For the tabloids, where such hypocrisies are the bread and butter of life, everything is cosier and more beautiful. Laughing at people and taking them too seriously at the same time; praising people to the heavens while picking apart their private hells - they know how to do all of this with loathsome glee. They can be more genuine in their enthusiasm (no pompous aesthetic sensibilities to overcome) and simultaneously less awkward in treating the Spice Girls as a joke (because almost everything is). Put it this way. There is a certain sort of man - and perhaps they are strangely over-represented in the land of tabloid - who likes nothing more than patronising someone young and female, while simultaneously staring at their cleavage and wondering if there's any chance of a quick shag. For those men, these are fine times indeed.
Let us, by the way of example, try to pick apart The Political Incident. The Spectator apparently asked its writer, Simon Sebag Montefiore (crazy name, crazy guy... zzzzzz), to interview whoever the latest pop things were about politics. Great idea. Smartly, he suggests the Spice Girls. What is there to lose? It's funny if they play along; hilarious if they don't.
Their representatives agree. It's a good way of showing that the latest teensters do have a few sharp opinions in their heads. It's another way of spreading the base of their press coverage. And they were flattered by the notion that the Spice Girls were to be featured in the big Spectator Christmas issue interview in the slot usually reserved for a chat with the Prime Minister or a party leader.
"We knew it was a political magazine," says Mel C. "I didn't actually know it was a Conservative paper."
"We just thought it would be another angle," says Geri. "It'd be something fun to do."
the interview takes place on December 1, backstage at the Smash Hits Awards. It lasts about an hour. They sit around Montefiore in a circle. The press officer listens in. The interviewer takes notes, rather than tape-records. he soon homes on Geri and Victoria, who are giving him better, sassier opinions - and, shazam!, with a right-wing bias - than he could have expected. He writes up the encounter, cleverly, as both piss-take and clear reportage. Nicely deadpan. It is a great game. SPICE GIRLS BACK SCEPTICS ON EUROPE, the headline goes. "Opposition to the Labour on tax, rejection of single currency. Important interview by Simon Sebag Montefiore," it continues. He takes his fun from purposefully over-interpreting their opinions - "The Spice Girls take a Burkean view of the growth of our landed aristocracy... the Spice philosophy combines Thatcherite economics, Buddhist tolerance, and feudalistic neo-Plantagenet paternalism" - and hugely enjoys that the only Spice Girl to show any recognition of the name Sir James Goldsmith (Victoria) does so by asking, "Is he anything to do with Jemima Goldsmith?" Geri announces that "Thatcher was the first Spice Girl, the pioneer of our ideology - Girl Power". Victoria says, "As for Major, he's a boring pillock."
Some of the Spice Girls - particularly the two Mels - were miffed at the way their views were only faintly represented in the finished article, but no one denies that most of the quotes which were printed were accurate. (The one big blunder: Geri's name was printed as "Gerri" throughout) An extract was printed in the Daily Telegraph on December 12. That's when the tabloids first read it. The next day, all hell broke loose.
Just imagine. This they loved. Two of their very favorite things, idiot politics and idiot pop, together at once. On December 13 the Spice Girls made the cover of the three principal tabloids. The Sun was able to have the most fun with it. The current political climate is perfect for them. They can sit on the fence, laugh at Tory sleaziness and Labour shamelessness the same. VOICE SPICE, the headline went, SPICE GIRLS BACK TORIES offered the Daily Star. The Mirror simple shamelessly ignored the pro-Tory angle and went for PILLOCKED: MAJOR TRASHED BY SPICE GIRLS. The quality papers followed too, with wry, half-mocking editorials, and suddenly - this is where that fuzzy serious/stupid area shows its bite - the message slipped. No longer were people enjoying an arch joke about a teen pop group's politics. Suddenly it was serious. It was: Why did they think this? Did the Tory Spice Girls represent a new, previously undetected youth zeitgeist which saw through Tony Blair as a sham and which hankered nostalgically for firm-handed Eighties Thatcherism? A new phrase entered the newspaper columns, and the language: "The Spice Vote". Maybe this would be the mysterious electoral block to save John Major.
It seems inevitable, now that the Spice Girls' politics will be carefully monitored throughout the Spring. They are, madly, a factor. Only a few people seem to find this utterly ridiculous.
"They were talking about us in the House of Commons," says Mel C, shaking her head. "It was ridiculous."
"What," asks Geri, "is the state of government if.."
"...they're talking about us?" says Mel B.
"Exactly. If we can have an influence? That's terrible."
DO YOU THINK "THE SPICE VOTE" WILL BE IMPORTANT IN THE IMMINENT GENERAL ELECTION?
Emma: I don't think so. I'm really not into anything like that. We had the big interview and I didn't say anything. I didn't even talk and there was a picture of me outside 10 Downing Street. I don't think I'll vote - am I allowed to say that? Do I think Margaret Thatcher is the original Spice Girl? Not particularly. My mum is.
Victoria: Personally I am a Tory. I was the one who called John Major a boring pillock. It depends how much they play on it, I suppose. If I'm being totally honest I wouldn't be surprised if it did influence people, especially younger people. Apparently I got asked the other day to go round to John Major's for tea with him and Norma. But he hasn't actually asked me.
Mel B: I don't believe in anything political because I'm an anarchist and I think the way the world's run is crap at the moment. That was bad journalism. It was twisted beyond belief and that's why it caused such a stir. I'm not a voter.
Mel C: I shouldn't think so. We are all very young girls and half of us haven't got a clue about politics for a start. I don't vote anymore because I don't know enough about politics to vote. I think you should be taught in school about politics. When I voted, I voted Labour. I'm from working-class Liverpool. Can you imagine the stick I got when all that was in the paper? My dad really frightened me. He was: you want to watch yourself when you go back to Liverpool. Margaret Thatcher? I think Margaret Thatcher is a complete prick, after what she's done to my hometown.
Geri: I really wish they'd written the whole fucking damn interview. There was a real coalition government among us: an anarchist, a Labour, two Conservative and one that couldn't give a fuck. Mel C was Labour, Victoria and I was Conservative - and even then I'm a little bit Liberal and Greenpeace - and Melanie B's an anarchist and Emma wasn't sure. It was my quote that Margaret Thatcher was a Spice Girl - she was the first advocate of Girl Power. Of course, she destroyed a lot of things. Everyone makes mistakes and she did. She fucked up big-time loads of different things, definitely, but what I give her credit for is she is the first fucking woman. It said in the paper she sent me a Christmas card. It's still stuck in the post.
This is the way Geri would like it to be told: The very first thing she remembers is being safe in her mother's amniotic fluid, then squeezing through the womb walls. Her first thought on surveying the outside world? "Girl Power!"
Whatever. Wheeled around the streets of Watford in her pram, baby Geri used to say hello to everybody. ("I was networking already," she sniggers) She was the youngest of five. Her mother had come over from Spain as an au pair. "basically, i was an accident. And they wanted a boy. It's all quite tragic," she says. "I come from a very neurotic turbulent family. If you want to get deep and psychological, you could say for many reasons I wanted to be heard."
She loved Elvis first, and she loved George Michael for a while ("I thought I'd marry him, but obviously that would be a great challenge..."). She also loved Madonna. She got a lot of abuse at school because she was very short for her age; she was 12 when Madonna's film, Desperately Seeking Susan, came out, and you had to be 15. All her friends could get away with it, but even though she stuffed her bra with socks and splayed make-up all over, she still didn't look anything like. The woman at the ticket counter let her in anyway: "I think she felt sorry for me." Madonna offered some useful lessons. "The way she rose from mediocrity. She wasn't a fantastic dancer or singer, but she just used her intelligence and her energy to create escapism fantasy through art and expression. She's not that attractive, but she made herself attractive."
Geri worked as a club dancer, and as a video extra. She cleaned. Taught aerobics. Did bar work. Sold fake Tag watches to everyone she met. (She sold some to Aswad in a recording studio.) She was a Turkish gameshow host. She also took her clothes off for a while.
"I made a lot of mistakes," she says. "I learned a lot of lessons." She was asked to do her first modeling for a Spanish newspaper while dancing in Majorca. She wore a silver bikini, and she was thrilled. "I never considered myself to be pretty enough to go in front of a camera." Soon she had something of a modeling career, nude and otherwise. "I never really felt exploited at the time," she volunteers. "It was fine. I saw it for what it was."
She knew all the old topless photos, maybe 20-odd sessions, would surface. She'd told the others about it. "Half of me thought, 'Oh shit'. The other half of me giggled. I was quite surprised at the fascination, because I thought: what's the big deal? Marilyn Monroe. Sylvester Stallone's been in a porno. So's Joanna Lumley. Nearly everybody in the entertainment business has done something. I'm 24 and it's obvious, especially with my background, I haven't gone the clean-cut way. I try to see a positive. Some of the builders who read Page 3, I might be getting their attention and they might start listening to the music. Get some messages out. Talk about safe sex."
I don't think it's safe sex those builders are thinking about..."
"No," she concedes. "I don't think so either. But that's OK. The way I see it, if someone gets enjoyment out of looking at my tits then that's fine. It's not hurting anyone. It's fish'n'chips paper the next day."
Continue to part three...