It started with a giggle and a zigazig-ah! And before the word could change channels Wannabe was blasting in through our ears and the Spice Girls were seeping into the planet’s consciousness – and in the process their brand of Girl Power would knock the Beatlemania of the ’60s for six.
The Brit pop band zoomed in to the top of the charts in 51 countries, their debut album, Spice, sold 10-million copies, and Prince William tore down his prized poster of Pamela Anderson to hastily replace it with a pin-up Baby Spice. Everyone has a favorite Spice.
So, who do the Spice Girls think they are? Superstars?
Well, actually, no.
“We’re five dead normal girls just writing a few tunes,” reckons Sporty Spice, and when they wrote Who Do You Think You Are? (criticizing celebs who think they’re superstars) they didn’t imagine they could be considered as celebs too.
They’re thrilled about the prospect of meeting Nelson Mandela, when they perform at a concert in aid of his Children’s Fund in Johannesburg on November 7. Another name to cross off the list of people they want to meet, which also includes Bill Clinton and Paul McCartney. Ironically, even in the more sober British papers they make far bigger headlines than any of their heroes.
British tabloid reporters trail them around the glove. When Baby sprained her ankle, it made front page news. When Posh sneaked of to St Tropez for a romantic romp with her footballer fiancé, Manchester United’s David Beckham, the zoom lenses captured them frolicking on the sands. Then out of the closet popped some nude photos of Ginger (who’s now called Sexy Spice). And if the Spicers aren’t making news, the press simply make up stories about them 0 “Posh is leaving the group” and “Scary slept with both her neighbors.”
The press apologized after the last fabrication, but Scary says, “they can stick their apology up their arse, because the damage is done now.” The Spice Girls have been signed to more sponsorship and endorsement deals than any other British pop act. They were paid 5-million pounds for a fleeting TV commercial for Pepsi, and have advertised everything from potato crisps to phone cards to lollipops.
Everyone wants a slice of Spice. The girls’ energy is infectious, their popularity phenomenal. At the Cannes Film Festival this year they created the biggest buzz ever witnessed in the event’s 50-year history. Michael Jackson, Arnie, Hugh and Sly were shoed out of the way as fans scurried past them to catch a glimpse of the Spicers.
Personality was one of the lucky few publications allowed access past the hysterical masses into the Spice Girls’ private press conference, where we found the Girls to be funny, witty and mad.
They announced that their forthcoming move – Spiceworld – The Movie – would be launched in the UK on December 26 and already it’s being compared to the Beatles’ Hard Day’s Night. The Spicers insisted it would be a parody of themselves, and then hastily curtailed pretentious questions about the state of the British film industry by teasing the entire room of cynical journalists into partaking in a Mexican Wave.
Baby, Sporty, Sexy, Scary and Posh Spice are five extraordinarily different girls, united by one goal – Girl Power. It’s the individuality of the Spice Girls which is perhaps the key to their appeal. There’s a Spice Girl for everyone. Meet the girls whose mission it is to empower woman all over the world:
- Emma Lee Bunton (21, Baby) is the sugar of the Spices. She’s the baby-faced blonde who gets away with mischief. Her mum’s her best friends, she loves doughnuts, and she cries when she’s homesick – which is often nowadays. All she wanted, she says, was to be on the cover of Smash Hits, not to conquer the world. Emma used the money she saved as a child model to put herself through drama school and reckons “the appeal of the Spice Girls is our honesty and that we’re not perfect.” For her, Girl Power is “about taking control of your life and having respect for other people and yourself.” She adds: “Of course I’m a feminist. But I could never burn my Wonderbra. I’m nothing without it!”
- Melanie Jayne Chisholm (21, Sporty – aka Mel C) is the Liverpudlian gymnast who dons tracksuits and takkies and does backflips on stage. She’s a football freak – plays it, has a Celtic armband tattoo and regularly uses her free tickets to watch Liverpool play. Surprisingly, this tomboy once studies ballet for years. Also knowns as Shy Spice because she’s quite reserved in interviews, she’s actually the secret musical talent behind the group (her mum’s also in a band) and takes over on lead vocals. She suggests that the Girls’ success is because “a lot of groups are just writing the stuff they think will sell, whereas we’re just writing what we want to write.”
- Geri Estelle Halliwell (24, Sexy) is the fiery redhead who’s also knowns as Ginger or Old Spice, for obvious reasons. A big question mark hangs over her actual age. With her having previously been an office worker, dancer, unqualified aerobic teacher, bargirl, hairdresser, video checker (she had to listen out for swear words) and model, she might even be 33. As she said when she clinched her audition to get into the band: “I’m as old or as young as you want me to be. I can be a 10-year-old with big tits if you want!” Geri lists narrow-mindedness, suppression, conditioning and ignorance as her pet peeves. A self-proclaimed “rebel with a cause,” she reckons feminism has become a dirty word. Girl Power is just a ’90s way of saying it. We can strike a chord, give feminism a kick up the arse. Women can be so powerful when they show solidarity. Girl Power is about making the best of what you’ve got,” says the 1,57-meer star. “even if I’m small, I think tall.” She has a tattoo of a Jaguar on her back in memory of her car dealer dad, who dies three years ago.
- Melanie Janine Brown (22, Scary – aka Mel B) is the outrageous, spontaneous spark in the gang. Her mom’s white and her dad’s from the Caribbean. When she got her tongue pierced, she practiced snogging on the other Spicers! Loud and proud, she wears big boots, big hair and animal-print gear. “We don’t claim to be sex demons,” she declares. “We don’t pretend to be more important than anybody else; we’re just ourselves.” When her dad was made redundant recently, she paid off her parents’ mortgage as a way of saying “sorry about being a brat when I was younger.”
- Victoria Adams (22, Posh) is the dark brunette with the smoldering looks. She’s the cool, classy sophisticate of the group with a passion for fashion. She has three Yorkshire Terriers, seldom drinks and reckons, “I’m far from posh, I don’t talk posh and I don’t think of myself as posh… but I’m the poshest of this lot!” She has Girl Power because “I was engaged, but found myself and my friends when I realized he wasn’t right for me and broke away.”
Sexy and Scary are the bossiest, bravest and biggest talkers in the group. “Scary is the Mummy Spice and I’m the Daddy Spice,” laughs Sexy. Bonded by their Girl Power slogan, the girls reckon they’re so close they fight as couples in a relationship do – and it does get abusive occasionally.
“Usually it’s me and Mel C,” says Mel B. “If we have an argument, we always end up having a fight. Proper punch-ups.”
Together the famous five are enjoying a reign of fun-filled terror by “spicing” famous people – pinching Prince Charles’s and Brad Pitt’s bums and plonking Bryan Adams on their laps – and that’s just for starters.
They manage to neatly cover both the goody-goody and bad-girls angles, leaving no room for a turf war reminiscent of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Their stage act has been describes as “bright and jolly, with a sexual quotient designed to perk you up, but not too much.” But the language of Girl Power isn’t just loud and proud, it’s often crudely streetwise.
“Bus driver or loyalty, we treat everyone the same because everybody wees and everybody dies,” explains Sexy.
They’ve published an autobiography (Girl Power), produced a one-hour video and their movie, are releasing a new album next week and are currently shifting huge quantities of merchandise, from T-shirts and keyrings to clothes, china and duvet covers, as well as penning more frustratingly catchy singalong pop tunes. When will it stop? Or more importantly, how did it all begin?
The official take on the birth of the Spice Girls is that each of them had been trying to get a break for years but, according to Posh Spice, “we were always the crap ones left behind.”
Posh and Sexy met at a Tank Girl audition. Posh and Baby had known each other since they were eight and performed ina musical together. Sporty and Scary were friends in a dance group in the north of England.
Their record company then claims, “They began to meet regularly and became close friends. All were out of work and, with two commuting from up north, they decided to live together and form an all-girl-power pop group.”
The record company blatantly leaves out one vital fact. The girls really got together because each separately replied – along with 400 other hopefuls – to an advert to form a girl band. The respondents were marked out of 10 and the girl with the highest score was Michelle Stephenson, who was picked along with Mel C, Mel B, Geri and Victoria. The entrepreneurs who had auditioned them in March 1994 rented them a place to stay and rehearsals at a local charity-run studio in the south of England began.
The band, then called Touch, was awful. Michelle didn’t fit in and quit, and after another hasty audition, Posh’s pal, Baby entered the equation. Ian Lee (50), who runs the studio and helped groom the band, has since crawled out of the woodwork to sell his story of how he sat at the piano for a year training the girls, who then up and left in April 1995.
“They spent a year working like slaves to get things right and then, once they’d got things sorted out, dropped everyone and took off,” whinges Lee. But he does grudgingly admit that “they worked hard and now deserve their success.”
“The bloke wanted us to sing someone else’s songs about love and all that shit, but we knew we were our own market,” retorts Sporty Spice. “And they wanted us to all dress the same.”
The Girls already had Girl Power. They didn’t want to be another manufactured band, manipulated by some scheming Mr Manager Man. They wanted, as they put it, “world domination.” Spice make their own rules – they wear what they like, say what they feel, go to bed when they want to and write their own songs (sitting on each others’ knees to brainstorm).
So they took things into their own hands. They moved into new digs, made a demo tape and begged, pleaded and forced anyone connected with the music industry to listen. Along the way they changed their name to Spice Girls, after writing a song called Sugar And Spice with a guy called Tim Hawes. It was he who said “there’s your name. It’s perfect because you’re a bunch of spicy bints.”
Since then these spicy bints have become pop goddesses to teens around the world. You can knock Girl Power, but millions are buying into it – and you’re mistaken if you think it’s about boy-bashing. “Girl power is about taking control of your own destiny,” explains Sexy Spice.
Then they teamed up with Simon Fuller, who’d established himself as a pop manager when he promoted Paul Hardcastle’s 1985 hit, 19, and put the solo career of ex-Eurythmics singer, Annie Lennox, firmly on the international stage. Far-sighted Fuller spotted the Spice Girls’ potential and, taking them under his wing, offered them to EMI’s Virgin label. The rest is now pop history.
And for the foreseeable future the Spice Girls will continue to achieve even more than they dared dream. They’re Spicing it up big time, and if it all ends tomorrow, that’s all right. All they really, really wanted was “to have a larf.”
“This time next year, we might be signing up on the dole – which all of us had to do before Spice Girls,” Sexy Spice shrugs nonchalantly, “but who cares? We were put on earth to improve our spirituality, not for material gain.”
PERSONALITY, October 31, 1997