SPICE MAKE IT ON HER
TEXT TIM HULSEPHOTOGRAPHY CHRISTOPHE GSTADLER
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 THE
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
So here, in her own words, is the true story of Ginger Spice.
"ALL I REPRESENT
BUT MAYBE PEOPLE
CAN RECIEVE A MESSAGE.
NOT A SKINNY SUPERMODEL
AND I CAN
STILL BE UP
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
"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...
"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
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
So when Geri reached 16...
I'M QUITE DIFFICULT
. I TRY TO HIDE IT.
SOMETIMES IT'S EASIER
TO SUPRESS EMOTION
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
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...
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
"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
"Basically," says Geri, "I did it because I've
always been 5'2" and didn't think I could ever be
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.
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
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.'
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
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
I wondered out loud what she would have done if the Spice Girls
"I probably would have been a journalist," she said.
DOING SOME VERY
I DIDN'T DO ANY CROTCH SHOTS -
WASN'T MY THING"
"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
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
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,
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
So in a sense, the quest still goes on. It's become a quest for
meaning. Maybe that's what it was all along.
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