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Mel's Scary experience; VOODOO PRINCESS, Ch4, Saturday, 8.00pm.

Byline: MERLE BROWN

Former Spice Girl Mel B got a real taste of her own medicine while learning all about the weird world of voodoo, says MERLE BROWN

SHE was the loudest Spice Girl, aptly named Scary, but in her latest TV show, you'll see a new, much softer, side to Mel B.

The Leeds lass, who was part of the record-breaking fivesome that took Girl Power to the top of the charts in the '90s, travelled to Benin, on the west coast of Africa, to investigate something even scarier than herself - voodoo.

In her latest TV project - she quit music to concentrate on her small screen career last year - Mel spent 10 days delving into the world of voodoo.

And the vulnerability the 26-year-old mum always seems so eager to hide can be seen when she bursts into tears playing with the children of a small tribe.

"It affected me much more than I thought it would," Mel recalls. "All these people who hardly knew me made me feel like I belonged.

"I've always had an interest in voodoo, but, like most people, I wasn't totally sure what it was. I loved the idea of going out to Africa and seeing the real thing.

"The whole experience was fascinating. I didn't become a convert, but I met some inspirational people."

Mel and the crew travelled to Benin because her ancestors were originally from west Africa and Benin is the cradle of voodoo.

Show producer Anastasia Mouzas says: "Mel's grandmother gave her a little insight into African beliefs and she wanted to find out more. She found a lot of similarities in Benin with the things her grandmother had told her."

She didn't, however, feel the need to use any new found voodoo magic skills on taking revenge on those who have wronged her in the past - Jimmy Gulzar or Geri Haliwell perhaps?

"I believe in karma. Whatever someone deserves, they'll get. I've no need to put a spell on anyone," she retorts. "But I have always been into voodoo. Not into it as in casting spells on people, but because I'm fascinated. I'd love to know more about it."

While Mel wasn't keen to cast a spell on Gulzar, she does admit that her time with her ex-husband, whom she met when he was a dancer on the Spice Girls' world tour, was not a happy period in her life.

In fact, their daughter Phoenix-Chi was the only good thing to come out of the doomed partnership that lasted just 15 months.

"My marriage was very unhappy," she says. "I had a terrible time with him. Things happen to women you don't expect things to happen to. Strong women, confident women. I don't feel sorry for myself because I got out of it. I refused to let my confidence be wrecked. I talked things though with my friends and family."

Mel is rumoured to have been offered a pounds 2million deal to become the next Cilla Black after her success at hosting ITV prime time talent show, This Is My Moment.

And she admits that TV, as opposed to pop, is where her heart now lies. But she is adamant she made the final decision to leave her recording contract, not her label bosses at Virgin, despite her solo album, Hot, flopping in the charts.

"It was because of Phoenix that I decided to drop my record deal," she says.

"To fulfil the terms I'd have to spend a year in America doing promotion. I couldn't spend that time away from Phoenix, so I went to Virgin and we agreed to terminate.

"I have loads of television projects next year, more This Is My Moment, some documentary ideas, and a music show as well as this voodoo show. It's really, really exciting."

Mel's commitment to her burgeoning TV career is such that she came up with the idea herself for this week's documentary.

Anastasia explains: "The idea came from Mel. She has been keen to explore her African heritage ever since she had a dream that her spirit guide was a voodoo priest.

"Mel spent 10 days in Benin, delving into the world of voodoo and realising that there's far more to it than she'd thought.

"Voodoo is a complete belief system and common myths such as priests sticking pins in dolls just aren't true."

And Mel encountered an African form of Girl Power during a meeting with a group of priestesses.

"Mel felt honoured to be asked to meet the women," Anastasia says. "They don't normally agree to see people. The place was way off the tourist trail.

"She was really changed by her experiences. She went in with an open mind and the further she got from the capital the more into the experience she got. She began to unwind and loved the simplicity of life there.

"It made her think about her heritage. One thing that really struck her was seeing the Gate Of No Return where thousands and thousands of slaves were embarked. She hadn't ever really thought about that before."

Mel found some special voodoo medicine for one of her more famous friends, who had asked her for a specific type of potion.

"She met lots of priests and got a love potion for Emma Bunton," says Anastasia, laughing.

For Mel herself, it seems a love potion is the last thing she needs. Apart from being excited about her new TV career, Mel enters 2002 with a solid love affair with musician/actor, Max Beesley.

"I love him to bits," she says of Beesley. "I'd love more babies."

Who knows? Maybe she has brought home a potion from Benin that she's just not telling anyone about.
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Title Annotation:Television
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jan 12, 2002
Words:952
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