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Caught In The Spice Whirlwind

It’s pouring with rain in Paris and I’m minutes away from interviewing the Spice Girls about their first feature film, Spiceworld – The Movie. As I round the corner, skidding on the heels of my boots, I see the swarm of fans huddled under umbrellas in front of the Spice Girls’ hotel.

It’s like spotting an oasis after months in the Sahara. One hundred meters more and, I’ll be there. Exhausted. Drenched. But at least I’ll finally be sitting face-to-face with the fab five.

It’s been a hectic 10 days in Spiceland and, like a tornado in the desert, they’ve gathered me and a few other journalists up into their swirly-whirly world. In fact, for a while nobody knew where and when we’d land.

One second we were destined for Italy… but no sooner had I paid the R3200 for a non-refundable ticket to Rome than the girls had a change of heart and Paris became the place where we would rendezvous.

For a moment there I was ready to quit. Until days before everyone I knew had been calling me Spoilt Spice because they were jealous as hell when I was invited to Europe to be the first to watch Spiceworld and then curl up on the sofa with the girls for a chat.

At that precise moment, the Spice Girls ruled the world. President Nelson Mandela professed that meeting them was “one of the greatest moments of my life,” Prince Charles was flirting with them, the press couldn’t get enough of them and they collected a truckload of MTV awards.

Then they fired their manager, Simon Fuller and were booed off stage in Spain for insisting the photographers leave the auditorium. (It transpired that said photographers were trying to get snapshots up their skirts.) And that’s about when they decided to move our interview from Rome to Paris. No reason given.

And suddenly half the people who had been calling me Spoilt Spice started calling me Stupid Spice when I told them I was considering forking out another R800 to now go to Paris.

I felt like how the Spice Girls must have been feeling – envied one day, mocked the next. Spice supporters were falling like hail from Johannesburg sky, denting my enthusiasm. Shoving newspapers in my face, they told me the Spice Girls were over. Old news. Finished.

On the other hand, the remaining supporters argued, if I didn’t do it, I’d live to regret it. It would be like missing a chance to interview the Beatles and my grandchildren would chastise me for not grasping the opportunity to personally meet one of pop’s biggest phenomenons.

Then – just to spice thing sup (so to speak) – an offer came in to interview the stars of Titanic in London on the very same day I was due to be in Paris. Now everybody started calling me Stupid Spice. Titanic is sure to be the hugest movie this year. Leonardo di Caprio is a rising, not to mention hunky, star.

“How can you miss him for the Spice Girls?” my advisers chanted. “Who even knows if the Spice Girls will pitch? They cancelled Rome. They could cancel Paris, too…”

And so I sat, with my dilemma, in my sitting room in London and stared blankly at the television (as anyone who’s watching MTV does). And then it happened.

The first single off the girls’ new album flashed on screen – Spice Up Your Life. And that was it. A message – loud and clear. It was time to spice up my life. Time to throw caution to the wind and just go to Paris. Spend the money.

Out of Africa – by the time the Spicers had got used to overshadowing the likes of Prince Charles, Thabo Mbeki and Prince Harry, they were ready to thumb their noses at the “male-dominated” media and make themselves a truly all-girl band… by sacking their male manager.

So what if the Spice Girls didn’t pitch. So what if my future grandchildren star at me blankly when I mention the Spice Girls. Some things in life are just meant to be fun. This was one of them.

And so it came to be that I jumped on a France-bound train that shot me under the English Channel and plopped me into the middle of Paris just in time to sit back and watch Spiceworld in a tiny private screening room at Planet Hollywood. Within minutes I was sucked right into the movie – I’d been squeezed into the front row where my knees were brushing against the movie screen. It made me feel like I was in the movie, except of course I’m not. The Spice Girls are. So, too, are a host of British celebrities and international stars like Elton John, Roger Moore, Meatloaf (as the bus driver) and our very own boy from Swaziland, Richard E. Grant (as the manager they don’t fire…)

The movie’s fun, festive, uplifting and funny. Very funny. It’s like Spinal Tap meets Speed.

It chronicles five crazy days in the lives of the Spice Girls, leading up to their first live performance. It’s a parody of life, London, the Spice Girls and the media and it’s directed by the same guy who did Fawlty Towers and Ab Fab.

After the screening we journalists burst joyously onto the streets of Paris. Most of us had loved the film. A handful of stodgy, middle-aged male reporters had not. A British TV crew was lying in wait for our reactions to this, the first screening of the film. That night in Britain they showed only the middle-aged men’s reactions. Manipulative and typical of the press.

They’ve decided that the Spice Girls are over, and so they will only write and broadcast things that slate the girls. The irony is that this backlash is exactly what the film is about. It was inevitable and the Spice Girls knew that when they began making preparations for this film over a year ago.

The next day hardly dawns. The sun’s stuck behind some horribly heavy grey Parisian clouds. That afternoon they burst and I get drenched, but as you know, I make it – finally – to the Spice Girls’ ultra-lahnee hotel. As I run in, shaking my hair like a dog, pandemonium slaps me in the face.

Reporters from all over the world have crept in and there’s an uninvited journalist lurking behind every plastic bush in the lobby. They’re here because they’ve heard today’s the day the Spice Girls will announce their split-up.

I make my way up the stairs to the reception room where a gang of mature, so-called cynical journalists are hovering around the PR’s desk trying to scrounge autographed photo’s, CDs and tiny, tight Spice Girls T-shirts.

At this stage I’m informed that the tête-à-tête I thought I was going to have has actually grown into about 20 journalistic têtes. Damn. But I cheer myself up enormously by watching two Scottish journalists in kilts go down on their knees to beg for a meeting with the girls. Secutiry finally escorts them out, and within minutes they begin to play the bagpipes, in the rain, outside the press room’s window. They very nearly succeed in being granted an interview… on condition that they stop making such a racket!

Bang on time the herd of 19 journalists, plus me, is ushered into a room upstairs where the Spicers will greet us. To get my money’s worth – remember I’ve now spent R4000 to get here – I hurdle over chairs to get into the front row and adopt an ostrich-like approach – if I don’t look to my side or behind me it will be as if it is just the Spice Girls and me in this room.

The Spicers walk in. Cheers. Yells. Claps. The girls are like close twins, or rather quintuplets. They finish each other’s sentences and Scary (with the pierced tongue) plays with Mel C’s (Sporty’s) hair while Emma (Baby) and Geri (Ginger) hold hands tightly for the next hour. Posh sits very poshly.

The first thing we learn is that they are not about to break up.

“I reckon this big hoo-ha of the past week is caused by the media being a male-dominated industry so they find it disturbing now that there’s no longer a man involved in the equation of a successful girl band,” says Geri. “But we can handle it. We’re strong and we’ve been through a lot together. We’ve seen each other naked, going to the toilet and we’ve cried and laughed together.”

They refuse to discuss their manager’s dismissal any further, other than Sporty’s observation that “everyone is very aware now that if the Spice Girls aren’t happy with something then we change it!”

And so they change the conversation to the film. It was easy to cajole celebrities like Roger Moore to star in their film, they say. “We always used their Achilles heel – which was their five-year-old daughter or grandson,” laughs Geri. “We wanna work with your daddy’ always worked!”

They tell us that a few scenes in the movie (that was written 18 months ago) had to be removed out of respect – references to Princess Diana, Mother Teresa and Giannia Versace. (The day after our interview news breaks that Gary Glitter is suspected of child pornography… so his scene, too, may have to be cut.)

Their New Year’s resolutions for each other are that Geri must talk more quietly, Emma must start swearing and stop wearing “those stupid shoes,” Sporty has to start wearing a Wonderbra, Posh has to wear a pair of jeans and smile more in photographs (she smiles a lot today) and Scary has to cut her hair beause it blocks out the others’ faces in photographs.

They’d all like to meet more “warm people” like Nelson Mandela. “That was a really good experience,” says Baby, “and we nicked some bog roll out of his toilet and pebbles form his pot plants… but we did tell him, and he laughed!”

Right now they’re all into crystals, and they believe there’s definitely “someone watching over us. Thank you, whoever it is”

Towards the end of our hour, Geri points to a guy hiding in the back row.

“I think you’re from the Daily Mail,” she says.

The Mail is the tabloid paper that’s spearheaded this backlash against the Spice Girls.

He nods.

“You know we’d really like to thank the Daily Mail for their support, but I suppose you can’t always back a winner because I heard that in World War II your newspaper back Hitler, but hey, we won’t hold it against you because at the end of the day – we’re all imperfect. We ALL make mistakes!” she spits sarcastically.

When the interview comes to a close this same Mail journalist and a girl from another British tabloid, The Sun, skip up to the front to introduce themselves and basically fawn, fawn, fawn. But you can bet they won’t tell their readers that.

In Spiceworld the girls cope with the backlash by having a laugh. In real life it’s scarcely different.

“We’re pretty strong,” says Scary. “And our friendship helps us through anything.”

And anyways, they point out, the Mail and The Sun are placing their anti-Spice stories on their front pages – proof positive that the Spice Girls are still hot news and sell papers.

“And we don’t have to live with the press. We only have to live with each other,” says Sporty.

“Yeah, and we live around the world, not just in England,” adds Baby.

“And at the end of the day, as cliched as it sounds, newspapers are tomorrow’s fish and chips paper,” notes Gerri.

“And fish ‘n’ chips are bloody good,” jokes Scary.

“Yeah, and we don’t mind taking the piss out of ourselves and everyone should get a sense of humor really,” reckons Posh Spice rather unposhly.

“Lighten up!” they scream in unison.

And I’m so glad I did. I may be R4000 poorer but there were a lot of other journalists who spent more money chasing the break-up story who ended up with no story, no movie and no interview.

I got all that AND I got my tiny tight Spice Girls T-shirt that I can whip on the next time I feel the need to spice up my life!

PERSONALITY Janurary 9 1998

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