THE ARTIST FORMERLY
KNOWN AS GINGER
In one of her first American interviews
since she left the Spice Girls, Geri Halliwell explains what
she really, really wants.
By her own admission, Geri Halliwell
is in limbo. After a couple of years as an enormously famous
pop star during which she could not choose a salad dressing without
a tabloid documentation, she has retreated into the shadow of
her celebrity. "To suddenly have ano-ana- anaminity,"
she says, "it's kind of nice." "Anonymity,"
the commodity most elusive to the celebrated - and terrifically
difficult to pronounce - had found the artist formerly known
as Ginger Spice.
Did anyone recognize her on the
beach in L.A. during the photo shoot for Allure (besides her
publicist's teenage nephew, who had probably been tipped off)?
According to a very relaxed security guard hired for the occasion:
"the little kids, definitely, and an old couple visiting
from England." Backstage at the MTV Video Music Awards in
September, no one gave Halliwell the time of day - not her famous
brethren; not even those who used to bow and scrape and kiss
her Union Jack platforms when she was a Spice Girl. "Right,
some of you probably don't recognize me," she said to the
audience when she appeared in a black suit with her hair pulled
back in a tasteful chignon to present the Best Video award. "I
used to dress like a drag queen."
Without the gargantuan hairpiece,
clown makeup, and abundant cleavage, Halliwell looks like a schoolgirl.
She's a tiny thing, all of five two, in loafers, a plain, calf-length
black dress, and a little gray cardigan. Her face is covered
in freckles. Her hair, no longer ginger but strawberry blond,
falls lankly onto her shoulders. In an anonymous bar at LAX,
she could be just another girl having a glass of white zinfandel,
awaiting her British Airways flight home after a summer holiday
in America. (Except, of course, that she's got a personal assistant
with her and a camerawoman hovering around getting footage for
a forthcoming documentary on Halliwell.) Suddenly, the waitress
asks, "Were you on the awards show last night?" "I
was indeed," says Halliwell, smiling politely. "You
look so different without all the stuff," says the waitress.
"You're a very pretty girl."
A FEW THINGS WE DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT
GERI HALLIWELL Geraldine Estelle Halliwell is pretty. She lives
in what she describes as a shack on a cow farm outside London.
She recently discovered cashmere. She considers her older sister,
who is going through a divorce, her best friend. Her mother is
Spanish and still lives in the industrial town of Watford, just
beyond greater London in the house where Geri grew up. She calls
George Michael (with whom she stayed during the post-split apocalypse)
an angel. She wears a small Cartier watch on her left wrist.
She drinks Slim-Fast when she wants to lose weight. She wrote
the "I heard there's an opening at the White House"
joke she cracked on MTV herself. She feels guilty when she flies
first class because of all those people in the back. She hasn't
had a proper boyfriend in five years. She names Nivea, "the
thick stuff," as her favorite beauty product. She has never
met Aaron Spelling.
There have been some nasty rumors
going around. One - that she was considered for Spelling's new
Charlie Angels but was quickly dismissed because she's "too
fat and can't act"- really pisses her off. It's completely
untrue, just like the one about her being 35 with a few kids
hidden away somewhere. In truth, she's 26, and the closest thing
she has to a child is her nephew, whom she adores.
Another rumor - this one more
flattering - is that Halliwell is being considered as the new
Bond girl. And then there's the story of her handing over part
of ther estimated $25 million (all those Spice chips and Girl
Power stickers really add up) to the Church of Scientology. "That
was a joke," she says. There she was in L.A., the Spice
bomb had just dropped, and she was being followed everywhere.
"I really had nothing to say, so I got this idea..."
reporters in hot persuit, she pulled up to the Scientology headquarters,
went in, and came out clutching L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology
Handbook. "I wanted to go to a synagogue next," she
says in her low, scratchy voice, "but I couldn't find one.
I'm always coming up with harebrained schemes."
SOME OTHER HAREBRAINED IDEAS
Halliwell wanted to be famous when she grew up. She believes
that "girl power" ("'feminism' is a dirty word")
is "the strength to take anything negative and turn it around."
She was a presenter at the MTV awards "because is was a
really nice way to say hello to America." She wants to "give
back to society because society has given me so much." For
a start, she auctioned off her Spice Girl wardrobe (every thing
sold at Sotheby's in London for a cool $194,000) to benefit terminally
ill children. And then there's her new cause: breast cancer.
HER NEXT ACT When Halliwell was
18 and a club dancer for rave parties in England, she discovered
a lump in her left breast. She didn't know much about cancer
or tumors or the recommended monthly self-exam. "I was just
prodding around," she says. She went straight to the doctor,
who insisted on removing the lump and testing it. Halliwell was
dumb with fear. "'Cancer' is a terrifying word." She
was one of the lucky ones. The tumor was benign, and
she never looked back. She went on to pose nude, wait tables,
dance in clubs, join a girl group. Then, at the end of May, she
read a book that changed her life - Before I Say Goodbye, Ruth
Picardie's diary of her losing battle with breast cancer. When
she finished sobbing, she thought, My God. I just have to do
She made the wrenching decision
to leave the Spice Girls. There are plenty of theories as to
why - smart money is on the notion that she got out while the
getting was good - but she will not elaborate on admitted "differences"
with Posh, Scary, Sporty, and Baby. However, she does get a little
teary-eyed on the subject and says, "I'd be a liar if I
said it wasn't weird not to be a part of that anymore. I've gone
from one extreme to the other."
Once she'd caught her breath
poolside in St.-Tropez, she turned her attention to what she
calls her cancer research. She met Nancy Brinker, founder of
the Susan J. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, and called up Lily
Tartikoff, who chairs the Fire & Ice Ball (a celebrity event
that raises money for cancer), to see what she could do. She
hasn't passively lent her name to any particular group or simply
thrown money into the pot. That's not her style. "I'm a
doer," she says. "I've got to be involved."
To date, Halliwell had made an
awareness-raising TV commercial that will air soon in the U.K.
and has plans to speak at a suburban girls' school and at Holloway,
Britain's high-security women's prison. She hopes to do the same
in the U.S. Halliwell doesn't claim to be an expert on the disease
- indeed, she was recently curious to learn what "metastasized"
means - but she understands that the fame she gained as a caricature
has earned her a captive audience of young, impressionable girls.
"I know that I have the power to be on the front page of
a newspaper," she says. "But I want to use my front
page, my picture, to say something really powerful and of value.
Make a stand for women...loving yourself, you
know? Self-confidence. Self-esteem. Part of that is health care."
There are worse things she could
be doing than blurting, "If breast cancer were a man's disease
with the same statistics, there would be a cure by now!"
She could be hosting a variety show or endorsing hair color or
sitting on a toilet hawking high-heel sandals. She's definitely
got pop plans up her sleeve - "No doubt, I will go back
into the studio. Let's just say it will be multidimensional"
- but is taking her time. "For the moment," she says,
"I'm keeping my options open."
Meanwhile, she has a really wacky
idea. She'd like to unite the fractious breast-cancer charities
into one big power. Girl Power!