Black Text = Q Magazine
Blue Text = Spice Girls
Mel C fights her eating disorder with Prozac. Victoria "thinks she's the Queen of England". Emma has been used as a gay man's "beard" and Mel B's got breast issues. Can the Spice Girls grow up without falling apart? Adam Higginbotham puts them on the couch.
VICTORIA BECKHAM can't remember exactly when she last saw her husband play football for Manchester United. But she remembers what happened at the match very clearly. She had gone with her parents, Jackie and Tony. They took their seats, the game began. David got the ball and the chant started: "Posh Spice takes it up the arse..." As usual the fans sitting around Victoria sat in awkward silence. She was used tot his - she knew she just had to take it. But her father turned to her, "What are they singing?" he asked. There was a terrible moment... broken by a light tapping on her arm. A woman sitting next to her, her face a mask of sympathetic embarrassment, was offering Victoria a boiled sweet. The moment passed. Her dad didn't mention it again.
Since then, things have improved. David tells her that now opposition fans no longer chant "Posh Spice takes it up the arse" or even "We hope your kid dies of cancer". Now they've got a new one: "David Beckham takes it up the arse."
"And he'd prefer that they sing that," says Victoria. "I think he probably find it a lot easier."
OCTOBER 2000. A rambling Georgian house in Spitalfields, London. Melanie C wanders past, taking off her bra from beneath her khaki vest and gesturing towards some piece of wardrobe in the next room. "I'm not wearing that," she announces, "cos it'll make me look like a fat cunt." Emma Bunton ponders over a small table covered in jewellery from Bvlgari, each piece laid out on its own little suede pouch. Melanie B is on the phone, ordering up Norman Wisdom videos ("I'm going to have such a giggle tonight," she announces). And on the landing stands Victoria, her hair in curlers and a white cardboard shoebox labelled "Made exclusively for VICTORIA BECKHAM" at her feet. She stares balefully at my newspaper, as if by concentrating she can make it turn to ashes.
It's Tuesday. A photoshoot is underway. The Spice Girls are together in the same place for the first time in a couple of weeks. Today's headlines are: IT'S WHO-ATE-ALL-THE-PIES SPICE (The Sun); MEL'S SPICE THE SIZE SHE WAS (Daily Star); and finally, BECKS "INVENTED BABY SNATCH BID" (London Evening Standard).
It's almost two years since the Spice Girls last released a record. Since then, there have been babies, hilarious weddings, a divorce, a debate about sexuality and solo records which met with varying degrees of success. Along the way, without anyone noticing, their old invulnerability wore off, Being the Spice Girls used to look easy. Tabloids, the music, industry and a global audience of lorry drivers and militant 12-year-olds were all on their side. But in the 21st Century it's clear that Spiceworld is not the superpower it once was. The girls' solo records reveal ever diverging priorities. The papers treat them cruelly. It's increasingly clear that a colourful explosion of platform boots and cartoonish postures is not going to cut it anymore, not in the era of Britney, Christina Aguilera and the impossibly youthful acts following in their slipstream. The Spice Girls are facing their mid-life crisis.
What to do? In similar circumstances, other maturing artists have either done a Ronan (i.e. mime a thick seam of soupy ballads for the over-60s) or a Robbie (recreated themselves as half Alice Cooper, half Queen Mother). The Spice Girls have opted to go for credible and grown-up, with a slick R&B makeover from Darkchild Studios' Rodney Jerkins, who earned his platinum reputation producing Brandy, Monica, Whitney and Jennifer Lopez. Forever, the third Spice Girls album, glints with all the state-of-the-art clunk-click precision you'd expect from the man who is currently completing work on the new Michael Jackson album. Jerkins' McDonalds bill during the Spice Girls sessions was said to be $200 a day.
Yet it's far from a no-risk strategy,, which makes it even stranger that the girls have not curtailed their solo work in order to give Forever space. Mel C has just finished her own tour and will shortly release a fifth single from her album; Mel B's album came out just two weeks ahead of Forever, albeit only making Number 28; Victoria is still recording her solo debut. And Emma? Why, she's doing a lot of work with... Rodney Jerkins. Are hey somehow trying to sabotage themselves? They insist that it's always been part of their plan to combine their individual projects with the Spice Girls records. But it still raises questions about the band's future. What does Mel C their appeal will be now, as a group?
"As a group?" she says, "Gosh, I don't know whether we do appeal anymore. This is something that we're going to find out in the coming months. I think there's a fascination now with the Spice Girls because it was such a phenomenon. But whether it will continue to be successful is something that... nobody knows, really."
IN NOVEMBER 1997 the Spice Girls fired their manager Simon Fuller. At the time it looked like an act of suicidal self-delusion - weren't they supposed to be a manufactured band? - but the years have remade it as the Spice Girls' first turning point, the moment when they stopped talking the talk about Girl Power and decided to walk it instead. In reality, they now say, at that moment they weren't united but weak and divided. Their coming together to sack Fuller was the exception rather than the rule.
Melanie C describes that time as one of ridiculous, unimaginable pressure. The second Spice Girls album, Spiceworld, had just been released. They'd written t in a Winnebago on the set of the matching feature film, which was due out on Boxing Day. The recording of the ITV special An Audience With The Spice Girls was due to be followed by a European promotional tour, ending at the MTV music awards in Rotterdam, where they'd perform their new single, the Latin-flavoured Spice Up Your Life. And then the Spice Girls would go on their first world tour.
But things weren't going well in the group. None of the girls were really talking to one another and, when they did, they bickered. They were all unhappy, says Mel C, and, although they didn't realise it, the problems originated with Fuller. Manipulating each of the girls in turn, he would confide in one about what another had said or done, insisting they keep it between themselves; Mel B's motivation was questionable; Geri was trying to take over; Victoria need putting in her place. He did it to everyone. But the girls began analyzing everything, phoning one another at three in the morning, calling urgent emotional meetings. "It as the biggest therapy session in the world," Mel C says. "Like going on the road with the fuckin' Priory."
Over the autumn months, they began to suspect what was going on. On 5 November, when Fuller was in Italy undergoing back surgery, the girls were in Cologne doing promotion. In the middle of the night, Geri knocked on Mel B's hotel room door. Then the two of them went to Mel C's room, then Victoria and Emma. Everything came out. When they realised what had gone on, they were horrified. Mel B pulled out the diary she'd kept every day since she was 13 and made everyone write down their thoughts while they decided what to do. They resolved to get rid of Fuller immediately. Then Mel B and Victoria started crying.
The following day they flew to Rotterdam and phoned the band's lawyers to tell them to sack Fuller. They were all frightened but excited - after all the arguing, they'd finally made a group decision. During rehearsals for the MTV show, Geri took one of their four PAs' mobile phones and copied out all the numbers they'd need when they no longer had a manager - security, legal advice, radio pluggers, staff at Virgin Records - into a notebook. Terrified of losing the book, she hid it in a red carpet bag she'd picked up second-hand somewhere, and refused to let go of it for the rest of the day. Even when they went on stage to perform Spice Up Your Life for the ceremony, she kept it with her.
That night the Spice Girls beat Oasis, Radiohead, Prodigy and U2 to win the award for Best Band In The World. The next day Simon Fuller received a lawyer's letter.
None of them has spoken to him since.
Fuller himself has never discussed the sacking. A spokesman for the manager says: "Simon is very skillful at working with talent. Part of it is managing the dynamics between individuals. He wanted to keep the band together at all costs, that's why he managed things as he did. Obviously six months after he got the push, Geri left the band and a number of things started to go a bit squiffy." He is estimated to have received a payoff of some £15 million. After the split, the rumour suggested by the tabloids is that the girls were unhappy with Emma's "close relationship" with the manager.
"He is a fantastic manager, as business goes," says Mel C now. "But he needs to work with robots who have absolutely no emotion. And no brain. And that's where he fucked up."
VICTORIA BECKHAM is sitting in the beer garden of a pub near Olympic Studios, Barnes. She is still recovering from viral meningitis. Chatting to her PR about the upcoming weekend's newspaper stories about her, she learns that a report will "reveal" how the illness has committed her to work with meningitis charities. "Hardly!" she cackles.
More likely to make me stay away from them, isn't it? I don't fuckin' want that again!"
These days Victoria is the most popular Spice Girl. How does she think people see her now?
"They see me as miserable and up-my-arse," she says, "that I don't really care about anything except for Prada and Gucci, that I boss David about and tell him what to wear... In most people's mind, I think I'm the Queen of England. And that is so not me, but then people do believe what they read.
"I'd never complain about what's written about me, but if I read all that stuff I probably wouldn't like me very much either. I'd probably find me quite irritating, hahahahaha! When me and David look at Posh and Becks in the paper we think, Bloody hate those two! Because that isn't what we're like at all."
Tell me something surprising about David.
"He's got that obsessive compulsive thing where everything has to match. He's got it, like, ridiculously. Everything has to match in the house. If you open our fridge, it's all co-ordinated. If there's three cans of Diet Coke he'd throw one away rather than having three - because it's uneven."
Do you think that David suffers because he's got you as his spokesperson?
"Yeah. I do often say things that I shouldn't but that's my personality. I mean, when I said the thing about him wearing my knickers... I'd never say anything to purposely make it difficult for him. I have learned my lesson but in interviews I am quite an honest person. I've got a dry sense of humour and unfortunately most of the media don't have a sense of humour. As if he'd fit in my bloody underwear for God's sake! I'm, like, a size six. Come on."
"Maybe he likes them very tight."
Maybe he likes them really tight. I found that really funny. No-one else did.
"But he's a very strong personality, David. He would never do anything he didn't want to do. People think he's some kind of an idiot and Posh Spice says to him [adopts wheedling estuarial voice] Oh, put on this skirt, Da-vid, it'll look really great! And then he goes out looking a prat. He's really nor like that. He's got a personality, he's a good-looking bloke, he's got the body to wear whatever he wants to wear and look amazing in it. And he loves it! If he didn't love it, he wouldn't dress like that. It's nothing to do with me."
EMMA BUNTON is drinking water and smoking B&H in a pub off Edgware Road. The regulars seem unfazed by her presence at the pool table - where she has just beaten me - apart from one ardent fan. An unshaven man in a grubby anorak, he proffers a torn piece of card fro her to sign. She does so sweetly but declines his offer of a game.
What's the most appalling rumour that you've heard about yourself?
"Most appalling rumour? [Long pause] Have you heard any?"
"Oh, that was appalling. But I've had a few of them. I had Stephen Gately. Did you read that one?"
This was before he came out, presumably?
"Yes. But I think it was a his-side-of-the-press thing. I dunno."
You mean they deliberately planted it because they knew he was gay?
"I think so. I can't be sure but... oh God forgive me, I don't know. There was a whole thing that we'd been out on a date and that he really enjoyed it and hopes we can do it again and..."
That you were pregnant with his child?
"Could have been, I suppose..."
That's the Simon Fuller story.
"[Aghast] That I was pregnant? You're joking me? That is ridiculous. I just found that all really... I mean... who came up with that?"
It's used as a reason for why the band sacked him.
"[Practically speechless] But I... that's ridiculous."
Surely you've heard that one before.
"No, I heard that we had an affair. But I never thought that I was supposed to be pregnant."
MELANIE BROWN remembers the moment when she first saw the man who is now Britain's most infamous ex-husband. It was in Ireland in February 1998. The girls had flown to Dublin for the warm-up dates for the Spiceworld world tour. They were exhausted and just wanted to get straight to bed, but Mel B insisted that they should meet the dancers for the tour. She didn't want to just sweep in like a star the following day and start work with them. As they walked into the gym where the dancers were rehearsing, Mel was immediately struck by one man: bald head, covered in tattoos, spliff hanging out of his mouth... beautiful. He looked a lot like her first proper boyfriend, a footballer called Steve Mulrain who she left behind in Leeds when she set out to become famous. Jimmy Gulzar seemed calm, centred, mysterious.
As the tour got underway, Mel, Emma and the dancers went out together in cities all over Europe, doing all the clubs, having a good time. They called themselves The Monsta Girls. By June, Mel was pregnant with Jimmy's baby. As soon as she met him, Mel's mother told her that Jimmy will be no good for her. She said it once and didn't mention it again. Naturally, Mel didn't listen.
In September '98, they married in an all-white ceremony in a Norman church near the seven-bedroom manor Mel had just bought in Marlow, Buckinghamshire. Baby Phoenix Chi was born five months later, on 19 February 1999. But Mel's mother was right. The marriage lasted until New Year's Eve, when Mel took the baby and flew to New York. This year Gulzar sold his story to the Sun, revealing that I'M NOT GAY: I WENT OFF SEX WHEN MEL PUT BOOB OP BEFORE BABY.
What was the point at which you knew the marriage was over?
"Oh God, if I told you that you'd think I was a fool," says Mel B as she plays with Phoenix in her dressing room at Top Of The Pops. "There was no moment, it's just a feeling you get. There was nothing that was said or done. I had the feeling a long time before anything started going downhill and I just ignored it. Don't forget, I write every day, so every day I was sitting, doing meditation and asking myself a lot of questions and trying to be positive and mature about the situation. With a baby on the way and everything..." She stops herself. "I nearly gave you away a time there, didn't I?"
"I do believe I was meant to meet him and I do believe I was meant to get married and have a beautiful child with him. And I was meant to not, unfortunately, be with him. But I learned a lot from it. Good. Bad. Everything. Condensed into nine months. I learned I have to listen to myself more and I bloody am doing that."
Why did you decide to have a breast enlargement operation?
"I didn't!" she shouts. "I don't know whether Jim said it when he sold his story or what, but I think that might have fuelled people's gossiping about it."
That's exactly where it came from.
"I didn't read it. But if that's what he's saying then he's just... he's a liar. You can touch them if you want. You can tell if they're real."
Erm, no. I'll just trust you on that. You really haven't had them done, have you?
"I haven't! Hahahaha!"
WHAT DID THE other girls think of Jimmy?
Emma: "Jimmy? He was really just another one of the dancers. He seemed fine but I wasn't that close to him."
Victoria: "Er... I didn't really know him that well. I got on with him as Melanie's husband.
[Leans forward over the tape recorder] You know I can't answer this, don't you? So what's your next question? Get me off Jimmy Gulzar. David always got on with him. That's all I can say."
Mel C: "Erm... I didn't really know him that well. I had my reservations with it being so soon after they'd met. You don't get married when you've not really known someone for less than a year. It was months."
People do, though.
"Yeah. But not everybody's in the Spice Girls, are they?"
You can't be ordinary and famous simultaneously.
"Yeah, well you can't be famous and naive, either."
MELANIE CHISHOLM is sitting in an empty room in Spitalfields, post photo shoot. She's open and vivacious - she explains that she's happy to have legions of gay fans, and that, for all the young lesbians who come up to her and ask her when she's going to come out, there are as many older women who tell her that she is obviously not gay. Three days into her tour, Mel C started seeing Dan, the singer for her support band.
For all the the tabloid innuendo about her weight and sexuality, Melanie Chisholm has become the most successful solo Spice Girl. Yet, when she arrived in LA in Spring last year to work on her solo album, she was terrified. She had no idea whether she could write material on her own. She felt overawed by the prospect of working with producers Rick Rubin and William Orbit. And there were other problems too.
Right from the start, Mel C had never felt good enough to be a Spice Girl. She wasn't pretty enough, she didn't have a good enough body - whatever. Not good enough to be famous. Before 1993, Melanie had been a dancer. She'd follow diets, but she always tried to eat healthily.
But after Wannabe became a hit in 1996, and the band became a phenomenon, Melanie slowly became disgusted with herself. She fixated on her body, thinking if she couldn't compensate for her failings by being as thin as she could be, then she would become as fit as she could be. Where she had used to go down to the pub every weekend, now she gave up drinking. For three years, she barely touched alcohol at all. She followed faddish dietary advice from fitness magazines, she ran six miles daily and if she didn't get to run, she'd freak out. She went to the gym every day, sometimes only for a few minutes but most days for two or three hours. And if, because of the Spice Girls' punishing schedule, there wasn't time to get to the gym at all, she had a simple solution: she just wouldn't eat that day.
Concerned, the rest of the girls told her she needed to put on weight, but she didn't listen. As far as Mel C was concerned, she didn't have a problem. Driven by a maniacal urge to detoxify, her diet shrank further. Meat went. Fish went. Dairy products went. "Eventually I was just living on fruit and vegetables, steamed or raw," she says now. "There was no fat in my diet, no protein, no carbohydrates. I even stopped eating potatoes."
She wasn't anorexic, but she was devastatingly underweight. There simply wasn't enough food in her diet to compensate for the exercise she was doing and, on top of that, she simply had no life beyond work and the gym. In the end, the solo album was a catalyst. Mel decided to sort herself out, hiring a cook to prepare proper meals for her. But she carried on exercising too - trying to deal with it herself just wasn't working. In time she began comfort eating, binging on food when she was miserable. When she returned home from LA for Christmas, she found herself in a crashing depression. Finally, in January this year, she went to see a doctor.
What drug would Melanie C never take again?
"Prozac," she says and then laughs.
So you have taken Prozac?
"No. It was just a joke." She gives me a mildly inscrutable look and then reconsiders. "If you look into eating disorders, Prozac is a drug to combat them. It works for a lot of things."
What did you think when you saw the papers today?
"I was sad, I'm not happy with my weight. I am overweight for my frame and my height but I've got a healthy mind - or healthier mind - and I'd rather have that and not damage my body not damage my body inside. I want to be able to have kids. So I'd rather be this size."
"Did you read what they wrote about me today? The star, that was the worst. Sumo Spice, saying I've got an arse like a rhino and I've found Vanessa Feltz's lost chins. Isn't that horrendous? I'm getting over an eating disorder and I have to read that. If I was still ill, and I read that, I would have gone home, and I would have stuffed my face all day."
"With drink and drugs, you can just completely stop it, but you need food. So it's just so, so hard. And no-one knows. People reading this will think, Oh, poor Mel C, she's one of the most famous women in the world! She's got nice car, she's got a nice house, she's got loads of money in the bank. But when you're feeling that low, you just think, you can have it back."
THE SPICE GIRLS rarely wonder about what it would be like to go back to the way they were before they were famous. Mel B doesn't think she's changed much anyway. She says she got used to being looked at all the time long before she was a Spice Girl - when she was a dancer working in Blackpool, she felt like she was the only black person for miles around. People stared. Emma says she still feels very sane, and that her best friends are still the people she went to primary school with - they watch videos together all the time. Victoria has never thought about it.
And Mel C keeps it out of her mind because the thought would make her depressed. Or rather, it would remind hr that even before she was Spice Girl, before she had all the things she had now, she was still unhappy. "What would you rather have?" she asks. Everything and be depressed, or nothing and be depressed?"
On Wednesday, Victoria calls to talk about the story which alleges she made up a tale about someone attempting to grab Brooklyn from her outside Harrods in order to get David off a speeding charge.
"It's the most terrifying thing for me as a mother, having death threats and kidnapping threats," she says. "The last thing I'd want to do is cry wolf."
And we talk about her friends. She doesn't have many: her mum, she says, and her sister. And obviously David, as naff as it sounds. But apart from the other girls, she says she's only really got one good friend: Sarah Bosnich. "But I'm quite wary. I don't really make friends very easily."
Do you think that's the reason celebrities become friends? Because when they meet ordinary people, they're thinking about what their agenda is.
"No. I think it's because they want to get their pictures in the paper."
That's quite a cynical interpretation.
"Yeah, but it's quite truthful. Why else would somebody that I've never met before suddenly want to be friends with me? Let's be honest."
But that's how you make friends: you meet people, you like them, you want to spend more time with them.
"Well, maybe I'm just really cynical. Maybe that's the problem."