MEL B has spoken of the joy of finding love again with a man who is “different to anyone I’ve ever been in a relationship with before”.
The 45-year-old Spice Girl, subjected to an alleged decade-long “reign of terror” in an abusive marriage, said she thought a healthy relationship would elude her for ever — until recently.
She said: “I honestly thought being in a romantic relationship again would be impossible because you get overloaded with past experiences.
“Because I’m riddled with so many trauma triggers, I couldn’t be hugged or touched for a good year.
"If someone came too close to me my hairs would stand on end, even in regular, everyday life.
“But there is a way out of it. It takes somebody who’s very kind, understanding and patient to help you out of that unwanted cycle you fear going back into.
"You can have a loving, caring relationship. It just takes a lot of time and a lot of trust.
“The person who enters into it with you has to understand how sensitive you are about your barriers.
"It’s really hard for a man, especially for a man who has never been abusive to a woman. An actual man who thinks, ‘How can a man do that to a woman?’
“It’s about building that foundation because for women who have been abused, the foundation is absolutely shattered. No ifs or buts about that.”
While Mel is reluctant to identify the new love of her life, she does describe him as “kind and very, very patient”.
Whoever the mystery man is, he is clearly making her happy.
Gone is the tired, worried woman I first met two years ago at a Leeds refuge, when she became patron for Women’s Aid in England.
Today, on Zoom, Mel looks radiant and relaxed with sparkling eyes and a broad smile.
On the whole she appears calmer, wiser and more reflective than ever.
In November 2018 she released her powerful memoir Brutally Honest, which detailed her life with convicted domestic abuser Stephen Belafonte, 45.
She also backed The Sun on Sunday’s successful Save Our Shelters campaign, which secured funding for women’s refuges.
She claims film producer Belafonte, who kept his criminal record secret from her, began his reign of coercive abuse on their wedding night in 2007 and continued a decade-long “reign of terror”.
She revealed how the couple appeared to enjoy a Hollywood lifestyle, yet at home she alleged Belafonte subjected her to emotional abuse, branding her ugly, a slut, fat, stupid, a bitch, worth-less, drunk and pathetic.
In her book she details how, during the marriage, she was isolated from her friends and family in Leeds and lost her self-esteem.
The woman who stood for Girl Power was driven to self-medicating with drink and drugs and attempted suicide on the eve of The X Factor final in 2014.
The couple have daughter Madison, nine. Mel also has her girls Phoenix, 22, from her marriage to dancer Jimmy Gulzar, and Angel, 14, with Eddie Murphy.
How to get help
IF you are worried that your partner, or that of a friend or family member, is controlling and abusive, go to womensaid.org.uk for support and information, including Live Chat, the Survivors’ Forum, The Survivor’s Handbook and the Domestic Abuse Directory.
Live Chat is open from 10am–6pm seven days a week for confidential expert support from specialised support workers.
You can also call the freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247 (run by Refuge).
She began divorcing Belafonte in 2018 and their £10million fight played out in public in an LA court.
In August 2018 they reached a settlement which involved the abuse charges being dropped.
The reason we are speaking today is because Mel has collaborated with classical composer Fabio D’Andrea to launch an awareness-raising music video called Love Should Not Hurt.
Made in collaboration with Women’s Aid, the video was inspired by Mel’s conversations with survivors of domestic abuse and the impact of lockdown on women living with an abusive partner during the global pandemic.
An estimated 1.6million women in England and Wales experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2020, with women aged 16 to 24 at most risk.
In the video, Mel is seen living an affluent lifestyle in a beautiful house — while behind the scenes she is being subjected to abuse.
Some brave method acting sees her being wrestled to the ground, strangled and punched.
She said: “I have a responsibility to make sure these situations are portrayed as realistically as possible.
"I looked at all the emails I’ve received from women who have read my book and handpicked some to help me with the acting.
“Whether it be the spitting or the strangulation, these are things that actually happen. They are not just my story — they are all these women’s stories.
“I came out of making that video with bruises because I wanted it to be an honest representation of what we have all gone through.
“There is a bedroom scene where I am attacked, it was really important to make that real.”
Mel’s dramatic video release comes just two weeks after the Domestic Abuse Bill was given royal assent and made law.
The Act for the first time sets out in law what domestic abuse is, with the definition going beyond physical violence to include emotional and sexual abuse, coercive control and economic abuse.
Children are also recognised as victims of domestic abuse in their own right for the first time.
Mel welcomes the news. She is now settled back in her home town of Leeds, enjoying family time with mum Andrea and her girls.
She still endures emotional trauma triggered by a joint custody arrangement with Belafone which means she is separated from daughter Madison for months at a time.
She explained: “I have a child who my abuser took off me with help from the legal system.
“I FaceTime her every day but that time can either be cut short or it might not happen at all because of whatever he springs on me.
"I’m living in the aftermath of what happens when you leave somebody who can still control you.”
Mel is committed to making sure her daughters learn healthy relationship patterns.
She says: “All I can do is shower my kids with love and make sure they treat people how they would like to be treated.
“One thing banned in my house is yelling. If anyone wants to yell they have to go for a walk or breathe.
“My household was full of yelling for ten years, so my kids have just got to be able to talk. I also try to teach them about inner confidence.
“Nobody should be checking your phone or forcing you to speak. Nobody should be controlling what you wear, or how you act or when you see a friend.”
This year marks 25 years since the birth of the Spice Girls — and while Mel is reluctant to reveal firm plans, she says she is keen to get back on the road to mark the occasion because the stage will always be her “happy place”.
She added: “I’m always gonna be hopeful that I’m going to be entertaining. For ever and ever, amen.”
But these days the loudest Spice Girl is channelling her voice in ever more powerful directions.
She says: “I want to be a Women’s Aid patron until the day I die. I’ll always be there flying the flag.
"It’s not just about my experience, it’s about listening to all the other women’s voices.
"There are still days when even a door slamming will make me jump but I remind myself that I’m not living that life and I’ve developed coping skills.
"It gets easier to deal with the pain and the shame, but you can’t erase domestic abuse from your mind completely.
"It’s one of those things that you have to live with. You have to do baby steps and then move on.”
Farah Nazeer, chief executive at Women’s Aid said: “We are so grateful to Melanie and Fabio D’Andrea for their dedication in creating this powerful video.
"We will continue to campaign to ensure that all women are protected from abuse.”
YOU’RE NOT ALONE
EVERY 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost to suicide.
It doesn't discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.
It's the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes.
Yet it's rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.
That is why The Sun launched the You're Not Alone campaign.
The aim is that by sharing practical advice, raising awareness and breaking down the barriers people face when talking about their mental health, we can all do our bit to help save lives.
Let's all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others… You're Not Alone.
If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:
- CALM, www.thecalmzone.net, 0800 585 858
- Heads Together, www.headstogether.org.uk
- Mind, www.mind.org.uk, 0300 123 3393
- Papyrus, www.papyrus-uk.org, 0800 068 41 41
- Samaritans, www.samaritans.org, 116 123
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