Spice Girls’ Geri and Mel B ‘Olympic-standard flirts’ who ‘functioned like a couple’

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Simon Cowell called it the “biggest mistake” of his career. The man synonymous with discovering pop talent managed to miss out on the Spice Girls. And he really should have known better because he had already passed up the chance to sign Take That. In the early 1990s, Cowell, then a ­senior A&R man at BMG records, had his chance, but he said: “I’ll sign them without the fat one,” referring somewhat ungenerously to songwriter Gary Barlow. 

When he realised his mistake a month or two later, he offered Take That a deal but it was too late.

They had signed with another record company.

They would eventually have 12 UK number one singles and sell millions of records around the world. 

After the Take That fiasco, Cowell was looking for something to restore his credibility.

A new all-girl group Spice, as they were then called, came to his notice as they touted themselves around record companies looking for a deal.

But, having not yet met them, he was unimpressed. 

Spice Girls

Spice Girls reunion without Vicky Beckham (Image: Dave J Hogan/Getty)

Having been put together from 600 applicants for a series of auditions by young manager Chris Herbert and his father Bob in early 1994, bandmates Victoria Adams, Melanie Brown, Melanie Chisholm, Geri Halliwell and Emma Bunton were writing songs and learning how to work together. 

They all agreed that new track Wannabe – later to become their first major hit – was their best calling card.

So they worked up a showcase of this one song, emphasising the separate strands of their characters – the loudness of Mel B, the sex appeal of Geri, the mystery of Victoria, the innocence of Emma and the athleticism of Melanie C. 

Former managder Chris Herbert

Former managder Chris Herbert (Image: Seven Network)

They strung it all together with their overpowering exuberance and were ready to go.

The men in suits did not stand a chance.

Having made appointments, they would head into London. 

By this time, the two Melanies and Geri had found a house to share in Finchley, north London, which was conveniently just a ­couple of miles from Emma’s home and only a half-hour drive from Victoria’s. 

Geri’s car doubled up as their office, full of scraps of paper where they made notes about who they had seen and what to do next.

It was also their changing room if they needed to scramble out of tracksuits into something more eye-catching. 

The Spice Girls

The Spice Girls before they were famous (Image: Rex)

Then, armed with a tape of Wannabe, they would charge into the target office and take it over for a few minutes. 

Victoria and Melanie C would slightly hang back while the other three went into action. 

Geri and Mel B were Olympic-standard flirts while Emma would put her hair in bunches and wear the shortest skirt. 

The buzz surrounding the group was growing. 

And, realising his mistake in dismissing them, after finally hearing Wannabe and meeting them, Cowell told their manager Simon Fuller in July 1995 that he would double any rival offer, only to learn they had signed with Virgin Records the day before. 

Mel B

Mel B at her audition for the pop group (Image: Rex)

Having added the word “Girls” to their name, they went on to become one of the biggest acts of the 1990s and most successful girl groups in musical history. 

They would go on to sell 83 million records and re-define the music scene, while Cowell settled for novelty acts including Zig and Zag and Power Rangers. 

He also inflicted Robson and Jerome on the British public, although they enjoyed phenomenal sales. 

Speaking about that period, a music ­industry insider told me: “Simon not only lost out on Take That but he lost out on the Spice Girls. There was just an air of gloom at the BMG building that they had lost out.”

Victoria later said: “He is the only man in the music industry who turned down the Spice Girls and said we would never work.” 

Mel B and Geri

Mel B and Geri were the driving force in the goup (Image: Rex)

While Victoria would become the most famous former Spice Girl thanks to Brand Beckham and her fashion empire, it was Geri and Mel B who ran the gang. 

The daily drive to Trinity Studios, where they were rehearsing in 1994, revealed the hierarchy within the group. 

To begin with, Geri was the driving force, literally and ­metaphorically, an almost manic presence creating momentum for all five. 

It was a leap of faith because she was a terrible driver who had never mastered roundabouts. 

Her car – all dents and scratches – was testimony to her lack of skill behind the wheel. 

Geri and Mel B

Geri and Mel B ‘functioned like a couple’ (Image: Getty)

Mel B urged her on, a co-driver who always had one eye on the driver’s seat.

Chris Herbert, who they ruthlessly ditched as manager before signing their record deal, said: “They functioned like a couple.” 

The other three got in the back and ­fastened their seatbelts, especially when the gang leaders raged at one another. 

TV director Neil Davies, an early ­supporter and huge admirer of both young women, said: “They were so brave. They would do anything. They would walk into any pub, any restaurant and just take it over. 

“They had the energy, the ideas and the drive. They had a firm vision they were going to make it. They were going to be the best thing ever. Without those two, nothing would have happened. They were living the dream, but if Mel and Geri weren’t voicing the dream on a daily basis, then it all began to get very anxious and tense.” 

But the tension between Geri and Mel B would inevitably lead to disagreements. 

Neil added: “Every now and again they disagreed had a huge blow-up argument, then hugged and kissed after. They fed off each other. 

“The best thing about their arguments was that they got everything out, said exactly what was on their minds. They thought of new things… They were re-energising themselves.” 

Sometimes the arguments were so intense they would hurl things at each other. Even Mel B admitted it could get really nasty between them. There were many tears. 

The person who hated the rows most was Melanie C. 

She tried to keep the peace, just as Sir Ringo Starr had calmed things between John Lennon and Sir Paul McCartney. 

“Why are we always arguing?” she would cry in frustration. 

Unsurprisingly, she couldn’t wait to get away at weekends. 

“Girls can be terrible bullies, worse than blokes,” she later revealed. 

She was clearly the least tough. 

Spice Girls

Spice Girls audition (Image: Rex)

She admitted she could be “quite vulnerable”. 

But overall, in this early period before they signed their deal, the girls were a formidable bunch of attractive young women, cheeky and charismatic. 

Neil Davies recalled: “They kind of bounced all over you. You would sit on the chair and one of them would sit on top of the chair; one would be sitting crossed legs on the floor and another would be ­jumping on your knees and tickling you.” 

But in the very small world of the music business, Geri’s leadership of the group didn’t go down well with their first managers. 

Bob Herbert, a veteran of the entertainment industry, was not amused. 

Geri seemed to have taken over everything, he decided. 

She was trying to control the decision-making by mobilising the rest of the group against management to such an extent they were prepared to walk away from their contractual arrangements. 

Bob was in no doubt what had to be done. 

They had to sack Geri. 

When putting the group together, ability to sing or dance had been completely irrelevant. 

In a later confidential memo, Bob was frank about how Heart Management viewed Geri: “We included her because she had a very strong personality and her looks seemed to suit the image we were trying to project.” 

Now Bob was putting more pressure on the girls to sign the contract with his company, and he was more determined than ever to replace Geri – possibly Mel B, too – and had even lined up their replacements. 

In his opinion, Geri guessed what was about to happen and started “a campaign to break away from the existing management”. 

Chris didn’t know what his father had done but they were both aware the group seemed to be imploding in front of their eyes – just when they were within touching distance of success. 

Mel B

Mel B has gone on to judge TV talent shows (Image: Getty)

The girls had become unruly and were arguing more than ever. 

Geri, however, maintained they were merely taking ­responsibility for their own destiny. 

When it came to the crunch, she and Mel B had packed their clothes in bin bags, loaded the car and shut the door to the house in Finchley behind them. 

They left a note that read: “Thank you for all you have done. We can’t agree to the terms of the contract.” 

Instead, they signed with pop impresario Simon Fuller who took them to Virgin Records. 

The date was fixed for signing the contract with Virgin: July 13, 1995. 

But rival London Records had not given up and, by coincidence, had invited the girls to a party on a boat on the Thames on the same day. Both companies knew what was going on. 

The girls duly arrived at the boat and happily knocked back glasses of wine, nibbled the food and generally revelled in the attention they were getting. 

One can only imagine what the executives of Virgin were thinking as they waited back at their offices in Notting Hill for the girls to arrive. 

Mel B

Mel B was an Olympic-standard flirts (Image: Getty)

Their nerves were not calmed by a practical joke the girls decided to play on them. 

Their limo finally arrived but inside, waiting for the ­welcoming committee, there were five blow-up dolls from the Ann Summers sex shop in Charing Cross Road. 

The girls had sent them in advance while they enjoyed their riverboat party. 

When they finally arrived they were each presented with a bouquet of flowers and a goodwill payment of £10,000, which made their collective eyes light up – some money at last.

After signing the million-pound contract, the girls, all in high spirits, were bundled into a taxi bound for the fashionable Kensington Place restaurant where Simon Fuller had booked a table for them all to celebrate. 

Victoria Beckham

Essex girl Victoria has become the richest Spice Girl thanks to Brand Beckham (Image: Getty)

Victoria, by now very tipsy, shrieked, “Hang on to your knickers!” whereupon the other four pulled hers off and Geri threw them out the cab window. 

But despite snubbing his original offer, three of the band eventually worked for Cowell on his TV shows.

Mel B proved a ­natural, first on The X Factor Australia and then in the UK version, as well as starring on America’s Got Talent.

Mel C judged Asia’s Got Talent, while Geri stood in for Dannii Minogue’s maternity leave on The X Factor UK but never secured a permanent role. 

Spice Girls, by Sean Smith (HarperCollins, £16.99) is out on November 14. For free UK delivery, call Express Bookshop on 01872 562310, or send a cheque/PO payable to Express Bookshop: Spice Girls Offer, PO Box 200, Falmouth TR11 4WJ or visit expressbookshop.co.uk 

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