the Spice Girls in Tokyo


A couple of hours into ‘Loaded’s all-expenses paid week in Tokyo with fresh-faced chart sensations the Spice Girls, and, I’m sad to say, the trip has swiftly deteriorated into the sort of disgraceful scenes of mayhem and depravity regular readers have come to expect from their correspondents.

Having driven away other passengers with the noise and general loutishness of their behaviour, our party has soon commandeered the bar and become gradually incapacitated on endless helpings of free champagne and mini cheddars.

Loud conversations ring around the bar – ranging from the usual ‘Loaded’ debates about the merits of Irvine Welsh and Man U’s forward line to boastful intentions of getting Japanese tattoos and crawling round Tokyo’s strip bars.

The no-smoking area is in uproar too, after a smoke-rings contest ensues, with contestants merrily puffing away on cigars. Jimmy Saville impersonations abounds. Several regrettable bouts of singing break out, with Japanese versions of Earth Wind & Fire songs proving particularly rowdy.

Complaints, inevitably, are made about the loud and frequently obscene language being used, not to mention the number of lewd and sexist remarks directed at any members of the public or the opposite sex making the mistake of complaining about us.

I say ‘us’, but that’s not strictly fair. Obviously not all of the Spice Girls party is behaving this way.

The ‘Loaded’ photographer, Mr. Medley, and I for example, are in fact still trying to wake up, drinking coffee, and keeping out of it.

This is just the women. This is just the girls – the Spice Girls. In actual fact, this is just the airport – the BA Club Lounge at Terminal 4 to be precise, where our plane has been delayed.

We haven’t even left England yet and, before you can say “under starters orders”, the Spice Girls have launched a pre-emptive strike, embarking upon Part One of a determined campaign to take ‘Loaded’ on at their own game.

Strategically, we have been taken totally by surprise. Worse than that, we are being hopelessly outgunned.

IT STARTED at the check-in desk.

We had already been joined by the special guests on the trip – two timid 18 year-old girls from Bristol, winners of a Spice Girls Poetry Competition on ‘The Big Breakfast’, one of whom had never even been to London.

Their winning entry was one of several 20-word poems one of them had written at work, though she had since lost her job after the firm went bust. Hardly surprising if the staff spent all day writing poetry but still…

The prize-winners’ parents had come to see their daughters off at their airport and you could see them looking on nervously worrying that their daughters were about to be lost to the world of pop depravity as the girls whirled around the terminal on baggage trolleys, squealing with laughter and knocking fellow passengers flying.

We adjourned to the club class lounge to celebrate the girls’ first single, ‘Wannabe’, crashing into the charts at number 3.

Any comparisons to the manufactured pop bands of days gone by – when bashful boy bands like Bros couldn’t even have an orange juice without asking their manager – do not last long.

There’s also precious little evidence of any Girl Talk about shopping or make-up – unless you count shouting “Bollocks to Clarins”. True, one of the girls was nibbling fruit but she was loading up her handbag full of fruit as she did so.

So many cigarettes were being consumed that even one of the Spice Girls who doesn’t smoke had brought 200 B&H with her in case they didn’t sell them in Japan. Finally, we start boarding. The ‘Loaded’ contingent made their way rather sheepishly towards the plane with the girls’ favourite chant, pointed our way, ringing around the terminal.

“Come and ’ave a go if you think you’re hard enough !”

Looking back, I should have known.

I had met the five Spice Girls twice before – once at Kempton Park Races where two of the girls were nearly thrown out of the enclosure for mounting the statue of Desert Orchid and once at The Complex nightclub in London, where they dragged me into the ladies and sang to me.

But that was months ago. Surely nowadays, the Spice Girls had become “the female Take That”, Virgin Records’ pride and joy, perfectly packaged to fit into Smash Hits world of shiny happy people, manufactured chart fodder. What none of us had banked on was that the more success they have, the more they are going to enjoy themselves.

So we get re-acquainted.

Victoria: aged 21, Aries, impossibly elegant Essex girl. High heels and handbags. Short skirts a speciality. Fruit fetishist and Jack Dee worshipper. Untapped talent for animal impressions, including a very good flat fish impression – very handy for ordering in Japanese restaurants. Watchful, dreamy, cheeky. “The glamour puss” of the band. Or “the Dorien/Lesley Joseph”.

Melanie C: age 20, Capricorn, Kappa tracksuits and Celtic band tattoo. Supposedly the ‘sensible one’ except she supports Liverpool. When they appeared on kids TV during Euro 96, held up a sign saying ‘WE LOVE SEAMAN’ – worrying considering she’s not sure how you spell it. Cheeky Scouse humour. “The sporty” one if know what I mean, nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more” etc.

Melanie B: age 21, Gemini, “frizzy ’air” and ger-ate Leeds accent. Laugh makes Rusty Lee look miserable. Makes Vera Duckworth look shy and retiring. Spiritual tattoo and pierced in all sorts of places. Just had a large metal bone pierced through her tongue – “which is meant to be good for oral sex”. Forbidden “to snog anyone or perform fellatio for two weeks”, she admits she has been practising on Emma and Geri, although won’t specify which. Outrageous, warm, cheeky. “The mad one” of the band.

Emma: age 18, Aquarius, pink schoolgirl skirts and bunches. Keeps her watch on English time “to keep me sane”. Likes British beef, brick-layers and bucket-sized Pina Coladas. Quiet but naughty. Alarmingly convincing impersonation of the Vietnamese hooker in ‘Cold Metal Jacket’ – “me so horny. Me love you long time”. No tattoos, no piercing – “just me labia”. Emma is “the baby” of the bunch.

Geri: used to be “a bit of a wild child” but now reached the grand old age of 21. Wise beyond her years, a Leo. Pierced ears and belly-button. Tactile. Inquisitive. Geri wears Westwood heels for the 13 hour flight to Japan. Likes Hamlet cigars, shiny suits and Elvis. Lives near James Bradfield “the singer with some sort of MOR band” (the Manic Street Preachers). Once had a job getting paid to watch cartoons to check whether Foghorn Leghorn ever said “bollocks”. Husky, saucy and cheeky. “The intellectual” of the band.

The Spice Girls lived together for nine months when they first got together – a period that will one day make an excellent sitcom.

Originally, they used to see each other around at stage auditions and were brought together to be some record industry masterplan. The snag was they had their own idea. Once you’ve met them, the idea of anyone getting them to do what he says and keep their mouths shut is hilarious.

Virgin’s stroke of genius was unleashing them on the rest of us in person, bombarding TV producers and magazine writers with their personalities, and then hit them with their secret weapon namely that they can actually sing. And dance. Their acapella sessions in the toilets are legendary.

At dinner in Tokyo, it’s ‘Loaded’s photographer’s turn.
“Come on Toe-nee,” shouts Melanie B down the table. “If you think you’re ’ard enough.”

A quick rendition of ‘One of These Girls Is Doing Her Own Thing’ brings a standing ovation.
“We had to sing for our supper,” Geri explains to the other diners.
“And we’re all twats” announces Melanie.

For a group that have just released one single, the Spice Girls have more stories than a heavy metal festival. But after two years’ preparation they have hundreds of them including stories about meeting Courtney Love, Tom Hanks, Oliver Stone, you name it. They have a story about John Craven’s dirty grey underpants that for legal reasons we couldn’t even allude to.

What usually happens is, Geri or Melanie B will start a story, until the other takes up the running. Then it’s a tug of war between them to get to the punchline. Victoria might chip in with observations about the fashion-wear and Emma or Melanie C will top it off with the final cheeky remark.

They only time they stop talking and laffing is when they’re asleep. And even then you wonder.

Over dinner, the stories just keep on coming, stories about pissing in plant pots at the Four Seasons Hotel, Los Angeles; abusing Elton John and touching up Ulrika Johnsen at the Brits.
“She looked really nice, so I smiled at ’er, right ?” says Emma demurely. “But she gave me this really dirty look, so when she walked past I pinched her bum.”

Ominously, they explain that people are always singing to them, notably an overly earnest footballer who serenaded them when they appeared on a programme called ‘Boiled Egg & Soldiers’. (‘Loaded’s money is that it was John Salako.) The last person to sing to them was a naked Pakistani transvestite act singing Norman Greenbaum’s ‘Spirit In The Sky’. A pretty tough act to follow.

When they signed to Virgin, they sent along 5 blow-up dolls to the signing (including a black one and a red-head) and celebrated by tossing them over the balcony and watching them float down river. And when they were at the Four Seasons in LA, Emma streaked around the corridors with her dressing gown open, while Melanie B and Geri went on to the balcony, and mooned at all the guests gathered round the swimming pool.

Did anyone complain ? I can’t help asking.
“Now would YOU complain ?” purrs Geri. Point taken.

When they were living together in the House of Fun in Swindon, the girls survived 7 car-crashes with Geri driving – her subtle attempt to go solo. If Geri says to meet you “at the roundabout”, you will find her parked on the roundabout. More than one car-park barrier has come crashing through her windscreen when she’s tried to leave without paying.

When we arrive in Tokyo, Spice Girls (or “Spy-cee Girs” as the Japanese jornos call them) are in the Top 5 being kept off the top by golden oldies from The Carpenters and the Bee Gees. And you thought Japan was futuristic.

A soul-destroying schedule of Japanese radio interviews, TV appearances, record company Meet & Greets and ‘Loaded’ drinking sessions has been meticulously put together. (What whinging Indie bands who never sell any records slagging off pop acts like the Spice Girls when they’re being interviewed by the NME are prone to forget is that they actually work their bollocks off.)

After a draining 14-hour flight sinking free drinks and watching ‘Pulp Fiction’ on the video, no sooner have we hit Tokyo than the Girls are off to the sacred Naritasan Shinsohji Temple to perform the ancient ritual of the Top of the Pops live satellite link up, in 36 degree heat and hounding humidity.

If you thought ‘Wannabe’ was scientifically designed as a highly infectious/irritating piece of perfect pop, trust me, you have no idea. After 16 plays for TOTP’s finest, three nights later I am still waking up in the night lip-syncing: “I’ll tell you what I want, what I really fucking want.” (A-zig-a-zigger yourself.)

The next morning is taken up with a highly entertaining episode of: Spice Girls Go To The Swimming Pool.

Emerging nervously in my costume, I am greeted with the sight of Melanie B standing in the water shouting “Come and ’ave a swim if you think you’re hard enough” and making obscene hand gestures aimed at a man in the pool teaching his kid to swim.

Meanwhile, Emma wants to show me her underwater handstands (very nice Emma – bound to come in handy) and Geri is raising her eyebrows and suggestively brandishing the sun-cream.

Melanie C and Victoria have got their tops off but want to know which bushes the photographer is hiding in.

We lie there on our loungers, discussing the mysteries of life and their favourite topic of conversation: “Women’s boobs” (as Emma puts it). All attempts to get them to talk about the situation in Bosnia instead fail miserably.

Melanie proceeds to say unspeakable things about a female journalist we are mutually acquainted with (“she’s got HUGE tits – imagine those slapping about in yer face”) and eyeing up one of the Big Breakfast prize-winners.

Victoria invites us to decided whether she should have have HER tits done and sweet young Emma declares hers are getting bigger, pushing them together and announcing that “they’ve gone all uneven today.”

Geri is intent on showing me her reversible costume but I’m looking the other way, planning an escape route.

“You missed a look at her pubes,” complains Melanie.
Before I can protest that I wasn’t trying to look at Geri’s pubes, she has turned down the inside of her bikini again.
“So you can see I’m not a natural red-head,” she grins.

Later, Geri is talking so quietly, I miss the end of her favourite story from Marianne Faithful’s autobiography until Melanie repeats it, causing no little consternation amongst the other hotel guests with the words “sucking Keith Richards cock” echoing round the pool up to the 24th floor. I decide to get the beers in – four or five beers and a campari and soda for Emma costing approximately £ 125.50.

The good news is Toshiba EMI have called to persuade us not have any Japanese tattoos on the grounds that the needles might not be clean enough. The bad news is the girls have decided I should have a cock-ring done instead.

“ ’Ere Jim,” Melanie B shouts out across the pool. “You know what we call foreplay – a curry.”

It’s all very intimidating. We are being totally out-‘Loaded’. I go for a lie down.

The highlight the next day is Spice Girls’ performance at the Meet & Greet for their Japanese record company.

Sadly, songs like ‘Say You’ll Be There’, ‘Last Time Lover’ and ‘Expose’ reveal a tragic lack of Stock Aitken & Waterman mindlessness, plumping for Chic TLC soul and smooth UK swing instead, whilst ‘Love Thing’ is a smoochy Jam & Lewis/Janet Jackson ballad, and an obvious number one.

The show also provides more damning evidence of their potential: dazzlingly slick with a frankly unhealthy exuberance for what they do: walkin-talkin-dancin-prancin razzamatazz on legs.

Tony and I are reassured to find the Japanese jornos maintaining our own fine traditions and standing at the bar talking through the first number, getting more drinks in.

Backstage afterwards, we find B lying on the bed with her legs open shouting, “right !? who wants to go first”, while Emma bounces up and down, pigtails flying.

“The winners” as they are known, have meanwhile been corrupted long ago, and stand there making like the Spice Girls, raiding the mini-bar and smoking cigars.

Toshiba EMI has flown in the best cocktail-maker in Japan (second in the International Bartender Contest) who has designed cocktails for the girls based on their personalities.

Melanie B’s is predictably the strongest/hardest to swallow – a lethal blend of Vodka, Calvados and Irish Mist although it’s hard to say whose is the fruitiest. We volunteer to try them all – “two Melanie B’s, an Emma, a double Geri, two Cs and four Victoria’s please.”

Emma’s cocktail is called ‘Eng-er-land’ while Victoria’s, for reasons best kept to herself, is called ‘Canyon’.

Having refused to serve me a “Quick Fuck” or a “Slippery Nipple”, I plump for something different.
“You wanna Sex on the Beachie ?” repeats the Japanese waitress.
“Yes thank you. That’s the best offer I’ve had since I got here.”

Eventually, we leave for dinner. Three of the girls leave with the first cab but the driver returns 5 minutes later, deposits them on the kerb and speeds off, shouting Japanese.

Over dinner, we return to more important matters, namely: if they were biscuits, what would they be ?

Their answers are: an a high protein sports biscuit (Melanie C), a hob-nob (B), an after-dinner mint (Victoria), a pink fondant fancy (Emma), while Geri asks plaintively, “can I be a Garibaldi ?”
Jonathan Dimbleby, eat your heart out.

Purely on your behalf, I quiz them mercilessly about the best way to go about chatting them up, although they admit that if the five of them were together “it would take a certain type of person to come up to one of us” (someone bonkers).

Emma and Melanie C seem to go for men who reflect their own personalities, while what Victoria looks for first in a man is “good shoes”, and failing that, Jack Dee or George Formby.

Melanie B would probably get in first before the poor bloke knew what had hit him – “I just go up to them and say ‘I fancy you’. I do it all the time. I don’t really give a shit.”

Mel C on the other hand wouldn’t even tell the others because she knows Melanie B would go straight up to him and say: “my mate fancies you.”

As for Geri, according to the others, Geri likes: “men who can stimulate her mentally”, “blokes who look a bit weird” and “young boys.” On the positive side, she says she’s “a cheap date.”

So which one of you tends to go for bastards ? I ask, trying not to sound hopeful.
– “I think we all do,” says one.
So all men are bastards ?
– “Exactly !” says Emma.

At this point, there is nothing for it but to hit the town in a vain attempt to catch up.

Down in the red-light district, Roppongi, a good time is not only hard to find but prohibitively expensive. All the signs are written in funny sign language (Japanese) and the hustlers’ idea of a special offer, even without a show, is 9500 yen/£ 60 for two drinks with a flyer.
“Two whiskies ?”
“Two beers.”

As for the infamous coffee bars where the waitresses have no knickers on, we could have been standing right outside one and never know. Asking passers-by if they knew any coffee bars where the waitresses had no knickers on proved strangely unsuccessful. (Some became violent.)

Our best bet, a bar called Gas Panic – described in the guide book as “a Boschean carnival of sleaze” – inevitably failed to live up to expectation. Medley and I end up in a basement rap club watching the kids body-popping and having a MacDonalds on the way home – a Teriyaki Burger and two Chicken Tatsutas for £ 25.

When we get back to the hotel, the Girls are sitting in the bar celebrating the news that ‘Wannabe’ has got to number one.

Melanie B is waving a bottle of £ 120-per-bottle champagne in each hand, jumping around, shouting “Fookin fook ! You twatting bass-tards”, spurning Geri’s Hamlet cigars on the grounds that they are too small, saying she wants “one of those nice big ones, like a cock.”

Melanie’s mum cried when she told her and even Melanie herself has had to change her knickers.

When the waiter leans across Melanie B to pour more champagne, she sniffs his armpit, then tries to get Emma to do the same with a quick chorus of “Come and ‘ave a sniff if you think you’re ‘ard enough.”

Emma gleefully announces: “I’ve got sore gums”, causing the Spice management team to practically fall off their chairs, but it’s not what you think. Emma switches to cocktails.

“Get a nice Pina down me neck,” she says.
“Get a nice penis down yer neck more like !” roars Melanie.

One and a half hours later, we have wracked up a bar bill of over £ 1000. Oops.

The drinking games start and Geri finally wheels out her Courtney Love story, about the time the Spice Girls dressed up as a rock band and gate-crashed Courtney’s hotel room in LA by pretending to be friends of Amanda de Cadanet’s.

They ended up in a room “that looked as if it had been burgled”, littered with dirty underwear and drugged-up members of the Stone Temple Pilots with poor Courtney off her face, wearing nothing but a pair of knickers, rambling about Keanu Reeves, demanding tea and telling anyone who would listen her life story while they all watched ‘Congo’ on the hotel video.

The celebrations continue at a Karaoke bar, where we experience the bizarre spectacle of hordes of paralytic Japanese businessmen letting their hair down by passionately performing cover-versions of Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’ (“with a bit of lock music”), Bananarama’s ‘I Heard a Lumour’ and Jacko’s
‘Birrie Jean is not my Ruvver’. Not forgetting Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Just Called To Say I Ruv You.’

When Earth Wind & Fire’s “September’ comes on, total mayhem breaks out. The girls leap up and, gyrating madly, start bumping and grinding with all and sundry.

The two Melanies do ‘Goldfinger’. Melanie C and Victoria do ‘Copacabana’, while TLC’s ‘Waterfall’, ‘We Are Family’ and a head-banging version of ‘Walk This Way’ are all better than the originals.

Melanie B embellishes them with some toasting, dancehall style, “bigging up all the Spice Girls in the house” and challenging yours truly to “Come and ‘ave a go if you think you’re hard enough.”

After persistent requests to do my David Bowie impression, Geri invites me on stage to do a duet of Sinatra’s ‘That’s Life’ but a massive attack of stage fright sets in.

When all five girls are singing ‘Fame’, Melanie starts taunting me remorselessly.
“Jim is still not on the stage…. He’s not up here.”
The humiliation of copping out beckons.

We have been so comprehensively out-‘Loaded’, the only thing left is take them on at their own game too and blow them off-stage. Warming up to my rather moving version of ‘Born Free’, I order six vases of saki and sink them all.

With the crowd on their feet and the acclaim ringing in my ears, a minute later, I find myself bounding on stage, waving to the crowd, shouting “it’s great to be back in Tokyo yeah ! Are you ready to rock Tokyo !?!”

The good news is, I have arrived at the point in ‘Fame’ where there is (I suddenly discover) a quite appalling, three-minute guitar solo. The bad news is that I decide to perform it.

After seamlessly segueing in a chorus of “Ooh aah Can-ton-a”, I realise the girls have accepted defeat and are leaving, dancing towards the exit doing the conga, being mobbed by grinning Japanese businessmen.

I am left on the stage, alone, singing.
“Fame/I wanna live forever/Fame/I wanna learn how to fly.”

Later I break the news to the five tearful girls: I’ve decided to go solo. It was that sort of week. That sort of band.