the Spice Girls 2


The first time I met the Spice Girls they were already causing trouble.

It was nearly two years ago, while they were still total unknowns, months before the release of their first single, ‘Wannabe’, at a race meeting at Kempton Park. Two of them were sitting on a statue of Britain’s most popular racehorse, Red Rum, surrounded by angry stewards trying to get them down.

The girls ran riot all afternoon. They’ve been wreacking havoc ever since, conquering the world – country by country – in the process, saving the biggest and the best (America) til last.

The day at the races ended with the five of them dragging me into the ladies toilets and singing to me, acapella. Months later, I got the chance to return the compliment, singing a rather rowdy version of ‘Fame’ with them in a kareoke bar in Tokyo, the night we hit the town to celebrate the news that ‘Wannabe’ was going to reach number one in the UK.

Besides spending seven weeks at number in the UK, since then, ‘Wannabe’ has been number in 31 countries (including Argentina, Estonia, Hong Kong, Iceland, Korea, Switzerland and Lebanon), and sold 4 million copies. In less than a year, the group has sold over 7 million singles and over 7 million copies of the album, ‘Spice’. The success of their Comic Relief single, ‘Mama’, meant they became the first group in history – male or female – to reach number one with their first four singles.

Even still, no-one expected their success in America, where ‘Wannabe’ crashed into the charts at 11 and then went to number one, something not even The Beatles’ debut single, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ could achieve. The single and album have already both sold more than a million copies.

That they’ve managed it as Girls Behaving Badly makes it all the more remarkable, especially as, when they first appeared, they were widely dismissed as just another polished pop package, cynically moulded by their management or record company,
to fit into a gap in the market somewhere between Take That and Eternal.

With the Spice Girls though, the days when this type of pop music was produced by Stock, Aitken & Waterman, and the band couldn’t drink an orange juice without asking permission, were over.

The idea that anyone was ever going to control The Spice Girls would quickly come be regarded as a joke.

LOOKING BACK over their antics, the description of the Spice Girls as ‘Oasis with wonderbras’ doesn’t really do them justice.

Their talent for causing trouble and persuing their idea of a good time make Oasis look like Cliff & The Shadows.

“It’s funny you should say that,” purrs Geri, with a typically saucy glint in her eye, before telling the story of the time she once hired the others a stripogramme who turned up without his music and had to use MTV, eventually stripping off to Sir Cliff.

“He started violating Emma ! We actually had to pull him off her.”
“The thing is,” Melanie B, announces, “Emma was enjoying it !”

Whatever else you might think of them, no-one can say the Spice Girls didn’t start as they meant to go on.

Ashley Newton, deputy MD and head of A&R at their label, Virgin Records, says “I’ll never forget the day they burst in here.”

They caused such a commotion in the office, and were so wild, bright and funny, he called down the label’s bosses and said ‘You just have to see this’.”

A dinner early on in their career – ostensibly to discuss ideas for their press campaign – was so raucous, Richard Branson, who happened to be in the restaurant, asked if one of them was getting married and they were out on a hen night. With the Spice Girls though, most nights ended up like a hen night.

When they signed their record deal with Virgin, they sent along a chauffeur-driven car with five blow-up dolls – one for each girl, including a blonde doll, a black doll and one they’d sprayed red (for Geri).

Their celebrations including hurling them into the canal than runs past Virgin’s Headquarters and watching them float down river. Victoria – who doesn’t really drink – drank so much champagne, they had to lean her against a wall while they repaired her make-up. On the way home, they ripped off Victoria’s knickers and threw them out of the taxi.

The single, Wannabe, that “I’ll tell you what I want, whatIrillyrilly want” was insidiously infectious (a cross between Neneh Cherry’s ‘Buffalo Stance’, Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’, and Madonna’s ‘Holiday’) and became engrained on the brain of anyone who heard it putting back some energy, wit and glamour back into pop music.

But unleashing the girls in person was the label’ masterstroke, as the girls appeared, singing acapella, at endless, unsuspecting, radio stations, journalists and music industry functions.

They were so wild and colourful, the question ‘which is your favourite Spice Girl ?’ soon became a national pastime.

Meeting them at the airport for our trip to Japan was a real experience, like having to deal with five Noel and Liams making a night of it.

But it was 11 in the morning, before a 13 hour flight, after which they were going to be on a energy-sapping schedule of TV appearances, live performances, meetings and interviews.

Checking in, they whirled each other around on luggage trolleys, scattering other passengers in their wake. They were drinking, swearing and smoking, with an enthusiasm rarely matched by the worst heavy metal band. (Even the Spice Girl who didn’t smoke had 200 B&H with her from duty free.)

More like a bunch of English football hooligans going on holiday than five novices going on a hard-working business trip, the talk was of Tokyo’s strip bars and tattoo parlours, about reading Irvine Welsh, watching Pulp Fiction and the rivalry between Man United and Liverpool.

They quickly commandeered the VIP lounge, making Pimms for everyone, filling their handbags full of fruit from the breakfast buffet and singing, dancing and laughing incessantly.

Any dishy pilot who made the mistake of coming in for a quiet cup of coffee and a read of the paper was quickly subject to a string of lewd remarks and sexual harassment.

The no-smoking signs did not prevent a contest blowing smoke-rings – conducted with cigars ! Amidst endless, hilarious Jimmy Saville impressions, Mel B spurned Geri’s offer of a Hamlet, plumping for a “one of them nice big cigars – like a cock.”

It was easy to see why the band’s interviews would later become a quote fest.

With Melanie B and Geri both incredibly talkative, funny, outrageous personalities, whenever Emma, Victoria and Melanie C wanted to chip in, in order to make any impact it would have to with something fairly funny or scandalous.

Looking at some of their press, they put the characters of the notorious BBC series, Men Behaving Badly, to shame.

“We’ve all got balls,” Geri said, “But I’ve got quite big balls basically.”

In the States, before the release of ‘Wannabe’, there were stories of urinating in plant pots at the Sunset Marquis in Los Angeles, and streaking naked round the corridors of the Four Seasons Hotel. Mel B and Geri also mooned guests lying round the swimming pool from their balcony.

Did anyone complain ? I asked them.
“Well would YOU could complain !” laughed Geri, not unreasonably.

Geri never stops talking or laughing or being provocative. Saucy and daring, a Lulu for the 90s, for the 13 hour flight to Tokyo she wore her enormous Westwood heels the whole way. In the early days when the five girls shared a house together in Swindon, Geri’s driving nearly killed them (and various other pedestrians/motorists and cyclists) several times over. She drove through the barriers of car parks or had her windscreen broken by them more than once. When she would tell people, ‘meet me on the roundabout’, she really would be ON the roundabout.

Melanie B, of course, is well known for her effervescent, outrageous personality, describing herself to me as “the mad one” of the group. Dare her to do something and she’ll do it, she says, “because I’m One of Those. I’ll do anything.” She is like a beautiful Vera Duckworth on acid. Besides her tattoos and plunging leopardskin bodysuits, she has, she says, pierced “everywhere.”

When we went to Tokyo, she had just had her tongue pierced, “which is meant to be good for oral sex.” Although she had been told not to do any kissing for two weeks, because of the large metal bone now sticking out of her tongue, she told me she had “been practising snogging on Geri and Emma”.

Melanie C of course is famous for her tattoos (a Celtic band and a Japanese symbol). She has confessed to having eaten dog food (with the biscuits) and having no curtains, wandering around in the nude after a bath. She and Geri made the papers for pogoing and heckling Blur. During the European Championships, on a children’s TV show, she held up a sign saying how much the band loved England’s goalkeeper, Seaman, but later admitted,
unfortunately, her spelling is not as great as her love of football.

Emma may be “the baby of the bunch”, but, as well know, it’s the quiet ones you have to look out for – as her penchant for streaking round hotel hallways demonstrates.

Since the band started, she has grown out of her cutesy image and is now transforming into a glamour puss like the rest of them, declaring “I want to be a hot sexy bitch”. She spent much of our time in Japan perfecting an alarmingly accurate impression of the Vietnamese hooker in the film ‘Cold Metal Jacket’ telling anyone who would listen the line, “me so horny – me love you long time” and drinking pina coladas by the bucketful.

Victoria is (supposedly) the sensible one, but as she has become more confident and outspoken, even she has got into Bad Behaviour. Her favourite word, she told one magazine, is “bollocks”. Her major talent, “wearing dresses that are incredibly short but not showing my knickers or looking indecent.” She still has to pull her skirt down as she walks up any stairs. In one interview, she described Camilla Parker Bowles as “an old horse”.

Asked to described their perfect party guests, they go for:
Liverpool FC (Mel C), Elvis (Geri), Jack Dee (Victoria), Oliver Reed (Mel B) and “a bunch of strippers” (Emma).

Somehow they have breezed past dozens of potential scandals –
including old topless modelling shots from Geri’s past, a
photograph of her doing a kung-fu kick with no knickers on (oops !). and a “three in the bed” story sold to a tabloid by two of Mel B’s neighbours.

“It was obvious he hadn’t slept with me,” she laughed, about one of them quoted in the story. “cos he only gave me 8 out of 10. He’d have given it 11 out of 10 if he’d really slept with me.”

Talking about sex, they were at their sauciest.

In Rolling Stone magazine, Geri answered the question about the one item she always carries with her on tour saying it was a skipping rope – to train with.

“And to tie people up. Also my electric toothbrush, that’s got a dual purpose as well ! You don’t have to tell it you love it
in the morning.”

Chat-up lines were, inevitably, a rich vein of questioning, although
Mel B admitted that “if the five of us were together, it would take a certain type of person to approach any of us.” (Someone bonkers.)

Predictably, Victoria has the best collection of awful chat-up lines. “I like your clothes,” one chancer said to her. “They’d look good on my bedroom floor.”

Her runnner-up was “How much was a polar bear weigh ? I don’t know but it breaks the ice.” (Boom boom !)

Mel B doesn’t usually wait to be approached.
“I just go up to them and say ‘Ere, i fancy you’. I do it all the time. I don’t really give a s**t.”

By the end of the year, their capacity for generating column inches and making waves had reached avalanche proportions with more press than Liam and Noel put together. Everything the group did had become a national talking point.

As far as other celebrities were concerned, they were not exactly sitting on the fence.

They accosted Elton John (“for the way he treated his fans”),
pinched Ulrika Johnson’s bum after “she gave us a dirty look” and, when asked what she thought of Louise, Geri said she thought ex-Eternal singer, Louise had “lovely breasts.”

Reminiscing about their wild youth, they told one magazine a series of disgusting childhood traits such as “eating chewing gum off the floor”, “keeping bogeys behind the bunk bed” and
“doing a pooh with my brother and sister in the bath.”

When they started getting more political the country erupted
– especially when Geri described Margaret Thatcher as “the first Spice Girl”.

Victoria called John Major “a boring pillock”, Mel C spoke out for Tony Blair and Labour while Emma and Mel B said they were not voting.
“I’m an anarchist” declared Mel B in case anyone hadn’t noticed.

Their support of Greenpeace and opposition to a single currency lead to them being discussed in the House of Commons.

The Royal Family were another controversy they were happy to leap into.

Lady Di was also made into a kind of honoury Spice Girl.
“Fair play to her,” affirmed Geri. “She married a prince and made a billion.”
Mel B’s agreed.
“I would have shagged Prince Charles,” she said.
When the tabloids reported that Emma was Prince William’s favourite Spice Girl, she said that if they ever met, her first line to him would be “Hello sexy”.

However badly they behaved though, nothing could stop them.

Their popularity with young and old, boys and girls alike, kept soaring. They became a national treasure, launching the new mid-week lottery and turning on the Christmas lights in Oxford Street.

If, as one tabloid reported, they were still living with their mums in suburban Watford, Leeds, Widnes, Herts and North London, it was hardly surprising. They never had no time to look anywhere.

Somehow, while all of this was happening they conquered America too, jettting from Miami and New York to LA and New Orleans, and even being trailed on the cover of Time magazine
(‘Spice Invaders: the hot new girl group”), filling the enormous market between fans of Alanis Morrissette and ‘La Macarena’.

Despite working their socks off, never stopping for two years, somehow their energy levels are still flicking into the red. And their appetite for having fun and behaving badly has never waned.

The last time I saw them was at the Brits where they received five nominations and two awards for Best Single and Best Video.

The level of excitement at their appearance there had generated a level of excitement unrivalled even by Oasis – for the simple reason you never know what they’re going to do next. And unlike Liam and Noel, there are FIVE of them.

Needless to say, they didn’t let anyone down. Their clothes, particularly Geri’s microscopic Union Jack/CND Peace sign dress, made front pages, especially when Geri nearly popped out of it.

Liam’s comment that he wasn’t going to the Awards ceremony because if he did, “he’d probably chin the Spice Girls” was hardly likely to go unmentioned.

Collecting their second award of the evening, Mel C challenged him with one of the Spice Girls’ favourite football songs.

“Hey Liam. Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.”

Liam versus The Spice Girls ? No contest.