Immortalized forever as the cheeky "Ginger Spice," Geri Halliwell was one of the founding members of the Spice Girls, the world's most successful girl group of all time. Championing "Girl Power" and British pride, the Spice Girls scored a No. 1 hit with "Wannabe" on both sides of the pond, as well as the U.K. No. 1 hits "Say You'll Be There," "2 Become 1," and "Spice Up Your Life," among others. One of the most iconic pop cultural phenomenons of the 1990s, the Spice Girls conquered the world with an unprecedented avalanche of endorsements, albums like 1996's Spice and 1997's Spiceworld, and even scored a hit movie, "Spice World" (1997). Revered and reviled for breaking up the act with her early departure, Halliwell scored the U.K. No. 1 hits "Mi Chico Latino," "Lift Me Up," "Bag it Up" and "It's Raining Men," which appeared in "Bridget Jones's Diary" (2001). Arguably the most popular Spice even after her desertion, Halliwell scored hit albums with 1999's Schizophonic and 2001's Scream If You Wanna Go Faster, appeared on "Sex and the City" (HBO, 1998-2004), and booked multiple reality show hosting jobs. After a less successful third album, 2005's Passion, Halliwell reunited with her fellow Spices for a blockbuster reunion world tour, which reaffirmed the band's pop cultural immortality. As the charismatic leader of the Spice Revolution and a solo star with limitless ambition and drive, Geri Halliwell became a role model and idol to countless fans around the world.
Born Aug. 6, 1972 in Watford, Hertfordshire, England Geraldine Estelle Halliwell grew up determined to become a star. Blessed with an adventurous spirit to match her ambition, Halliwell held down a series of odd jobs as she worked the audition circuit, including go-go dancing, nude modeling and serving as a hostess on a Turkish game show. Unlike her fellow future bandmates, Halliwell saw but did not respond to the famous ad in The Stage that read, "WANTED: R.U. 18023 with the ability to sing/dance? R.U. streetwise, outgoing, ambitious and dedicated? Heart Management Ltd. are a widely successful music industry management consortium currently forming a choreographed, singing/dancing, all-female pop act for a recording deal. Open audition. Please bring sheet music or backing cassette." Although Halliwell had not attended the audition, she showed the trademark courage and charm that would serve her well by talking her way into joining the callbacks, where she wowed producers with her quick wit and fearlessness, and, along with Victoria Adams, Melanie Brown, Melanie Chisholm and Michelle Stephenson, became the founding members of the new group, Touch.
Moving into a house together and subsisting off of the most basic of living expenses, the five women began an arduous training schedule that included multiple daily singing and dancing lessons as well as media training. Although the intensity of their regimen helped bring the women closer, it soon became obvious that Stephenson was a weak link, and she was dismissed from the band and replaced by Emma Bunton, who proved a natural fit. Although originally formed with mercenary motives, the band proved to have a one-of-a-kind chemistry and drive that would help them become music industry icons as well as assuring them an amount of control unthinkable to many other similarly-created pop entities. Changing their name to "Spice," the women began performing in showcases and writing songs, but soon butted heads with their managers over the direction of the band. Led largely by Brown and Halliwell, the group's strongest and most aggressive personalities, Spice left their management and sought out new representation on their own, eventually impressing power manager Simon Fuller with their talent, verve and charm.
Signed by Fuller to his 19 Management, the women underwent another professional metamorphosis when, upon realizing that "Spice" was already in use by a U.S. rapper, they dubbed themselves the "Spice Girls" and signed with Virgin Records. Quickly charming the press with the overwhelming force of their personalities, charisma and effervescent good cheer, the Spice Girls gained valuable touring experience during the all-important process of writing and recording their debut album. Although many industry experts augured success for the group, no one could have predicted just how massive the Spice quake that would rock the world would be. The band burst into the public's consciousness in 1996 with their debut single, "Wannabe," a sing-a-long tribute to female friendship that topped charts all over the world. Serving as the ultimate introduction to the Spice Girls, "Wannabe" was also powered by a charming video that featured the band at their mischievous best. Helping to fuel the SpiceMania was a feature in Top of the Pops magazine, which gave each of the band members nicknames: Posh (Adams), Baby (Bunton), Sporty (Chisholm), Scary (Brown) and Ginger (Halliwell), the latter earning the sobriquet for her bright red-orange hair. The group's Melanies, Brown and Chisholm, were also well known by their nicknames of "Mel B" and "Mel C" as well.
After the glorious reign of "Wannabe," which hit No. 1 in 31 countries including the United States, the Spices scored another massive U.K. No. 1 with their follow-up, "Say You'll Be There," which in turn helped pave the way for their global blockbuster debut album, Spice, which was the biggest album of 1996 in the U.K. and of 1997 in the U.S., eventually selling more than 23 million copies worldwide. Earning an unprecedented amount of endorsements, the Spice Girls quickly achieved not just pop cultural ubiquity, but also an amazing degree of power pushing their updated brand of feminism, embodied in their frequently declared motto of "Girl Power!" In fact, for many cultural critics, despite the enormous musical milestones set by the Spice Girls, the greatest legacy of the band was their ability to steadfastly broadcast an aggressively pro-female message to all corners of the globe and to help start serious conversations about the face and future of modern feminism, despite their cartoonish and over-the-top antics. The group went on to score U.K. No. 1 hits with "2 Become 1" and "Who Do You Think You Are"/"Mama" and made headlines around the world for their performance at the 1997 Brit Awards, which featured Halliwell in a Union Jack dress that would later become the most expensive pop star memorabilia item ever auctioned off. Conquering the U.S. charts, the Spice Girls helped usher in a new era of pop music, reclaiming radio from grunge and harder rock, and their universal popularity helped their debut film "Spice World" (1997) become a global blockbuster, despite negative reviews and a Worst Actress Razzie shared by all five members.
Although they set the media world afire with the news that they were dropping Simon Fuller and managing themselves from that point on, the Spice Girls saw their chart success continue. The accompanying album, 1997's Spiceworld, became another worldwide sensation, hitting No. 1 in the U.K. and launching the chart-topping singles "Spice Up Your Life," "Too Much" and "Viva Forever," as well as the No. 2 hit "Stop." The media firestorm that Fuller's departure had caused, however, was nothing compared to what happened when rumblings began that Halliwell was potentially leaving the band; when it was announced that she was, in fact, leaving, shares in the record label itself dropped. Although many were upset with Halliwell's desertion, others cheered the advent of a Halliwell solo career, and her star flashed supernova as the world waited to see what she would do next. Grappling with depression, tension with her bandmates and personal demons, Halliwell spent time living as a guest in fellow superstar George Michael's home before venturing back into the pop culture fray. Her solo debut, 1999's Schizophonic, showcased a sleeker, less cartoonish Halliwell, and her debut single, "Look at Me," which peaked at No. 2, even featured a mock funeral for her Ginger Spice persona in its music video. Ruling the U.K. charts at the turn of the century, Halliwell scored three No. 1 hits off of Schizophonic: "Mi Chico Latino," "Lift Me Up" and "Bag it Up."
After penning an autobiography, If Only, Halliwell released her second solo album, 2001's Scream If You Wanna Go Faster, which included another No. 1 hit, her cover of "It's Raining Men," which was featured during the crowd-pleasing Colin Firth/Hugh Grant fight sequence in the massive international smash "Bridget Jones's Diary" (2001). Despite the success of "Raining," the album's title track and the single "Calling" only went Top Ten, and the album proved a moderate success overall. Nevertheless, Halliwell remained an international star, becoming a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations and writing another autobiography, Just for the Record. After notching a guest spot on "Sex and the City" (HBO, 1998-2004), Halliwell found multiple opportunities on reality television, serving as a judge on "Popstars: The Rivals" (ITV1, 2002) and "All American Girl" (ABC, 2003). Although she scored a No. 4 hit with the catchy "Ride It" single, Halliwell's next album, 2005's Passion, failed to catch fire, and she was dropped by her record label. In 2007, each member of the Spice Girls, including Halliwell, had a career-reviving burst of energy when they reunited as a band under the management of Simon Fuller and launched a massively successful greatest hits set and reunion tour that took them around the world and helped cement their status as enduring pop cultural icons, culminating in their own documentary, "Spice Girls: Giving You Everything" (2007). Buoyed by her rekindled success, Halliwell wrote a popular series of children's books featuring the character Ugenia Lavender, filmed a supporting role in the action flick "Crank: High Voltage" (2009), and launched her own clothing line. In the summer of 2012, the Spice Girls reunited once more to perform onstage during the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics, held in London. Although Halliwell and company did not appear in it, West End audiences also had the opportunity to see the Jennifer Saunders-penned Spice Girls jukebox musical, "Viva Forever!" although reviews were less than kind. Nevertheless, fan appetites were whetted for new Halliwell solo material when she released the 2012 single, "Phenomenal Woman."
By Jonathan Riggs