GERI HALLIWELL only ever wanted one thing. She wanted to be famous. But fame has its price. Now that she has stardom, is it enough?
And the question still looms... is there life beyond

Picture this. In a photographer's studio in east London, Geri Halliwell is sitting on a chair wearing black lacy underwear and a huge fake fur stole. Around her, various assistants are busying themselves. One is holding her hair back, while another adjusts her necklace. Another is undoing her shoes, and a fourth is checking her make-up. As this goes on, Geri gazes serenely into the mirror she's holding in front of her face and looks pleased with what she sees. It's a scene that would have made a fine subject for a Renaissance painting: "Queen Geri Amidst Her Handmaidens", an allegory of ambition fulfilled.
Because this is what Geri Halliwell, the Watford wannabe, has spent most of her life dreaming about - to be the centre of attention, to be on the cover of a magazine, to be famous. Fame - that elusive, late twentieth-century Holy Grail. For years she's tracked it and hunted it down with single-minded devotion. Now it's hers and it sits looking at her from the other side of a mirror. No wonder she looks pleased.
I knew most of the landmarks on Geri's journey - club dancer in Majorca, glamour model, gameshow hostess and so on - because I'd waded through a huge pile of press cuttings about her. Fleet Street's finest had apparently left no stone unturned, but their story was almost entirely third-hand. Friends, relations, exlovers, even vague acquaintances - they'd all been quizzed, but the central character in this little saga had remained largely silent. Sure, she'd been interviewed plenty of times, but it was always in the company of the perpetual hen party that is the Spice Girls - the result usually little more than high-spirited banter. This was the first major interview she'd done alone.
So here, in her own words, is the true story of Ginger Spice.


THE LIFE OF SPICE "When I talk about Girl Power, I fucking well believe in it. Everyone wants to see it as some great marketing ploy. It's not, it's something that has helped me. It's given me strength."
Let's get this straight from the start. Sporty Spice - she's into sport. Baby Spice - she's young and childlike. Posh Spice - she's posh, obviously. Scary Spice - she's intimidating and in-your-face. And then there's Ginger Spice - she's... what? She's got ginger hair, basically. In the Spice Girls' mixed bag, Geri seems to be the only one who doesn't really represent anything.
"I quite like that, actually," she says, "because there's no stereotypical thing that I have to live up to. All I represent is myself, basically. If people want to see a bubbly redhead with large breasts, then that's fine. But then if people can maybe subconsciously receive a message - you know, the average woman is a size 12 or 14., and they can see that I'm not a skinny supermodel and I can still be up there. The media dictate what is beautiful and fantastic and I think it would be very brave of people to really take on board that the average person, a person with a big nose and large hips, is fantastic, too. The Spice Girls are five
imperfect girls - I'm far from perfect, I'm flawed and I'm aware of my flaws - but it means that with the right spirit and with a good heart, you can achieve anything."
If the story of Geri Halliwell represents anything at all, then this is what it is: the triumph of the ordinary.
Time to go back to the beginning...

CHILDHOOD "First and foremost. I came from great poverty. My parents didn't have any money, they were basically on the breadline. I didn't get things handed on a plate to me. It's a cliché, it's a sad story, but that's the way it was:'
There's a persistent rumour that Geri Halliwell is older than she says she is. I think 33 was the highest of various ages mentioned to me by numerous friends and colleagues who were all convinced that they were the possessors of scandalous inside information. Judging from the early press cuttings, it's possible she (or someone else) may have knocked a couple of years off her age when the Spice Girls became famous, but for quite a while now her stated age has been the one confirmed by her birth certificate. I know, because I went to the Family Records Office and checked it. She was 25 in August.
But there is a minor anomaly on her birth certificate - by rights her surname shouldn't really be Halliwell. It's true that she was born in Watford on August G, I972, to Laurence Francis Halliwell and Anna-Maria Halliwell (née Hidalgo), but her paternal grandfather's surname was, in fact, Sjövik.
Her grandmother had an affair with a Swedish man, and her father was the result. Her grandmother later married, allowing Laurence Halliwell to take his surname from his stepfather. So
strictly speaking she should be called Geri Sjövik. She tells me the name means "lake bay" in Swedish.
"I'm a quarter Swedish, half Spanish, an eighth French and an eighth English," she says. "So you could call me European... or just a mongrel dog."
Her father suffered from asthma and a bad hip and barely worked from the day Geri was born. Her mother was the family breadwinner. When she was nine, her parents split and her father moved out. She was a classic latchkey kid.
"I used to tie my own bunches and get myself to school. I'd go home and no-one would be there and I'd make my own dinner. So I've always had to provide for myself. It had a massive effect."
To make things worse, she was short for her age, and a late developer. "My sister was always the beautiful one. She had loads of boyfriends, while I was just the giggly kid in the corner dancing around to Madonna. When I went to senior school, I remember my friends all getting snogs and getting fingered - I'll spare you all the gruesome details - and basically, I didn't get any of that sort of attention. Anyway, I was very much a girls' girl."
And a dreamer more than anything, from as far back as she can remember. It was something Geri shared with her father. He encouraged her, to a certain extent, in her child
hood dreams of showbiz fame and movie stardom, but her mother put her foot down. Mrs
Halliwell came from a traditional and very conservative Spanish family. So acting lessons were obviously out of the question. There would be none of that kind of business under her roof, she said.
So when Geri reached 16...


THE QUEST BEGINS "I basically just ran off and that was it. I was just Iike Dick Whittington, really, searching for... whatever"
So began Geri Halliwell's quest for fame. It was an unfocused kind of quest and I suppose a psychologist might conclude that it stemmed from the lack of attention she'd suffered as a child. It began with a year at college studying business and finance. She didn't go back for the second year, but instead she got a job at a video company. Quality control. But she soon realised it was time to move on.
"One lunch time I thought, `Hold on a minute, what are my dreams? This isn't what I dreamt of.' And I walked out and never went back."
Club dancing came next. She was paid to dance at London's Astoria and was offered a nine-month contract at the BCM club in Magaluf. The Balearics beckoned. This is good, thought Geri, a new environment, a fresh perspective on life...

THOSE PICTURES "I mean, to be honest, where do you draw the line at what's tasteful and what's not?"
Geri's breasts had finally appeared at the age of I7. Almost overnight the ugly duckling was transformed, if not quite into a swan, then at least into a bird with a pair of 32D whoppers. Certainly her charms weren't lost on the Spanish photographer, Sebastian Amengual, who snapped Geri's first nude photo session shortly before she left Majorca.
"I had to catch my breath, she looked so fantastic," he told the Mirror earlier this year. "I've never seen a body like it. I was fighting to control myself. I've photographed many girls, but they were all so skinny. Geri had a fantastic figure with huge breasts. I'm used to naked girls, but she was certainly special."
In fact, he had initially chosen Geri's dancing partner Kelly Smith for the shoot, but he hadn't counted on Geri's hunger for fame.
"She sidled up to me, gave me a cheeky smile and said, 'Please do some photos for me as well,"' he said. "Geri wouldn't take no for an answer. She was so persistent. She told me she wanted to be famous and would try anything."
"Basically," says Geri, "I did it because I've
always been 5'2" and didn't think I could ever be photogenic."
She knew a girl who knew a model agency in London, so the dream took another turn - she was going to be a glamour model. If you want to see a record of her work, take a surf around the Internet. I found one site alone which had 76 different pictures of Geri in various states of undress. There are pictures of her naked in the woods, pictures of her naked with a towel round her head, pictures of her naked but for a pair of fishnet tights, pictures of her naked but for a pair of sunglasses...
"I wasn't doing any top shelf things at the time, although they've all ended up there," she says. "I was doing nude stuff, although I didn't do any crotch shots - that wasn't my thing. I worked for Athena, when they wanted a nice bum shot, and I remember doing something with a baby for BUPA. I got some shit jobs and I got some good jobs. It was great money and I was getting some attention. Then after a while the novelty wore off and I thought, `What the fuck am I doing?"'
Time for another change.

THE QUEST CONTINUES "I remember getting down to the last four to present The Disney Club. I'd always get so near but yet so far."
Next came a job as a gameshow hostess on Turkish TV.
"They wanted a girl who looked half decent, but who had some personality, and it was great. They flew me out there every weekend."
At the same time, Geri had also returned to college to do an English Literature A level. She'd met a director who was casting for a play set in a lunatic asylum. There was a part for a woman as The Nurse. She got down to the last two, but just missed out.
"He said to me, `You almost got that, but what's the last book you read?' And I thought, `Fuck it - actually he's right.' So I
decided to do something about it and went back to college. I read Sons And Lovers and Hamlet and things like that, it was a really stimulating time."
This last statement is interesting, because it shows that Geri's quest was as much a quest for knowledge as it was for fame, whether it was institutionalised learning, or just learning from life.
But back to the dream. Her next idea was music. "I had this plan. I thought, `Right, I'm going to get a hit record out.' So I started fishing around in the music industry. It was just before I met the Spice Girls and I was starting to make a few connections, and I remember saying to myself, `Yeah, get a hit record, then go into acting and presenting.' So I had this bet with a friend of mine and she said, `If you haven't
made a mark in a year's time, you've got to do a streak at Wimbledon. "'
I wondered out loud what she would have done if the Spice Girls hadn't happened.
"I probably would have been a journalist," she said.


MEN "Some of these stories make me laugh. One guy said I did a four-hour romp with him, but I know he only kissed me on the cheek, that was it. What does that say about the media?"
I think we can safely skip the kiss'n'tells from Geri's earlier life and concentrate on her only significant relationship since she became famous. At the end of last year she started dating Giovanni Laporta, the 27-year-old owner of a double glazing company. "Geri's absolutely crazy about him and he feels the same way about her," one of her "closest pals" revealed. Six weeks later it was all over and Giovanni had returned to his old girlfriend. "I only started dating her because it was a challenge," he told the Sun. "She's a Spice Girl, after all. But it's Kirsty that I love. I want to be with her." In fact Geri had ended the relationship, by means of a dictated, typewritten letter.
"Does that sound cold?" she laughs. "Actually, it is cold, but he obviously deserved it. That's the one relationship I think, `What the fuck was I doing?' It makes me feel a bit sad and sick, really. Everyone makes mistakes. You try and see good in people, but my
instinct said, `Hold on a minute, he's more trouble than he's worth.' I'm just glad I got rid of him when I did."
Geri doesn't have a current boyfriend (or not at the time of writing, at any rate), but says she's not worried about it.
"I'm a very intense, passionate person and if I meet someone and suddenly fall in love with them, or I'm very attracted to them, it drains so much of my energy. I feel that I'm on a mission and I don't want any other distractions at the moment."
Perhaps the only man missing from her life is her father, who died in 1993, aged 7I. He always encouraged her in her dream, but sadly he didn't live to see her achieve it.
"He wasn't the best father in the world, I'd be a liar to say that, but he really mellowed out at the end of his life and I had a good friendship with him. I'm gutted that he never got to see any of my success, as he's the one that believed in me. I could have taken him out, spent money on him, taken him on holiday. I would have loved to take him to premieres and he would have loved that too, he was one of those characters that could talk to anyone. I still cry now when somebody asks me about him. It's something that haunts you, it never goes away, it's just something that you have to live with. I hate it when I forget his voice.
"But it's like every lesson in life, it changed me. It makes you aware of mortality. I suppose I've been running ever since. It's like time's running out - I've got to do this, I've got to do that..."

FAME AT LAST "What does it mean anyway? I had an idealistic thought of what fame is. I thought, yes, lovely, I'm going to be famous and everything will change. But it doesn't."
Going through the stack of press cuttings about Geri Halliwell before I met her, I tried to read between the lines and work out what sort of person she really is. There were plenty of positive points. Kind, conciliatory, ambitious, independent, outgoing, generous - I wrote these down and they were all confirmed. But I also felt there was a sense of loneliness at the centre of her life. It was just a hunch, really. "I think we're all lonely," she said when I suggested this to her. So I asked her who she calls when she's feeling down.
"When I'm down I'm quite difficult, because I'm one of those people that... I try to hide it. Although I love communicating with
people, sometimes I find it very difficult to express how I really feel. Sometimes it's easier to suppress emotion. Sometimes I'll go and cry in the toilet, rather than show it. Sometimes it's best not to demand too much of people. You can't, really."
But you can, of course. It's what friends are supposed to be for, which is why the thought of Ginger Spice sobbing her heart out in the Ladies is so touching. We returned to this subject later. "I don't know if I'm always lonely," she said. "I wouldn't like to sound like a sad and wilted lonely person." She said that loneliness and independence often go hand in hand, and she's led a very independent life, practically from the day she was born. The problem, of course, is that if your life has been based on the single-minded pursuit of a vague notion of fame, what happens when you achieve it? Where do you go from there? She's aware of the potential void.
"I don't want to seem ungrateful or cynical about fame, because I'm very grateful - it's taught me so much and I really do love it," she says. "Obviously I've fulfilled all my dreams and more, but as you grow your mind grows and you think, OK, what's next, what do I want to achieve? I realised the other day that maybe the point of my fame is bringing goodness. Some of us visit sick children and put a smile on their face. Now doesn't that give your life worth? It gives it some meaning and there must be some meaning, otherwise you'd starve emotionally."
So in a sense, the quest still goes on. It's become a quest for meaning. Maybe that's what it was all along.

THE END "Don't get me wrong, I'll never forget that I had no money and was on the dole for years. I'd really hate myself if I turned into a fucking stuck-up wanker."
We talked about the future. I wondered if she would turn into Cilla Black one day. "Who knows," she said. "She's done well for herself and she's got a great pair of legs. My future lies within my imagination, really. I think it's crap when people try to shake off who they were, it kind of discredits everything you've worked for. I will always be a part of the Girl Power movement, that's for sure."
It was time to go. I left Geri looking at the Polaroids of the cover shoot she'd just done. She looked pleased with what she saw