Spice Girl Mel B gives girl power to women in Leeds fleeing domestic abuse
One of the world's biggest music stars was sitting in an extravagant hotel room in London - about to take a fatal overdose of up to 200 pills.
Melanie Brown – Mel B or Scary Spice from arguably the world’s most famous girl band of all time – had saved up the pills over a period of time, and this was how she planned to get out of an abusive and toxic relationship with her then husband and manager Stephen Belafonte.
It is one of many stark, honest and shocking revelations in her new book, “Brutally Honest” about her marriage and the domestic abuse, both physically and mentally, that she endured.
In an exclusive interview with the YEP Melanie, who divorced Belafonte last year, talked about that time and her new role as a patron of Women’s Aid.
Speaking about the attempt to take her own life in 2014, she said: “I was living a completely double life. There was my life was on TV, I was filming America’s Got Talent and living a complete hell. And I felt embarrassed by that.”
Despite the damage she had done to her body she appeared on X Factor two days later and the whole experience kick-started a change in her life.
It was two years later that she thought about writing the book which she has done with her friend and celebrity journalist, Louise Gannon. The release of the book this week has unintentionally coincided with her becoming patron of Women’s Aid and also the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Statistics show two women a week are killed by their partner or ex-partner.
She has launched a charity T-shirt campaign called Unbreakable and one of her first engagements was a visit to a Leeds Women’s Aid refuge in a secret location within the city where with the singer and some residents swapped stories.
A mother of three daughters, Melanie, 43, said: “If it wasn’t for places like Leeds Women’s Aid, where would they (victims of abuse) go? They would be dead. Three women a week take their own lives. They can’t cope, there is no other way and they think it is safer for them.”
Of the Leeds refuge, she added: “It is such a caring environment and I felt very privileged to be around that. It was calming to be around other women to talk about it, not be embarrassed about it and we shared stories, tears and laughter. It felt like home from home and I didn’t want to leave.”
Of her book and her new national Women’s Aid role she said: “There is a lot of rubbish written about me but this is my own story and stuff you are not meant to talk about whether that is sex, drugs, alcohol, being the perfect mother or not being the perfect mother.
“I did it for my three girls. I want them to be educated in the sense of what domestic violence is on an emotional and physical level. It does not happen overnight and it is not just one big fight or argument. It is chipping away.
“Becoming a patron was a complete shock and if this book helps one person I have done it for the right reason.”
Nik Peasgood, the chief executive of Leeds Women’s Aid said the visit by Mel B, who was keen to make her home city of Leeds the first place she visited as part of the campaign, had been important in several ways.
“The visit was incredibly important to us, as part of a national network to give us the exposure to be able to talk about domestic violence.
“It was wonderful and all weekend we have been amazed at how the women have responded to it.
“Some of them spoke about things with Melanie that they have not spoken about before.”
One of the most shocking stories shared by one woman was how she had also attempted to take her own life, but there was also a silver lining as Melanie met a 12 week-old baby who had been Leeds Women’s Aid’s first home birth.
Ms Peasgood added: “We offer a safe and calm place and we don’t pry. It is up to the women to talk when they are ready.
“For women going through this they feel like they are on their own and isolated but Melanie was so open about her experiences that there was a camaraderie among them.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, what you have and how much money you have or not - it can happen to anyone.
“There was a lady in the room who said they would just never get to meet someone like her but she said ‘she (Mel B) is just like me’.”
The singer, who continues to have court and legal battles with film producer Belafonte, says that even though they are divorced and with a history of restraining orders against him she continues to struggle with the effects of the ten year relationship – and also struggles to read her own book.
Melanie said: “I was quite amazed at some of the stuff that I had blocked out and to go back through ‘this happened on my wedding night’ or ‘that happened in the first year of marriage’ and how I ended up in this horrible situation.
“I could only read one chapter at a time - it was too much. I still can’t read it fully.”
She says: “ Even now when I look at some of the chapters I have to remember ‘that was me and I did go through that’.
“I am still going through that but I will learn how to deal with it and cope with it and even in Leeds I have learned so much.”
Leeds Women's Aid
In 1972 a group of local women activists got together to set up Leeds Women’s Aid and in 1973 the first refuge was opened in Burley on a peppercorn rent after convincing Leeds City Council to give them two run-down terraced houses.
It was the first women’s refuge outside of London and could house 10 women and 15 children at any one time. By 1990 Leeds Women’s Aid was the biggest women’s refuge in the country with places for women and children across three sites. In 1999, Leeds opened the first Domestic Violence Court in the UK at Leeds Magistrates Court with HALT as a key partner. HALT (Help, Advice and Law Team) had been set up in Leeds as a pilot project in 1992.
For 45 years, the organisation has continued to provide safe refuge accommodation and other vital support services for women and children in Leeds who have been affected by domestic violence and abuse.
Get help: 0113 246 0401 or leedswomensaid.co.uk