Thursday 19 October 2017

Comment: It's a wake-up call as Scary Spice becomes the scared one

When someone like Mel B becomes the alleged victim, we reset our assumptions

Over: Stephen Belafonte and Mel B are in the divorce courts, with the former Spice Girl alleging physical and emotional abuse
Over: Stephen Belafonte and Mel B are in the divorce courts, with the former Spice Girl alleging physical and emotional abuse
Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgård in Big Little Lies
Melanie Brown "Mel B," left, and Stephen Belafonte arrive at the ESPY Awards at the Microsoft Theater on Wednesday, July 15, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Scary Spice.
Recording artist Melanie Brown (L) and Stephen Belafonte arrive for the Fifth Annual Critics' Choice Television Awards in Beverly Hills, California, May 31, 2015. AFP PHOTO / Valerie Macon (Photo credit should read VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images)

Sarah Caden

'Are you going to hit me now?" Nicole Kidman's character Celeste asked her husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgard) in the episode of US drama Big Little Lies shown here last week.

If you'd watched the scene without sound, it looked like a very normal night-time domestic scene. She was working on her laptop in the kitchen, he came in, got a beer from the fridge and stood and talked to her. Even with the sound on, in fact, it was fairly mundane.

She, a stay-at-home mum, told him she was doing a bit of legal work for a friend. He seemed bemused by this, she said she hadn't told him because he was away so much with work. That, in this particular house, amounted to impudence. He looked irritated and she said it, with a defiant look on her face: "Are you going to hit me now?"

It's not how we imagine domestic violence happens. Those of us to whom it has never happened, who have never seen it in action, have set notions of how it ­happens; in a heated moment, in an argument, when things boil over. And we imagine it happens to certain types of people. Weak people, people who can't defend themselves, people who are victims - not just in circumstance but in character.

Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgård in Big Little Lies
Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgård in Big Little Lies

Not people who look like Nicole Kidman, or who live in the kind of gorgeous house that her character has in Big Little Lies. Not women like former Spice Girl Melanie Brown, whose filing for divorce from her husband Stephen Belafonte was followed by allegations of his violence against her.

She's Scary Spice, for God's sake, the most appropriately nicknamed of the Spice Girls. Way back whenever, she was loud and in-your-face and confrontational. The last of which is the characteristic that makes her just not the type that we imagine could be bullied or physically abused.

Of course, any of the allegations against Mel B's husband made last week are purely allegations at this stage and have been denied by him. The court papers filed by Mel B make for scary reading, however, and detail of them and the couple's marriage have leaked out steadily since.

"I am in fear for my safety and that of my children," she said in the filing. "Likewise the respondent's emotional and physical abuse of petitioner in the presence of the minor child is tantamount to abuse of the minor child."

Scary Spice.
Scary Spice.

She gives account of a steady campaign of attacks such as one that occurred after she reached the final of Dancing with the Stars in the US. After she came off stage, her husband, then of five months, "was in a rage and I had no idea why".

"He placed both of his hands around my neck and began choking me," she said in her statement. "He then slammed me down on to the hardwood floor."

Mel B also gave account of another alleged incident, also when she was working on TV, when he attacked her and "told me that no one would believe me because everyone thinks I'm crazy. He called me a 'f***ing monkey', told me I was dumb and said that I was a derelict".

Photographs of her pointing to her face show her jawline to be bruised. We were reminded, too, last week, that in 2014, while she was a judge on UK's The X Factor, Mel B appeared with strange bruises on her body, which were explained away at the time but always seemed suspicious. It was reported last week that during that series of the show, Simon Cowell introduced Mel B to a divorce lawyer, concerned by the control Belafonte exerted over her and her finances.

Melanie Brown
Melanie Brown "Mel B," left, and Stephen Belafonte arrive at the ESPY Awards at the Microsoft Theater on Wednesday, July 15, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

German-born Lorraine Gilles is mentioned in the filed court papers as having had an affair and become pregnant by Belafonte while employed by him and Mel B as nanny to their five-year-old daughter Madison.

Mel B is also mother to Phoenix Chi (18), from her marriage to dancer Jimmy Gulzar during the Spice Girls days, and Angel (10) from a relationship with Eddie Murphy.

Gilles has not commented, apparently due to a confidentiality agreement, but her sister has been quoted as denying the claims.

In the court papers she filed, Mel B said that her husband treated her as second rate to the nanny.

Recording artist Melanie Brown (L) and Stephen Belafonte arrive for the Fifth Annual Critics' Choice Television Awards in Beverly Hills, California, May 31, 2015. AFP PHOTO / Valerie Macon (Photo credit should read VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images)
Recording artist Melanie Brown (L) and Stephen Belafonte arrive for the Fifth Annual Critics' Choice Television Awards in Beverly Hills, California, May 31, 2015. AFP PHOTO / Valerie Macon (Photo credit should read VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images)

"I later discovered that [he] was having sex with Lorraine and was paying her inordinate amounts of money. Over the course of some three years, I recently learned that [he] paid Lorraine in excess of $300,000 (€283,000) for alleged nanny services," Mel B said in her filing for divorce. She said that in 2014, Belafonte told her that Gilles was pregnant by him and that he wanted them all to live together as one big family.

He went "ballistic", Mel B said, when she fired Gilles in early 2015 and intimidated her into rehiring her, until after a family (plus Gilles) holiday in 2016, characterised by verbal abuse and bullying, she fired her again and finally.

Two things jump out of the allegations Mel B makes about her marriage and her husband. One is that she was keeping the show on the road, financially. She was the star and she was the major breadwinner, both of which add up to an outsider's view of her as ballsy, confident and a success. And that this really seemed to bother her husband, who, according to her allegations, chipped away at her self-esteem at every turn.

The second is the allegation that Belafonte always threatened Mel B that if she ever crossed him - as in when she sacked the nanny the first time, apparently - he would release sex tapes of threesomes she had partaken in and ruin her. Not only professionally but personally, by having her children taken from her.

That's how you turn Scary into very scared.

It should be noted that Mel B's family always hated Belafonte. A rift with her mother and sister Danielle, to whom she was once very close, was always attributed to their dislike of him. Last week, it was alleged that Belafonte tried to prevent Mel from travelling from their home in LA to the UK last month, when her father was dying.

It has been said her father's death was her wake-up call. Life was too short - and also too long - to go on like this, outwardly one woman, but privately someone else. Still Scary Spice and yet so, so not Scary Spice either.

As last week ended, Belafonte responded, legally, to Mel B's divorce filing. He has denied all her claims and is asking for spousal support.

Sunday Independent

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