In a memoir coming out later this month, Melanie Chisholm—aka Mel C of Spice Girls fame—recalls being sexually assaulted on the night before the legendary girl group’s first live performance in the 1990s. It’s the first time the singer has ever spoken publicly about the experience, and she opened up about the decision to talk about it now in an episode of Elizabeth Day’s podcast, How to Fail with Elizabeth Day, this week.
“It happened to me on the night before the first ever Spice Girls live performance. And we’d never done a full-length concert before, so, obviously, we’d rehearsed for weeks ahead—costume fittings, make-up, hair—everything was leading towards the pinnacle of everything I’d ever wanted to do and ever wanted to be,” Chisholm told Day. She said she decided to treat herself to a massage at the hotel in Istanbul the night before, and was assaulted by the massage therapist.
“What happened to me, I kind of buried immediately, because there was [sic] other things to focus on,” Chisholm said. “You know, I didn’t want to make a fuss, but also I didn’t have time to deal with it. And because I didn’t deal with it at the time, I realize that I allowed that to be buried for years and years and years.”
It’s heartbreaking to hear that any person ever felt the need to write off being sexually assaulted, thinking that bringing it up might be considered an inconvenience to others. Chisholm said, after burying the memory, it returned to her while she was writing the memoir: “It came to me in a dream, or I kind of woke up and it was in my mind. And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I haven’t even thought about having that in the book,’” she told Day. “And I just thought, ‘Actually, I think it’s really important for me to say it and to finally deal with it and process it.’”
She also talked to Day about her feelings of self-doubt after the assault. “I suppose in a version of sexual assault, it’s a mild version, you know, but I felt violated. I felt very vulnerable. I felt embarrassed, you know, and then I felt unsure, ‘Have I got this right, what’s going on?’” Chisholm said. “I was in an environment where you take your clothes off with this professional person. … What if I’m wrong? I don’t want to look stupid.”
Chisholm’s complex feelings about her assault are achingly familiar in a society that loves to categorically state which acts of sexual abuse and harassment are “bad” enough to warrant a reaction. This gatekeeping is only reinforced by traditional media portrayals of sexual assault that depict it exclusively as grisly rapes rather than other violating and exploitative but less overt acts. Self-doubt and conflicting feelings like this can lead many survivors to avoid coming forward about their experiences for years (or ever)—as Chisholm shows.
With time, Chisholm expressed that she now accepts that her feelings about what happened to her are valid: “As I’ve searched my soul, as I’ve got older and tried to overcome so many things in that, trust your instinct. There’s only one person on this planet who knows what is best for you, and that’s you.” Chisholm continued, “Even if it wasn’t that person’s intention, it made you feel that way. And you have to let them know.”
Chisholm’s forthcoming memoir, The Sporty One: My Life as a Spice Girl, and the disclosure of her assault, come as the singer is set to reunite with her fellow Spice Girls for a documentary expected to come out next year.