How Geri got her groove back

The Lone Spice confesses all about her men, her money and eating disoders that almost destroyed her. By Leah Hardy.

Geri Halliwell doesn't look anything like a 27-years old international superstar with 25 million in the bank. In fact she looks more like a child. She's tiny - just over 5ft tall - her freckled face innocent of make-up, her blonded hair in plaits, her blue eyes round and eamest. It's all a long way from irrestible cartoon character that was Ginger Spice, and, as she laughs and poses for this shoot with a Monroe-esque uninhibted charm, Geri seems infinitely more relaxed that weepy neurotic revealed by Molly Dineen's video diary of Geri's first six months since leaving the Spice Girls, shown earlier this year on Channel 4.
  "Oh, God! That documentary!" shieks Geri. "I was cringing all the way through! I think I came out of it as a bit Miss Havisham, a self-obessed recluse. I was so used to Molly, half the time I forgot she was there . We're still friends, I still like her, but I've learned a lot since then..."

From girl power to breast cancer

"The idealist in me says it would have been nice to go on being in the Spice Girls forever," sighs Geri. "Walking away was so sad. But a year on, I'm myself again. I feel really sparky and happy. It's a diffrent phase of my life."
  Yet to some, Geri's reinvention as a grey-clad superdemure UN ambassor didn't ring true. What happened to irreverent, larger-than-life Ginger? Surely that whole prince-pinching, girl-power package wasn't entirely fake? "No, no!" insits Geri. "That was all part of real me. At 22 I was the biggest wannabe going. I couldn't believe my luck. And I still love drssing up, I love big hair. I'm not going to suppress that side of me. Being in the Spice Girls was like being in relationship, so when we broke up, I felt it would have been, well, disrespectful to have acted as if I didn't care." The day she deciced to leave, Geri sat up all night crying. "I believed in girl power so much. The pop industry can be so shallow. I felt shallow and I needed a flipside just justify it. I wanted to do other thing."
  Shortly after leaving the group, she read a book by journalist Ruth Picardie: an almost unbearably moving diary written while she knew she was dying of breast cancer. For Geri it trigged the memory of the benign lump she had removed from her breast ai 18. Suddendly the rootless child-woman who admits she was 'vulnerable and searching for something' had a mission in life.
  "I get asked to work for a lot of charities but I feel very deeply about this." she says. "I feel it is my duty to represent this cause. The only sure way to beat breast cancer is prevention, awareness and eduaction. We all know someone who had a brush with breast cancer. My auntie had a breast removed."
  October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and Geri has deciced to donate all royalties from the hardback edition of her new autobiography, If Only, to a breast cancer charity. "I don't care if people are cynical about me." she says, defiantly. "I know that people will say, 'Why has a 27-years-old written an autobiography? What could she have to say?' I've been writing this book since I was 16 and chasing a dream. That's why I chose the title. You know how you think, 'If only I won the lottery, if only I was rich and famous, everything would be wonderful.' My life experiences have taught me differently. Happiness and fulfilment can only come from within. You have to care for yourself."

Battling with her body

Not that Geri has always fet like this. Her body has, at times, taken to the depths of despair. "I've really struggled with my wight," she admits. "I've had anorexia and bulimia, starting when I was18." she explains that her years of starving, bingeing and vomiting were due less to a desire to look like a supermodel, and more to do with her own feelings of insecurity. "Eating disorders aren't about body image, it's a symptom of a deeper disorder. I was a real late developer. I had no breasts and no periods until I was 17. I felt completely inadequate. When I was 18 I did nude modelling and that just made it worse. The rejection, the self-esteem-damaging effects of the endless audictions were terrible. And my father dying when I was 21 made it worse. Bulimia and anorexia are about not feeling in control of your life, it's not so much about your body as how you feel inside."
  Rumor has it that suring the last, trobled day with the Spice Girls, Geri comfort ate to cope. These days she does yoga every day, is a slender and amazingly bendy size8. "Yoga helps inside and out." She says. "Although my weight still goes up and down: like most girls. I can sit at home and eat a whole packet of biscuits if I'm feeling low. And the weight goes straight to my face, breasts, and stomach. But if I'm feeling happy." she grings, "the weight drops off me. And my attidude is different now I'm older. I'm less obsessed. I think OK, I've got a rounded stomach, so what?"
  Her mellow new attitude also applies to her former bandmates. While Geri genuinely won't be drawn on the subject, insiders say the girls' constant travelling meant they had no real friends outside the band. It all bacame too claustrophonic, tempers frayed. Personalities clashed. Life for Geri became they say, intolerable. Since then, communication has been patchy. Apart from one meal with Victoria Adams, David Beckham and George Michael, she hasn't seen any of the girls, and has been conspicuously absent from Mel's and Victoria's weddings.

Spice girls?

I ask if she's seen Mel C's recent interview in a music magazine; she says no. I say Mel described her as not very musically talented and calls her "cotton wall" - meaning she's all fluff and no passion. Geri looks genuinely stricken for a moment, then takes a deep breath. "Well," she says slowly. "Everyone says things casually that look terrible written down. I genuinely don't think any of them wants to say anything nasty." Is it true that she doesn't return their calls? "No. I always send my love on their birthdays. I have strong feelings for the girls. I will always love them, they are such an important part of my past."
  The same couldn't be said for most of the men in Geri's life. She hasn't had a serious relationship in five years, she's not sure she's ever really been in love, and rractically every man she's ever dated - and quite a few she hasn't - have sold their sleazy kiss-and-tells to the tabloids. "I was shoced at first, but by the fourth one I became pretty immune to it," she says. "One of them I'd only ever kissed on the cheek, we went on one date after we shot an ad together. Then two years later he wrote we had rampant sex. In fact, they always say we had rampant sex. All I can say is I wish I was that good in bed!," she giggles. But have those betrayals mage her more wary of man? "Yes, probably. But everyone makes mistakes with men, don't thay? I would like to meet someone - only last month I was thinking, 'I really want a partner', but if it's going to happen it's going to happen - I don't want to come across as having 'desperate' tattooed on my forehead!"
  So who is Geri's dream date? " My ideal man? Oooh... kind, funny, inspiring, creative, innovative, with a large... [wicked smile]... brain. Now that's something that will actually improve with age! And I'd love him to be tall (waving a tiny hand upward), and and handsome." Hasn't she just described George Michael? "Have I? Perhaps, but no, I don't fancy George. It's a whole differen't dynamic. A real friendship. And sometimes friendship is more important to human beings than anything else. I do need to be touched - I like cuddles a lot, and George and Kenny (George's partner) give me that, too."

Too poor for dance class

Geri grew up very poor in Watford - and ugly, uninspiring, uneventful town in Hertfordshire (hey, I know, I was born there). Her mother cleaned all hours to scrape together enough cash to feed and clothe Geri, her sister Natalie, 29 and brother Max, 31. Geri wore jumble sale clothes and there was never enough money for her to attend the dance classes she yearned for. "I finally persuaded my mom to let me go to one class. I remeber it really well - it was at a local school called The Gypsy Booth School of Dancing. But by that time, I was about 14 and other girls were all about three. I could never afford to go back."
  In classic rags-to-riches style, Geri now lives in a huge mansion in rural Berkshire, shared only with her dog and her housekeeper. It sound a bit lonely, but she says, "I was always dreamed of buying a big house. Even when I was a little girl. I know I'n very lucky to have money - I don't have to worry about bills. But I do know if I was stupid I could end up with nothing. If a dress has a mark on it, I still ask for a pound off! It's nice to help my mum out but what I've discovered is that once your money worries disappear, you just replace them with others."
  Good-hearted and staggeringly well-meaning, Geri has also retained a healty dose of modesty. I ask what she'd do if her album failed and her career collapsed. She considers it seriosly. "What I love, really love, is performing. So if everything fell apart I'd forget all the travelling around trying to sell records, and make up my own little show, and do it every six months in small venues." She laughs, brightening at the prospect, looking every inch the dazzling girl who sang Wannabe with such gusto. But that one-woman show may just have to wait a while. Tonight she's flying off to Paris, tomorrow New York. Her single Mi Chico Latino went straight to N0 1, and her new single, Lift Me Up, comes out in October - it seems that the Ger Halliwell story might be only just beginning...