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  It's a celebration, motivation, generation next.... 

Melody Maker - August 1997
Indie Spice - Flippin' 'Ell, It's Mel!

Her kung-fu kicks, sporty troos and backflips are legendary. But did you know Mel C's also a raging socialist who zig-a-zig-ahs to Oasis and Blur? We took her down to the capital of indiedom, Camden, and just survived to tell the tale...

Birds do it. Blokes do it. Even educated fleas do it. Probably. In fact, over the last few months, everybody's been doing it. High court judges, high-flying city slickers and high-as-a-kite ravers have done it. Tony Blair, Prince Charles and Damon Albarn have all done it in public. And, yes, us lot at the Melody Maker do it too.

All the time, as it happens.

Yup, as phenomenons go, the "Who's your favourite Spice Girl?" game is right up there with the big ones: "Blur or Oasis?", "Mirage or Taboo - which one are you?", that sort of thing. True, by now, it's been replaced as the pub/parlour game of "choice" by the eternal "Which one off 'This Life' would you most like to shag?"/"Which one of 'Friends' would you most like to punch?" question, but that's purely because the only people yet to make up their minds are dead.

If you were a fan of the downright obvious you went for brassy, busty, Ginger Spice, Geri Halliwell. If you were slightly less obvious, you chose sweet, schoolgirl-ish Baby Spice, Emma Bunton. If you had nerves of steel, you could opt for feisty, fiery Scary Spice, Mel Brown. If you were a thick footballer looking for a shag, it was cool, classy Posh Spice, Victoria Adams, every time.

But for the indie kids of the nation, there could be only one choice. The Spice Girl who was into football, not just footballers. The Spice Girl with the tattoos, the backflips and the take-no-sh#@! attitude. The Spice Girl who told Liam Gallagher - Liam f#@king Gallagher! - to come and have a go if he thought he was hard enough. Yup, we're talking the one woman, three stripe riot that is Sporty Spice, Melanie Chisholm.

It was only the name that needed to change. "Sport?" cried the nation's independently-minded youth. "We have no time for Sport! We have Urusei Yatsura albums to be listening to!"

Well, fear not, ladies and gentlemen of The Kids. Yet again, your caring, sharing, super, soaraway Maker is here to save the day. For today we have lured Mel C away from the clutches of her fellow Spicettes to a dingy photo studio in East London where, very shortly, she will be transformed into One Of Us.

Gone! will be the trademark florescent Adidas trackie bottoms and tied back hair. In! will be indie-friendly all-black and shaggy post-grunge barnet. And then we're taking her down the Monarch for some no-holds-barred larger'n'punk rock action. No, really, we are. And Mel C is more mad for it than a Knebworth's-full-of Liam Gallaghers.

"I'd much rather be Indie Spice than Sporty Spice," she grins in full-on Scouse brogue, slotting "OK Computer" into the CD player. "I've got all this pressure to keep trim as Sporty Spice. I used to drink loads of pints of Kronenbourg and black but I had to stop cos I was getting a beer gut. But I could probably be fat old lazy Spice if I was the indie one..."

Radiohead! Lager'n'black! A desire to loaf about all day! How much more lo-fi could she be without actually playing bass for Smog?

Last night I went out for 14 pints of lager and a curry with the lads. Tonight, I'm going out with a Spice Girl. If I can just squeeze in pulling an air hostess and scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup Final then the answer to Monday morning's traditional "What did you do at the weekend?" - type questions should see me installed as Loaded Editor-In-Chief-For-All-Eternity by lunchtime. Because truly, there is something about the words "Spice" and "Girls" that has a disturbing effect on the psyche of anyone in possession of a Y chromosome.

Witness the crazy scenes as your correspondent and Melanie C arrive at Camden Town tube station - a location regularly frequented by Liam, Noel, Damon and Morrissey to a notable lack of eyelid batting effect. Within seconds of the first popping flashbulb, Mel has stopped the Saturday nigh Camden clubbers in their tracks. Within a minute, a huge crowd has formed. Another minute and gangs of lads start chanting "We love you Sporty, we do!" and asking her to go for a drink. It's bedlam. Mel C's security look twitchy. Us indie losers look shell-shocked.

Meanwhile, Mel herself acts like this sort of thing happens to her every day. But then, of course it does. Since "Wannabe" first stomped all pop opposition to dust a year or so ago, the Great British press and public have been locked into a feeding frenzy of piranha proportions. Not a day passes without a major Spice story in the papers, on the telly, everywhere. Their nine-times platinum LP "Spice" still nestles snugly in the Top Five of the album chart. None of the five Spice Girls can walk down the street without being mobbed. And none of them care. They have made their own bedlam - and they're quite happy to lie in it.

Certainly, at the eye of the storm, all is calm. Mel Chisholm is possibly the most relaxed, down-to-earth superstar your correspondent has ever interviewed. She describes being in the Spice Girls as being "absolutely f#@king mental" but you'd describe her as being anything but. Which is pretty amazing when you consider that, if the Spice Girls were a guitar band, they'd have all cracked up months ago.

"Well yeah, but I never really wanted anything else in my life. And now I've got it I'm willing to do anything to keep it. No one's going to f#@k it up for me. I've never once wished I wasn't a Spice Girl."


"All right, sometimes when you're jet lagged to f#@k and doing another photo session and the photographer is being all arty and slow, you might think 'Do I really want to be here?' But then you wake up the next day and think 'Yes, I do.'

"You know, being famous is f#@king fun! You've got money, you're doing all these fantastic things, going to fantastic places... you're telling me that's not fun? And you get all these indie bands f#@king moaning... Ah come on, get a life! You'd really be moaning if you were back on the dole!"

Oh, I don't know. To look at most Britpop bands' albums this year, you'd think that's precisely where they wanted to go...

"Yeah, all these people who are cool and don't want to be mainstream... Come on, f#@k off, if you sell a million albums who gives a f#@k? I mean, Blur were cool, but now that they're totally commercial they aren't down with that so that pisses them off? f#@k off! What's the point of them trying to be 'cool' again. They are cool, they don't need to try. Credibility doesn't bother me at all. Not. At. All. I mean, I'd love to be cool. When I was younger that's all I wanted but now I just look at my bank balance and think 'Bothered.'"

Oh dear. it seems Ms Chisholm may have some way to go down the stony path to indierighteousness after all. Taxi! Indiedom, please - and don't spare the horses!

"Exscushe me luv, but are you one of them , Splice Girls?"

You know you're f#@king famous when the winos hanging around Camden Market know who you are. Even here, as Mel C poses outside the now deserted home of crap leather jackets and - oh the irony - hideously over-priced old skool Adidas gear, she cannot remain entirely unmolested by autograph hunters.

But then, even if you spend your nights in Regents Park with only yesterday's papers between you and the stars, you're bound to know Mel. Because, truly, the Fourth Estate is physically incapable of going a single day without splashing her (or Victoria's or Emma's or Geri's or Mel B's) face (or tits or legs or arse or sprained ankle) all over its pages. All a bit of a laugh over the morning Lucozade for us punters but if you're the centre of their "attentions"...

"...it's a pain in the arse," giggles Mel. "They camp outside out houses, they go through our bins but, y'know, I'm making f#@king money and I'm getting all the glory so if they want to camp outside my house, so be it."

They must have written something that upset you? "Oh yeah," she grins. "Being linked with Kavana [s**te teeny-bop popster]. I was f***ing embarrassed about that. At least I could get someone remotely attractive. He's a little boy! As if!"

Mel C is unique among the Spice Girls in not having had an ex-boyfriend dish the dirt on her ("It must be cos I'm so nice," she chortles. "Or maybe they're just that bloody thick. Or maybe I just haven't got any ex-boyfriends...") but the tabloids have nevertheless done the dirty on her twice. Once, they found out she had a 15-year-old half-sister that her dad had never told her about. The other time, well, heeeeere's Sporty:

"Oh, I had the big drugs scandal. My Cocaine Shame. An old friend of mine had pictures of me at a party and people were doing cocaine in the pic behind me. The frustrating thing was I wasn't doing cocaine at that party. Typical. If I was, I wouldn't have minded, at least I would have been guilty as charged. But who gives a f*** really?" Well, Mel C does, for a start. She's disarmingly frank on many aspects of the Spice Girls phenomenon but drugs is the one area where the interview coaching the girls have allegedly had really kicks in. You can almost see the ghost of Brian Harvey, the stigmata scars of his tabloid crucifixion still visible, appear behind her as we broach the subject.

So, have you ever taken drugs?

"I don't want to talk about that. I can't talk about that really."

Does that mean yes?

"No comment. No."

Will you get into trouble if you talk about it?

"Not professionally, but personally."

Are you anti-drugs?

"I am now, yeah. I'm very anti-drugs."

With all the drugs sloshing around the music business, you must have been tempted?

"No. We don't get offered drugs really. The last time was when I was out clubbing. Some stranger just came up and said 'Do you want this?' and I'm like [dons most sarcastic voice ever heard] 'Oh yeah, please!' As if! If it wasn't for the British press we probably would all be complete druggy pissheads. But we can't, we have to keep our noses clean cos they're watching us night and day. Maybe I should thank them for keeping me on the rails!"

When acid house hit Britain, Mel C was a full-on raver. If she didn't take drugs back then she was about the only clubber who didn't. So she must be worried about getting the Brian Harvey treatment, right?

"I'd never make the mistake to do that. I wouldn't want to test the waters and see. I mean, our fans are predominately little kids. It depends on your image. Everyone expects it from the Gallaghers, but East 17 are a teenybop boy band. Brian Harvey, what a geek. He obviously has done too many Es, saying that. I'm really against drugs. If you want to take them, that's cool, but it's not for me."

Hmm. And that would seem to be the end of it. Except later, we're talking about measurements of fame and Mel C says: "There's a new E tab named after us! That's terrible, isn't it? Cos you imagine, little kids, they go for anything with Spice Girls on. We were wondering if there are individual ones for each of us: like, if you want one with a kick you get a Sporty and if you want a mild one you get a Baby... it's not a laughing matter though, is it?" You can't help but fear the nation's tabloid editors will heartily agree.

Of course, if drugs were legal in this country, you'd fully expect there to be an official Spice Girls E tab. After all, there's an official Spice Girls everything else. On any trip to the shops - as well as the official records, video, book, T shirt and magazine - you can drink the Spice Girls drink (Pepsi), eat the Spice Girls crisps (Walkers) and even take snaps with the official Spice Girls camera (Polaroid). Playing the concerned parent for a moment, I ask if all this corporate branding isn`t getting out of control. I expect a PR puff-type of answer. Instead I get this:

"This is what we think: the British public are fickle as f*** and at the moment we are majorly successful. So we just think, if we can do it, let`s do it. Let`s do everything, let`s push every barrier and see how far we can go. We`re just five normal girls who got together and made a few songs. Suddenly it's gone worldwide, we're making a film-we're making a f***ing film!-and it's like what else can we do? Everyone's just been fished in."

Here at last is a pop star who makes no bones about having hard cash as a primary motivation. Not very indie, possibly, horribly mercenary, probably, but also pretty refreshing. So, just how loaded are you then? "Unfortunately, not anywhere near as rich as the papers say. I'm not a millionaire yet. I'm not! Well, maybe on paper, but not in the bank. But you won't catch me doing a Bros. I`m just trying to make sure me and my family are all right for life, then I don't give a f***."

Spoken like a true socialist. Which, you may be somewhat surprised to learn, Mel C is. To Mel, Mrs Thatcher wasn't the original Spice Girl: she was the evil bitch who ripped the heart out of her native Liverpool. "That Mrs Thatcher thing really pissed me off. I was brought up in Liverpool where everyone`s a socialist, and to f***ing get branded a Tory was the most hurtful thing that`s ever been written about me. I wanted a retraction cos I thought, 'I can`t walk round the streets of Liverpool with everyone thinking I`m a f***ing Tory.'"

Not that Tony Blair should get too complacent about her support. "New Labour is just the Old Conservatives, isn`t it? Everything`s just changed and they've all blended into one. Nobody can please everybody but when they do stuff like make students pay for their tuition it's like 'Hello?' Mind you, William Hague's just a complete egghead, isn't he?"

So what's she like then, this "indie" Spice Girl? Well, as we meet her at the photo studio, it's clear she's an oasis of normality obscured by a forest of management, security and stylists. She's endearingly chuffed at passing her driving test at the first attempt this very morning. She's very friendly, has a filthy laugh and, as you may have gathered, swears a phenomenal amount for someone who spends a significant part of her life on TV. She's like one of the lads really, only with better abdominal muscles. As for her indie credentials, well, the CDs she's brought along for the shoot include Radiohead, Chemical Brothers and Skunk Anansie and only one major indiscretion: "Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?" by Paula Cole.

"I love indie music now," she grins. "Back in 1991 I was into hardcore and going out raving. Then a few years later my friend who was into indie said 'You've got to listen to this!' At first I was like 'I'm not listening to f***ing indie music, I'm a raver, me.' But that record was 'Parklife' and I was converted from that day..."

The best gig Mel C ever saw was Blur at Mile End. She loves Supergrass and Oasis. She'd like Skin from Skunk Anansie to join her band ("She could be Very Scary Spice!"). She fancies Liam and Damon. She hasn`t heard the Period Pains record, but she knows who Kenickie are and knows they always get called "the indie Spice Girls". ("Must be dreadful," she smiles. "I'd hate to be called the pop Kenickie".) And when the Spice Girls and the Manics got two Brits apiece at the '97 ceremony, she was "hideously embarrassed". "I mean," she smiles, "I know who I'd have voted for." In other words, she fits right in to the MM universe. But she's still surprised to be here.

"Surprised and honoured. I just hope you're not going to take the piss out of me. I mean, what's the average MM reader? He's probably a bloke who wants to f*** three of the Spice Girls... and I'm not one of those three, unfortunately. Blokes like the Spice Girls to annoy their girlfriends, don't they? But I think the Makers' readers can appreciate our attitude cos we really don't give a f***."

Mel C admits she "probably wouldn't" like the Spice Girls it she wasn't in them. But was she ever actually in an indie band?

"No, but I always wanted to be. There was always an indie band at school and they were always dead cool. I always wanted to go out with one of the lads in it and sing for them but they didn't want to know. I was a bit of a pleb at school, I'm afraid."

Oh well, perhaps whoever's treading the so-called boards down the Monarch tonight will make you an offer.

"Yeah, I like going to gigs. It's better than dance clubs where the music's s**te and everyone just goes to get off their nut. At least at indie clubs you can appreciate the music...'

Spoken like the bass player with Smog, I'm sure you'll agree! So, photos done, it's definitely time to hit Camden.

Once there, we hook up with yet more security who, when quizzed about Hairy Situations They Have Known, simply shrug their massive shoulders and say: "We're here to make sure things don't get hairy." Fair enough, but their proud record of avoiding hirsute scenarios looks like it might be sacrificed this evening. Certainly, the mayhem at the tube station is repeated when Mel poses for photos outside the Monarch, proving that even the cool Camden clique isn't above a bit of good, old-fashioned Spicemania. We flee the madness, aiming to lose ourselves in the crush watching ropey old punk band Gigantic inside. But even here, as soon as the crowd realise there's a genuine megastar in their midst, they cease watching the band and start watching Mel instead. We stay until the end of the set and then we run for our lives.

Safely ensconced in a reassuringly empty pub, the newly-christened Indie Spice ponders her baptism by fire.

"They were really good," she grins. "That bloke looks a bit funny, but he can really sing."

Ah, but can you, Mel C? That funny looking bloke from Gigantic and most MM readers would probably sneer and call you "manufactured".

"So f***ing what? I mean, I could get all frustrated about it and point out that we left our original management cos we didn't want to do what someone else told us to. But it's not worth it. Some people don't even believe we write our own f***ing tunes..."

Er, that was my next question, actually.

"We co-write them with our producers. We're not musicians... well, vocally we are, but we don't play instruments. Our producers do the music but the melodies and lyrics, that's all us."

So, what do you say to Noel Gallagher over his famous "Isn't it about time the Spice Girls did some gigs" jibe?

"We met Noel the night he said that, actually. He came over to us at the Capital Awards and we were all dead excited cos we all love Oasis. And he says 'I just wanted to come over and say hello while I still can.' We were wondering why he'd said that and then he goes up to get his award. And we're like 'Oh, that's why you said it, you cock.' And then he did a runner. But y'know, if Oasis are bigger than God then what does that make us? Bigger than Buddha? Cos we're a darn sight f***ing bigger than Oasis..."

Lawks. With fighting talk like that, no wonder brother Liam has yet to take Mel up on her offer to step outside.

"Yeah, I think he's avoiding me. Could I have him in a scrap? Yeah! Cos I'm from Liverpool and he's from Manchester and we're harder!"

Perhaps this is what they mean by Girl Power. I say perhaps because even Mel herself seems unsure as to the exact meaning of the phrase.

"It's really difficult to explain," she says. "It's just about getting girls to stand up for themselves. It's to do with media perception of what a woman should be like. There are so many kids with eating disorders and it's down to models in magazines. It's like, come on, that's not a normal person."

Many people would say the Spice Girls offer just as unrealistic an image of womanhood.

"Well yeah, I can see that we're all fairly attractive and not obese or anything. But that makes it even more horrifying when someone takes a dodgy pic of Victoria with a double chin and puts the headline 'Podge Spice' on it. If the papers are calling us fat, what the hell is some young girl who is big going to think? It's disgusting really."

Are you a feminist?

"I don't know. I don't think so. I'm not that political. I just think everyone should be able to do what they want to do, I don't want to ram anything down people's throats."

Mel thinks Loaded is "f***ing great". She says Page Three is "tacky and cheap", even when Geri did it, "but it doesn't offend me". She heard of Riot Girl and "Bikini Overkill" (sic) through an episode of "Roseanne". She is not, it seems fair to say, Germaine Greer. But then you'll see precious few examples of young girls learning to fight back against their male playground oppressors by reading "Female Eunuch". Or see pics of Germaine forcing the traditional male pin-ups from the bedroom walls of a kerzillion teenage girls.

"Yeah, we're turning the nation into lesbians!" she giggles. "Well, I don't mind if we are cos then there'll be more boys to choose from and I might get a fella."

It needn't be a fella, Mel. Apparently you're very big in the lesbian "community".

"Am I?" she says, sounding mildly horrified. "That's quite complimentary, I suppose, cos women have good taste. I do get a lot of 'Ooh, she's the lesbian one' cos I haven't got a boyfriend and... well, I'm not butch, but I'm a bit of a tomboy. I don't like it much cos, well, I'm not and it's hard enough to get a bloke as it is. Mind you, blokes like lesbians, don't they? They think it's all a bit kinky."

Have you ever had a gay experience?

"No. Never. It's funny cos other members of the band say 'Oh, come on, everyone has fantasies about lesbian things' and I'm like 'Do they?' I'm straight. I'm very straight. I've got a lot of gay friends but there's no confusion in my mind about my sexuality."

Calm down, calm down! After all, the readers of a popular men's magazine recently voted you the 56th sexiest woman on the planet!

"That's the biggest pile of s**t. I beat supermodels and stuff. Hello? But I did beat Melanie B. It's always me and her who come last in everything. But Geri only comes top cos she gets her baps out. But I don't think about being a sex symbol. I still haven't got a fella."

Indeed, one tabloid recently claimed Mel hadn't had sex for a year.

"If you believe that, you'll believe anything. But I don't really get chatted up, I never have. Blokes talk to me about football rather than chatting me up."

Er, Mel, that's most blokes' idea of chatting someone up.

"You reckon? Oh. But we don't get groupies or anything. I did get one letter asking me to marry them, but it was from a 14-year-old boy. It's weird to think of boys up in their rooms with posters of us, but I think it's great teenage boys fantasising over us."

Blimey. For us, however, fantasy time is nearly over. Mel C must leave this indie utopia of grimy pubs and dodgy punk bands and go back to filming her movie debut, recording the Spice Girls' second album and generally being a megastar. And I must go and have a kebab. We sup up our pints and head for the car, pursued by the shouts and hollers of Camden's youth as we go.

Do you ever get sick of all this?

"Nah. We were talking about Richey Manic the other day and saying, if it all gets a bit much we might do something like that. Just disappear. Like them rappers. They're f***ing spliffing it up on some island somewhere, taking the piss out of everyone. Tupac and Biggie... yeah, we'll go and join them."

Somehow, you doubt it'll come to that. For Mel C has taken everything life can throw at her in her Adidas-shoed stride. She's been there, done it all and sold several million copies of the promotional T-shirt. Except for one thing. One solitary-yet-essential aspect of modern-day human existence has so far been denied her. But the Maker is here to put the last sticker in her Panini Life Experience Album.

Hey Mel! Who's your favourite Spice Girl?

"I like 'em all," she smiles. "But if I wasn't in the band, I'd be my favourite."

Ladies and gentlemen, Sporty Spice has left the building. But Indie Spice will see you down Club Spangle for a lager'n'black next Monday. Probably.

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