entertainment

Melanie C on Pride, the Spice Girls' gay legacy, and why Geri is still the 'ultimate drag icon'

Sporty Spice spills the tea on working with LGBTQ collective Sink the Pink and why she'd "love" to follow Geri onto 'Drag Race UK'.

2019-11-07

Words: Will Stroude

After completing one of the most eagerly-anticipated stadium tours of the decade this summer, you'd have forgiven Melanie C for taking something of a well-earned rest. Not so.

Just days after wrapping three sold-out dates at Wembley Stadium with her Spice Girl bandmates, the pop icon was jumping on a jet with the UK's most innovative LGBTQ collective, Sink the Pink, for a string of performances at Pride events across the globe.

From the streets of São Paulo to WorldPride in New York celebrating 50 years since Stonewall, Melanie flew the flag (quite literally) for trans and non-binary people as she brought Girl Power to Pride backed by some of Britain's finest queer performers.

Melanie's commitment to Sink the Pink is no flash-in-the pan: the 45-year-old first collaborated with the group back in 2017, and plans for this summer's tour were arranged well before the Spice Girls reunion was announced a year ago.

Now, Mel's enlisted the troupe's services for single 'High Heels', an unabashed banger of a track celebrating the self-love and community that you can expect to be providing the soundtrack to Pride celebrations for years to come. 

Of course, all this is par for the course for Sporty, whose relationship with the LGBTQ community stretches back to the mid-'90s, when the Spice Girls burst onto the scene and provided five fiercely confiednet role models for gays and girls across the world - and as Mel tells us when we catch up with her at a private screening of the video in London, that influence has been a two-way street...

It feels like ‘High Heels’ is the perfect bookend to a really exciting summer for you - or whole year, in fact!

2019 has definitely been a year to go down in history for me. It’s been a crazy, bonkers and brilliant one. I knew it would be dominated by the Spice Girls tour, which was phenomenal and so much more than we could ever have dreamed it could have been - the audience responses were so magical. It was lovely I had something to look to so quickly after the tour, because sometimes when you do something as colossal as that, there can be a bit of comedown, you know? So jumping back on a plane with Sink the Pink (STP) was the perfect antidote to getting over the post-tour blues.

This is the danciest, most disco-pop we’ve heard you in some time in terms of your solo material – is that the effect of a summer spent at Pride?!

Well ‘High Heels’ is 100% inspired by STP. My first introduction to STP was just over two years ago and I was invited down to perform. I was a bit nervous because I thought ‘Everyone looks so fierce!’ [but] the environment was just so inclusive from the get-go. I fell in love instantly. From that moment on I thought ‘I really want to do more stuff with these guys’. That’s how the idea for the tour and the Prides [came about], and I really wanted the song to be specific to STP. So it was kind of all just inspired by my experiences at the club night, at [Mighty] Hoopla, and just being around these beautiful people.

Is the track indicative of where your new material is headed now you’re starting a new solo chapter?

I started working on new material at the beginning of this year. I knew once spring and summer kicked in it was going to go Spice-crazy, so I’ve kind of picked it up again in the last few months. I’ve been DJing as well for a couple of years, and it’s really reignited my love of dance music – because when I was a student I used to go out raving in the early ‘90s. it’s kind of made me look a music differently, listen to music differently, and also read a crowd differently. So I’ve taken that into the studio. The last album, Version of Me, was quite electronic and it felt a little bit experimental, and I loved that record. I think this album is still exploring that electronic avenue, but maybe with a few more bangers! [cackles] That’s the vibe! I’m working with an early Spice Girls collaborator so it’s great to be back in the studio with him. That’s my focus now, getting a really strong bunch of songs together. My next song we’re looking at dropping the end of February.

You’ve said the ‘High Heels’ video one of your favourites you’ve ever done – is it reflective of a night out with Mel C and STP?

[giggles] Definitely! I mean, we’ve had some crazy experiences on the road. We’ve travelled to some really interesting places – it was wonderful at first to go to São Paulo, and I’m sure you know in your profession that things are quite difficult over there right now [for LGBTQ people]. They have a new president who is very right-wing and the whole Pride community are feeling nervous. To be there for Pride as the only international artist who had the opportunity to perform on that stage, it felt like people were really grateful we were there to support the LGBT community. That was an incredible thing to do. It was very emotional for everybody. We’ve been to places like Chile, WorldPride for 50 years of Stonewall, so it’s been quite powerful, some of the things we’ve experienced. But it’s always been done with fun, and to me that’s what STP’s all about. I feel very lucky that I’ve had this opportunity, and it’s been a privilege actually, to get to the heart of so many of the people who’ve been out there supported myself and the Spice Girls throughout our careers.

You hit the headlines for waving the transgender flag on stage too – do you feel like you’ve been educated about some of these issues working with the STP queens?

100%. Obviously being a Spice Girl we’ve always had a very close relationship with our LGBT+ fans, and doing the shows again, seeing all our fans up close, it was amazing to spend time with my drag queens and hear first-hand the experiences people have had, the things they’ve been through and their childhoods, growing up in different areas of the country. I learned a lot. I couldn’t wish [for] anything more. And it affected me personally. Being a Spice Girl, we’ve always celebrated individuality, but hanging out with [STP], it made me realise I had more work do do on myself, with my own self-acceptance.

As trans and non-binary people become more visible, we’ve seen a huge backlash in the press; people like Piers Morgan mocking the idea of gender fluidity. Sam Smith coming out as non-binary was huge news, but they've still come under from people who still don’t understand these concepts. What would you say to those people?

Everyone’s entitled to their own opinions, but when you’re speaking [now] I’m just thinking: ‘Live and let live’. Life’s tough. Life’s tough for everybody, and I just think to have judgement on others is missing the point. With all of these things, it’s fear isn’t it? It’s fear of what people don’t know and don’t understand. You can disagree with things but you can’t put your opinion on someone else’s life. We’re not here for that long, so let’s just be - and let everybody else be.

The Spice Girls reunion shows made a point having slogans welcoming people of all genders, races and sexualities. Is that something you and the girls had discussed beforehand?

It’s something that we talked about because obviously back in the day, it was all about Girl Power. That was kind of the first message we ever felt was important for us to shout about. But we quickly learnt we weren’t just appealing to girls, we were appealing to boys, gay men and gay women, and that’s just grown as our understanding of how unique and different we all are has grown. So yeah, absolutely – colours of the world, spice up your life! It’s really about individually, acceptance, and a place where everybody is free.

Mel B opened up recently about some of the things that happened in the ‘90s, and has obviously been very open about her sexuality in recent years – do you think that’s something that couldn’t have been discussed about during your Spice Girls hey-day, in a pre-Boyzone's Stephen Gately coming out world?

I think talking about that specific thing is tricky, because I obviously I wasn’t there and it doesn’t involve me. But speaking generally about people’s sexuality in bands in the ‘90s, yeah, like you say, Stephen didn’t come out, H from Steps, and I think things have changed for the better in many ways. I don’t think it was a stigma then, I think it was more of a marketing thing. I kind of goes hand-in-hand with why we started talking about Girl Power, because we were told that girl bands didn’t sell records because young girls bought the records of young guys. So of course, if you were in a boyband you couldn’t be gay, because the management or the record label would go ‘The girls are not gonna go for you’. So it kind of does show what the culture was like at the time, because obviously all these bands had huge gay followings as well. It was a very narrow-minded point of view.

While we’re here with STP, I have to ask whether you caught Geri’s guest judging appearance on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK?

I haven’t seen it! How was it?

I mean, it was a Spice Girl on Drag Race, you can’t go wrong really can you.

Well, and Ginger, to be fair. It doesn’t get much more camp than Ginger Spice, does it?

Would you be up for appearing as a judge on a future series? You’re basically an expert now.

Yeah, I’d love it! Well, I don’t know if I’m an expert, but I’ve got some inside knowledge. We worked with RuPaul, oh my goodness, so many years ago. We did a radio show in New York, I think it was about ’96 or ’97. And she still looks a-mazing - it’s ridiculous! But yeah that’d be really fun.

Which Spice Girl best lends herself to a good drag impression?

Well in our STP show we have a moment when all of the Spice Girls are represented in drag on stage. But I do think Geri, to me, is the ultimate drag icon. You know, she’s a little bit more demure these days, but definitely back in the ‘90s, she was super outrageous.

Speaking of the Spice Girls, we know there’s an animated Spice movie in the works – are you guys heavily involved, and what stage is that project at?

It’s really early stages. It’s in development. The concept is really really fun and that’s really exciting, but these things take a long time. So we just have to be patient with that one.

Has it been an adjustment from being back with the girls to striking our on your own once more, doing interviews like this individually again?

You know what, what we did with the girls, in the blink of an eye it was over. We didn’t do a lot of press [giggles] We did the bare minimum! Because you don’t know what Mel [B]’s gonna say next [cackles] We have to keep her mouth shut! It was magical, but the funny thing is I’ve worked as a solo artist for so much longer than I was with the girls. That’s the other thing about acceptance isn’t it? It’s accepting every part of yourself. Because it’s all you. Because I am Sporty Spice; I am Melanie C; I am a mum. And it’s really nice to be able to jump from one to the next.

I know there were some rumours about Australian dates for the Spice reunion tour - is there anything in the pipeline for you guys?

Unfortunately no. Not at the moment. I mean, with us girls, you never know, because we change our minds more often than we change our knickers… some of us! I would like to think there would be more. I can speak for myself and say I’m well up for it, but yeah, getting us all to agree on something is pretty difficult [laughs] It’s like EastEnders, isn’t it?

And how about STP – will we see you guys working together again in the future?

Definitely. It’s just the beginning it’s not the end, to quote myself! You know what, we’re family now, we’ve been through a lot together. It’s just the beginning.

Melanie C's new single 'High Heels' (ft. Sink the Pink) is out now.