Arts·Q

Melanie C tells us what we want, what we really really want to know in her candid new memoir

Melanie Chisholm, a.k.a. Sporty Spice, speaks to Tom Power about her new memoir, "The Sporty One: My Life as a Spice Girl," 25 years after the group skyrocketed her to fame.

Sporty Spice speaks to Tom Power about her 'Life as a Spice Girl,' 25 years after the group's debut

Melanie C, aka Sporty Spice, stands against a red backdrop zipping up a matching red hoodie.
Melanie C, a.k.a. Sporty Spice. (Welbeck Publishing)

In 1994, 20-year-old Melanie Chisholm answered an ad going around the U.K. seeking young women with the ability to sing and dance, who were also "streetwise, outgoing, ambitious and dedicated." With that audition, she became one of the Spice Girls and her life was changed forever.

In her new memoir, The Sporty One: My Life as a Spice Girl, Chisholm — known to fans of the group as Sporty Spice — details how she became known for backflips and tracksuits while shining a light on the harder moments. 

"We're so lucky. Just the way it worked out, because we had zero experience," she says in a new interview with Tom Power on CBC's Q

Melanie Chisholm, better known as Sporty Spice, is a founding member of the world's biggest all-female pop group: the Spice Girls. But life in the Spice Girls involved a lot more than peace signs and girl power. In her new memoir, The Sporty One: My Life as a Spice Girl, Chisholm opens up about the consequences of fame and learning to thrive on her own.

Chisholm's fellow group mates were Emma Bunton, Mel B (Melanie Janine Brown), Geri Halliwell and Victoria Beckham; also known as Baby Spice, Scary Spice, Ginger Spice, and Posh Spice.

The girls relied on self-belief and supported one another, never doubting that they were going to become successful, she says.

The Spice Girls became style icons, starred in the 1997 film Spice World, and toured sold-out shows worldwide. 25 years later, they are still the best-selling girl group of all time, having sold over 100 million records.

"What I love about the Spice Girls is it was so mainstream that it was able to reach so many people and really young fans as well," says Chisholm. "I think that's what made us stand the test of time." 

Each Spice Girl had their own distinct personality, allowing fans to identify with each of them. 

"We were all young girls growing up from very different parts of England, but with similar experiences, and we wanted to show that and we wanted to express that."

"Girl Power" became their mantra, bringing '90s Riot Grrrl feminism to the mainstream. They sang about sisterhood, creating anthems for a new generation.

Chisholm says that despite the Spice Girls sharing a lot of the same values as the punk rock movement, pop music was "looked down on at the time."

Critics said that the group was manufactured by men, invalidating the band's branding of authenticity. Chisholm counters that because the music industry is still male-dominated, there are men behind every music act.

The band used that criticism as fuel, motivating them to prove everyone wrong, she says.

"We were expressing ourselves in the way that felt comfortable to us. We were super genuine because we grew up listening to pop music. We weren't trying to be anything. We wanted to make pop music, but we still felt it was important to be a girl band for girls."

Melanie C, aka Sporty Spice, laughing as she sits cross-legged on the ground in bright blue sweatpants.
Melanie C, a.k.a. Sporty Spice. (Welbeck Publishing)

While Chisholm tells Q that she wouldn't change a thing about her experience, she notes that there was a dark side to the immense fame. She was frustrated with strangers' opinions of her being written in the media, and found comments about her physical appearance difficult to navigate.

"It was my childhood dream to work in music," she says, "and some of these comments, they just kind of wobbled me. I thought, 'Whoa, do I not look the way I need to look to achieve this?'" 

In reaction, Chisholm started to restrict her eating, as she felt it was the only thing she could control. She used the gym as an escape from outside pressures and opinions. It was at the moment of her greatest success with the Spice Girls, while making a solo album, that Chisholm says was the lowest point in her life.

"I was lonely. I was depressed. I was battling issues and then you feel guilty because you think, 'I've got everything, how do I not feel happy?'"

Chisholm kept it hidden, avoiding social situations and eating in public. Little did she know, fellow Spice Girl Geri Horner (Halliwell) was struggling with an eating disorder as well.

Horner's challenges with bulimia led to her seemingly shocking departure from the band in 1998. This was devastating to Chisholm, and it took her time to process and really believe that she was done performing with the band.

"We knew we needed some time out. We were all exhausted, we were burnt out. But we got into this together."

This was one of the reasons writing a memoir was so important to Chisholm. She sees it as a connection to those who face the same struggles no matter what walk of life they are from.

"There have been difficulties in my life and obstacles I've had to overcome, and there've been some very painful moments," she says. "Being able to write about it openly and honestly, I know it's really helpful for people, because I know it helped me in my darkest times."

After years of people writing about her, Chisholm is excited to have the opportunity to do it for herself. 

"It's been so beautifully received and that feels good. It's nice to get your story out, in your words," she tells Q.

Chisholm wants to lift the lid on fame, and warn those who aspire to be famous that it's not all fun and games. 

"We often talk about regrets and it's a real waste of energy because you can't go back and you can't change things. But all we can do is learn and grow from those things." 

Chisholm has released eight studio albums, and has reunited with the Spice Girls to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their album Spiceworld.

"Being a Spice Girl is the best thing ever," says Chisholm. "Once a Spice Girl, always a Spice Girl."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lian McMillan is a writer for CBC News Entertainment and Education. She holds a bachelor of music from the University of Toronto and is completing Humber College's radio and media production graduate certificate program. She can be reached at @lian.mcmillan on Twitter.

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