She’s just freshened up after a training session for ITV’s new challenge show The Games, which starts this week and will see her compete in Olympics-style events against 11 other celebrities including ex-Strictly pro Kevin Clifton, Paddy McGuinness‘s model wife Christine and The Wanted’s Max George.
When she emerges from the changing room Phoenix’s hair is still damp, her socks are mismatched and her face is free of make-up.
‘People can take hours doing their hair and makeup,’ she says. ‘That’s just not me. I’ve always been a tomboy.
‘I want people to see me as I am. I’m definitely not a glitzy Kardashian kid.’
Scary Spice’s daughter Phoenix Brown, 23, (pictured) opens up about her abusive stepfather, film producer Stephen Belafonte
Phoenix, 23, is Mel B’s daughter from her 16-month marriage to Dutch backing dancer Jimmy Gulzar, which ended in 2000. As a young girl she lived through a decade of her mother’s abusive relationship with her stepdad, Stephen Belafonte.
After breaking away from the marriage and writing a book, Brutally Honest, about her experiences (Phoenix wrote one chapter), Mel has become an advocate for survivors of domestic abuse. Last week, as Patron of Women’s Aid, she received an MBE for her services to other sufferers.
‘I’m so proud of her,’ says Phoenix. ‘She’s turned her life around. It hasn’t been easy but she’s standing up for others in abusive situations.’
What about Phoenix herself? In the past 18 months she too has become part of the Women’s Aid fold, going into schools to talk to teenagers about living with abuse and how they may be able to get help, but fundamentally ‘to know they’re not alone, because that’s how you feel with this terrible secret’.
This is hugely important to her. ‘Until the age of nine my life was like a perfect kids’ movie,’ she says. ‘I lived in LA with my mom [having spent most of her life there she says ‘mum’ the American way], all the British family would come over and we had so many friends.’
Then in 2006, after her mother had been dating film star Eddie Murphy for nine months, he dumped her publicly when she was pregnant and a horrendous paternity battle followed. Enter film producer Stephen Belafonte, who has a criminal record including a 2003 conviction for domestic violence.
‘My world went from technicolour to black and white,’ says Phoenix.
Phoenix with her mother Melanie Brown. She recalls her and her mother living in LA together before Mel started dating film star Eddie Murphy in 2006
Two months after Melanie gave birth to Eddie’s daughter Angel, now 15, she and Belafonte married in Las Vegas and Phoenix’s life changed dramatically. Friends and family were ostracised and Belafonte introduced draconian new rules.
‘I had to stay in my room with the door shut. I wasn’t allowed to go in the fridge but I had 30 minutes to make my packed lunch for school.
‘Often in the morning he’d pull it out and eat my sandwiches, laugh at me and tell me to get to school.
‘He’d tell me I was ugly and retarded all the time. I had this beautiful Labrador called Lordy who we’d had since I was born. I loved him.
He’d laugh at me and tell me I was ugly and retarded
‘Stephen picked him up one day and threw him across the garden into the pool – Lordy was old, he was terrified. I couldn’t speak. A few weeks later I came back from school and Stephen told me he’d had him put down.’
These stories are delivered so matter-of-factly it’s clear they’re just the tip of the iceberg. ‘I kept quiet about so many things,’ says Phoenix.
‘My mom was working all the time, earning money for him – for the family. I knew she was having a terrible time, she sort of shrank.
‘They’d have these awful rows in their room, I’d stand outside petrified, feeling useless.
Mel B pictured with her daughters Madison (left), Phoenix (far left) and Angel (right) and former nanny Lorraine Gilles
‘But life went on. I looked after my sisters [she also has a younger sister Madison, Stephen’s daughter, now ten].
‘I tried to look after my mom too, but I was a kid. It was a big secret. We were meant to be a happy family.
‘You carry on and shut down your emotions. That’s how you deal with it.’
Going into schools to talk to other teenagers has helped her. ‘I can see in the eyes of certain kids that they know exactly what I’m talking about.
‘You have to know it’s not your fault, and life can get better. Getting involved with Women’s Aid has helped me so much.
‘I wanted to have something to say. I feel now I know who I am. I want to make my family proud, have an impact.’
Next up is The Games. At school Phoenix was captain of the basketball team, so surely cycling, swimming and diving will be a walkover.
‘They would be,’ she laughs, ‘if I’d stuck with exercising. It’s been tough, but it’s good pain. It’s like life. You get knocked down and you get up again.’
- The Games, Mon-Fri, 9pm, ITV. Visit womensaid.org.uk