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 things like:
    "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.

    She 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."

    When 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 fool."
    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 depression."
    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 helped enormously.
    "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 you."
    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 their unhappiness.
    "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 point.
    "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."

    I ask 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 books.
    "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 vision."
    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!