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“I became very good at living a lie": Mel B on how she hid her abusive relationship for so long

Cosmopolitan (UK) logo Cosmopolitan (UK) 2 days ago Catriona Harvey-Jenner
Melanie Brown wearing a white shirt: Throughout her 10-year relationship with ex-husband Stephen Belafonte, Mel says she experienced "the whole entire gamut" of abuse. © REX/Shutterstock - Rex Throughout her 10-year relationship with ex-husband Stephen Belafonte, Mel says she experienced "the whole entire gamut" of abuse.

Heads tilted inwards towards one another, bodies close. You wouldn’t imagine from the photo of Melanie Brown and her then-husband Stephen Belafonte (below), taken at the 2014 Cosmopolitan Ultimate Women of the Year Awards, that their relationship was anything other than perfectly happy. But that couldn’t have been further from the truth.

In fact, just eight days later, Melanie (better known as Mel B thanks to her Spice Girls days) would try to take her own life as a result of the years of physical and emotional abuse she alleges she suffered at the hands of Belafonte.

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Video:I didn't know any other way out' Mel B on abusive relationship (The Independent)

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"That was part of the abuse," Mel tells Cosmopolitan UK now, four years later. "Part of what the abuser does is they make you go out and play happy families and if you don’t do that, then god forbid what you’re going to go home to."

Mel met Stephen Belafonte, a producer, on a film set in February 2007 and began a whirlwind romance. They married in Las Vegas a few months later, and held a bigger ceremony with friends and family in Egypt the following year. Mel was besotted with her "Prince Charming", but her family weren’t quite so at ease with her new relationship.

With an uncontested charge of battery against a former partner, Nicole Contreras, on his record, and various other convictions for theft and vandalism to boot, Mel’s loved ones were cynical about Belafonte. But like many women who find themselves in abusive relationships, it took Mel a long time to realise it for herself.

"I knew [his behaviour] was wrong the night we had an argument that led to physical abuse, but the emotional abuse - the coercive control - that was very difficult for me to figure out what was going on," she says. "You end up blaming yourself."

The abusive control Mel alleges Belafonte carried out throughout their 10-year relationship – which he continues to deny along with all the other allegations of foul play – impacted her sense of self "on every single level".

Melanie Brown, Stephen Belafonte that are sitting on a table: Mel with her ex-husband, Stephen Belafonte © Getty Images Mel with her ex-husband, Stephen Belafonte She tells me how her ex-husband would hide her keys, making her believe she had lost them. He would later forbid her from having her own set "because you’re the person in the house who always loses things."

Small exercises of manipulation and control like these, Mel says, "chip away at [you], without you even really realising.

"It makes you feel like it is your fault. Like you’re stupid and that no-one would believe you if you said anything."

Living two lives

In December 2014, Mel was a judge on The X Factor. She had been catapulted back into the limelight, appearing on our screens week after week in beautiful dresses, her hair and makeup done to perfection. She was full of spirit and life, that same vivacious 'Scary Spice' character audiences at home knew and loved. But inside, she was breaking.

"I became very good at living a lie," Mel admits. "It was one thing at work, but a totally different story at home. My work was my saviour. When I was working… he was never around me, so that was like a safe haven for me.

Melanie Brown et al. standing in front of a crowd posing for the camera: Mel as an X Factor judge in 2014 © Alamy Mel as an X Factor judge in 2014 Mel - who by this time had three children, one of whom, Madison, she shares with Belafonte - came to cherish the way her ‘dual life’ shielded her from her own vulnerability.

"You end up putting on a brave face and hoping that nobody finds out [what’s going on at home], because it’s just too much. If you have to admit it to anybody else, that means you have to admit what’s going on to yourself, which is another horrendous, traumatic thing to do as an abused person," she says.

On Saturday 13 December, 2014, just two days after a suicide attempt, Mel appeared on the final of The X Factor looking tired, bruised, and without her wedding ring. It was a bold statement, but it was only the start of escaping her marriage.

Melanie Brown posing for the camera: “I became very good at living a lie": Mel B on how she hid her abusive relationship for so long © ITV “I became very good at living a lie": Mel B on how she hid her abusive relationship for so long It took two more years for Mel to finally find the courage to leave. In March 2017, she filed for divorce, and in December that same year, the couple’s marriage was officially dissolved in the eyes of the law. 

Speaking out

In November 2018, almost a year after her divorce was finalised, Mel released her memoir, Brutally Honest, in which she details her relationship with Stephen Belafonte in great depth. It wasn’t easy, she tells Cosmopolitan UK, and there were moments when she felt like she wanted to abandon the project.

"There were many times I said to my best friend Louise [Gannon], who helped me write the book, 'I don’t want to do this, I can’t do it'. And we would talk about why I didn’t want to do it," Mel says.

"I was still living in fear and panic that he was going to come after me in the middle of the night."

a person posing for the camera: “I became very good at living a lie": Mel B on how she hid her abusive relationship for so long © Malachi Banales “I became very good at living a lie": Mel B on how she hid her abusive relationship for so long But what drove the TV star to persevere was the responsibility she felt to others to speak out about her experience. "My story is many other women’s stories, so that’s what kept me going," she says.

Despite being difficult, and forcing her to face some of the scariest experiences of her life head on ("it takes you right back to when you were being abused, you have to almost relive it again," says Mel), she recalls finding the writing process "very therapeutic". It was beneficial not only to herself, she says, but also to her family and to other women going through similar experiences.

"Raising three girls, I want them to be made fully aware of what an abusive relationship is because it’s not always necessarily physical," Mel explains. "It can be verbal, it can be coercive. There’s all different forms of abuse that [can be] put on you as a victim. And I experienced the whole entire gamut.

Melanie Brown posing for a picture: Mel with her eldest daughter, Phoenix © Getty Images Mel with her eldest daughter, Phoenix "One thing my daughter [19-year-old Phoenix] said is: 'it didn’t just affect you, Mum, it affected everyone'. So it’s important that we forgive ourselves and try and move on as best as possible by talking about it."

Part of talking about it meant writing the book, but Mel has also made a commitment to be a patron for domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid. As part of her role, Mel has met women whose experiences have been eerily similar to her own. "[It’s been] comforting and traumatic at the same time. Comforting in the fact that they have exactly the same stories as me… traumatic because nobody should have to live in that much fear every second of the day."

Mel might now be physically distanced from her relationship with Belafonte, but the long-term effects are still a daily battle. "I suffer from PTSD, I suffer from a little bit of anxiety, I still have flashbacks," she tells me.

"It’s almost like like a part of me is always going to stay damaged and this is how I can heal it, by talking about it and forgiving myself and remembering that it wasn’t my fault."

a person posing for the camera: “I became very good at living a lie": Mel B on how she hid her abusive relationship for so long © Malachi Banales “I became very good at living a lie": Mel B on how she hid her abusive relationship for so long While future relationships aren’t completely off the cards, Mel admits she’s comfortable with where she is now – on her own. "I’m very happy being single. I don’t need a relationship right now. I’m looking after my kids and looking after myself. [I’m] taking back my power and making all my own decisions for me," Mel says.

"You’re left with internal scars," the mum-of-three admits. "You’re left with a lot of self-doubt, a lot of self-loathing and as a mother you’re left with a complete guilt that hovers over you constantly."

a person posing for the camera: How Mel B hid her abusive relationship for so long © . How Mel B hid her abusive relationship for so long But in the same breath, she knows she can’t blame herself forever. "It can happen to somebody in a council estate, in a bedsit, and it can also happen to somebody that lives in a mansion with a pool and five servants. Abuse doesn’t discriminate."

BRUTALLY HONEST by Melanie Brown with Louise Gannon (Quadrille, £17.99) is out now.

Gallery: Spice Girls: Where are they now? (USA Today)


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