Bounding around in lamé tracksuits, flicking peace signs and banging on about Girl Power , it once seemed hard to imagine Mel C would ever grow up.
But last weekend, 18 years after the Spice Girls first came screeching and zig-a-zig-ing into public consciousness, every headline writer’s dream came true: Sporty turned 40.
Now known as Melanie, even her name is all grown-up. And she has never looked better.
The reason? Clean living (give or take a few birthday tequilas), the exercise regime of a Tour de France entrant – and a bit of Botox.
“Obviously I went crazy at the weekend. We drank tequila, ate cake and that was wonderful,” she laughs.
“But the main thing I’ve finally learned over these past 20 years is balance. I’m not averse to a bit of Botox and there’s probably not a lot of people in the public eye who haven’t had it.
“They all have!
“I avoided it for a long time but then I had it and really loved it. If you have a tiny, tiny bit then I think it’s fine.
“But it does terrify me, that stuff.
“You see people who go too far and I never, ever want to become that person – that person whereby you lose the reality of what you look like.
“That’s another wonderful thing about ageing. Learning to be a bit kinder to yourself.
“For me, what helps most, though, is generally having a healthy lifestyle, drinking loads of water, and sleep.”
Strolling into the North London, organic restaurant where we have arranged to meet, Merseyside-born Melanie is radiant.
Her liver, less so.
Crammed behind a table seemingly designed for a Borrower, I stand up to greet her and realise I have taken the good seat – the one with a view.
She is left facing the toilets and a heavy-breathing man reading a Kindle. When I offer to swap, she immediately brushes me away and happily sits down, chatting to staff. Melanie is definitely one of the good guys. Last Saturday night she threw a huge 40th gig and afterparty at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire.
And proving 40 is the new 30, she led from the front – stumbling into bed at an impressive 7am.
“It was amazing, like a dream,” she grins, over tap water – “large, because I’m dehydrated”.
“My assistant, who is basically my sensible side, put me in a car at 5am. My brother stayed over and we dissected the night when we got back.
“It would have been a little bit lonely to have gone home alone.
“But I got up the next day and carried on. I had lunch with my family and a hair of the dog down the pub with a few friends.”
Melanie has spent a few nights home alone in the 18 months since she split with her boyfriend of 10 years Thomas Starr, father of her daughter Scarlet, who is now nearly seven.
In between, that is, dates with a stream of gentlemen callers – some in the public eye, some not.
Two were at her bash last week – Chris Moyles (who calls during our interview) and Capital FM DJ Greg Burns.
A third, X Factor winner Matt Cardle, was sadly still holed-up in rehab.
She explains: “Setting the record straight, I am completely single.
“I’ve been having loads of fun, have met loads of new friends, my social circle has massively widened and if a chap wants to take me out for dinner…”
“Absolutely not. Never has been. He’s such a dear friend to me.”
“I see him as my naughty little brother.”
(Hopefully not, then.)
“We’ve been out and had fun – but we’re just friends.”
As I frantically scrabble around for more men to throw at her, she laughs and cuts me off.
“Is that not enough?”
She has a point.
Well, what about those age-old rumours about her sexual preferences then. Is she, you know, into girls?
“I’ve never dated a girl but there’s often been speculation, which I find quite funny,” she says.
“I’ve kissed girls but it’s more being silly than anything sexual.
“There are so many hot girls out there but, actually, boy-wise, that question stumps me. I am so unimpressed!
“It would be quite nice to have someone to lust over but I really couldn’t say anyone.”
Bandmate Mel B once famously admitted the Spices had all snogged each other . Who is the best kisser?
She giggles: “I’ve always been so drunk every time, it’s quite hard to remember… But I would have to say Emma!”
She may be in her 40s now, but 2014 could well be Mel’s busiest year yet.
Setting off on a charity mission to Ghana next month, she will compete in a gruelling Olympic distance triathlon later in the year. She also remains incredibly ambitious about her career.
Touring with Jools Holland in the summer, she is also going into the studio to start work on a new solo album and after fantastic reviews for her latest gig, a tour is in the pipeline.
In their planet-conquering Brit-winning Spice Girl heyday (Nelson Mandela once called them his “heroes”), Mel, as Sporty, was made to wear tracksuits, trainers and “Croydon facelift” ponytails.
Her one area of freedom of expression, then, were her tattoos.
Two years ago a magazine airbrushed them out, prompting the star to consider laser removal for good.
Happily for fans, she thought better of it.
“The thing with tattoos is that they’re quite fashion-based,” she says.
“My Celtic band is sooo 90s – they all are, really. They just look so uncool!
“But I looked so weird without them on that cover. I realise they’re part of me, they’re part of my past and I’ve embraced them a bit more now.
“Obviously there are a few outfits where they won’t look great – a wedding dress, for example. But hey-ho, I’m probably never gonna wear one of them…”
Still, with guns like hers, it is little wonder Melanie is happy to show off her inkings. While she has, in part, genetics to thank for her frame (“I look at photos of myself as a kid and can see definition”), she also works, damn hard, for it.
“I’m actually fitter now than I was at 30, than I was at 20,” she says.
“OK, I ache more, and it takes me longer to recover from stuff, and I have to stretch and use the tedious foam roller for exercises.
“Like everyone else, family and work dictate how much training I fit in, but I try to get on the bike for an hour and a half, do drills in the pool for 40 minutes, and maybe go running in the park.
“I do some Bikram yoga and a strength and conditioning class once a week.
“Diet-wise, one of the great things for me is that when you’re working out, you have to fuel your goal.
“For a few years we were all terrified of carbs so reintroducing them is great. But they’re not the enemy!
“They’re actually really great.”
With the proliferation of reality TV shows like The Voice and X Factor, Melanie is thankful not to be starting out in her career now.
In fact, she is not convinced she would cut the mustard in front of Simon Cowell and Co.
She says: “I think about how lucky I’ve been to have had the career I’ve had so far, and I’m sure I would not have got past the second round of, say, X Factor.
“You get great singers who don’t make it and then mediocre ones who go far.
“It’s really hard.”
We chat about The Voice, where contestants face a blind audition. Assuring her that her unique sound would see her through I ask how she thinks Victoria Beckham would fare.
Would the judges turned around for Victoria?
“I have absolutely no idea… ”
And then she cackles. Loudly. Once a mischievous Spice Girl, always a mischievous Spice Girl.