It's one of those Kodak moments. The Spice Girls have just arrived at the back entrance of Birmimgham's brand new Tower Records, which they've been booked to officially open in 10 minutes. They've successfully avoided the posse of screaming Spicettes around the front. But there's one problem: no one seems to have realized that this back entrance is still under construction. So, as they step out of their limos, Britain's sauciest quintet are greeted by the sight of 40 blokes in donkey jackets and hard hats.
For a few seconds there's a stunned silence, as the two groups survey each other. Then, from the scaffolding above us, a throaty Brummy voice echoes out: "Geri...I lurve you!" The builders roar with laughter. So do the Spice Girls. "I lurve you tooooo!" bellows Geri, blowing a kiss aloft, and chanting, as she disappears through the doors: "Come on you Spice Boys!" These are not Spice Boys by any stretch of the imagination. They are mostly middle-aged men who, six months ago, wouldn't have known a Spice Girl from a spicy chicken curry, let alone any of their names. But, like every other corner of Britain, over the past few months, this buliding site must have rung with 1996's most burning question. You know the one - which one's your favourite Spice Girl??
Ever since Wannabe grabbed the public consciousness by the short'n'curlies - going on to be no.1 in 27 countries - these five stage-school singer-dancer-actress-do-anything-to-be-famous types have become the queens of British pop. And long may they reign.
Victoria sums up how bizarre it's been: "When I was little, I always thought: 'I want to be famous.' But, you could never dream of what's happened to us. It's a bit out of the ordinary."
And so fast. Take That knocked about for years before anyone even knew their names. And, if the most accurate benchmark for judging the level of someone's fame is how desperate the tabloids are to dig up dirt on them, then the Spice Girls are going to be bigger than Take That ever were. In the last few months, Geri (Glam Spice), Mel B (Raucous Spice), Mel C (Sporty Spice), Emma (Baby Spice), and Victoria (Spice fatale) haven't been out of the papers. Geri's (unsuccessful) Page Three test shots from two years ago have re-surfaced and been the focus of much male admiration. All the Girls' parents have been offered hefty sumsfor "their story." Every tabloid article about them finishes by inviting you to ring up if you ever dated/were mates with/went to Brownies with a Spice Girl. It's a media feeding frenzy.
And Sky is being allowed to spend the whole day with them. Sod your Oasis antics, this is rock'n'roll!! Our day trip into the Life Of Spice begins in the morning in a photo studio in Birmingham - where Sky's cover-shoot is taking place. Victoria is the first to walk in. She's wearing a long leather coat and a pair of those wraparound shades which are handed out to people when they get famous. "Ooh...don't look at me," she says, cringing, holding out one hand to be shaken and the other hand up to hide her face: "I haven't got any make-up on."
Mel B is the only one who appears the least bit spicy at this early hour - she stomps around, laughing filthily, flirting for England, but always with infectious warmth and an almost naive sincerity. You can't help but like her.
The utter perfection of the Spice Girls as a pop band is that they're for real. For the millions of teenage girls who worship them worldwide, it must be as though five of their mates had somehow infiltrated the secret world of showbiz. From going up to Brett Anderson and saying: "My mate Victoria fancies you," to streaking through hotel corridors, they're girls behaving the way your average girl reckons she'd behave if she was suddenly handed a laminate for the VIP room of stardom - taking the piss out of boys, having a laugh, doing things "for the dare," and desperately trying not to let it get to your head. As Mel B puts it: "Being normal and being put into such a bizarre environment is the perfect combination. I hope I can cling to that normality - I'd be a horrible twat if I lost that."
According to Spice Girl legend, the girls got a record deal by storming the offices of record company big-shots and a capella-ing them into submission. Ho-hum, more hokey PR hogwash, we all titter. Except that this is actually bloody true. In fact, Geri insists the fivesome aren't intimidated by anyone, however important they are - "We all sh#@! and breathe, don't we," she says - and therefore manage to get away with murder. I believe her. Example: "We were in Portugal at this promo party," recounts Victoria, "and we were all desperate to go home. Richard Branson was there too, so Emma said to him: 'Um, how are you getting home tonight?' And he goes, 'In my private jet.' So she goes, 'Can we get a lift?'" Emma butts in: "Yeah, I went, 'Oh please Dickie - I haven't seen my mum for ages.' He said yes."
In the spirit of the Spice Girls, Emma, Mel C, Victoria and I retire to the girls' toilet to do our interview. They're discussing the pressures of fame - photographers sticking cameras up your skirt, being so paranoid you feel as if you're walking around naked, etc - when Mel B saunters past. "Talk loudly for a minute," she says, shutting herself into a cubicle two metres away from my tape recorder. "I'm going for a wee!" We didn't talk loudly enough - I'm now the proud owner of a recording od a Spice-pee. You want sauciness? - the Spicies won't disappoint. Take this typical exchange between Mel B and Geri when I ask who gets the most fan-mail for men?
Mel B (to Geri): "You get a lot these days, don't you - 'cause you got yer tits out."
Geri (laughing raucously): "Men are so easily led, aren't they - it's nothing to do with me - just a pair of tits that's all."
Mel B: "Yeah, sometimes we all like to flash our tits to men - just to embarass them. I nearly did it yesterday. This guy was really quiet and reserved so I went up to him and said [puts on menacing voice]: 'Look out - I'm gonna flash my boobs.' He was completely distraught!"
Geri: "It's just like when blokes get their dicks out for a laugh."
Mel B: "It would be different, though, if a bloke went: 'Go on then, love - let's have a look."
Geri: "Yeah, we only do it to the shy boys. The best is flashing your tits in the car. We did it to a bloke at Oxford Circus the other day."
Breasts come up in conversation with some frequency during the day. Like when Mel B proclaims with pride: "Did you know the video for Wannabe got banned in certain parts of South East Asia because my nipples were erect." Or, when I ask her about her topless "holiday snap" being splashed over The Sun, she laughs: "I thought it was funny - my boobs looked good though, didn't they?" And, of course, they're a major topic for Geri, whose body has been admired in all it's glory of late. "I'm sure people see me as a screaming redhead with a big pair of boobs," she says, "but I like to think I've got things to say." No question about that. Once she gets going, you can't stop her talking - not all of it makes sense, but it's pretty eloquent. And, most of all, she's the one you go to if you want to talk about Girl Power. "OK, so a lot of people think it's just cheese," says Geri, "but if we can give anyone a bit of motivation, make any girl just sit up and go: 'I'm strong', then that beats any No.1 or meeting any star."
Later, at Tower Records, I see what she means when the girls are again thrown to the lions - a small audience made up mostly of testosterone-fuelled lads, but also of teenage girls, staring at their heroines with almost religious fervour.
They do a 10-minute Q&A session with a local radio DJ... and make mincemeat of him. After being interrupted over and over again - first by Mel B wandering over to a nearby drum kit and doing a George Dawes-style drum-roll, and then by Geri working the crowd into a frenzy by shouting things like: "Are you all Spicy people?" - he looks like a maths teacher about to have a nervous breakdown. Geri is thrown a pair of boxers and shouts: "Eurgh - they've got stains on them!" Mel B singles out one of the TV cameras and shouts: "Hey! There's someone over there filming our bums!"
It's not big, it's not clever - but God, it's funny, and the crowd love it. There's one bloke who keeps shouting out: "Emma, Emma," so she flashes him one of those head-cocked-to-one-side smiles, and he looks like he's about to pop his cork. In the end, Paul the DJ only manages to get a coherent answer to one of his questions: "Erm, you've been called Oasis in Wonderbras - what do you say to that?" "Naah," Geri screams back at him, "Oasis are the Spice Girls in drag!" These days everyone's a wannabe....
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