May 1998, a 25-year-old woman walked out of her job, and it made
world news. "I was standing on this mountaintop and I
jumped, not knowing where I was going to fall," says Geri
Halliwell of her abrupt departure from the Spice Girls.
"Everyone was saying I was bonkers, but I had to go, get my
feet back on the ground."
Geri had planned on leaving the Spice Girls in September 1998
and had already told the other girls of her decision, as she
felt she had already achieved all she could as a member of the
group. But then, in May, Geri wanted to do an interview with ITV
about her breast cancer scare. When the Spice Girls' schedule
would not permit it, it made her question her priorities. Within
hours the decision had been made.
From nowhere to the pop phenomenon of the Nineties in the space
of one record, the Spice Girls had been on an extraordinary
girl-powered journey. They had hits around the world. They sold
enormous numbers of records. They made a movie. They met Prince
Charles and President Mandela. They met all of their pop heroes,
then became more famous than most of them. And it all happened
so fast that there was scarcely time in their schedule to sleep,
let alone take in what had happened to them.
For Geri Halliwell, it was time to go, to find out who she was
when she wasn't Ginger Spice. "There was nothing contrived
about the Spice Girls and Ginger is a part of me, but I'd been
wearing platforms since I was 18 and it was natural to grow out
of it. I wasn't wearing those kind of clothes off-stage. My
makeup was getting less and less. When I left, I needed to strip
the lot away and say, 'Actually I'm an egg at the moment. I'm in
Of course, the offers came flooding in: film roles, TV shows.
One magazine alone offered half a million for her story, but
Geri took her time. She stayed at George Michael's house for a
while. She sold the trademark outfits she'd worn as Ginger
Spice, closing a chapter in her own life and raising £150,000
(over $240,000) for Sargent Cancer Care for Children. She went
to Uganda for Comic Relief and nearly drowned twice while
filming on some rapids there. She was appointed a Goodwill
Ambassador by the UN. She sang 'Happy Birthday' to the future
king of England ("If you ever have constipation, just sing
to Prince Charles - I went to the loo eleven times, I was so
And eventually, she made an album. A rather good album, in fact,
which is called Schizophonic, which reflects her own
contradictions. "I wanted it to be a very honest album, a
blueprint of me. The manifesto, the brief I gave to the other
writers I work with was that if I was to die at the end of this
album, I wanted to know I'd taken each song to the max. There
were no half-measures, it was a real reflection of my
personality. It's an emotional roller-coaster, a hormonal
mood-swing. I poured everything into it, it was almost like
therapy for me."
product of a Spanish mother and a Swedish-English father who was
50 by the time she was born in 1972, the Watford, England girl
describes herself as "a mongrel." She grew up
listening to Madonna, Michael Jackson and Abba, but was also
influenced by the music and films her father loved: Judy
Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Shirley Bassey. All this came together
to produce a record that is, she says, "A cross between
Julie Andrews and Johnny Rotten."
Camp, quirky, fun, heartfelt and shamelessly, gloriously pop-tastic,
the album features a big ballad with a full orchestra, a Hindu
choir on another song and a nine-piece brass section playing New
Orleans-style jazz in the middle of the first single "Look
At Me." It was produced by Bristol duo the Absolute Boys,
"soulboys and soulmates" who had previously worked
with the Spice Girls and always been close to Geri creatively.
"Everything I've done, I've always done passionately, with
all my heart and my soul," she says, "I didn't want to
leave the Spice Girls and immediately have a record out on the
back of that. That's why I've waited. I wanted to find out who I
am, weigh up what I wanted to project and get a structure, a
game-plan to it all.
"I've been licking my wounds. I've been in mourning,
re-evaluating myself. I'd been wearing black which was a
reaction to the Ginger thing. But with "Look At Me," I
want to come back with a bang. I'm nervous, but I'm also a great
believer in facing down fear. I don't want to be a granny later
and think 'If only I'd tried.' I'm 26 years old, I'm too young
When she left the Spice Girls, Geri released a statement, which
ended with a promise to her fans: "I'll be back." A
year later, she's kept her word with a record that's a lot like
herself: strong, warm and big-hearted with a touch of mischief.
Some of you may be surprised that she has a voice. Some of you
may be surprised she can write songs. But no one who knew
anything at all about the eldest Spice girl will be surprised
that she has plenty to say and that she's saying it loudly,
passionately, with energy and gusto. "I want everything I
do to be special, to be fun and wow! I could never be
Geri Halliwell is back. But then, you always knew she would be.