AS WE mark the 25th anniversary of the Spice Girls’ debut smash Wannabe, journalist Louise Gannon, who has interviewed them as a band and individuals countless times over the years, looks back at their incredible and enduring legacy.

Before social media existed as a route to stardom, it was Buffalo platforms, street sass and the loud, proud message of Girl Power that turned the Spice Girls into instant global stars.

Five working-class girls – Geri Halliwell from Watford, Emma Bunton from north London, Essex-born Victoria Adams, Melanie Brown from Leeds, and Scouser Melanie Chisholm – became Ginger, Baby, Posh, Scary and Sporty, the most recognisable faces of ’90s Cool Britannia, selling more than 90 million records in their six years together.

They exploded on to the music scene at a time of vibrancy, hope and great change for the country, with New Labour on the rise before sweeping to power in 1997, ending 

18 years of Tory rule. It was against this backdrop that the Spices became feminist icons and paved the way for bands from Girls Aloud to Little Mix, their catchy tunes delivering a message of being yourself, having fun with your besties and ripping up traditional views on femininity. 

Now, a quarter of a century – and two multimillion-pound-grossing reunion tours later – they remain the bestselling girl group of all time.

Who could forget Mel C calling out Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher at the 1997 BRIT Awards after he’d refused to attend the ceremony because he found the Spice Girls so annoying that he said he’d punch them if he saw them?

“Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough!” Sporty yelled from the podium as the girls picked up their second award of the night.

A few months later, they made front pages all over the world when Mel B showed Prince Charles her tongue stud in the line-up for a Prince’s Trust concert and Geri broke royal protocol by pinching him on the bottom (though she later said she merely patted it).

Stars from Adele to Sam Smith and Billie Eilish are self-proclaimed Spice fanatics, with Adele recently saying: “It’s no secret how much I love them, how much they inspired me to run for my life and never look back.”

'WE DIDN'T HAVE ANYTHING TO LOSE'

Speaking exclusively to Fabulous, Mel B says she has to pinch herself when she’s reminded that it’s been 25 years since Wannabe stormed to the top of the charts.

“It just seems unbelievable,” she says from the home she now shares in Leeds with her three daughters Phoenix, 22, Angel, 14, and nine-year-old Madison.

“We were these five girls who didn’t fit any typical pop mould. We were determined to do things our way, to say what we wanted to say, to work our backsides off and to have fun while doing it.

"All of us felt we didn’t have anything to lose and we knew we could only do it if we were all in it together. 

“It’s pretty emotional now when we think back to what we did, how far we went and how much support we got from our fans all over the world, who were the ones who carried us to the top.

"They got that we were just like them, they understood that we didn’t follow rules, they just got what we were all about.”

It has been my privilege to be a tiny part of the band’s story. The first time I met the Spice Girls, no one knew who they were.

It was in early 1996 when five loud, laughing, badass girls turned up at my office as head of showbusiness at GMTV (the forerunner to Good Morning Britain) with a boom box and told me I should put them on TV.

Mel C pressed play, while Geri and Mel B leapt on my desk, sending books, notepads and pens flying – and all five of them sang and danced to a then-unknown track called Wannabe.

It was messy, it was crazy but it was also a fabulous Molotov cocktail of youth, energy and fun. I told them they were going to be massive and even though I couldn’t put them on the telly (they weren’t famous), we filmed a pilot pop show with them, which turned out to be a total riot.

Throughout the past 25 years, I’ve continued to interview the girls as they grew up and became mothers. Victoria and Emma remained with the men they met in those early, heady days – footballer David Beckham and former Damage singer Jade Jones, respectively.

Geri, Mel B and Mel C went through various engagements, marriages and, in Scary’s case, two divorces. Geri quit the band in 1998 to launch a successful solo career and since the remaining four called it a day in 2000, all of them have remained firmly in the public eye. 

Emma is a presenter on Heart Radio and owns eco-friendly baby business Kit & Kin. Her new book Mama You Got This recently hit the Sunday Times Bestsellers List.

Mel C is a successful solo artist, while Mel B is one of the biggest TV stars in America, Australia and the UK, thanks to judging roles on America’s Got Talent and The X Factor. And of course, Victoria is a fashion designer and one of the most famous women in the world.

In their heyday, the Spice Girls symbolised a new dawn of bright, liberated optimism. They were rebels with a cause – less a pop band and more a movement advocating girl power and individuality.

Originally brought together at auditions by pop promoters wanting to form a girl band called Touch, they spent a year together rehearsing in a house in Maidenhead.

'WE REALLY HAD TO BELIEVE IN OURSELVES'

When told that they would have to perform in identical outfits and conform to the pop norm, they refused to sign a binding contract, did a midnight flit and decided to manage themselves.

“We had to really believe in ourselves because so many people around us didn’t,” Geri once told me. They stalked Simon Cowell, jumping out on him one morning in the car park of his record label with an impromptu performance of Wannabe.

“Sorry girls,” he told them. “I just don’t think you have what it takes.” Luckily his music industry “frenemy” Simon Fuller did, and signed the girls to his management company 19 Entertainment. 

The dynamics between the girls are fascinating. I would never describe them as friends – they are sisters, with deep, complex relationships and an intimate knowledge of how each other ticks. They’ve shared beds, clothes, tears, triumphs and personal tragedies. 

Only the five of them went through the madness of their fame. They can be worlds apart, but if something happens they are immediately there for each other. When Mel B was hospitalised in 2018 after falling and severing muscles in her hand, they rushed to her bedside the next day with flowers and gifts (bar Victoria, who was out of the country).

“Individually we had our insecurities but together we felt invincible,” Mel C once said. “I didn’t wear dresses. I always wore trackies, so that’s what I wanted to wear [on stage].

"Mel B had an afro on the shoot for Wannabe – the stylists wanted to straighten it, she said no and we all backed her because the point was we were all different. And we all had each other’s backs, we didn’t want to be mean girls, we wanted to be team girls.”

And that was why we fell in love with them. Each of them spoke to something in all of us – Posh, Scary, Ginger, Baby or Sporty. Their licensed magazine included an agony-aunt column and potted histories of women to admire, from Elizabeth I to Emmeline Pankhurst.

'I WAS JUST BEING A BRAT'

They mixed designer clothes with cheap high-street bargains – Geri’s iconic BRITs dress was a Union Jack tea towel stitched on to a black Gucci dress. 

They were sexy but never overtly so – more end-of-the-pier saucy. Kids loved them, men fancied them and women wanted to be their mate. The LGBTQ+ community were inspired by their inclusivity and message to be who you are and be proud. Unlike Oasis and other major British bands such as Take That, the Spice Girls cracked America, becoming even bigger in the States than in the UK.

But in 1998, in the midst of a world tour, Geri left the band with no explanation, just a message from her lawyers that she had quit. Although in the intervening years the girls covered up how upset it made them, it was always clear that it still rankled. 

The true depth of this emotional scar was laid bare by Geri 21 years later when she stood on stage holding hands with the girls at Wembley Stadium and, tears running down her face, said in front of the 80,000-strong crowd: “I need to say something I should have said a long time ago. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I left. I was just being a brat. It is so good to be back with the girls that I love.”  

“That,” Mel B told me afterwards, “was a big moment for her and a big moment for the rest of us. None of us spoke about it, but it was something that was always there and now it’s gone. I’m so glad she finally said it.”

In 2017 I spent 18 months with Mel B in Los Angeles and London writing bestselling book Brutally Honest about her allegedly abusive marriage to Stephen Belafonte, her rollercoaster life, and her humble beginnings as a mixed-race girl from Leeds who became one fifth of the most famous girl band on the planet. 

Two years later I saw first-hand the crazy months of preparation for their first tour in 11 years.

A renowned stage shoe-maker came with his entourage from New York to my house in south London to measure Mel’s feet.

'YOU WORRY PEOPLE FORGET'

He drew round her foot and took intricate measurements of calves, ankles, toes, knees and arches. Costume designers came with reams of beautifully hand-drawn outfits. 

“Help me choose!” Mel asked my teenage daughter and her friends, instantly creating another generation of a girl-power gang.

Few pop groups can continue to generate the same mad excitement as the Spice Girls. Nevertheless, when tickets went on sale for the 2019 UK reunion tour, both Emma and Mel C confessed they were “terrified” that no one would be interested in them any more. 

“You worry people forget,” said Emma. They didn’t. Tickets for those Spice World gigs sold out in minutes, despite the fact Victoria wasn’t to be a part of it.

The 2019 tour was also an eye-opener about who these women are today. Back in the ‘90s, the concert tours were “insane, non-stop parties,” Mel B recalls.

This time it was more of a family affair. Emma’s two children Beau, then 11, and Tate, 8, were present, as were Geri’s kids Bluebell, 13, and Monty, two, as well as her husband Christian Horner’s daughter Olivia, six, from his previous relationship. And Mel C’s 10-year-old daughter Scarlet was there every day, along with Mel B’s three girls.

Also in attendance were husbands, partners, mums, dads, uncles, cousins, aunts, brothers, sisters, hordes of friends, and celeb pals including Adele, Holly Willoughby, the All Saints, Olly Murs, Dermot O’Leary and Keith Lemon. 

Rather sweetly, the Spice mums would sit together during the shows, keeping an eye on their grandkids. 

It’s interesting to have witnessed how the girls have developed over the years. Geri has morphed from lairy motormouth into a Home Counties wife and mother, but with her quirky creativity still intact.

Emma remains the peacemaker, focused on her family and her baby business and still living within a mile of where she grew up.

Mel B has returned to Leeds, wiser, stronger but still the determined girl she always was, winning kudos for her amazing work with Women’s Aid.

Melanie C is perhaps the one who has changed the most, overcoming her insecurities to become an incredibly cool woman hugely admired by the industry. 

And we all know what became of Victoria, but it must be said that at every Beckham Christmas party, the Spice Girls songs go on and Posh breaks out into her old moves. 

So what next for Girl Power? Or, rather, Woman Power. Another tour has been promised, most recently by Mel C – “We’re constantly talking about it,” she says. 

It feels like the Spice story isn’t over yet. The demand is there, the fans are waiting – and another tour is what we all really, really want.   

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