In 1996 I remember turning on ITV’s The Chart Show and my eyes widened as a group of lairy girls ran riot in a fancy hotel while a song I’d never heard of played. I was immediately captivated by how fun, fearless and strong these five women seemed. My mum mumbled some query asking who they were and I waited with anticipation until the video ended and the title card informed me it was Spice Girls and the song was called Wannabe.
Little did I know that 13-year-old me’s life was never going to be the same again. As Wannabe took hold of the number one spot and Spice Fever swept not only the nation, but the entire world, I found myself infatuated with Emma Bunton, Geri Halliwell, Melanie Brown, Melanie Chisholm and Victoria Adams. I’d always been a pop music fan but something about these five women made me feel something I never have before. At the time I don’t think I knew, but now, all these years on, I recognise that it was their ability to encourage fans to be who they wanted to be.
Spice Girls were so much more than just five women who could knock out a pop tune. In the mid-90s every little girl, and plenty of little boys, wanted to be a Spice Girl, and millions of people across the world were inspired to reach for their dreams and grab them with both hands. For girls, the Spice Girls showed that you could be a woman and be successful. For gay kids, like me, they taught you the valuable lesson that you don’t ever have to be ashamed of who you are. I’d never heard that before in my 13 years, and I had no idea how much I needed to hear that message.
The years 1996 to 2000 were a series of firsts for me, thanks to the Spice Girls. Spice and SpiceWorld marked the first time I’d pre-ordered an album, counted down the days until it’s release and rushed straight from school to get it. I returned home and listened to them both on repeat for months, to the point I’m pretty sure my family considered hiding the CDs so they could listen to something else.
In 1998 I saw my first ever live concert – the Spice Girls at the M.E.N. Arena in Manchester. I remember begging my mum to complete the order form and put it in the mail (yes, a time before the Internet did exist). Tickets were £25 each and that was a lot of money to my family but my mum paid it because it was more important to her that I went because she knew it meant the world to me. Shortly after that concert the Spice Girls announced a series of stadium dates across the UK and once again the begging began. Mum relented and I spent a journey to Somerset on the phone trying to get tickets. Eventually I did but it wasn’t for the date I’d planned to get but it didn’t matter. I was going to my first ever stadium concert.
When the annual school music competition came around, two friends and I decided to enter and perform a Spice Girls song. We didn’t want to do anything obvious and after playing around with the idea of doing If U Can’t Dance, the closing track from Spice (I even learned Geri’s Spanish rap in its entirety), we decided to go with the more grown-up Naked. It was the first time I’d sung in front of my family and my peers, and it was exhilarating. We came second, but I referred to the Spice Girls manifesto and chalked that up as a victory.
During their peak, and to be honest even to this day, I bought every single and every album they released. I have hundreds of empty Walker Crisps packets with the group pictured on them along with Chupa Chups packets, Cadbury’s bars and pretty much everything else they ever appeared on. During my teenage years, I cleared all my old posters off the wall and plastered them with pictures of the Spice Girls. I even covered the ceiling so I could wake up and see them every single morning. It felt like life truly couldn’t get any better.
The day Geri left the group I felt all of the emotions a teenager is likely to feel when their favourite member exits. I remember feeling angry, confused and a little bit heartbroken. I had my tickets to their stadium tour and now there’d just be four of them. Being young and resilient, I realised Geri was following the Spice Girls ethos by refusing to do something she no longer wanted so when she re-emerged as a solo artist in 1999 with the fantastic Look at Me, I was ready to forgive and forget.
While the Spice Girls may have petered out following the release of Forever, and some members were clearly more interested in solo projects, my love for the group members never faded. I’ve followed all of their solo careers, I’ve bought all of their solo efforts and I’ve supported them through the many ups and downs. The 2007 reunion, which saw the group together as a five-piece for the first time in almost a decade, was a welcome chance to revisit my childhood and see if the Spice Girls still meant as much to me. They did.
In 2012 at the Olympics, the group’s (potentially) final performance as a five-piece, I felt the same chills I did the first time I ever saw them. Against all the odds, the music snobs, the critics, the media and everything in-between, the group remained united and showed once again what the power of positivity can do along with belief in yourself and the support of your friends.
Since then, sightings of the group as a five have been slim, with Victoria oddly choosing not to arrive with the other four girls to their short-lived Viva Forever musical. Rumours of a reunion rumbled for years and at one point it looked like we’d be getting just Geri, Emma and Mel B. The group sent the world into a frenzy when the five of them got together to discuss new projects but Victoria was adamant she would never perform with them again due to her hugely successful fashion career.
When the news of a reunion finally arrived, it was confirmed it would be just the four girls without VB. I was a bit gutted, hugely sceptical and a little bit deflated. Then I thought back to the Spice Girls motto and realised that if Victoria didn’t want to do it, she shouldn’t have to. My excitement for the reunion kicked in and before I knew it, I’d bought a ticket for one of their Wembley Stadium shows.
Inevitably the reunion has attracted criticism with some sceptics saying the four members are doing it for money. Now that the tour is underway, it’s clear they’re doing it as a thank you to the fans and to remind themselves of just what a huge deal the Spice Girls are. They’ve sold out the full string of dates, the reviews have been glowing and the fans are loving it.
Why does it matter to me at the age of 36 I hear you ask? It matters because these women were a huge part of my formative years. They taught me how to have confidence, how to believe in myself and how to not be afraid of ‘being different’ because of my sexuality. What the Spice Girls mean to me is hard to put into words and I’ve spent plenty of time playing it down to avoid being mocked by friends. I refuse to do it any longer and I’m counting down to seeing these remarkable women performing at Wembley Stadium later this month.