Mama Spice

IT'S NO real surprise that one of Geri Halliwell's first solo singles was called 'Look at Me'. There's no way you could miss her. Her latest project is a series of children's books, about a character she's invented called Ugenia Lavender (more of which anon).

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Published: Wed 18 Apr 2007, 11:34 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 11:47 PM

mamaThe books, to be launched one-a-month from May to October next year, were announced by the UK publisher Macmillan's children's division last week. When we meet, Halliwell, 34, describes the strange feeling you get after so long spent in isolation writing, then there's the launch, and: 'Suddenly, there's exposure - like a champagne cork coming out of the bottle!'

Which is very apt as, even from the early days of the Spice Girls, I'd always thought of Halliwell's personality as being a bit like having a can of fizzy drink shaken, then opened up in your face. Not an unpleasant experience as such, but definitely quite bubbly and messy. And that is mostly what Halliwell is like, although she's eager to drum home that, particularly since giving birth to daughter, Bluebell Madonna, last year, she's grown up. Or more precisely, 'grown out' of her obsession with fame. 'The focus shifts, doesn't it?' says Halliwell, in that intense way she has. 'When something is new it's fascinating. But it's like anything. A toy where you suddenly go, I know what that does. Or Dorothy pulling back the curtain and realising what's behind it, 'Oh, some bloke with a machine'. It's not a bad thing, you just see it for what is.'

We meet in a central London hotel suite. Geri, her hair long and sleek, is prettier than her photos, and physically tiny (though not as slight as the human Twiglet she became during her LA yoga-bulimia years). It's her eyes that really grab you - they seem to throb in their orbits with a kind of manic energy. You're instantly reminded of former beau Robbie Williams's ungallant description of Halliwell as a 'demonic little girl'. It was Halliwell who first approached Macmillan with the idea of Ugenia Lavendar, 'I love Ugenia,' she exclaims. 'She's a rebirth of Girl Power. It's like handing that baton on to a different generation.' From the illustration, Ugenia seems a bit like an older, cooler Powerpuff Girl (You can almost smell the merchandising). Saying that, Ugenia, aimed at 5- to 8-year- olds, sounds rather fun. From what I can make out (I only saw a short excerpt), Halliwell has littered the text with cultural and literary in-jokes. One of Ugenia's friends is called Bronte; Another is based on Wayne Rooney. There's even a character called Posh Princess Vattoria. Ahem, I wonder who that is? 'Oh she's fine about it,' says Halliwell. Another character is called David Bockham. 'He has a much smaller part,' Halliwell smirks mischievously. 'And so he should.'

Some people might be surprised by Halliwell restyling herself yet again (topless model, singer, actress, presenter, now author) but she argues that it is a 'natural' development. She did the lyrics in The Spice Girls, and the video plots ('I was always trying to write mini- movies - it was my chance to express myself'). Moreover, says Halliwell, she's always read, and that seems true enough - one does remember Ginger with her books while the other Spices were busy with their mascara wands.

'For me reading was always the great escape without getting your fingers burnt,' says Halliwell. 'It's like taking drugs with no hangover.' As a child, she loved Narnia and Enid Blyton. 'I think it was because I didn't come from a very well-off background and my mum used to take me to the library all the time as an excursion. I've got an image of me at the bottom of my garden sitting under my silver birch tree reading, while everyone else had gone somewhere exotic.'

This could explain why Halliwell is somewhat tunnel-visioned about her new career. Ever since her Spice days, Halliwell has maddened as many people as she's amused, mainly by practising, in conversation at least, a kind of cut price sub-Buddhism that does not transplant awfully well from LA. And there's been enough silliness and tantrums. However, I, for one, have always rather liked her pottiness (if Geri Halliwell were posher she'd have been hailed as a Great English Eccentric by now). More exasperating, at our meeting, is that every time you try to discuss something other than her forthcoming books (The Spice years; press intrusion, her thwarted attempt to crack America), Halliwell drags it straight back to 'Ugenia', or clams up, widening her eyes in a display of faux shock horror.

This is maybe understandable where her doomed career-sojourn in LA is concerned - she eventually describes it as 'One of those transient things one does; an exploration' - and I kind of expected it where her fellow ex-Spices are concerned (Halliwell rarely discusses them, or former boyfriends such as Williams). However, I'm disappointed that she won't discuss body image. Halliwell's bulimia was extensively covered in her autobiographies, and since she beat her food disorder, we've had 'size zero' (fronted by her old bandmate, Victoria). And, for all her neediness and narcissism 'Ginger', with her whooping and her Union Jack mini-dresses, was a larger than life girly Brit-icon. Surely we could do with some of her Girl Power rabble-rousing, right now.

mama1However, Halliwell seems loath to discuss body image: 'It's such a big subject to skim over.' I don't want to skim over it. I want to discuss how the pressure on young girls seems to be becoming more and more extreme? 'Yes, all the pressures, stuff like that,' Halliwell muses. 'I just feel that the only power I have is setting a good example.' She brightens. 'And I've tried to make Ugenia set a good example, show that's it's not an issue, know what I mean?' Hmm. And I suppose there's no way she'll talk about the rumoured Spice Girl reunion? 'You're right!' laughs Halliwell, with some of her old brio. 'I won't.'

There are some subjects Halliwell can't discuss for legal reasons. Some horrible on-going thing about how a temporary nanny might allegedly be responsible for bruises on Bluebell's arm (Halliwell now relies on her mum, or a trusted housekeeper, and spends most days writing with Bluebell in the same room). Then there is the strange-sounding story of Bluebell's father, LA-based British scriptwriter, Sacha Gervasi. Getting pregnant after a six-week fling, Halliwell reportedly refused to name Gervasi as father and moved back to England, to camp in her friend George Michael's house in the exclusive north London enclave of Primrose Hill, where she still is. They have since come to an agreement granting him access. Halliwell's own late father left home when she was little, and she is not fazed by single parenthood: 'There's so many of us. It's so common. For me, so long as the child has support and love and feels safe, that's enough.' Does Halliwell think she is better off as a single parent?

'I can't comment,' she says, adding: 'We get what we're given in life. This is the card that's been dealt and I accept it graciously. Obviously we have our ideals which are much more traditional, of having both parents, but we can't all have that.' Does Halliwell think that when people are work-focused, as she is, they can become a little too self sufficient where relationships are concerned? 'Absolutely not,' she says, with real feeling. 'People need each other. It would be a very sterile, barren, empty life otherwise. I love having people, and love, and all of those things.'

Certainly Halliwell can dote on her progeny with the best of them. She says she was already growing up before she became a mum ('I could feel my hips widening!') but that Bluebell has 're-birthed' her. 'She totally made me grow up and see things differently,' she cries. 'She awakened me to the world again.' Did she particularly want a girl? 'I just feel blessed. It's very healing to have a daughter - I want to give her self-esteem, and to do that I have to be a positive role model,' Halliwell beams. 'She's grounded me, I'm so grateful to her. She's given me the roots I've craved for so long.' How long? Now a shadow of genuine ruefulness passes over her face. 'Oh, forever.'

You wonder if Halliwell ever hankers for the late-1990s, before she went solo, when The Spice Girls ruled the world - all those larks, cuddling Nelson Mandela, pinching Prince Charles bottom. Halliwell, who has since worked for the UN and raised awareness for Breast Cancer, says that, at the time, she wasn't aware of the band's impact. 'When you're in the eye of the storm everything is calm.' These days, she misses the 'camaraderie' of being in The Spice Girls, but that's about all. Has Halliwell given up on music? (Or has it given up on her? Her third solo album Passion only sold 10,000 copies.) 'Not entirely,' she says, looking flustered. 'I still enjoy the process of writing and singing. But I don't necessarily want to traipse around nightclubs. It's just not me.'

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