Voices: Mel B: Tina Turner was an inspiration to domestic abuse survivors like me
When I heard the news a few days ago that Tina Turner had died I felt profoundly sad – but it went beyond that. Physically, I felt weak, as if I had suddenly been winded. My hands would not stop shaking.
I didn’t know Tina. She was not a close friend. But she has been a huge figure in my life for as long as I can remember.
Growing up in a council estate in Leeds, in the 1970s, I was a kid with dreams of singing and dancing – but no one looked like me at school, on television or in magazines.
And then I heard Tina Turner blasting from my Nevisian dad’s sound system, with a hurricane of a voice that could power a jumbo jet: “Nutbush City Limits”, “Proud Mary”, “River Deep, Mountain High”. I would dance around the sitting room to that voice.
On Live Aid, in 1985, I saw her on TV, dancing up a storm, all legs and heels like it was the last party on Earth. She was mesmerising. This was Tina Turner. She was an international superstar, she was up on stage with Mick Jagger and she was – like me – a woman of colour. For girls like me (not that I would ever compare myself to her), Tina made you think it was possible.
I did not know back then I would become a Spice Girl. That I too would travel the world, sell out stadiums, become part of one of the most famous girl bands in the world.
I did not know then that, after that, I would live in America, marry a man who would control me, abuse me and bring me to the brink of death. I did not know then that it would take 10 years – and my dad’s death – for me to leave my abusive marriage, to start over with my money gone, my self-worth on the floor.
I felt broken and ashamed. But I did know a woman who’d been though abuse and who had risen like a phoenix from the ashes to become stronger and more powerful. Tina Turner.
I had read her book years before. I had seen the movie, What’s Love Got To Do With It. In interviews, she rarely talked about what she went through. I understood why. The fear that it could ruin you, somehow make you feel dirty. But still, she had spoken out.
I wrote my own book, Brutally Honest, with my friend, the writer Louise Gannon. In 2017, 90 per cent of publishers turned us down because the subject matter wasn’t what they wanted. I was told you could only write about “something like that” once you had recovered. My book was messy. I felt messy. I clearly hadn’t recovered.
When my book came out, I was approached by Teresa Parker from Women’s Aid, the domestic abuse charity, to be their patron. “But I haven’t recovered,” I said. “No one ever recovers from abuse,” Theresa told me. “But you can use your voice to make change, you can use it to become strong.”
That was five years ago. I have not stopped banging the drum for other survivors since then. I’ve been to Number 10, party conferences, Westminster and met women from refuges all over the country – and many women from high places who tell me their stories. Last year, Prince William gave me an MBE for my services. Me – Melanie Brown from Leeds – not me, Mel B, Spice Girl.
The night before Tina died, I went to the West End show, Tina, the Tina Turner Musical, with Teresa, Louise and my daughter, Phoenix. I went there because I loved Tina and wanted to see the show – but also because they were doing collections for Women’s Aid.
People tell you it’s a harrowing performance. My daughter grabbed my arm. But it wasn’t the beatings that brought tears to my eyes. It was the moment of quiet when Tina, broken and battered in her underwear, knew she’d had enough – and stood with tears running down her face. She was going to change her life and she was also going to be the first major star to speak about what she had gone through.
I felt proud of her. Proud of every survivor I have met these past five years. Proud of my daughter – who stood by my side. What makes Tina’s voice unique is that you can hear the life in it: the blood, the sweat, the tears, but also the joy. I felt inspired and exhilarated as I leapt to my feet whooping and dancing along to “Proud Mary” and “Simply the Best”. This woman was my hero.
Eight hours later, I was in a hotel room watching the news when Tina’s death was announced. It felt surreal. It felt like a body blow. The outpouring of love for this woman has been extraordinary because she was extraordinary.
Tina will never know what she meant to me as a performer, as a woman of colour and as a survivor. She is a legend, an inspiration and she will always be part of the reason I do what I do. Thank You.
Stephen Belafonte has vehemently denied causing Mel to suffer
The national domestic abuse helpline offers support for women on 0808 2000 247, or you can visit the Refuge website. There is a dedicated men’s advice line on 0808 8010 327. Those in the US can call the domestic violence hotline on 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines can be found via www.befrienders.org