Every boy and every girl: inside the curious politics of the Spice Girls, from Churchill to #metoo

From Mandela to Prince Charles and even Winston Churchill, the Spice Girls have cast their political gaze far and wide. But the real political story of the Spice Girls isn't about funny interview quotes or glib references to 'Girl Power'

February 26, 2019
The Spice Girls have always been political. Photo: Prospect composite
The Spice Girls have always been political. Photo: Prospect composite

The Spice Girls were laughed at early on by sensible journalists—who have, of course, never committed anything ridiculous to print—for Geri Horner (née Halliwell) and her proclamation that Margaret Thatcher was “the first Spice Girl.” The two Mels, as Labour voters, were not happy at the time to be tarred with the “Thatcherite” brush.

Little did the media realise how important Ginger, Sporty, Scary, Baby and Posh would be to UK politics over a period of more than two decades—even if Tony Blair turned down an appearance in the ‘Wannabe’ video back in 1996.

It is usually Geri putting in the spadework on Spice politics, in and out of the band, despite her own admission in her two autobiographies that she knows little about it. Prince Charles got dubbed a Spice Boy and “part of the landscape of the Spice Girls.” Matthew Freud was able to persuade Geri to appear in a 2001 New Labour Party Political Broadcast due to her genuine love of Cherie Blair, who she met due to her work on breast cancer awareness. She had these words to share when the group met Nelson Mandela: “I think there's a classic speech that Nelson Mandela did and I can't remember exactly but you mentioned about never suppress yourself, never make yourself feel small for others’ insecurities and that's what Girl Power's all about so I think we're on the same level on that view."

At other times, their politics has been more fraught. Victoria Beckham was forced to release a statement in 2016 saying that she had changed her mind on the European Union since 1996, after her old words came back to haunt a Leave.EU meme.

When asked on the Lorraine show last year about Brexit, the Girls maintained constructive ambiguity, reflecting the likely differences of opinion within the group. They are very like the Cabinet, and Geri offered this on Theresa May: “We don’t have to agree on politics and stuff like that, it’s bigger than that. Support a woman, doing the best she can and that’s it… I think everyone’s politically different and that’s ok. Not an easy position, can you imagine being that? Not easy.” (EU spokesman Margaritis Schinas has, however, asked Britain to tell the EU27 what, in the words of Spice hit ‘Wannabe,’ “they want, what they really really want.”)

lot of noise has been made about a banner that casts aspersions on Geri’s viability as a solo artist. The banner has made appearances at various anti-Brexit marches. The text was based on a moderately popular tweet, which is inaccurate and snobbish—Geri was the most popular solo Spice Girl and has had more successful records than many white men of rock who have chosen to leave their famous bands. Noel Gallagher has never breached the Top 10 since leaving Oasis. Geri has had 8 top 10 singles, 3 of them number 1s, and a double platinum debut solo album.


That banner is more or less on the same level of discourse as this 1997 song by the Period Pains, a Festive 50 number 4 favourite on John Peel’s show, which had the following lyrics:

“We hate you, MelGeri's a moo as wellVicky and Emma, do what you likeMel C, take a hike, alrightYou tried to be outrageousYou're just so bloody fakeYou're just a bunch of sad old tartsGet a life, for Christ’s sake”

Period Pains were young girls from Reading at the time. Singer Chloe Alper grew up to be in prog band Pure Reason Revolution and then make solo music of her own, none of which featured her youthful penchant for anti-pop beef and internalised misogyny. Never make yourself feel small for other’s insecurities.

The Spice Girls are grown women, and Geri’s overly expansionist approach to Spice membership can fall flat—especially now that she has said that Churchill was the “original Spice Girl.” She has also made some less-than-helpful comments on #MeToo. But you can’t fault Geri for bad opinions. She just says stuff all the time without thinking: that’s what Geri has always done and forever will do, as long as she retains only the responsibilities of a light entertainer and not those of a politician or commentator.

During the election campaign in 1997, when Tony Blair was touring the towns of Britain, the Independent’s John Walsh chose to call teenage girls who turned out to see him things like “the Monmouth Spice Girls,” “a little madam” and “16, and a bit of a minx.” Twenty years later, a Mail headline dubbed a group of women—aged between 18 and 47—“Jeremy Corbyn’s gaggle of besotted groupies” just because they were all in the same photograph of the Labour leader. One of the women was his wife Laura Alvarez.

So, there we have it. The Spice Girls: a life (so far) in politics. I can’t wait to see them play in Manchester in May. Gordon Brown must be thrilled that they have once again reformed. In the words of the great Nelson Mandela, "I don't want to be emotional but this is one of the greatest moments of my life."