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Mel C: My depression; I was crying and petrified - and so lifeless I couldn't get out of bed.

Byline: JENNY TUCKER

SHE first broke into the charts with the appropriately titled Wannabe, then disappeared from the spotlight as she struggled with clinical depression and an eating disorder.

But after an 18-month break from the fast-moving world of showbiz, former Spice Girl Melanie C is back with a new single, Here It Comes Again.

She is looking beautifully slim, clear-skinned and glossy-haired. She has a new man by her side - 35-year-old construction boss Tom Starr - and a new album to promote. But in a frank interview the singer regarded as the most talented of the Spice Girls admits she is not quite through the dark moments that plagued her during and after her time with the band.

"I'm doing OK. I still have off days but they're getting fewer," she says. Asked whether depression has left her completely, she simply says: "No, not really."

The 29-year-old goes on: "I'm really excited about approaching my 30s. You know how people have a mid-life crisis? I had a mid-20s crisis.

"The problem started years ago, mainly because throughout the time I was in the Spice Girls I had an eating disorder. It wasn't as serious as anorexia but I didn't eat normally.

"That messed with my health and triggered a chemical imbalance which affected my moods.

"When the Spice Girls got together I was only 20 and although I thought I knew it all, I was still a baby. To deal with what happened to us - however amazing it felt at the time - was incredibly hard.

"We had fantastic times and very difficult times. People say they wouldn't change a thing but there's quite a bit I'd change. Especially the way I handled it.

"When you're famous, people want a slice of you.

"In my darkest times, my fans were always supportive, coming up to me in the street and saying: 'Don't worry, girl, you look great.' I haven't got a problem with that kind of attention - it's just when it gets too intrusive."

While fellow Spice Girl Geri Halliwell has spoken at length about her battle with bulimia, Mel has kept quiet about her own suffering until now.

"Everyone knows about Geri's eating disorders," she says. "I'm not laying the blame on anyone, but it's easy to be influenced by another person's behaviour when you spend lots of time with them. And once you start losing weight, it's very addictive.

"Throughout the heyday of the Spice Girls, my diet became more and more restrictive, until I was just eating fruit and veg. I went on faddy diets and didn't touch protein or carbohydrates, which was ridiculous, as we were running around like maniacs.

"I was underweight and living on adrenalin. That screws your body up and I believe it had a lot to do with bringing on the depression."

When she visited her family, Mel ate healthily so as not to arouse their suspicion.

"My mum assumed my tiny body was a result of being busy with the band and working out regularly," she says. "She didn't have a clue I was in the gym for three hours every day. You become very secretive."

It was only after the Spice Girls began to wind down and Mel wrote her first album that she decided she had to act. She recalls: "A voice in my head said: 'Melanie, this isn't right.' I was miserable, I had no energy and was crying all the time. So I moved to LA and got a trainer, cook and nutritionist. I wanted to be healthy rather than thin.

"But if I'm honest, being thin is fabulous - I really love it. These days, I go shopping and 90 per cent of the clothes look s*** on me (she is a toned size-12 but as Sporty was a mere size six or eight). Being thin is great but being healthy is better."

But when she returned to London, her problems worsened.

"It kicked in during the millennium," she says. "I went home to my family and felt so bad I couldn't get out of bed.

"I was lifeless, crying and constantly petrified. It eventually got to the point where I knew I couldn't cope on my own, and I went to my GP for help.

I'VE never contemplated suicide, but, equally, I didn't want to live the life I was living. When I went to bed, I'd wish that I wouldn't wake up.

"I ended up turning to anti-depressants and six months of counselling.

"It was a huge step for me to admit I needed that kind of help, but I had a mental illness that was preventing me living a normal life and the drugs levelled out my moods.

"There were times when I felt like I needed to be watched day and night and my poor mum got to a point where she didn't know how to cope with me.

"She did suggest I might need to be in a special unit for a while but I wanted to be near my family. I can see why people seek refuge in The Priory but it wasn't for me."

The process of recovery was long and hard and Mel spent a year thinking she would never get better. "One day, I suddenly thought: 'I don't want to take these pills any more.' Then starts the process of weaning yourself off.

"I took my last minimal dose around Easter 2001. These days, I seek alternative help - acupuncture, aromatherapy, massage - and I eat healthily." Now all traces of the old Sporty Spice have gone. The scraped-back pony-tail and the unflattering bleached crop which replaced it have made way for a more feminine cut which frames her slimmed-down features.

And in place of a tracksuit, Mel is wearing a floaty, floral shirt over a delicate lace bra. But the tattoos are still there.

"I've never contemplated having them removed," she says. "I've got 10 dotted around. They were painful to acquire and it would be even more painful to laser them off." Her new-found happiness can in part be attributed to her boyfriend Tom. They have been together for a year.

"He's lovely and I'm very happy," she says. "We were in Garrards jewellers recently, looking for a bracelet for his god-daughter, and this kid started taking photos of us.

"We turned to each other and said: 'Right, it will be in the papers tomorrow that we are engaged."

Mel is unlikely to make such an announcement herself, however.

"I feel marriage is a waste of time," she explains. "I was very bitter about my parents' divorce, and even though I love my stepdad now he was the enemy when I was a kid.

"The only time I might consider marriage is if I had children. I'd like to give my kids the security.

"It's going to be hard enough for my children anyway, having a mum who's an ex-Spice Girl, dealing with stories about my bum size and stupid rumours about things like dating Robbie Williams - we went out twice - and being gay... such b*****ks."

Neither does she covet the high-profile married life enjoyed by Victoria Beckham.

WHEN we were in the band, Victoria and I had a couple of rucks about the Press following Brooklyn around," she says.

"It scared me and I used to tell her to be careful. She must be petrified after that kidnap threat." Mel still keeps in touch with her other bandmates. "I spoke to Emma and Mel B fairly recently. I don't really talk to Geri but if I bumped into her we'd say Hello.

"It would be great for the five of us to get together one day, simply to have a laugh about those crazy times, but right now I can't be arsed.

"I do worry about Geri, because I know her past and she is still so body-conscious. I just hope she's OK." With her own troubled past still in mind, Mel fears for the members of today's glut of manufactured pop bands.

"I really worry for those kids," she says. "The people behind the process just want to make lots of money."

But now Mel C has taken back control of her career.

"I haven't played live since September 2001," she says, "and you get out of practice.

"I'm excited about doing shows again, but I'll have to do some serious rehearsing with my band. During the last year, while I was writing my new album, Reason, I went through a phase of thinking I was crap.

"I was worrying I'd already written my best stuff. Then, suddenly, it fell into place."

mirrorfeatures@mgn.co.uk

FOR a full version of this interview, see the March edition of Marie Claire magazine, on sale today.

MELANIE'S single Here It Comes Again is released on February 24 and her album Reason is out on March 10.

CAPTION(S):

TATTOO'S COMPANY: With boyfriend Tom; BUTCH ADO: The bleached-look Mel of 2000; Picture: JAMIE KINGHAM/ MARIE CLAIRE/IPC SYNDICATION; LOWDOWN: Read the full interview with Mel C in Marie Claire, out now
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 31, 2003
Words:1512
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