Melanie Blake talks about life and her new book
“I was at a bus stop in Oldham Street and this bloke came up to me, carrying a workman’s bag, which he opened to show me the hammer inside…” Her speech slows as buried memories of the terrifying ordeal flood back. “He said, ‘I could kill you with this… I’ve done it before’.
“He was pacing about, he looked unhinged. Mercifully the night bus turned up, but he got on it too. I was so shocked I stupidly went to the back of the bus and he followed.
“The way he looked at me I knew he absolutely meant that he wanted to kill me. I went up to tell the driver who stopped the bus and threw him off. The man chased us for what felt like a mile.”
It’s just one of many shocking incidents teenage Melanie had to survive – including a predatory panto producer, a junkie rapist and a groping cab driver.
Blake’s traumatic childhood was a stark contrast to the perma-glam world the blue-eyed blonde inhabits now. With her designer bags, fake furs and real diamonds, the curvaceous agent-turned-novelist looks like she has just swept in from TV’s Dynasty.
Agent-turned-novelist Melanie’s incredible journey began in Stockport, Greater Manchester. Her family were poor but happy, until her printer father was sucked into an extreme religious group.
“It was a born-again doomsday cult,” Melanie, 45, recalls. “He joined when I was six. He was completely and utterly brainwashed. He believed the world was going to end, and we had to repent our sins.”
He pulled apart her dolls, smashed her older brother’s guitar, ripped pop posters off their walls and gave the cult every penny they had.
“We had no curtains, no carpets, no home comforts – it was as close to Dickensian as you can get.”
Melanie left home at 16 and never went back. “He’s still alive and just the same. We spoke and I told him I have forgiven him because I have the life he can only dream of.
“My life is everything he said it wouldn’t be – as is my brother’s. He was a straight A student who went on to university; very academic. If he’d heeded our dad’s doomsday warnings he wouldn’t have bothered studying.
“He’s the bright one, I was the bad girl,” she adds, self-depreciatingly. Although of course it takes brains to become a self-made millionaire, and to write two Sunday Times best-selling novels.
“My beautiful mum was as daft as two planks,” Melanie adds. “She had a miserable life for 30years, then left at 47 and died seven years later.
“I didn’t really have powerful parental figures – I had a fanatic for a father and a crazy aunt for a mum.”
She did however have a small TV set, rescued from a skip, and equipped with a coat-hanger aerial. “TV became my parents. Television raised me. Had I not been a child of the 80s, when women were fighting back against the system, I wouldn’t be who I am.”
She cites Joan Collins on Dynasty and brassy Bet Lynch as early role models. Strong, confident women. Joan’s sister Jackie Collins’s “bonkbuster” novels were another huge influence.
Running away at 16, Melanie ended up in a squat on a lawless estate in Oldham, “so cold we’d huddle up on the floor for warmth and lie around a Calor gas heater – which could have killed us.
She cites Joan Collins on Dynasty and brassy Bet Lynch as early role models
“We survived on tangerines and chocolate…it was all we could afford. It was the best time.”
Melanie worked cash-in-hand in shoe shops, on flower stalls and in pubs and clubs. “I was a very good barmaid. I was the sort of barmaid Bill Wyman would have given a very large tip to,” she laughs.
After the squat was boarded up, she heard about a council scheme to re-house homeless teens and landed herself a three-bedroom flat in Salford.
That same year, while working at the Hacienda club, she had a horrifying encounter with “a Scottish drug addict whose face was yellow with hepatitis”.
She recalls, “He said, ‘What are you doing out this late? You must be looking for trouble’. Then he exposed himself.”
Melanie fled into her block of flats and hid in a first-floor maintenance cupboard. “I could hear him growling ‘I’m gonna rape you’. I hid for hours! That’s when I knew I had to change my life.”
Powered by the 80s mantra, “if you want it, you can have it”, Melanie, 17, bought a one-way ticket to London Euston with nothing but her clothes and £1500 saved from accrued tips.
“London was supposed to be dangerous but, for me, the streets were paved with freedom.”
She did promotional work for two years, giving away Tequila shots and the like, and finding an on-off lover in the late rock star Michael Hutchence.
On the fringes of showbiz, she blagged her way into a job as a camera assistant on Top Of The Pops, working with everyone from Aerosmith to Westlife via Kylie and Anastasia. After befriending Gillian Taylforth in the BBC car park, she joined an extras agency.
“Within weeks I was in the Queen Vic, watching Barbara Windsor and Jessie Wallace rowing like wildcats – Barbara later admitted it on TV. Jessie’s ex had leaked what she’d said about Barbara, and Bar turned the air blue. It was much more interesting off-camera than on!”
Blake became a full-time extra on Emmerdale and Coronation Street, meeting and befriending Beverly Callard, below, and Claire King, who she shared a flat with.
She later represented them both as an agent.
Ex-Coronation Street star Beverly Callard
“My dad always said, ‘All women over thirty are finished’ and the business seemed to feel the same, but soap women had saved my life as a child and I decided to save them; to get them work and make them money.”
Melanie’s clients were pop acts – Claire Richards, the Nolans – and actresses, including Patsy Kensit, Stephanie Beecham and Sherrie Hewson.
Friends as well as clients, they supported her when she wrote her first novel, 2018’s The Thunder Girls which became a stage musical, taking more than £2million at the box office.
But Blake’s breakthrough success was her soap-inspired second novel, Ruthless Women, published in 2021, which was followed by this year’s sexy crime thriller Guilty Women – both international hits.
Melanie with Emmerdale star Claire King
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Maureen Holdsworth aka Sherrie Hewson
“They would never have existed if not for Covid,” Melanie says. “I would never have believed that I’d become a double Sunday Times bestseller or that my books would be printed in seven languages.
“It’s like a dream come true except it was a dream I’d never dared to have!”
In a fresh twist, she’s just been offered a deal to write her larger-than-fiction autobiography.
“I’m confused,” Melanie says. “I’m on a journey I didn’t anticipate…and I’m a control freak.”
She’s happy though, spending her spare time “shopping and dating”; she owns a £2.5million Chelsea house outright and five pieces of Jackie Collins’s jewellery.
If the classmates who bullied her for having free school meals could see her now…not to mention the English teacher who sneered that the only thing she’d ever write would be “labels on boxes in the factory you’ll work in”.
Guilty Women is published in paperback on Thursday August 18
Blake is at a career crossroads, however.
“I’m very torn. I want a break from writing because I have other things I want to do. I’m getting offered a lot of TV work, a lot of guest panels…
“I do wonder whether I’ll pause after the autobiography – that’ll give my agent a heart attack!
“I plan to republish The Thunder Girls, as it was written, and I miss my agency. I miss looking after the women. I think in my heart I’ll probably return to it.”
*Guilty Women (HarperCollins, £7.99) is published in paperback on Thursday 18 August.