You've written to us, you've phoned us, you've made sure we know how much you love this girl. So here she is, in all her glory: Geri Halliwell ...

She won't want you to know this, but Geri Halliwell is late. Really late. A group of people gathered in her name are waiting at a studio in a swish part of west London for a photo shoot and interview. Everyone is present - except the girl we desperately want to see. After an hour of chit-chat and clock-watching, there's a definite tetchiness in the room. And then suddenly... "I AM SOOO SORRY!" A deep, rich voice booms behind us. We all turn round and a small princess with long, blonde hair and a floor-sweeping magenta skirt rushes over in tiny steps. Shaking her head at the shame of her lateness she dashes around planting kisses on everyone's cheeks. 'I've got to go to the loo," she says breathlessly, before disappearing out of the door she just came in. She's gone again! But it' OK, we'[[ forgive Geri Halliwell anything. This fortnight is a big one for Geri. Her third solo track Lift Me Up has hit the charts and she's been nominated for an MTV Award alongside Britney, Whitney and Madonna (her all-time hero) for Best International Female. It's yet another chapter in the astonishing transformation of Geri Halliwell. Hard to believe that only 18 months ago, just when some people were thinking that maybe - for her Ginger Spice should shut up, pull her skirt down and put her boobs away, she surprised the world by doing just that! She resigned from being the biggest mouth in the biggest band in the world to become a United Nations' representative And then - showing all those people who thought she'd only make it in telly - a number one charting solo singer. But she didn't do it alone. To even Geri's surprise, she found a whole nation of girls rooting for her.

Because there's something about Geri. She's up t with Kate Winslet as the celebrity girl would most like our next sleepover - making you laugh by taking off mum's Spanish accent, egging you on to a singalong & plans, spilling secrets. Geri's a girl's girl. We love her independence, think her new look deserves a round applause, and worry (a lot) about her loneliness. BEST FRIENDS When she comes back from the too and she's settling down to get her make-up done, I tell her that thousands of girls would give anything to be her best friend. 'Would the)R' she asks, smiling shyly. "Well, they can be! When I was young, people in music were my best friends. When things aren't going right, what do you do? You turn the radio on and throw yourself into a song. Even now, when I'm searching for something, I listen intently to the next song on the radio, convinced it's going to tell me something. You know, I love the company of teenagers - sometimes I think I get on better with them than adults'' Maybe that's because Geri doesn't think she's changed since she was a teen. Earlier this month her autobiography if Only came out - ifs a great read which opens during her teen years. "I think that's the best bit of the book, the funniest," she says. "George [Michael, obviously!] has read it and says ifs funny - but I don't know if that's just because he knows me.' Re-reading all her teenage diary entries, some of which went straight in the book, cracked her up. 'It was funny how I referred to boys,' she laughs. 'Ws like, 'I fancy John, but I don't think he likes me' Then the next week it says 'I'm going out with John', and two days later it says 'I've dumped him'. It was good for me to see what I've learnt. I don't think I've changed.' So she's still I going off people after two days? 'NO! No, oh I don't know,' she says, going all dreamy. 'You know how we all get infatuated with someone and then they become the love of your life at that moment? I still do that.' WHAT I REALLY WANT These days boys all over the world are infatuated with Geri, but back in Watford, when she was a teen, they weren't so interested. 'I'd dyed my hair black, dressed like Madonna and had no breasts!' she giggles. 'While everyone else was upstairs snogging, I was downstairs dancing to pop music' Because, as we all know, what Geri wanted - what she really, really wanted - was to be famous. 'I didn't know how to go about it though,' she says shrugging. 'My parents couldn't afford to send me to stage school' But, by hook or by crook she was determined to make it big. So, like someone once said about her idol Madonna, 'She hauled hersdf up by her bra straps!'

She's glad now that the hauling didn't happen when she was still a teenybopper. 'You need a perspective on it or it can all go to your head,' she explains. 'The sad thing about young people trying to be famous is that one minute people love you and the next they hate you. My relationship with the public has been very turbulent.. first they like me, then I'm being called fat, then I've been written off and the next minute, people like me again. 'I've come to realise that you've got to be confi- dent and know why you're doing this. I make music for people and I want them to be inspired and laugh. But I've also had to realise that you can't please everybody and you can't make everybody like you' EATING DISORDERS Geri's learnt these lessons the hard way. If Only also touches on her bulimia - an illness that girls in the 90s can't seem to get away from. 'Eating disorders are just symptoms of what you feel inside,' she explains. 'It's not about weight, its about escapism. You put all your energy into controlling your weight and trying to forget everything else, instead of dealing with other problems. Like when my father died I was absolutely grief stricken, and felt lonely and isolated, and the bulimia gave me something to focus on. But the pressure about weight is very strong. I hear girls saying 'Boys only like girls who are a size eight!'And that's absolute rubbish!' SUGAR'N'SPICE While Geri will be open, frank and even blunt at times, she still resists the temptation to be negative about her ex-band mates. Which must make it all the more hurtful when it seems the other Spices aren't play- ing ball. So I ask how she felt about Mel Cs recent comments about Geri's music being nothing but 'cotton wool"First, if anyone you know says something negative about you, of course it hurts because you want everyone to like you - especially as my music's so personal and from the heart. But then I have to put things in per- spective and think. 'That's not the Melanie I know speaking. I don't expect that from her.- Still, she can't resist shrieking, 'What was that all about?'to Kenny Ho, the stylist she still shares with the Spice Girls, when she recalls some less than flat- tering pictures of Mel C in a Sunday newspaper. But when I ask her outright what she thinks of Mel's new rock chick thang, she diplomatic: 'I think Met is doing what she wants to do, she's really finding out who she is. And that's great'

And the diplomacy doesn't stop when I mention the Big Showdown - Geri and Ernma both releasing a single in the same week. At the time neither song has been released, but it's clear that Geri is slightly embarrassed about the up-coming battle. 'Of course, everyone going to say, 'Oooh!'but what can I say?' She pauses. 'I just think, 'I'm doing a solo track, Emma's doing something with another band.' It's a good track - that she's covered,' she widens her eyes and looks at me meaningfully. 'Ifs a cover which we know already, so it's a good choice.' She squeezes my knee and skips off to strut her stuff in front of the camera. No-one told I4-year-old, Geraldine Halliwell from Watford the truth about being a pop star. No-one told her about the early mornings or the jet bag or the pressure. But there were some things nobody could have put into words. A few weeks ago Geri did a show in Spain. She'd had one hour to get ready and was still feeling sleepy when she walked through the tunnel to the auditorium. 'Suddenly there was this bright orange light,' she says smiling. 'I walked towards the light and there were 25,000 people chanting Geri, Geri' And I just thought'Wow! The good bits are exactly how I imagined they'd be.'