Mel B: ‘I never leave home without my brown sauce’
The Spice Girl loves reconnecting with her Caribbean heritage on the island of Nevis, and recalls playing pranks with her bandmates on tour
The singer Melanie Brown, 48, has been in the spotlight since the Spice Girls’ first single, Wannabe, came out in 1996. In addition to her singing career she has worked as an actress, TV presenter and reality-show judge. She has three children: Phoenix, 24; Angel, 16, whose father is the actor Eddie Murphy; and Madison, 12. Brown lives in Leeds and is engaged to the hairdresser Rory McPhee.
Before my dad died from cancer in March 2017 he left me with two important messages that I’ve stuck by: leave your horrible, abusive husband and make sure you never forget where you’ve come from.
While I was born in Leeds — that’s my mum’s side — my dad’s family are from Nevis in the Caribbean. My grandparents came to the UK as part of the “Second Windrush”, with Dad arriving later, in his mid-teens.
We were a working-class family and we didn’t have the cash for holidays abroad. It was only when I started making money with the Spice Girls that I could afford to visit Dad’s birthplace. I was 19 when I took my parents and sister Danielle on holiday there. It was the first time I met my great-grandmother who had helped bring up my dad too. I fell in love with Nevis. It’s so small you can walk from one end to the other and it’s quite rural — I can see why Princess Diana used to holiday here.
The more I visited, and the more I talked to Dad about the island, the more I understood about my heritage and who he was; it gave us a deeper bond. Nevis is an emotional place. There’s a rock where, if you stand right on the edge, you can feel an energy — you can sense it’s where enslaved people would have lived in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Before I joined the Spice Girls, family holidays looked a bit different. My mum was one of seven siblings so I have lots of aunts and uncles and at least ten cousins. Every year, from when I was a baby to when I left home, all of us would drive to Abersoch on the Llyn peninsula in north Wales in a convoy of cars. We took over an entire campsite. I have so many fond memories of cooking eggs and bacon from the local farm, eating fish and chips, going cockle picking and burying my cousins in the sand.
These days I’m not fazed by posh hotels but I’m not a flamboyant traveller either, because half the time I have my little dog, Cookie, with me. She’s a mix of a chihuahua and a Yorkshire terrier and she comes to Nevis too — she’s like an emotional support dog. I also have two massive rottweilers in the UK, so we stay at dog-friendly hotels, often at the coast, and I have to drive them there in a pick-up truck.
I’ve done everything from kipping in a tiny house on a beach in India where it’s ten pence a night to swish safari camps in South Africa. But wherever I’m staying I always rearrange the room because I want it to feel like a cocoon — I use feng shui to make it cosy and take palo santo wood sticks [believed to clear negative energy]. I also don’t go anywhere without taking sachets of HP brown sauce, chilli flakes, my Oura health ring (which tracks my heart rate and how much deep REM sleep I’m getting) plus my workout gear.
I pretty much travelled everywhere with the Spice Girls, so there’s not much left on my wish list — we went to some amazing places, including Bali and Fiji. And we’d always all end up in the same room sleeping in the same bed even though we had a room each. Then the room-service guy would come in — usually it would be a guy — and one of us (often me) would pretend to drop a towel and they wouldn’t know where to look. We were always getting up to pranks like that.
I have a love-hate relationship with India. I love ayurvedic medicine, the spiritual side and the food, especially the spicy dal. But like many countries India has a dark side and you’re really confronted with it on the streets. I found it very hard to see children with dislocated limbs begging, and the prostitution. Twenty years ago I did a tour around Mysore, Kerala, Goa and Delhi and my mum was losing her mind because at the time Phoenix was only four. India changed my thinking though. After I came back I started doing more reiki and eventually became a reiki master.
One place that keeps coming back into my life is Cliveden House in Berkshire. When I was in the Spice Girls I lived nearby and it was my haven. Not just because it’s a fancy hotel — I had a lovely house at the time — but because I’d take Phoenix and we’d go on peaceful walks around the fabulous grounds. More recently it was where I got engaged to my fiancé, Rory. So Cliveden, along with Nevis, will always hold a spot in my heart.
Melanie Brown is an ambassador for Nevis (nevisisland.com)