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Spice Girls: Too Hot to Handle

How five British pop tarts built their own world empire

July 10, 1997
The Spice Girls
The Spice Girls on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Mark Seliger

As the Spice Girls take their seats, Mel B picks up her cloth napkin and uses it to rummage around inside a nostril. They have gathered in this private function room at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York so that I may discover a little more about them. You quickly learn that in the flesh, as on record and video, the most important value in Spiceland is not decorum.

"Everyone picks their nose," shrugs Geri. "President Clinton picks his nose."

The Spice Girl is a restless creature. Only occasionally will there be five Spice Girls at the table simultaneously. They get up, walk around, do exercises on the floor and go to the bathroom in a constant stream of ones and twos. Mel B wanders over to the potted plant in the corner and begins talking to it. "Like Prince Charles," she says. Then she walks back and hands me a matted clump from the top of her head. "I want to give the young man a lock of my hair," she explains to the others. I politely slip it into my notebook. Not to be outdone, Victoria carefully extracts a single strand of her hair and hands it over.

The Spice Girls Through the Ages

"In Trainspotting, the book," announces Geri, "[one character] takes her tampon out and puts it in the soup. And she had a bit of thrush." The others coo.

Would any of the Spice Girls do that?

"Might," says Geri. "We might put a boogie under the table in someone's office." They laugh. "What about what we did the other day?" she says. There is much giggling, and several Spice Girls press Geri to keep silent. Naturally, she doesn't. They were in Taiwan, she explains. They couldn't get anyone to understand their English, and they couldn't find the toilet, and they were bursting. So Geri and Mel C went into this room . . .

"I don't think it was a temple," argues Mel B.

"I think it was a ballroom," says Mel C.

. . . where the two of them squatted down in a corner and, in fits of giggles, peed onto some towels they found there. Stepped away from the sodden towels. Walked out.

Here, before things get too silly and agitated, is a cut out 'n' keep guide to the five Spice Girls. This is what you will need to know:

Geri Halliwell is 24. She is known as Ginger Spice. Her father, an unsuccessful English car salesman, died three years ago. Her mother is Spanish and works as a cleaning lady. (Mrs. Mop, the British tabloids call her.) When Geri was young, she once poohed in the bath with her brother and sister. She is the most talkative Spice Girl and the one who is generally first to shout "girl power," the key concept in Spice Girls philosophy.

Melanie Brown (Mel B) is 22. She is known as Scary Spice. Her father, who does hot-metal shift work, is from Nevis, in the Caribbean. Her mother, who works in a department store, is from Leeds, in the north of England. When she was young, Mel B used to have a boogie collection behind her bunk bed. Now she has a pierced tongue.

Emma Bunton is 21. She is known as Baby Spice. She has blond hair, which she often wears in bunches. Her father is a milkman; her mother teaches martial arts. They split when Emma was 11. When she was young, she was a child model. She recently announced, as a joke, "I don't want to be a cutie – I want to be a hot, sexy bitch," but she's now rather perturbed that the statement has been taken seriously.

Victoria Aadams is 22. She is known as Posh Spice. Her parents are rich; her father is an electrical retailer. When she was young, Victoria used to beg her father not to take her to school in the Rolls-Royce. She was teased at school for that and for her nose. She likes to dress in Prada and Gucci, and hates the way she looks when she smiles.

Melanie Chisholm is 23. She is known as Sporty Spice. Her mother is a singer; her father is in the travel business. They split when she was 3. When she was young, Melanie used to eat cat food. She wears lots of Adidas sportswear. A tattoo on her upper right arm is of two Japanese symbols: woman and strength. Girl power, in other words.

These names – Ginger, Scary, Baby, Posh, Sporty – have been a successful part of the Spice Girls package: a perfect simultaneous pop expression of heterogeneity (they're each their own person) and homogeneity (they're all disciples in the Church of Spice). A strange fact: Neither the Spice Girls nor any of the people around them thought up the names. They were invented during an editorial meeting at a British teen magazine called Top of the Pops. "We decided they were the kind of band we could have a lot of fun with," Peter Loraine, the editor, says. "We thought we could make up some stupid names." They were going to call one of them Old Spice ("I'm not saying . . . ") but thought better of it. Top of the Pops published the names, with an illustration of a spice rack, and they just caught on. As in the best pop stories – the Sex Pistols', say – it is not the plans you think up that make the difference, it is how well you use the accidents.

In America, Spice Girls are successful; both their debut album, Spice, and the first single, "Wannabe," have reached No. 1, and the follow-up single, "Say You'll Be There," is heading in the same direction. Nonetheless, it is perhaps hard for America to understand quite how famous Spice Girls have become in the rest of the world. In their homeland, for instance, the Spice Girls are in the papers every single day. I borrow the file of their British press clips for a single week (between March 7 and March 13). The pile is about an inch thick. There are 141 newspaper stories about them and many more from various magazines. This is a typical week.

The Spice Girls wake up each day under a deluge of feedback. There is stupid gossip. Sordid secrets. Old photos. (The tabloids' evergreen favorites are finding a new set of topless or nude photos of Geri – who did a little "glamour" modeling when she was younger – or a new set of Emma's childhood advertising photos, looking blond and smiley and product-friendly.) Trivia. Weighty pieces analyzing the Spice Girls' significance, furthering an endless, Sisyphean national debate over whether they are A Good Thing or A Bad Thing. Rumors. The occasional Scandal. (In December, Mel C was faced with the headline: SPICE GIRLS' COCAINE SHAME: ALL NIGHT BINGES SHOCK FOR YOUNG FANS, which claimed for her a past of various debaucheries. "I don't think anybody took any notice of it, did they?" she says, apparently unconcerned.) Hot news about what the Spice Girls did yesterday or about what they will do today or tomorrow. My favorite recent story was when Geri got a false fingernail stuck in her ear on a video shoot. It made the front page of The Sun, Britain's best-selling tabloid, and on the inside was a competition to give away what the paper said was the actual recovered false fingernail. (I hate to disappoint the "lucky" winner and to alert the rock-collectibles industry, but it was a fraud.)

Then there are the kiss 'n' tells. In Britain, Spice Girls have released four singles (the two American singles; the next American single, "2 Become 1"; and a double A side, "Mama" and "Who Do You Think You Are"). All went to No. 1. And, by the Spice Girls' own estimate, in the time it has taken them to release four singles, 13 different ex-boyfriends have kissed and told to the British tabloids. None of the Girls has been spared. In Emma's case, she has had only three boyfriends, and each of them has spilt the beans.

"Everybody has a price," says Victoria.

"I'm going to get them to sign a secrecy form from now on," says Mel B.

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