Melanie C Began to 'Self-Police' After Fight with Victoria Beckham Nearly Got Her Booted from Spice Girls
"A tiny little thing I didn't think was that bad could have jeopardized my whole dream," Melanie C tells PEOPLE in this week's issue
In this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, the singer — aka Sporty Spice — opens up about how a squabble with bandmate Victoria Beckham at the 1996 Brit Awards nearly got her kicked out of the band.
″We had a few drinks, and we were all probably a bit tipsy, and I told Victoria where to go,″ says Melanie, 46. ″It wasn't even in front of anyone — I think we were leaving and getting into our car. But it was a big deal at the time, and I got into lots of trouble. People were concerned.″
Though it was minor, the altercation (which was later resolved) had a major impact on Melanie's mental health.
″A tiny little thing I didn't think was that bad could have jeopardized my whole dream,″ she says. ″So it made me really self-police. That got to the point of me being very controlling in different areas of my life. Losing control freaked me out.″
To cope with tensions in the band, which she says sometimes made the environment ″toxic,″ along with the constant criticism that came along with being in the public eye, Melanie ″obsessively″ controlled the only things she could in her life: eating and exercising.
″So much of my life was out of control,″ she says. ″So I controlled my eating, my exercise — everything I possibly could. I was underweight for a couple of years, and it was very damaging for my mental health.″
While struggling with anorexia, Melanie says she knew her body was ″starving″ but that she was able to continue on, fueled by adrenaline.
″I felt like I had to make myself perfect to really deserve all of this wonderful success,″ she says. ″We were so ambitious, it was nuts. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves because we knew we had something very special, and we didn't want to mess it up.″
Determined to be seen as something other than Sporty after three years with the band, Melanie embarked on a solo career in 1999, a year prior to the Spice Girls going on hiatus, with the release of her album Northern Star. Meanwhile her eating disorder evolved from anorexia to binge eating food for ″comfort,″ she says.
While on a trip to Los Angeles with her family in the early 2000s, things got so bad that Melanie struggled to get out of bed.
″I was so teary, and I just felt hopeless,″ she says. ″I wasn't excited about anything. I couldn't look forward to anything.″
Realizing she could no longer do it on her own, Melanie decided to seek help. While at an appointment with her doctor in the U.K., he told her, ″We have to address your depression.″
″I didn’t realize I had depression,″ she says. ″It was such a relief knowing it had a name; I can be helped and I can get better."
From that point on, Melanie began to manage her mental health with talk therapy and medication.
″I don't really like to take pharmaceuticals, and I would go, 'Oh my God, I'm taking antidepressants,'″ she says. ″But there have been low times when they've really helped me.″
Over time, her issues with disordered eating began to ease too. Welcoming her daughter Scarlet with ex-boyfriend Thomas Starr in 2009 gave her a new appreciation for her body.
″I was nervous becoming a mum, because I was more susceptible to postpartum depression,″ she says. ″But I was so lucky; having my little girl was nothing but positive for me. I started treating myself better, and my internal dialogue even improved. I was so impressed that my body had produced this perfect human that I was like, 'Damn girl, you're amazing!' For the first time in my life, I was really giving myself credit.″
To this day, Scarlet, now 11, helps her keep healthy.
″Becoming a mum makes you realize how important you are," Melanie says. "I have somebody that I want to be here to take care of and protect. I want to be my absolute best for her. She's the thing that made me really appreciate my body and my mind.″
RELATED VIDEO: Melanie C Debuts New Single 'Fearless' with U.K. Rapper and 'Super Spice Girls Fan' Nadia Rose
Happy in her long-term relationship with boyfriend Joe Marshall, Melanie is now ready to launch a new era with the release of her self-titled eighth solo studio album on Friday. On the pop- and disco-infused songs she addresses the phases of her life, both good and bad.
″I made peace with all these moments in my life,″ she says. ″It's been really important moving on to this new chapter, which this album feels very much like.″
She also started to see her days as Sporty Spice in a new light after reuniting with bandmates Geri Halliwell, Mel B, Emma Bunton on their U.K. and Ireland tour (which Beckham did not join) last year.
″When I went on stage with the girls, it was such an incredible experience,″ she says. ″It made me feel very reflective. I loved being Sporty Spice again, and I realize that she's such a huge part of who I am as a person and who I am as a performer. I wanted to really celebrate that.″
If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, text ″STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor. For support for eating disorders, contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) at 1-800-931-2237 or NationalEatingDisorders .org.
For all the details on Melanie C's life now, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
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