Life has had its share of ups
and downs for the artist formerly known as Ginger. Having
cleansed her soul in a bare-all TV documentary and dared to
take 'girl power' to a new kind of world stage as UN
spokeswoman, Emma Forrest now finds Geri Halliwell in a
relaxed and spiritual mood... a woman child in New York City
Every heterosexual girl
has one girl who would make her cross-over. Take a straw poll
and you'll pretty much find it isn't Drew Barrymore, it's
Geri Halliwell. Both have a touchable quality, what Some Like
It Hot director, Billy Wilder, termed "flesh
impact". One senses that if you reached out to the
television or cinema screen, you could actually feel their
skin. They share that empathy, that softness, that desire to
be good and to achieve goodness, no matter that the media
perceives them as airhead or hippies. Geri Halliwell says
"I've gone on such a long pursuit
of asking what's going to happen to the world. I think we're
just here to love. We're on this planet for so many years and
we just have to make it as fulfilled and rich as possible.
It's as simple as that. To give love and receive love and make
our time as happy as possible."
The immediate reaction, from many, is
"Knock it off, you shallow self-obsessed celebrity".
But Halliwell has fans in surprising quarters from Vogue magazine
to Prince Charles. Part of her appeal is that we are so unused
to hearing a star talk out of quotes. In a post-modern age,
the shackles of irony can be difficult to unlock and it
colours our view of daydream believers like Geri. By her own
admission, she was the biggest wannabe of all. She was the one
who would go to auditions and, if she didn't get the role, try
and flog the casting agent a knock-off Tag Heuer watch.
was the one who meant it when she espoused "girl
power". She was the one who left when she realised how
little it meant to those around her. Of course, she left with
seventeen million, not bad for a girl from Wafford who had
moved sixteen times between the ages of seventeen and
twenty-one, often sleeping in cars and squats.
She was the one who epitomised the
nation's love affair with those five hyperactive pop
primadonnas. And, despite it all, they were a great band, a
joyous return to pop over pomp, a beautifully shallow, shiny
Christmas bauble. They made the covers of Smash Hits AND
NME. The Face and other snooty style magazines took to
them immediately, effortlessly charmed. But nothing is more
depressing than a tree left decorated after New Year. Geri,
who you can just envisage as a little girl, desperately
waiting for Christmas, but unable to enjoy it when it actually
arrived, opted to get the hell out, the most loved and loathed
member of the hot-panted hydra.
Her fate was sealed when she appeared
at the Brit awards, breasts overflowing from her red sequinned
dress. There is an unshakeable perception, that if you have a
curvy body, you are mentally and emotionally uncontainable
too, unable to keep your fears and feelings from curving out
of control. In the pantheon of iconography, there may be
something to that:
When I heard rumours about Scary
bullying her into tears as she struggled to memorise her dance
moves, I thought of Marilyn Monroe, weeping because she was
unable to remember her lines. To the end, Marilyn remained
unrepentantly bra-less and knickerless, sewn into her sheer
sheath gowns. Geri, however, took her departure from the Spice
Girls as an opportunity to dress down, opting for power suits,
scrubbed face and strawberry blonde hair, cleavage banished,
like a trouble-maker. Halliwell is adamant that she no longer
wanted to hide behind her famous bust.
"It can be just as powerful not
to show breasts. For so long, I suppose I was saying
"look at this, but don't look at me". It's like
hiding behind a suit in a bank. Everyone hides behind a
costume or an outfit. If we're not sure who we are that day,
we put that on and it makes us feel something."
Which is a neat summation of The Spice
Girls, and explains, perhaps, why they captured the public
imagination so completely. Girls had laid out, like primary
colours in a paint box, solid block options with which to
paint their dreams. Men, like fat guys in porn films, imagined
that they could `choose' from any one of these types: the
sporty, the aloof, the amazon, the Lolita, the slut. Geri, who
has been celibate for over a year, was the slut, because she
had the biggest boobs and the biggest mouth.
Surprisingly, as an adolescent, she
was very underdeveloped.
"I didn't get breasts or any kind
of hormonal change until I was seventeen. That hormonal change
is such a heavy thing to go through, it's really hard."
I ask her if she had sexual feelings
before people were ready to see her that way?
"Maybe I wanted to be. I wanted
to be accepted as a woman, as a grown-up. But I was a pancake.
A pubeless pancake."
the new body did blossom, she made the best of it, unashamed.
She remained unashamed, when at the height of the Spice Girls
mania, tabloids repririted old photos from her soft-core days.
Her reaction echoed that of Madonna's when a porn magazine ran
old photos of her: "So what?"
"People in the media will
eventually realise that you have to be honest about who you
are. Immortal celebrity no longer exists. The way forward is
to show your imperfections. To admit 'you know today, I don't
really know what I'm doing, but I'm trying'.
"In the olden days, in the
fifties, they hung out their washing and talked over the fence
and said 'Have you seen what that girl's wearing at number
seven?' There was their own gossip, within their own
community. But now that community has broken down to such an
extent that it no longer really exists, we need something
larger. That's where the tabloids come in. It gives us
something in common to talk about, a glue."
Watching Geri at the Attitude photo
shoot - a glorious, unselfconscious combination of curves and
freckles - I think of Tennessee Williams' "Baby
Doll", a twenty-one year old with the body of a woman and
the mind of a baby, who sits in a sticky negligee, sucking her
thumb. Which is not simply to imply Geri is stupid. She is
not. But like Liam Gallagher, she has a different kind of
smartness, a ten year old's Emperors New Clothes vision. Even
in her position as UN spokeswoman in the fight against breast
cancer, her basic stance is "But why Mum? Why is this
allowed to happen? Why?" It may not be sophisticated, but
it's damn effective.
She can't always express herself,
every other sentence is "do you know what I mean?"
She stammers and grasps for breath, stumbling over her words
because she has so much to say. Sometimes she makes up a new
one, so as not to slow down. A decade of almost offers
and failed auditions have left her determined to make the most
of her celebrity, every single sound-bite.
When I meet her in New York, she is
staying at the super exclusive Four Seasons hotel in a
gigantic suite. She need never work again. But, as the recent
Molly Dineen documentary on Channel 4 implied, Geri feels
comfortable only when she is in the public eye, because it is
only when she made it that anyone started to listen to her.
She believes, not without reason, that she can be of more
service to the world as a famous person.
There has been some mockery of her
appointment as a UN goodwill ambassador. But so many
celebrities never did anything for anyone but themselves -
from a post-assassination Jackie Kennedy selling herself off
to the highest bidder, to the appalling sight of
multi-millionaire singers and composers who threatened to
leave the country for tax reasons if Labour got in in '97.
I had always thought about Geri that
Miss Chirpy Sweetness and Light had, as with Monroe, a
seriously dark side. And then the Molly Dineen documentary
revealed a complicated relationship with her father, one she
was just coming to grips with when he died.
Geri curls into her chair, holding a
cup of tea to her freshly painted mouth.
"When you lose a parent, it makes
you grow massively. It makes you aware of death, which makes
you aware of your own mortality. You question everything so
much. You are responsible for you. You're not safe in your
father's arms forever."
She has written about her father on
her eagerly anticipated debut solo album. It's the sort of
song that a lot of people might have written for themselves
and then tucked away in a drawer, worried that it might be too
personal. But not Geri.
"I'm either a fool or...,"
She reconsiders and blurts out "I AM a fool. A brave
The album, Schizophonic has
revealed, most importantly, that she can sing and that her
lower range, especially, is actually quite lovely. She
remains, as ever, a consummate
performer. Performing on the David
Letterman show, she gyrates a-go-go, swinging her hair like
Ann-Margret in an Elvis Movie.
She is fascinated by the fifties (in
the Look At Me video, her most compelling look is when
she kicks a 50's tip, dolled up like Anita Ekberg in La
Dolce Vita). The sole remnant of her once heavy make-up is
Audrey Hepburn style liquid liner, from the inner corner of
her eyes, curling into little tails at the ends. She finds the
past infinitely more fascinating than the future.
"I read, recently, about a bloke
who had invented watches that had phones in them. That's
something I saw in a film twenty years ago." She shrugs
her tiny shoulders.
Her brother is a scientist. "He
told me there's a list of everything that's going to go wrong
on New Years Eve 1999. Last on the list is traffic lights.
There's a lot that can go wrong."
Geri Halliwell does a lot of thinking,
now more so than ever. Hotel suites, even ones as beautiful as
this, can make you feel very small, and very lonely.
"When I had six jobs a week, I
was happy. When you have all this time to examine yourself,
scrutinize yourself, you can fall into a massive
When I first walk into her hotel suit
she is wearing shorts and a t-shirt, sitting crossed legged on
a blue mat, doing her daily yoga, an activity she feels has
"It sounds wanky, but
self-improvement helps you grow. Now I know, when I feel
myself on the edge of an irrational depression, that it is
irrational. It's a fleeting emotion, it's not actually
She was not always so clear headed.
After her father died, Geri battled with anorexia and bulimia,
both of which she will detail in her upcoming memoirs. She
agrees that women often use their bodies as canvasses for
"When men are angry, they have a
good old punch up. But women are so much more emotional, so
much more internal. I think it's because our sex organs are on
the inside and men's are on the outside."
Yet again, the little child in The
Emperor's New Clothes has come up with an extremely valid
"In the 90's, women have got what
we want, yet emotionally I'm not sure how emotionally equipped
we are to deal with it. Living in a competitive business
world, we can run companies and do it just as well, but
there's that internal battle."
her why it is that the gay community took to her so from the
get go. Some ungentlemanly Muscle Mary's have suggested it's
because Ginger looked so much like a drag queen.
She confesses that, towards the end of
her time in the Spice Girls, she and the others would get so
bored that, like The Supremes before them, they would compete
to see who could do the most outlandish make-up or back-comb
their hair the highest.
"But the real reason the gay
community has given me their seal of approval is that they
could see that I was the under-dog. Everyone likes the outside
horse winning. I know I'm not the most attractive girl in the
world and I'm not the smartest, but if you have the right will
and a good heart, that's the most important thing."
She has even recorded a homage to her
fervent gay fans - G.A.Y. (named after London's hugely
popular nightspot) - for the b-side of her new single.
She talks about how much her life
changed when, around nineteen or twenty, she fell in love with
"It's so enriching, erotic, can
take you anywhere. I'm always very sceptical when they make a
film of a book because there isn't longer space for your own
Her own vision of The Spice Girls did
not work out as she had hoped. By the time I went on tour with
them, for this magazine, Geri had left the band and the girls,
trapped on a tour bus with a journalist, seemed bored,
resentful, unfriendly, especially Scary and Posh. There I was,
bored out of my mind by a vapid northern girl with an old
man's voice, a footballer's wife, a grown woman wearing knee
socks, a very pleasant girl who was good at back flips, and
all I kept thinking was "I wish Geri were here".
"How awful!" she cries,
hugging me, "I'm sorry!"
I'm sorry too. What happened to Geri
Halliwell was a grand scale version of fucking and chucking:
showing that women, no matter how rich or famous or pretty or
mouthy, are still disposable. The worst part was that her four
female friends were complicit in it.
She lost her battle but won the war.
When she left the Spice Girls, the group's long time personal
assistant left with her, and, like everyone else who works for
Geri, she is utterly devoted. One morning in her company tells
you she is worth it. She may have the Marilyn curves and heart
and, sometimes misptaced obsession with being perceived as
serious and good. But she is stronger than Marilyn, tougher.
She will not go over the rainbow. Instead, she will be Liz
Taylor, old and happy, with diamonds and dear friends and dogs
that look like cats.
When I first met her, at The Spice
Girls album launch party, I gave Geri Halliwell. a purple
plastic ring that flashed when you pressed it. It cost 85
pence; but I wanted tp give her something. "This is going
to be my wanker ring," she beamed. "I'll make it
flash . every time someone or something annoys me." It
flashed a lot that night. It's still flashing.
Geri's new single Mi Chico Latino is
released 9 August on EMI!