Mel C: 'Sports Minister Helen Grant Thinks We Need More Feminine Sports? How Patronising!'

14/08/2014 16:58 | Updated 20 May 2015

Spice Girl Melanie C supports the P&G and Asda Clean Water Campaign

As a Spice Girl and mother to five-year-old daughter Scarlet, Mel C is passionate about issues affecting young girls like body image, equality in sports and the pinkification of toys.

The feisty singer was still recovering from Scarlet's fifth birthday party when we met up with her for a chat. Yet, despite suffering from the after-effects of a day spent running around after 30 small children, Mel was animated as we discussed life as a single mum, the sexualisation of young girls and healthy female role models.

What do you think of the minister for sports and equalities, Helen Grant's claim that to encourage girls to take up sport there need to be more 'feminine' sports, like Zumba and cheer leading, on offer?

I think that's really patronising.

Obviously I love sport, it's one of my passions. I know not everyone feels that way, but I don't think it's a lack of knowledge about the different types of sports out there that is putting girls off sport.

The 2012 Olympics really opened people's eyes to the different ways you can get active. We all now know you don't have to be running track or in the pool, there are things like volley ball or archery. If people want to do Zumba or cheerleading, they know they can. What's much less well promoted is that girls can play football and rugby too.

I think it would make a huge difference if we publicised women's teams more. Men's football gets all the headlines, but the women's game doesn't get half as much coverage - and it's the same for rugby and cricket.

If I was sports minister I'd be doing a bit of a PR job on women's sports teams.

So are you against gender segregation generally?

I don't think gender specific toys are healthy - like when you see a cleaning up set in pink packaging and toy cars in blue packaging. All that is nonsense, because when a child is young they don't care if a toy is meant for girls or boys.

There are a lot of boys out there playing with dolls and a lot of girls playing with cars. I just don't understand why we need to have a divide. Children need to have every opportunity available to them, whether it's the sports they can take part in or the toys they play with.

You've spoken in the past about how becoming a mum helped you overcome depression and an eating disorder. Do you worry that as Scarlet gets older she's going to be affected by pressure to look a certain way?

Absolutely. Youth culture has changed so much since I was young and it's scary just how aware children are about body image. The oversexualisation of young girls is terrifying.

I think all you can do as a parent, is try to lead your children in the right direction and hope they make good decisions - which I suppose was the same for our parents.

Unlike girl groups who all dress the same, with the Spice Girls you promoted the message that it's good to be different, by making a feature of your differing personalities and styles. Was that something you were aware of at the time?

I don't think we realised quite how much it would affect people, but it was definitely something we felt passionate about.

When we first got together, we did dress the same - like girl groups throughout history had done - but it just didn't work, because what suited me didn't suit Emma, what suited Emma didn't suit Victoria and so on. So when we left our first management we came to the conclusion that we should dress individually and it kind of snowballed from there to become a strong message.

Do you think today's popstars are good role models for young girls?

It would seem that the order of the day in pop at the moment is to shock – often with sexy dancing like twerking. But the thing is, Madonna was doing that in the eighties, so really it's nothing new, is it?

I think it's a shame that there isn't more of a variety of healthy role models for girls in pop. However, my little girl likes Little Mix, and I'm really happy about that because as a band I think they're the closest there has been to the Spice Girls - in that they're very youthful and innocent. They are glamorous, but not uber-glamorous and sexy; they still look like young girls.

Is there anyone in the public eye who you'd like Scarlet to look up to as a role model?

When we had the Olympics here it was fantastic to see the rise of the athletes, as they were treated like the superstars they deserve to be. They work hard, are so determined and sacrifice so much to excel and succeed.

Unfortunately, there are still problems in the world of athletics in terms of body image, but a lot of the images that came out of that world are very positive. They're strong women of a healthy weight like Jessica Ennis. I think she's a great role model for young girls.

Scarlet turned five recently. How did you celebrate her birthday?

We had a cinema party with 30 kids watching Frozen. It was a great idea as it kept them quiet! Although I didn't get to see much of the film because I was busy doing toilet duty and drinking coffee.

Scarlet was really excited. We'd started planning it before Christmas so she'd had a big build-up to it. But I was so proud of her as she was such a good girl. I think now she's at an age where they start to want to help you and be good.

I imagine it was a slightly calmer affair than your birthday party in January?

It was! There was less alcohol consumed, but to be honest with you I'm as exhausted after Scarlet's party, as I was after my birthday!

Were any of the other Spice Girls' kids at the party?

We only had Emma and Beau [six years old, Emma's oldest son] this year. Beau and Scarlet were very close but they've got to the age now where because Scarlet's a girl and Beau's a boy they have different things they like to do. But they are cute together. We're lucky because all of the Spice children get on when you chuck them in a room together.

How's Scarlet finding school? Is she enjoying it or do you have to prise her out of bed in the morning?

She's loving it. There were times when Scarlet was at nursery when she would say, 'I hate school, it's boring!' God knows how you even know what boredom is at three! But now she's at big school we never have a problem.

Maybe once or twice she's been a bit reluctant, but usually she skips out of the door in the mornings, which is lovely. Now she's five she's just started to learn reading and writing and it's so lovely, because they just pick it up so quickly. It's a really exciting age.

She goes through phases with things. She likes music and they have PE a couple of times a week and they do French - but she doesn't like French! It's so funny, I just love the way she's so opinionated about everything. She doesn't really like maths, but she loves show and tell. She likes things where she can address the class!

Is motherhood what you expected it to be?

I don't know what I expected it to be. I think it's probably harder than I expected and more tiring than I expected. But then you never realise how great the joy and the love are going to be either.

How do you find balancing being a mum with your work life?

It's hard,to be honest with you. My work will often dictate how things go, because I get opportunities that take me away from home. For example, in the last two weeks I've been to Ghana with the Clean Water Campaign [Mel has been working with the charity to help provide clean drinking water to children worldwide] and I've been to New Zealand to do a concert, so I've been away from home quite a lot. For me that's a disaster, but at least I know I'm home with Scarlet now for the foreseeable future.

I always describe the balancing act between work and home as a constant work in progress.

Do you have much help?

Well, I have a nanny who's just finishing her maternity leave so we've got a new baby in the house too! My family and friends have also been amazing and of course Scarlet 's dad [property developer Thomas Starr, who Mel split from in 2012] is there part of the time as well, so it's kind of a jigsaw puzzle of people looking after Scarlet.

How about balancing your personal life with being a mum, is it hard to find time to date?

I suppose because Scarlet spends time with her daddy that gives me a little bit of time on my own. But then again a lot of that time is obviously taken up with work, so my private life has become a bit ad hoc and all over the place at the moment.

Does Scarlet remind you of yourself as a child?

Yes! I mean she's very much like her dad, but I do see things in her that remind me of me.

She's always singing. If she's not talking, she's singing and if she's not talking or singing, she's sleeping.

She's quite vocal and she loves to dance. Who knows if she'll follow in my footsteps, but she enjoys it at the moment.

Has becoming a mum changed you?

Absolutely. This sounds a bit weird , but it's actually made me more relaxed, and I think that's because Scarlet's obviously now my priority, which has taken my focus off myself. So now I realise that all the other stuff I used to worry about isn't that important, which is quite liberating.

I think it's also changed the way I approach charity work. I've been involved with lots of lovely charities over the years, but since I've become a mum I've felt more drawn towards charities that help children, as I have an emotional connection to them.

The Clean Water Campaign is such a lovely campaign and it was really nice to go to Ghana to see it in action. It's going brilliantly, as the people there have just embraced it and it's changing their lives on a daily basis.

What did you see when you were in Ghana?

We went to a little rural village in the north of the country and we were welcomed by the school. It was brilliant. All the little girls did a welcome dance for us and the boys played music.

Then three of the girls took us down to the local water source. These young girls, of 12 or 13, go to the water source three times every morning to get water for their families, which could take them up to two hours, and then they start school at seven o'clock. It's crazy.

The water containers were so heavy, I'm strong but I could only just pick one up. The girls help each other pop them on their heads and walk with them. They start doing it at such a young age that they build up their strength. It's incredible - and you've got teenagers here who won't even get out of bed to go to school!

Later in the day we met some of the children's mums and it was lovely to hear them talk about how the work the campaign was doing had changed their lives. They no longer have the constant worry of whether the water they're providing for their children is safe to drink or will make them terribly ill, if not kill them. That's how serious it is.

Melanie C is supporting the P&G and Asda Clean Water Campaign to help provide 75 million days of clean drinking water to children worldwide by the end of 2014. From 27th February, for every purchase of a P&G product (like Ariel, Fairy, Pampers) in Asda, P&G will donate one day of clean drinking water.

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