version of Lip Sync Battle – where Coronation Street’s Michelle Keegan serenaded her with a performance of “Wannabe” – and she’s now on to her fourth season of judging America’s Got Talent alongside Heidi Klum and Simon Cowell.

Hubby Stephen is “my hot best friend”, says Mel.

Home & heart

Mel’s three daughters are back in the States while she’s making appearances in Australia. Phoenix, 17, whose dad is Mel’s ex-husband Jimmy Gulzar, is learning to drive and desperate to go to the Coachella music festival, while Angel, eight, fathered by Eddie Murphy, is following in her mother’s footsteps by writing songs and making music videos on her iPad. “It’s really sweet,” Mel tells. “If performing is what she wants to do with her life, I’ll support that. I always say to my kids, ‘Find something you absolutely love and make that your career.’ You have to love what you do.”

As for four-year-old Madison, her mum smiles, “She’s got crazy, gorgeous hair and big, doughy brown eyes. She’s very cute, but I would say that, wouldn’t I? And she’s got a wicked sense of humour.” Maddie’s father is Mel’s husband of nine years, Stephen Belafonte, 40, who she describes as “my hot best friend”. She tells, “He’s very thoughtful and romantic. For example, when we landed in Sydney yesterday, I was like, ‘Honey, I’m starving!’ so he went to the fish market to get me some fresh langoustines [scampi] and cooked them beautifully in garlic. He’s a big cook, so I get really spoilt.”

With her beloved daughters (from left) Angel, Phoenix and Madison.

Mel’s campaign for Jenny Craig was a huge success in NZ and Australia, and she still follows the eating plan, with regular cheat days – she calls them “F— it Fridays” – where she can indulge in pizza and Stephen’s more decadent culinary creations. But she makes up for these by working out “like a fiend” with boot-camp sessions, hikes and exercise classes.“I’ve kept the weight off,” says Mel, “but I’m a curvy girl – I’ve always had boobs and a butt – and I’m actually a little bit curvier these days. But I kind of like it.”

And with that, she pockets the last of the Pineapple Lumps, empties her wine glass and plasters us with hugs, kisses and a cheeky grope, then she’s off to her next appointment, promising to visit us in NZ soon. It’s like we’ve just had a fun catch-up with our best girlfriend, who just happens to be an international superstar. Nothing Scary about that!

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