Sometimes - when the Spice rucks, gay probing, rum wedlock and rollicking rock solo album get too much - a Spice Girl has to escape. So Mel C took off to the Caribbean and, gamely, took Q with her. Cue intimate banter: drugs, sex, Geri, oil, weights, Robbie Williams and - oh, go on then - even more gay probing. "Spice Girls, for me, is a hobby," she tells Nick Duerden.
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Since Geri Halliwell's solo album delivered so few surprises, and Mel G's excellent Missy Elliott collaboration, I Want You Back, was followed by a pointless version of Cameo's Word Up, expectations aren't necessarily high for Mel C's effort, despite the fact that she's widely credited as the Spice Girls' best singer. Yet between Going Down (rocking hard but measured like I Wanna To Be Your Dog meets Skunk Anansie), Closer (wafting, balladic, like expensive perfume), Ga Ga (Garbage, basically) and Follow (co-written by Bryan Adams and sounding nothing like Bryan Adams) there's much to admire.
She modestly describes her forthcoming album as "fucking excellent". Throughout the airing of these songs, Mel C keeps her eyes closed and sings along. Occasionally, she glances up at Q to gauge reaction. She plans to debut them at this year's V99 festival, then, come October, she'll undertake a typically small tour for a Spice Girl, taking in London, Liverpool, New York, Toronto, Tokyo and Sydney.
"These songs are probably a very fair indication of who I am," she says. "I've always been a massive fan ofindie rock."
"Y'know, Blur, early Oasis, Suede, Cardigans. I love Hole, and I'm still in awe of everything Madonna has ever done."
She must hate Spice Girls records, then?
"No, not at all. They're not me, but they're a laugh, they're fun."
The all-important Spice schedule has dictated that Spice Girls will reconvene in August to record their third album. Mel C must surely be reluctant to rejoin her "hobby" now the "real her" has emerged from its pupa?
"I hope not," she says, hesitantly. "No, I'm sure it will be fine." Her face folds in on itself, deep in thought. An analogy's coming. "It's a little like when you're contemplating that hellish fucking flight across the Atlantic, when you'll be stuck in a small seat for nine to fourteen hours. The thought is horrendous. But when you're actually on that plane then it's really not that bad at all. We've had it scheduled for so long now, anyway, and I'm used to living by schedules."
Come on, confess. She's not going back, is she?
"Me not rejoining the Spice Girls isn't even an option," she says with emphasis. "It will happen."
OK, but will her heart be in it?
"Of course it will, but in a different way. My main love is my solo album. I'm very keen to prove myself to people, to show them just what I'm capable of. Just thinking about it gives me the shivers."
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Melanie joined the other Spice Girls at Victoria and David Beckham's spectacular wedding in a castle outside Dublin earlier this month - and admitted it was over-extravagant.
"It wasn't vulgar. It was OTT - which, if you know Victoria, is very much her style. She's very tongue in cheek, she knows how to have fun... it was a beautiful day. I've never seen two people so intensely in love before."
The 23-year-old singer refused to detail the drugs she has tried when asked.
"Yes, I've dabbled, but no more. These days, I barely even drink."
On her love-life, or apparent lack of it, she was asked if she was a lesbian.
"Is that what they say? No wonder I have trouble getting blokes. Of course it's not true. The right man hasn't come along yet."
And so she talks about Geri Halliwell, and while doing so wrinkles her nose as if smelling something sour. And she talks about the whole gay thing. But let's take it one step at a time.
"We're girls, you know, and girls bicker all the time. So there are rows and ructions every other day. There'll always be one of us who flips and says..." and here, perhaps not accidentally, she slips into a very passable impersonation of Mel G, "...That's it! I'm leaving! But it never amounts to anything. I think the rumours of us all hating each other is hysterical. If we really hated each other so much, why would we stay together? We hardly need the fucking money, do we?"
The arguments seem generally to revolve around Mel G. Is she really as horrible as the recent Spice Girls documentary suggested?
"Melanie is, um, definitely the loudest," says Chisholm, carefully. "And there are some days I don't even bother talking to her, to be honest. But other days we're bosom buddies."
"Honestly! I'm telling you the truth, I'm not just being diplomatic. We really are great friends - you'd have to be after what we've experienced together."
Who's her favourite Spice Girl?
"Favourite?" She thinks awhile. "Me !"
Sorry. Try again.
"Well, Emma and I spend a lot of time together, but then I also...(cue five minutes of approved Spiceblather) ...and I used to be very close to Geri" she concludes.
Geri Halliwell, Mel C insists, left the band without any explanation. The girls have yet to divulge the whole story because, she says, they don't know the whole story. "Sure, she had arguments, especially with Mel G, but no more than anyone else. And, yes, they each have several theories as to why she chose to leave. Which were, exactly?
"We'd rather keep those to ourselves," she says.
Oh, go on.
"No, they stay with us."
She will say that Halliwell's very abrupt departure shocked them all greatly. And she will profess ignorance of the breast cancer interview Geri Halliwell alleges the Spice machine made her miss: in Halliwell's version, the catalyst for the split.
"The ball is in her court now," says Chisholm, with a certain resignation. "We've all tried to get in touch with her, but she won't return our calls. She can't seem to bring herself to talk to us. Maybe her wounds are still healing? It's a shame, but whatever. I'm sure she'll get in touch when she's ready."
In her travelling CD case, Mel C has a copy of Schizophonic. She's played it twice, at most. It's unlikely she'll play it a third time.
"I was very excited to hear it," she says. "And I have to admit, part of me wanted it to be awful. But it's a collaboration with Absolute (the team previously employed by Spice Girls), so it didn't shock me in any way. I did wonder about how she'd handle it vocally, though."
And her verdict?
"Not great, but alright. I've got loads of advice for her, which songs to release, and just things I'd like to say to her if we were still talking, but we're not, so I'm sure she's not interested."
She reaches over for her tea, and grimaces as she swallows.
"I don't want to offend her, but I find it difficult to take her as a serious artist. For me, she's just cotton wool. She's not a talented musician, and she's not a very strong singer. I think she's ambitious, and I've got a lot of respect for her in that way. She's a great celebrity, but musically, it doesn't come from here (taps heart). It's just hollow."
Does she think Geri will make it to a second solo album?
"She'll probably be good on TV."
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