Spice Girl Melanie B awarded an MBE at Buckingham Palace
By: John-Paul Ricchio @johnpaulricchio
Melanie B speaks about Her Majesty, The Queen, The Platinum Jubilee, being Women’s Aid patron and being styled by Victoria Beckham for her day at the Palace.
Mel B and HRH Prince William Duke of Cambridge are reunited as the Prince awards Melanie B for her services to charitable causes and vulnerable women yesterday at Buckingham Palace in the UK. Melanie spoke to John-Paul Ricchio about her visit with the Prince and her work with Women’s Aid.
John-Paul Ricchio: Dear Melanie, it is so wonderful to speak with you today.
Melanie B: Thank you so much, John-Paul. Great to speak to you, too, and thank you for your support and everyone in Canada, also.
John-Paul Ricchio: In our last interview, you opened up about being a survivor of coercive and controlling behaviour — your speaking out is saving lives. What does that mean to you?
Melanie B: John-Paul, it means everything to me. I went through 10 years of an abusive marriage where I felt so small and desperate. I was isolated from my friends and family, I had my confidence shredded on a daily basis, and I felt so ashamed that a woman who was supposed to be strong and powerful like me could be in this position, so I lied to the world, I smiled and presented I was happy. I said nothing to anyone, and I kept this awful secret, moving between work and a horrible situation at home.
When I wrote my book, Brutally Honest, with my friend, the writer and journalist Louise Gannon, I couldn’t even open up properly because I was still so traumatized. She spoke to my family, to my daughter, Phoenix, to people I had worked with, people who had witnessed things and saw through the façade I was trying to keep up. She spent months with me, and it was like she was putting together pieces from a jigsaw puzzle of my life. WE would then just talk. It felt so raw and vulnerable because it was so hard to trust, so hard to think I would be believed. I said we could never publish the book, but she told me I would be a Boadicea for abused women all over the world. That really hit me. The fact that I could speak up for women who suffer in silence, women like myself. But still I was terrified. Then, when the book came out, a lady from the British domestic violence charity Women’s Aid said it was the most honest and true account of coercive abuse. They asked me to be their Patron, and I was stunned.
John-Paul Ricchio: How did you feel being asked to be a patron of A Woman’s Aid?
Melanie B: Through becoming Patron, I went to [see] refugees in places like my hometown, Leeds. I sat on the floor with women from all different backgrounds and just talked, and I have never felt so close to people in my life. Their story was my story. I thought I only felt this sham — I’d been made to feel terrible and disgusting and a total failure — but all these women told stories that were almost word for word things I’d gone through. It was so healing. From that moment, I knew I could not stop on this journey. When I toured with the Spice Girls in 2018, I made sure there were survivors there at every concert. I was on stage, up there performing for them, showing them that we would all get through this.
I was invited to Number 10 Downing Street. I was worried how a working-class girl like me would be received by all these smart politicians, but I just told my story, talked about financial abuse, how women can be so financially worse off when they leave their partner that it can force them to go back. I talked about changing the law. Since then, I have been to the Houses of Parliament several times. I won’t stop because this means everything!
John-Paul Ricchio: What work still needs to be done to advance women’s issues?
Melanie B: JP, I don’t think you have enough pages in your article for what I have to say. So much more needs to be done. It needs to start in schools where girls — and boys — need to be educated on what is acceptable in relationships, why it’s not right if a partner checks your phone messages, tells you what to wear. Women need to feel safe. Police and doctors need to be trained to see signs. I know one story about a health visitor spotting something that was wrong with a woman and a man was eventually being jailed for coercive control. Well done to that health visitor. Financial resources need to be in place when women and children flee for safety. The family court system needs to be overhauled as so many women are put through traumatic and unfair custody situations. Family lawyers need to be educated. There needs to be more lawyers trained in the area of abuse and coercive control. Refuges need more funding. WE need to talk more, air more issues, speak up, speak out and shed that shame that keeps women trapped.
John-Paul Ricchio: Thank for continuing to share your story and inspiring people all over the world! Now, Congratulations are in order…Getting an MBE was HUGE! To be made a patron of Women’s Aid and ambassador of Nevis and then have an MBE, not as a spice girl, but as Melanie Brown — the one and only, from Leeds. How are you feeling about these accolades?
Melanie B: I know. It was such an amazing day. In fact, it was an amazing few days. I went down to London with my mum. We stayed at Claridges Hotel, which is the most beautiful hotel ever. Victoria [Victoria Beckham] personally flew back from Miami to do fittings for me and my mum with her fashion team, and we had a great time just chatting and laughing. On the day itself, I had no idea who would be in charge of the honours at Buckingham Palace. I was hoping for Prince William — because we met him so many times when he was a boy when The Spice Girls were conquering the planet — and it was him!!!
John-Paul Ricchio: Were you nervous to see His Royal Highness?
Melanie B: I was incredibly nervous. My mum was even worse. When it finally came to my turn, he said, “I can’t believe I’m giving you an award, but I’m so pleased it’s me giving the award.” I talked to him about what my award was for and how I’d been in a terrible marriage, and he listened and then asked where my mum was. I pointed and said, “The white lady with the blond hair over there. He laughed, and she went very red. It was actually really lovely and funny, and I still can’t believe it’s happened. This award was for me as Melanie Brown, not as a Spice Girl. It felt so special. My dad would be so proud, and my dad was from Nevis, which is why me becoming an ambassador for Nevis makes it all feel so special. It was my dad who really changed things for me. It was on his deathbed I promised to leave my ex. Good has come from bad, and I thought of my dad when I looked at that medal. It is for abused women everywhere, but it’s also for him.
John-Paul Ricchio: How does all of this make you truly feel today?
Melanie B: Incredible. I feel I am doing something really important, that can really change lives and really is all about girl power, women power, women supporting women.
John-Paul Ricchio: Can you tell me how did you find out about you being awarded this MBE [The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire]?
Melanie B: So, a letter from Her Majesty, The Queen, went to my mum’s house. She rang my friend Louise panicking saying, “I’ve got this official letter. Has Melanie done something wrong?” Louise knew exactly what it was because Women’s Aid had nominated me — unbeknownst to me — so she told my mum to go round and video me opening it. These letters are very official, very heavy paper with very fancy writing. I sat in my kitchen with my mum standing over me, saying, What is it? What is it? and I read this letter saying that Boris Johnson had taken my name to the Queen, and I was going to be awarded an MBE. I was silent for the first time in my life. I couldn’t speak. Then I cried. I had to speak to people about what it actually meant. Then, I took the letter to my dad’s grave and read it to him. I just felt incredibly emotional.
John-Paul Ricchio: What does this award mean to you?
Melanie B: Everything, JP. Because it’s for me, it’s for all women out there, for all survivors, and this is something I have done after going through the worst period of my life.
John-Paul Ricchio: What did your mum and children say when you told them?
Melanie B: My mum couldn’t believe it. She’s so proud of me. My girls are really proud. Phoenix, my daughter, is also an ambassador for Women’s Aid and goes into schools talking to kids about being in a family where abuse is ongoing. I’m so proud of them, too.
John-Paul Ricchio: In March 2021, Stylist launched Fearless Future, an initiative that aimed to challenge the attitudes that underpin, encourage and tolerate male violence against women and girls in our society. You recently won the Fearless Future Award. Can you share more about this with me?
Melanie B: Again, this was for what I have been doing with Women’s Aid. It’s about me speaking out — because it does take a lot to do that. I totally understand why women chose to stay silent and I stayed silent for so long. But, thanks to the Spice Girls, I have a platform, so I am able to use my voice for those women with no voice. It meant a lot.
John-Paul Ricchio: What was it like meeting The Duchess of Cornwall at Clarence House?
Melanie B: Oh, that was lovely. She’s an incredible woman and so very, very kind. It was a beautiful day to be part of a large group of women from all over the world trying to make a better world for us to live in.
John-Paul Ricchio: Now, Melanie, as a fashionista and style icon, how did you decide what to wear to the palace yesterday?
Melanie B: Well, Victoria [Victoria Beckham] gave me options of dresses, and I had to go for red because it’s a bold, bright colour. I wore a feather fastener and gorgeous pink diamond earrings and jewelry from Robinson Pelham, who also gave a matching necklace, ring and earrings to my mum. Shoes were Louboutins, and the rest was just me.
John-Paul Ricchio: The connection between the U.K. Royal family and the world’s biggest girl group, Spice Girls, seems to have begun way back in the 1990s, at the peak of your global domination. I recall, at a royal gala performance celebrating the Prince’s Trust Charity in May of 1997. It’s [now] 2022. What does the monarchy symbolize to you?
Melanie B: I love Her Majesty, The Queen. I love the royal family. I wanted to perform at the Jubilee, but sadly we couldn’t do it. The Queen is an icon, the longest-reigning ruler ever and it symbolizes strength, tradition and the best of British to me.
John-Paul Ricchio: I, myself, living in Canada am a monarchist, and I am looking forward to the Platinum Jubilee coming up. What does her majesty’s anniversary mean to you?
Melanie B: It’s a day for us all to reflect on what an incredible woman the Queen is. It’s a day to celebrate, to be proud of being British and to realize how lucky we are to have had this woman on the throne for 70 years.
John-Paul Ricchio: Has Her Majesty influenced you and the other Spice Girls with your message of “Girl Power”?
Melanie B: Of course. She’s the original “Girl Power”! And, then there’s her Union Jacks…
John-Paul Ricchio: How will you be celebrating the Platinum jubilee?
Melanie B: I will actually be away filming, but wherever I am, I will raise a toast to her.
John-Paul Ricchio: Where do you see “Girl Power” today in 2022?
Melanie B: I see it in my daughters. I see it in my Spice “sisters” and their children, I see it in all the brave young women I meet through Women’s Aid… it’s everywhere.
John-Paul Ricchio: The world recently saw you looking gorgeous at Brooklyn Beckham’s Miami wedding! what was it like reuniting with Melanie C and Victoria and seeing one of the Spice Girl babes get married?
Melanie B: It was a lovely day, but best of all to hang out with David and Victoria and, of course, Mel C, who was also there. We had fun. I love Victoria. She took me and my mum out the night of the MBE celebrations. We went for dinner with her and her mum and dad and just chatted about old times. All of us were dressed in VB of course. Fantastic!