16:11:2002 HOW GERI FOUND PEACE OF MIND AND BODY
By Ros Wynne-Jones
THROUGH the window of a high-street cafe, I see a small blonde figure in an oversized dark overcoat, nursing a pot of tea as her little dog laps water from a saucer.
There is no entourage - no minders, no bodyguards, no publicist. Nothing out of the ordinary to suggest that the dog's owner is a pop superstar.
But, on closer inspection, her heart-shaped face - big, bright eyes, wicked expression, upturned nose - is unmistakable. The former Spice Girl, solo artist, Girl Power diva, United Nations ambassador and Pop Rivals judge looks up from her copy of the Big Issue. "Hello," says Geri Halliwell.
Not so long ago, Geri didn't leave home without 24-hour bodyguards and a chauffeur, protected by a celebrity disguise of baseball cap and sunglasses that screamed: "Look at me". But a year ago she threw out her minders with her bathroom scales.
The trappings of fame had become a trap. The scales, she knew, were the source of all her insecurities. For years, as a bulimic and anorexic, they had been judge and jury over her self-esteem. She wanted out.
So out went Geri Spice, too - the binge-eating celebrity cliche.
"This is the first time in my life that I can look at myself in the mirror and like what I see," she says, pouring herself a cup of tea. She seems lighter - no longer painfully thin, but lighter of spirit. At 30, Geri has come of age.
"I read somewhere that 30 is the new 21 and I feel like that," she says. "You've got the experience and wisdom but you've still got youth, which is an amazing combination. I feel young, free and single and happy.
"It's a new Girl Power. There are a large group of girls out there in their late 20s, early 30s - a whole generation of playgirls that are really enjoying themselves, not giving in to pressure and just living their lives."
Geri's new freedom is the total opposite of what has happened to her former Spice Girls colleague Victoria Beckham.
After kidnap threats a fortnight ago, the Beckhams are now living under emergency security measures, virtual prisoners in their own home.
"I don't know how you even comprehend that kind of thing," Geri says. "I've had threats myself and I couldn't really understand it. I've chosen to stop the bodyguards but if it was my family under threat I'd want to take every single precaution."
Her face, once pinched and wary, is open and relaxed. There is nothing guarded about her manner. This is a woman who, at her lowest ebb, crept out of the house she shared with George Michael and rummaged in the bins for leftover cakes, stuffing them into her mouth until she made herself sick. Now she has turned a different corner.
"In the past two years I've never missed a day of eating," she announces. "I've never starved. I've always had three meals a day, no matter what.
MY first year of recovery was a bit dodgy - it meant the odd binge every few months - but the last two years it's been absolutely amazing. I've had such freedom from it.
"My body is saying: 'Thank you very much, Geri.' I used to be down the gym for three hours and now instead I do yoga - something really loving. Occasionally I go for a fast walk in the park or a run, but there's nothing punishing about my workouts any more. I'm doing it just to keep me alive and feeling free."
Geri is passionate, almost messianic, about yoga - even to the point of dropping to the floor of the cafe to demonstrate positions, to the astonishment of passers-by. The combination of relaxation, exercise and meditation has been the key to her recovery, she says.
"It's helped me externally and internally," she says. "It's given me absolute definition in my arms, across my chest, it's given me tone in my waist and my bum. It's tightened all of that up and given me a face-lift."
Her years of dysfunctional eating had placed a huge strain on her digestive system and Geri had begun to suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. Yoga brought her release from the crippling pain.
"When the world feels like it's going mad around me it brings me peace," she says. "You know, sometimes I cry when I do it. It's therapeutic. It releases emotion. Some people hold their stress in their shoulders or in their backs. I really held it in my tummy, and what yoga does is to relieve all of that through stretching. It helps me to slow down my eating and relax."
She no longer suffers from depression. "Of course, I still feel glum sometimes," she admits. "But it's no longer a trip to the depths of despair and self-loathing."
When she finally admitted the terrifying extent of her bulimia, Geri faced an avalanche of media criticism.
How could she release yoga and exercise videos when she was really losing the weight through starving and purging? How dare she speak to young girls about exercise and weight loss, when she was rampaging through boxes of cakes and biscuits, only to vomit them hours later?
Yet, in a way, her battle with bulimia and her years of slavery to the scales and a self-image that always said she was fat qualify her to talk to women about their bodies.
"I went through hell," she says. "Now, whatever my body is today - whatever shape or size it is - I just try and be grateful. It might get smaller, it might get bigger but all I want to do is show up for life, rather than be a bad body-obsessive.
"I'm learning to love my body and I'm already 100 per cent better than I was. Considering where I was, that's a dramatic improvement. I know now that I can't blame the way I'm feeling on the way I look. It's got absolutely nothing to do with it."
She refuses to diet now and is eating healthily. "I eat steak, chips, creamy mashed potato, pretty much everything. Everyone acts so surprised by how well I eat.
"The bizarre thing was, whenever I've gone on a diet I've always gained weight. I haven't been on a diet for two years. Maybe they do work for some people and some people need them, but I just don't buy into it."
She shrugs her narrow shoulders inside the big overcoat. "I'm actually quite bored of analysing the whys and whats - I'd just rather look at solutions," she says. "You know what? Yoga works for me. I don't know why, but it does."
Geri looks up suddenly, with a cheeky, flirtatious expression. "It improves your sex life too," she says, mischievously. "You become more aware of your body and you become more flexible and if you're less conscious about how your body looks it's more freeing. You feel like you've got more energy for it." She smiles widely. "I'm sure it will give men more stamina."
It's fair to say Geri hasn't had much luck with men. Her break-ups and failed romances, most recently with out-of-work American actor Demian Warner, have been as widely reported as her eating disorders.
Does she feel let down and betrayed? "Not really," she says, casually. "I've had some fantastic relationships. I would rather love many times than not at all.
I DON'T want to live in a glass palace and keep everything precious just in case it gets broken. I think life is for living. It's a messy experience, but the people around me keep me sane."
She offers the hippie cliche "Through pain we grow", and yet perhaps she is living proof of it. "There is always a gift if you really try and see it, even in the most painful thing," she says.
"I have amazing friends. I have a fantastic family. I live alone, although I have a girlfriend who comes and stays now and then.
"I think that as you get older you learn the importance of family, and the relationship I have with my mother is amazing. She's funny and no-nonsense, but she's got the best sense of humour and she supports me."
Last year, Geri said she was going to a sperm bank to investigate having a baby by sperm donor. Does she still want to have kids?
"I didn't really go," she laughs. "I just made that up." If she can't find the right man, would she adopt?
"I wouldn't rule it out," she says, "but for now I'm going with the flow of life." She is still doing her work as a UN ambassador - ironically, on population control.
"After you go away and see the developing world, you come back and you're not the same person," she says.
"There are so many things that I know I could take for granted. The fact that I've got running water, a national health system, we've got an amazing country. That's what I love about Pride of Britain."
Last year she presented an award at the Mirror's annual ceremony celebrating British bravery and achievement - "because sometimes we can really slag off our country, but what we really have to realise is that it is small, it's so tiny, yet we lead the world in so many ways."
She performed for British troops in the Middle East after September 11.
"When I got back from Oman it was 6am and it was foggy and it was cold and there was traffic - but I wanted to get down on my knees and kiss the tarmac, because I felt so blessed to be in such a safe country."
At home, she is now dangerously close to national treasure status - the bolshy girl in the Union Jack dress, the woman who dared to pinch the Prince of Wales's bottom in public, the redhead who put the danger into Girl Power, the Pop Rivals judge who knows how it feels to be staring into the barrel of a microphone, weak at the knees.
As I arrived, a woman was placing a bouquet in Geri's lap. It's almost as if the more she has bared her soul, revealed her weaknesses and admitted her addictions, the more the nation has taken her to its heart.
"I often get letters from people asking for advice," Geri says. "People need to have hope." What does she tell them?
"Be who you are, drink loads of water, tell dirty jokes and laugh a lot. It's the best medicine in the world."
She switches off the tape machine to tell us a dirty joke. Like meeting Geri Halliwell, it's saucy-postcard rude, very sweet and probably unrepeatable.
See next week's Mirror for exclusive pictures of Geri's new work-out. Her video and DVD GERIBODY YOGA is released by VCI next Monday.
05.11.2002 Geri designs a cube for charity
Sir Paul McCartney, Kelly Jones, Geri Halliwell and the Sugababes are amongst the pop stars who have designed wooden building blocks to be sold online in a charity auction.
Eric Clapton, Cher, Ronan Keating and Sir Cliff Richard have joined an impressive line-up of 160 international celebrities to get involved in the artistic initiative.
The collector's items, available on ebay this week, will help to raise money for Tommy's, the baby charity, as it celebrates its tenth anniversary.
A selection of blocks from each of the music, sports and film sectors can be viewed online from now until November 24.
Tommy's, the baby charity was founded in 1992 and aims to discover the causes and ways of preventing stillbirth, miscarriage and prematurity.
For further information go to www.tommys.org
05.11.2002 Self-belief made Emma stand up to judge Geri
She may have been voted off, but Emma stood up to Geri on Saturday's show and revealed her pride at getting this far.
Unlucky Popstars loser Emma Beard has revealed it was pride in her progress into the final ten girls that made her stand up to superstar judge Geri Halliwell.
After Emmaís performance of ĎBe My Babyí, Geri claimed that Emma was not strong enough to compete. But Emma didnít take the criticism lying down and hit back at the former Spice Girl.
Reflecting on Sunday about the events of the night before, Emma said: "I thought if I wasnít strong enough I wouldnít be standing here in front of a live audience and eight million people watching on TV. Iím very proud of myself and I think thatís why I bit back. Iím not lucky to be here, I deserve to be here, I worked my hardest to be here. Thatís what got me annoyed."
Girl band manager Louis Walsh added his support: "I think she did a great job with the song last night. She was so much better last night than on the previous show. I thought sheíd got star quality last night. Sheís not afraid of anybody, not even Geri and thatís good."
Emma added: "Last week I was very nervous, I donít think the song suited my voice and I didnít feel confident, but this week I did feel confident and I wanted to stand up for myself."