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  It's a celebration, motivation, generation next.... 
 

UK Elle - October 1997
Style Power


Walking around in T-shirts and trousers, clutching cigarettes and mobile phones, without make-up, before work has been done on their hair, they don't look like the Spice Girls. They look like slightly nervy actresses getting ready to go on stage and play the part of the Spice Girls. It's 10am. They walk in and out of rooms, preoccupied, seeing to their hair, their nails. I'm not absolutely sure it's really them. They have not yet donned the sultry pouts and brazen smiles you see on posters, on television shows, in adverts for snacks and soft drinks. Their faces look different. They look a bit peaky and vulnerable. The ginger one has her hair in rollers.

The Spice Girls, of course, are five women in their early and mid-20s, who you might not have heard of 1 3 months ago, but who switched on the Christmas lights in Regent Street nine months ago. They are the act (not band, exactly) who have had four consecutive number one singles, the last three of which went 'straight in' at number one. They had a huge album, a big book. One of them goes out with David Beckham, the football star. They are said to be making 80,000 a week. Each. They all drive Mercedes sports cars, because Mercedes gave them the cars. They have 'broken' America. They have just finished making a feature film, to be released on Boxing Day. Why? Why has this happened? The five Girls are not exceptionally beautiful, or tall, not particularly talented or blessed with genius. They are pretty and sassy and they sing songs about being pretty and sassy, which, for an infinite number of cultural reasons, people can't get enough of. The records are successful because they are songs about being successful - and ballsy, and resourceful, and self-sufficient. The Girls themselves preach 'Girl Power', which is the power of positive thinking and all about being able to do things for yourself. (Understandably, they like to keep their formidable management structure in the background.) The film is about themselves, and how they became successful.

The dark one without a ring in her nose sits at a table while a woman does her up as Posh Spice. Actually, she is much more beautiful than Posh Spice, whose sullen pout and constantly tilted head give her too much forehead and flatten out her nose. In the flesh, animated, talking, her face looks fine-boned and sculpted. She has perfect little teeth. She holds her hands out, with the fingers bent back, a position familiar from many photographs. It's because she is drying her nail polish.

She talks fast, and loops around the same subjects - why the Spice Girls are successful, Girl Power, having control, buying clothes, buying other things. She is absolutely controlled. She has the air of a woman who has a very powerful husband. Being a Spice Girl, she says, has not fundamentally changed her; this is what she was always like. She remembers a moment in her life, two or three years ago, when she was watching the Smash Hits poll winners' party on TV. 'I remember sitting there in my tracksuit, thinking, I would give anything to do that, but I don't know how. And now, a couple of years later, I'm up there doing it.'

The woman carries on doing her hair; she has had it regularly straightened for years. When I ask her how her life has changed recently, one of the examples she gives is that, now, someone straightens her hair, whereas she used to do it herself. Another thing she says is, 'If you'd seen me four years ago, I was exactly the same as I am now, but instead of having one pair of shoes from Gucci, now I have 25. You know what I mean?'

The other Girls are milling around. The ginger one is wearing what appears to be a pair of pink pyjamas with pictures of faces on them. Scary moves fast and shouts loudly. (Later, she tells me that she thinks Posh is 'straight', but in a good way.) Sporty has proper muscles and possibly the smallest, trimmest bottom in the world. Posh carries on talking about work' in a controlled, careful fashion. She talks about the Girls as if they were a political party, or a cult she is a member of. 'I think we've been really real,' she says. 'From day one, we've been really real. We haven't tried to be anything we're not. We've accepted the way we are, the way we sing, the way we look, and all the rest of it. And we've never tried to change that.' She still lives with her parents, and talks about 'my boyfriend' without referring to him by name. The press, she says, have not been too bad to her, because 'I've never really done a lot. I don't have loads of ex-boyfriends selling stories and all the rest of it.'

Why Posh Spice?

'At the end of the day, my answer to that is, from day one I've always said I like shopping, I like nice clothes, I do spend a lot of money on clothes, I like nice things, I live in a nice house, and all the rest of it.' She wants to take her time looking for a house of her own, 'Cos I think that's part of the enjoyment of it. Going and looking for somewhere.' She likes Chelsea and Docklands, and wants 'somewhere abroad or in the country as well'.

What sort of place will you look for?

'A huge house with a moat round it, and lots of staff.'

I laugh.

'I'm not kidding.'

The Girls have agreed to talk to me individually, while we are cruised and observed by people from their management, some of whom are youngish women with mobile phones. The Girls' accountant, Charles Bradbrook, sits at a table, preparing forms for the Girls to sign. When I introduce myself, he seems mildly shocked that I noticed his presence at all. Ginger, still wearing the rollers, sits down. Her hair is a bright, cartoonish red which looks normal only in photographs. Without make-up, she looks pale and a bit tired. She has lovely light eyes. Her voice is husky, like Lulu's.

Ginger is the only one who was not a product of stage school (she was, among other things, a topless model). Unlike the others, she does not have the stage-school air of being a little madam, or that dancer's way of holding herself. Publicly, the others refer to her as 'a nutter'. Privately, they consider her an ideas person, the group's intellectual. 'She sees the big picture' is how Posh describes her.

Actually, she's dreamy. Talking about clothes, she says, 'I think fashion in the 90s is...l believe clothes, if you think about it, your personality dresses your soul, and your clothes dress your personality, so therefore you should always maintain a sense of who you are.'

One of the other Girls, talking about Ginger, has told me that she bubbles over with ideas. This is true. She thinks, and talks, about several different things at once. ('She reads a lot of books,' says Baby, 'About life, about Buddhism, about anything.) 'There is more to me,' Geri says, 'than just a big-busted redhead; I've got my darker, my intense, deeper side; I've got my intellectual side. I like having a healthy debate about current affairs. It depends what you want to read into it. It's there for your eye to see, basically.'

Talking to Ginger, one can see how hard it must have been to maintain the grinning veneer of Girl Power, hour after flashbulb-filled hour, day after day, for nearly 400 days. She has been hit hardest by the tabloids, who have, for months, licked their lips at the trove of 'glamour' pictures and assignments that made up a significant part of her career. She says, 'My past, d'you know what I mean, that's very reader-friendly. Well, I wouldn't even say it was reader-friendly. Voyeur-friendly, d'you know what I mean? Have a good look, if you see what I mean.'

But she tries to shrug it off. She tells me that, 'You'd be a mess on the floor if you lived through the media. At the end of the day, it's probably just some fat, balding man that has got no sense of, you know, I don't know, reality of what the average girl in the street is, anyway.' In any case, she likes to read the tabloids. She thinks they're funny. Talking about one of today's headlines, she says, 'In Bed with Ted! I mean, what brain cell came up with that?' While I am talking to Ginger, we are approached by a woman in a short, translucent dress. She is from the management, and she is holding a piece of paper for me to sign. Before doing anything, I read it. Ginger, slightly backing away, says, 'Haven't you signed the release form?' I read it, but cannot quite understand it. It says, among other things, 'You shall give such assistance and execute such documents as may be necessary to give effect to the assignment contemplated herein.' What does this bit mean?

Confused, I look at her. The gist of the whole document, she says, is that, legally speaking, the Spice Girls are to own all the things they say to me. That's the condition upon which they are talking to me; that they own their own words. This, of course, is the ultimate meaning of Girl Power; it's also an index of how serious pop music is, when compared to, say, politics. When you interview a cabinet minister, he does not own the words. I sign. Ginger, still dreamy, tells me that Victoria 'has her own deeper side, but she's more clothes conscious, more on-the-exterior conscious, which is great, because a lot of people are like that, too.' As Ginger talks, as words come out of her mouth, the sum of what she owns increases. By talking, she is shopping. Summing up her personal philosophy, she says, 'It should just be power to the people, really.'

They all say the same things about each other, more or less. Ginger: full of ideas. Posh: 'posh'. (But whereas Ginger, I think, knows that Posh is not really posh, Scary, I think, thinks she is.) Baby: 'loving'. The one to go to when you want a hug. Scary: 'deep', and honest. (As Victoria puts it, 'If I said to her, "I'm really depressed, I'm really really fat, what d'you think?", she'd say, "Well, yeah, you have put on a bit, but never mind".')

What they say about Sporty is this: she's dedicated. She has wanted to be a pop star for as long as she can remember. She goes to the gym an awful lot. Even though, like cabinet ministers, the Girls refuse to say who they think is the most talented, one gets the impression that they think Sporty is the most talented. She is the one whose voice provides what Victoria calls 'powerful licks'. Scary calls her 'a tough nut, a real tough nut'. Also, she is the one who, in arguments, can see 'both sides'.

'I'm Melanie Chisholm,' she says. 'I'm the Scouse bird.' She has a charming, sunny manner; she gives the impression of being the happiest. I ask if I can take a Polaroid of her. 'Yeah,' she says. But the management, sitting on a sofa a few feet away, are horrified. This is, they tell me, simply not done. Nobody takes pictures of the Spice Girls. Sporty looks more like her Spice Girl alter-ego than the others. She is playing less of a role. Posh is pouty and 'sophisticated'; Baby is a little baby. Ginger is a 'motormouth'. These are-to a certain extent-roles. But Sporty is a natural tomboy. She lives on her own in north London, and works out in the gym, and is happy. She, too, gives the impression that she is a member of a cult. 'We've always been really positive,' she says. 'We're so ambitious, it's sort of like unspoken, but everything we do is amazing, phenomenal, but it's like...it doesn't surprise us, because we knew we could do it. We just want to see how far we can go, how much we can push it.'

The other day, Scary, whose mother is a cleaning lady in Leeds, was driving her new Mercedes in Hampstead, when she was spotted by photographers. The situation, of being spotted in this new flash car, (a car about which her father, she tells me, was 'all, like, oh, my God!'), fazed her, and her driving went wrong for a second. She suddenly saw herself as other people now see her. Scary has been poor. She loved her trip to Lapland at Christmas (Posh didn't think it was her kind of thing at all. As a child, Scary tells me, she didn't go on many trips. 'Money,' she says, 'does make you happy. It makes you happy because you can buy things more instantly, rather than saving up for them.'

Scary talks about how tight-knit the Girls have become. 'We have been through so many bad times together, so many highs together, you can't express how that makes you be with someone. It's more than a relationship, more than a family; it's like a really mad scenario between everyone but, it's like, rock solid, tight as an arsehole.' The Girls are getting dressed. They are transforming themselves, holding their faces and bodies ready to be sucked into the cameras. Ginger, her face caked, glows anew. She is, if anything, crammed with more ideas than she was earlier. She is ready to talk about life, about Buddhism, about anything.

Baby, not an early riser, is ready to talk to me. She is bubbly in a focused way, a concentrated jet of bubbles. Her eyes are set apart; she looks like the young Goldie Hawn. She 'really likes' being Baby. 'I can get away with murder. I eat a lot of sweets. I like my cakes.' She likes 'the white bonbons with the toffee in the middle'. She likes making 'chocolate crunch' by mixing melted chocolate and syrup with corn flakes. 'That's the way I am, really,' she says. 'Like it or lump it.'

Baby has perhaps the most clearly defined role. She is the baby doll; attractive, for contrasting reasons, to children and adults alike. When she said, 'I don't want to be a cutie - I want to be a hot sexy bitch', she tells me, she was joking. The Girls, she says, 'Vibe together. As we say, it's fate. I think there must have been something in our past, like, maybe...sisters.' She keeps giggling and smiling. At one point, she says, 'We work fucking hard,' and whispers the swear word. She wants to make it clear that, when she fell over, while wearing platform shoes, it was because the floor was uneven. It wasn't the shoes.

It is time. The five young women, not holding cigarettes or mobile phones, move towards the cameras, confident that now, after a few hours' work, the world will believe that they are, in fact, the Spice Girls.

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