"Bless Me For Trying..."
With her sophisticated "boobs in"
look, nearly grown-up music and UN
whatever it is, Geri Halliwell is blowing the froth off the biggest pop
career of the'90s. "I never did legs open," she admonishes John
"Oooh look!" bellows Geri Halliwell,
who will never again be Ginger Spice. A magpie has
landed by her dainty Dolce & Gabanna'd feet.
"Good afternoon Mr Magpie!" It doesn't recognise her.
"Can you say hello to it? You have to. It's lucky." Good afternoon Mr Magpie.
Halliwell - shockingly petite; £17 million fortune; ample bosom; cigarettes hidden in
handbag; startled eyes; pig-tailed hair; trousers that don't reach her ankles; perfect skin; the
weakest handshake this side of minor royalty - grins broadly. Mr Magpie departs. This "living
walking cliché" has little need of his luck - dispensing services. Having left Harry the shih-tzu
dog at home, she's devoured today's press cuttings - a meeting with a Spice Girl at some
ceremony was avoided yesterday - and sent flowers to the editor of Vogue magazine. An
upcoming documentary ensures her evolution will be televised.
ALTHOUGH IT WOULD be a cruel, callous and ultimately
futile thing to do, Geri Halliwell
could talk the hind legs off a flotilla of donkeys if she so wished. She is fluent in both mumbo
and jumbo, and is grand company
Her father, Laurence, had patter, too. At 50, this used car salesman sired Geraldine
Estelle, the rogue.
"He didn't work from the day I was born," she remembers. "His hip had gone and he was
lazy My mother was always cleaning, so I had to do my own bunches. I've had a job since I
was fourteen. Between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one, I moved sixteen times. I've
lived in squats and I've slept in cars, which is not good - it's horrible in fact."
The Halliwells split when Geraldine was nine. While her father took her to car boot sales,
forced her to watch party political broadcasts and plied her with the sounds of Judy Garland
and Shirley Bassey as she cleaned his flat, her Spanish mother, Anna Maria, became a
"Very tough. It wasn't much fun being dragged from door to door and sitting in the
Kingdom Hall. Everybody turns to different things to find solace if they're lonely I got caught
up for a couple of years. I was only a child, so it mattered you didn't get birthday presents."
A strait-laced mother and raffish father left little manoeuvre for rebellion. An ugly duckling
at school (compulsory for future glamorous pop stars), nature took its course. Never
destined for higher education, she "fell into glamour modelling".
"I was only ever going to do the bare, boom boom, minimum. I felt comfortable going
topless or nude, but not with the legs open. It did not feel right doing that sort of thing. It was
giving me extra pocket money but it was dull as dishwater. All I could think of was how long
it was going to take."
Having fallen out of glamour modelling, it was time to kick-start her father's genes. A stint
as Turkish television hostess, telesales person and all-out music industry hustler followed.
"I sold fake Tag watches. Once, I dropped my demo tape at a studio. Aswad were there.
I said, While I'm here would you like to buy a Tag? So at least my journey wasn't wasted.
I'm a survivor."
Even when she lived with her mother, Halliwell was always daddy's girl. He introduced
her to literature and black and white films.
"I wanted to be rich and famous. I looked at everybody on telly and thought they were
She'd written songs and had noted a gap in the market, vacant after a Betty Boo miming
disaster. There was one last audition. For an all-girl band.
"I liked the idea and I liked them. When I met Melanie Brown I loved her, I would have
hung around with that girl anyway. We were partners in crime, we connected very well, we
had great energy and I poured my heart and soul into everything. I suddenly thought, I am on
a mission, I believe this. It felt that those years of struggle and pain were about the power of
belief. I was the original wannabe, but with this back-up of four original girls, I was going to
show the people who told us we can't do it.'
TWO FINE ALBUMS and one foul film later, the Spice
Girls bestrode the earth like
union-jack-skirted dinner ladies. Watford Spice wasn't the group's best dancer (despite a
stint in a cage at a Magaluf nightclub) but she knew about career direction.
"I'm creative; but I've studied marketing and I understand that side very very well. Being
in the Spice Girls bubble arrested my personal development, but I also progressed a hundred
years. Mentally my mind was hurting. Imagine starting at six am, doing non-stop interviews
until eleven pm. It's like when there's a war on: we were very, very, very tight, because we'd
been through so much. We were there for each other."
Halliwell, the canniest of the five, dismissed their first management and invented Girl
Power. "When I harped on about Girl Power, I put my
hand on my heart and I meant it. That, for me, gave the Spice Girls integrity. I've made it
grow. Who did The Eunuch? The writer of The Eunuch?"
The Female Eunuch? Germaine Greer.
"Yeah. Women like that fought for equalisation of the sexes and I totally admire them, but
that thing died because of the burning bra and being negative. I feel secure I'm equal."
Ginger Spice was a handy alter-ego for a "Thatcherchild-enterprise, go get'em - but with
a '90s conscience". While Halliwell was engineering the sacking of second Spice Girls
manager Simon Fuller (a £10 million severance cheque soothed the poor lamb's pain) and
becoming their player-manager, Ginger could pinch Prince Charles's bottom, apply make-up
with a trowel and introduce a generation of smaller women to bustiers.
"I wore those clothes at eighteen, but at twenty-five I wasn't wearing them offstage. I
didn't feel comfortable.'
Was Mel C constructed to appeal to lesbians?
"I can't believe you asked that. Not purposely, but I suppose that sporty image... We all
naturally were what we were, but exaggerated it a bit. That's very interesting. I'll think about
And it's unlikely the 20th Century witnessed a more incongruous meeting than that
between Nelson Mandela and the Spice Girls.
"Obviously I'd read half of Long Walk To Freedom and I'd shouted Free Mandela with
Rebel MC. I was there watching telly What struck me was his inner calm and energy. Nature
was so bright, the grass was shining, it was a really shiny day I gave him a big cuddle and
said Hello. It was sweet, like meeting a wise old grandfather."
You didn't find it remotely weird?
"Oh, everything was so fast, one thing after another. It's probably very refreshing for him
to meet people like me. He's a little deaf, so every time someone asked something I had to
go, NELSON, THEY WANT TO KNOW... That was funny"
In May 1998, during a European tour, simmering Spice tensions exploded ("Fame
brought out the best and worst in all of us"). The factions Victoria Adams and Melanie
Chisholm; Emma Bunton and Melanie Brown - were united solely by their (particularly
Brown's) resentment towards Halliwell, who claims she'd already told the others she would
leave in September, after the tour climaxed at Wembley Stadium.
"I wanted it to be like Wham!'s The Final. It was always meant to be.'
While other Spice Girls were bagging themselves footballers and dancers, Halliwell (who
had a lump removed from her breast, aged 18) became a spokeswoman for breast cancer.
During the Scandinavian leg of the tour, she couldn't shoe-horn a British television breast
cancer interview into her schedule.
"I was so furious, really angry I was being challenged by life. Do you mean what you've
said these past two years? This was more than a band; . more than the music. I was meant to
be the Girl Power evangelist. This was, well prove it. You've
to get your priorities right, Geri Halliwell. "You've got to understand this was a catalytic
moment. I was on a mountain top, I didn't know' what I was going to do. It was an instinctive
gut. thing. This group wasn't for me any more. I needed to nourish my soul.'
The band played Wembley, Melanie Brown married her hunky dancer, Geri Halliwell got
pissed. "I couldn't watch Wembley, I couldn't do that to myself. The Wembley nights I went
to bed at eight-thirty to try and get the evenings over. It was my dream, I'd said goodbye to it
and it was painful. The wedding night I watched The Sound Of Music. and had a glass of
wine. My mother, for once in her life, encouraged me to get drunk."
What went wrong?
"I can't judge the other girls, because everybody's different. I'm very intense but I tried to
be a good person. I'm always making mistakes, I'm clumsy, sometimes I put my foot in it, but
I'm trying to find the meaning of life.
"I was paranoid about being manufactured, but looking back what was the fuss? I fell in
love with the Spice Girls. We had a whirlwind romance, but you can't define the moment
when what first attracted you gets on your nerves. We worked our socks off, but the energy
was going outwards not inwards, so the inner core wasn't as strong. Maybe in five years I'll
have a better answer, a more honest one. I'm trying to be honest.'
BARRED FROM BRITAIN (the Spice Girls' World Tour
was their tax year out, "wanky I
know"), without family support (her older sister was getting divorced; her father had died
before the Spice Girls), Halliwell-unlike, say, the population of East Timor - was rescued by
the UN, who anointed her Goodwill Ambassador for life (salary $1 a year). As Audrey
Hepburn discovered, it's no sinecure. She promotes contraception and AIDS awareness, at
the expense of unequal opportunities and clitoridectomy to the Third World.
"For everything in my life, had to go, Me me me, please please please. It was the first
thing w! people said, We recognise you. It's funny, my mother was never impressed by the
Spice Girls. She's always said (excellent chirpy but shrewish Spanish accent)Can't you get
a proper job in a bank and settle down with a nice boyfriend? This made her proud.'
Enter too, George Michael. Celebrity friendship alert. "It's not a celebrity friendship. I
can't stand that Hello! darling,1ovey dovey. We're both famous and part of the music
industry but we've both lost a parent, both from Watford, both have a Mediterranean parent,
both been ugly kids and blossomed.
"Nobody wants to talk about death. Then I heard George talking about losing his mother
- I was a fan, I thought I was going to marry him - and I was so drawn to him. I gave him my
telephone number, gave him big eyes and tried to flirt with him, thinking I had a chance. How
wrong was I? I got second best and we became friends.
"We were telephone buddies and when I left the group, he invited me to stay for three
days. I stayed for three months. I don't know what I'd have done without that guy, he was an
absolute angel. To begin with, he didn't know me that well, but I had nobody I was so lonely.
I needed someone to give me a cuddle and say it's alright. George and Kenny (Goss, his
partner) were everything to me, the moral support I needed to get through that time."
George Michael sees all. Then he advises.
"He sees through me. I share my doubts and fears with him. He said, There's no rush,
nobody's going to forget you, if what you're doing is good it will stand the test of time. I play
him things, but it's like taking it home to your parents, desperately wanting their approval. I
crap myself every time. He's brutally honest. And sometimes I walk out with my head in my
hands and sometimes I'm going Yes! I've never been friends with anybody famous before.
The only other person I know is Dawn French and I only go round her house to play with
their kid. Have you seen my name mentioned at the Met Bar? Never. I want realism.
Geri Halliwell finally releases her debut album shortly. Its title, "although you can't tell
anybody" is Schizophrenic ("a Greek word which means split mind. That's me totally"). It's a
secret, as ludicrously are most of its song titles (Posh? My Arse; Bloke Spice; Mel Bitch I
Call Her and Infantile Spice, probably). Somebody important may not be entirely "sure". The
first single Look At Me is brassy niece to Madonna's unpleasant Hanky Panky but Chico
Latino, Bag It Up and, especially the widescreen pop of Walk Away fare much better. Why
"When you leave a marriage, the last thing you want is to go back into another one, so I
kept my mouth shut and went away. I wanted to take my platform shoes off and get my soul
"I daren't admit it, but buried in the pit of my stomach was my desire to be a solo artist. I
didn't think I was good enough, as I've never been to stage school or had lessons. All I've
done is listen to the radio. It's that fear within: I'm a girl from Watford that's blagged her way.
I wanted to get passionate about what I was doing. I know I'm not Celine Dion, I know I'm
not the world's best singer, but I'm passionate, I love to communicate and I want people to
know me on a deeper level. I ripped out my heart and squeezed it into the lyrics. Half of me
is going, Yeah Geri, you can do it. The other half is cacking it.'
What if it flops?
"Call me naive but I haven't thought about it. Now I'll think about it and, oooh dear, I'll be
hiding under the sofa, crying. Then, I'll try even harder. I'm a tryer. Bless me for trying. You
know what? For this album I starved myself of sex. I haven't had a proper relationship in five
Oh, come on.
"No, no, no! What can I say? I've had mini-affairs which have been blown out of
proportion, but I want companionship. I starved myself of sex and love on purpose, so I'd
write a better album. I'm much more creative when I have nothing in my life. I'm far from the
man-eating character that's perceived to be Ginger. Just because you're wearing a bustier
and hot pants doesn't mean you're having sex every night. Actually I'm quite the opposite."
Don't you get propositioned?
"You can normally spot it. I've sat down at a table, looked into the eyes of the guy next to
me and thought, You don't fancy me at all, you like my fame. I don't mind if people fall in
love with Ginger because she's a part of me...
"From my thigh to my knee. .. But maybe they could get to know the rest.'
Last year, she couldn't get herself out of bed ("Depression? A little bit"). Now she's
bought a Julie London record and yogas at 7.30am.
"I've learned to do a headstand.'
Go on then. She does it perfectly, legs erect, tattoo peaking out just above her bum.
Blood rushes to her head and she smiles for approval. We approve.
"Phoosh. I'm like a child that's learned to roly poly And you get a great headrush, you
don't need drugs. Whoo whoo. It's a lot cheaper than drugs.'
Mr Magpie has returned.
"Say Good Afternoon Mr Magpie. Properly this time. Don't mumble!"
Good afternoon Mr Magpie. He stretches his wings, circles ominously around Geri
Halliwell's still-red face and soars away. Very much alone.