THEY are the girl band phenomenon who rewrote the rules of the male-dominated music business – but the Spice Girls as we know them almost did not exist.
A never-before-seen memo written before the band struck fame outlines plans to sack Geri Halliwell because the group’s management company saw her as a threat.
A new Spice Girls book has revealed Geri was almost kicked out of the group before they shot to fame[/caption]
The team that had put the five unknown performers together feared Geri was trying to take over the group and mobilise the four other girls against them.
I unearthed the note during research for my new unauthorised biography of the band, simply called Spice Girls.
A replacement for Geri had also been lined up, according to the bombshell memo penned by the group’s first manager Bob Herbert.
He kept his plans top secret, not even telling his son Chris whose vision had led to the formation of the girl group in the first place.
Geri’s management accused the singer of trying to take over and influence the rest of the group against his team[/caption]
Bob’s report is scathing about the wannabe from Watford.
He later said: “We included Geri because she had a very strong personality and her looks seemed to suit the image we were trying to project.
“Unfortunately she was tone deaf and had awful timing, which meant she was unable to sing in tune or dance in time.”
Ironically, it was Geri who later transformed the band from hopefuls into an unstoppable pop brand by coming up with their Girl Power slogan and donning a Union Jack dress at the 1996 Brit Awards.
Geri while filming the Raw Spice documentary in 1994 before the band shot to fame[/caption]
She also kept them in the public eye with cheeky stunts such as pinching Prince Charles’ bum at a gala event and telling Nelson Mandela in 1997: “You’re as young as the girl you feel — and I’m 25.”
And right from the start, Geri gave a special energy to the five girls who didn’t know each other until Heart Management selected them from hundreds of hopefuls.
Geri did not attend the original open auditions at a dance studio off Oxford Street, London, in March 1994.
Instead, she bombarded Heart’s offices with phone calls until she eventually spoke to Chris Herbert, who was impressed with her bubbly personality.
Geri didn’t audition, instead she bombarded her management with phone calls[/caption]
He agreed that she could turn up to the callback with a dozen other girls who he had already shortlisted.
Chris recalled: “It didn’t dawn on me at the time but I think she obviously knew she would have failed an early round audition and she wanted to bypass that.”
Geri would later almost admit as much when she said: “I didn’t think I would have got an audition. My vocal technique was not very good.”
Her CV at the time was a mixed affair as she did her best to find success. She had danced in a cage at a club on Majorca, tried topless modelling and showed off the prizes on a Turkish game show while earing a movie star dress.
Geri was the only member of the group who didn’t have singing or dancing experience[/caption]
One of her club colleagues remarked: “We thought it was funny when she went on and on about becoming a star.”
Unlike the other Spice Girls, Geri had not spent half her childhood attending dance classes, and nor did she have the advantage of going to a stage school.
Melanie Brown, an irrepressible 18-year-old from Leeds, was the first name on the Spice Girls’ team sheet. She was a superb dancer, having been in Blackpool shows from the age of 15. She had also been part of a troupe that entertained soldiers in Bosnia and Northern Ireland.
Victoria Adams had won a scholarship to the Laine Theatre Arts stage school in Epsom, Surrey. At 18 she had performed in a musical in Birmingham and was already a singer in a pop group.
Cheeky Geri became known for stunts such as pinching Prince Charles’ bum at a gala event[/caption]
Melanie Chisholm was the daughter of singer Joan O’Neill, well-known in her native Merseyside.
She attended the Doreen Bird College of Performing Arts in Sidcup, Kent, and dreamed of playing the lead in the musical Blood Brothers — an ambition she would later fulfil in London’s West End in 2009.
Emma Bunton was the youngest but also the most experienced, having been a successful child model — but her hopes of becoming a pro dancer were dashed at 14 when she fell and hurt her back.
She went to the Sylvia Young Theatre School in London where her best friend was Line Of Duty star Keeley Hawes. Geri had none of this experience — but she had unrivalled determination and could light up a room.
Geri quickly assumed the role of leader of the group when they all moved in together[/caption]
She turned up to the call-back a riot of colour, wearing a pink jumper, purple hot pants and platform shoes, topped off with her vibrant dyed ginger hair that she had styled into pig tails.
Mel B memorably described her as looking like a “mad eccentric nutter from another planet.”
The girls were not selected on their ability to sing but much more on their personality — and Geri had bundles of that.
When the band, who were originally called Touch, moved into a house in Maidenhead, Berks, owned by Heart’s financial backer, it was Geri — the oldest at 21 — who assumed the role of leader.
Geri and Mel B have been praised for their attitude and determination in the early days of the band[/caption]
The daily trip to the rehearsal rooms told the story. Geri drove them in her clapped-out green Fiat Uno with her trusted lieutenant Mel B in the passenger seat. Victoria, Emma and Melanie C squeezed into the back.
Geri was literally the driving force, urged on by Mel B. Filmmaker Neil Davies, who shot a documentary about the early days of the Spice Girls, was a huge admirer of both young women.
He recalled: “They were so brave. They would walk into any pub, any restaurant and take it over. They had a vision they were going to make it. Without these two, nothing would have happened.”
Progress, however, was painfully slow. The months rolled by, rehearsing the same four songs.
‘GERI’S LACK OF TALENT WAS A SEVERE PROBLEM’
In his confidential appraisal, Bob Herbert stated that Geri’s lack of natural talent was probably the biggest factor in holding the group back.
He said: “For weeks her lack of talent was a severe problem for her but with perseverance we found slots for her in the harmonies and the dance routines.
“Her strength of character started to dominate the other girls in the group but, at first, this was fairly good as it helped her to organise them into a daily routine.”
There is no doubt Geri worked twice as hard as the others, relying on their patience — particularly that of Mel C, who would spend hours coaching her in dance steps.
Mel C would spend hours with Geri, helping her to practice dance routines[/caption]
Everything changed when they were accomplished enough to perform their first showcase at the Nomis Studios in Olympia, West London, in December 1994 — more than six months after they had moved in together.
They performed a set of those four songs throughout the day to an ever-changing cast of producers and songwriters.
Chris Herbert recalled: “All of a sudden they’re exposed to all of these record executives, saying how great they are. And you could see Geri’s eyes were like, ‘Yeah, OK. This is something else now.’”
His father Bob twigged what was going on. He wrote: “The response we had from the writers and producers went to Geri’s head.
The five girls won Brit awards for Best British Single and Best British Video in 1997[/caption]
“From that point onwards she became more and more uncontrollable and wanted to take over the running of the group.”
He became determined to replace Geri — and possibly Mel B as well.
Imagine what the Spice Girls would have been like without these two singing the opening bars of Wannabe.
In Bob’s opinion, Geri guessed what was about to happen and started a “campaign to break away from the existing management.”
Mel B, Geri Halliwell, Emma Bunton and Mel C arriving for the premiere of the Spice Girls musical ‘Viva Forever’ in 2012[/caption]
Bob commented: “She did this by running the management down to everybody she came into contact with and naturally gained their support because they could see a rift develop.”
The girls had not been offered a contract by Heart, although they were costing the company £1,000 a week — and when they were eventually presented with one, stalled on the decision to sign it.
Instead, they plotted a way to leave Heart and the house in Maidenhead. According to Chris, they did this by instigating a number of rows between themselves.
He took it at face value but later confirmed: “I now know it was all kind of staged, really.”
The group delighted fans all over the world when all five of the girls reunited for a special performance at the 2012 London Olympics[/caption]
In an early demonstration of Girl Power, Geri and Mel B took Heart out of the picture by making their own way to Sheffield for a meeting with renowned songwriter Eliot Kennedy.
Geri had successfully marshalled the girls into a united front that would have responsibility for their own destiny in the male- dominated music business. Bob Herbert never revealed the identity of Geri’s replacement. Tragically, he died aged 57 in a car crash in 1999.
His son Chris went on to have a very successful career in music management, launching the chart- topping group 5ive and looking after Hear’Say, winners of ITV’s 2001 talent show Popstars.
He remained on good terms with the Spice Girls.
This year Mel B, Emma Bunton, Geri Halliwell and Mel C sold out a 13 date reunion tour[/caption]
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Heart were eventually paid an estimated settlement of £50,000 — a tidy profit.
Chris reflected: “We worked out the financial settlement. It didn’t take account of 60million albums!”
In fact, it would end up as sales of 85million.
- Spice Girls, by Sean Smith, is published by HarperCollins on November 14, £16.99.
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