Untangling the Wildest Spice Girls Stories: Why Geri Halliwell Really Left, Mel B's Bombshells and More

Breaking down the reality and the rumors from the time when it was the Spice Girls' world and we were just living in it.

By Natalie Finn May 29, 2023 7:00 AMTags
Watch: The Spice Girls: Then vs. Now

The Spice Girls have had an impressively enduring legacy for a group whose original incarnation lasted all of a few years.

The "Fab Five" released their debut album in 1996, were down to four by 1998 and went on hiatus in 2000. There have been multiple reunions since, including a smash-hit tour in 2007 and an epic appearance at the 2012 London Olympics, but the lingering tail of this particular astronomical phenomenon comes down to a handful of wildly infectious songs, a cult-classic movie, vivid '90s fashion and, at the heart of it, five compelling personalities.

Each member of the group went on to other things, in the music world and beyond, but the passage of time hasn't put a stop to the ongoing fascination with their girl-power-flaunting rein. And at least one of them has had no qualms about painting a very vivid picture of just how wild of a time they had back in their heyday.

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In 2019, the reliably outspoken Melanie Brown said that she and Geri Halliwell had a sexual encounter at one point during the Spice Girls' early days together.

"She's going to hate me for this because she's all posh in her country house and her husband. But it's a fact," Mel B, known in the '90s as Scary Spice to Geri's Ginger Spice, said in an interview for Piers Morgan's Life Stories. "It just happened and we just giggled at it and that was it. It just happens one time and then you talk about it and it does not really happen again. It was just that one time."

Melanie "Mel C" Chisholm, sitting in the audience, begged ignorance of the alleged tryst. When Morgan asked his guest if anything happened between Mels B and C, Brown replied, "Well, when I got my tongue pierced we all kissed. But that was just a kiss because I wanted to know what it felt like. It was just a silly kiss. Nothing sexual like that."

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Of her Ginger bombshell, Brown said, "Hopefully when Geri gets asked she wont deny it, because it was just a thing. It was not anything major. It was just a fun thing. You asked me a question and I answered it."

A few days after that interview clip got out, however, Halliwell denied her mate's anecdote.

"It has been very disappointing to read about all these rumors again, especially on Mother's Day of all days," a rep for Halliwell, who's been married to Formula One driver turned team principal Christian Horner since 2015, said in a statement. "Geri is really grateful for your support and loyalty for so many years. She loves the Spice Girls: Emma, Melanie, Melanie and Victoria. She would like [the fans] to know that what has been reported recently is simply not true and has been very hurtful to her family."

Before she cleared the air, though, folks had been quick to remember Halliwell's 2003 interview on The Howard Stern Show, in which she said she had sex with a woman once and "realized quickly" that she wasn't sexually interested in women.

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"I don't mind boobs but the other bit is not my cup of tea," the "Bag It Up" singer said. "I didn't like the lesbian thing. It is part of experimenting. I was drunk at the time." And though Halliwell acknowledged that the woman she had the encounter with was famous, she "could never, ever say who it was. I don't think she was a lesbian either. I'm going to leave the rest to your imagination."

That's called discretion.

Brown has talked on multiple occasions about her own fluid sexuality, writing in her 2018 memoir Brutally Honest that, before she started dating Eddie Murphy, "I'd come out of a very beautiful, loving, five-year relationship with a woman (one I will never, ever discuss because she was extremely private and I will always respect that)."

So, she's heard of discretion.

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Meanwhile, Halliwell had daughter Bluebell Madonna in 2006—Victoria Beckham and Emma Bunton are her godmothers—with screenwriter Sacha Gervasi. Husband Horner has a daughter, Olivia, from a previous relationship and he and Halliwell welcomed son Montague George Hector Horner in 2017.

Brown has been married twice and has three daughters, including one with each ex-husband and another with Murphy, and from 2002 until 2006 she was in a relationship with Christine Crokos

So, both she and Halliwell have lived a lot of life since they were spending every day together.

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Making note of the specific bond she shared with each of her four group mates in her 2002 memoir Just For the Record, Halliwell wrote that she and Borwn, as de facto co-leaders of the Spice Girls, "were real buddies, always getting into trouble together. When the two of us were in our heyday, people would be horrified and delighted at the same time by our behavior. We were like two Tasmanian devils bursting into the room, climbing on the table and dominating everything and everyone. It was very, very contagious and very strong."

Brown wrote in her 2002 book Catch a Fire that she and Halliwell sometimes behaved "like boyfriend and girlfriend."

"We got irritated over the slightest things and swore like fishwives at each other," she wrote. "Our arguments went off with such a bang. At times you'd have thought she'd cheated with my boyfriend or something."

While both dished out lots of personal truths in their respective books, there were no explicit mentions of 2 becoming 1. What we do know is that 5 became 4 in May of 1998, when Halliwell left the Spice Girls right in the middle of their Spiceworld Tour.

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Halliwell had performed in Helsinki with the group but then was absent when the Spice Girls returned to the U.K. for an appearance on The National Lottery. "Unfortunately Geri's not very well tonight," Chisholm, then known as Sporty Spice, told the audience. "Get will soon, Geri!" she added, pointing at the camera.

Halliwell, meanwhile, had retreated to her brother's house in France to lie low. The girls flew on to Oslo without her and, on May 31, 1998, they announced that Halliwell had left the group, citing "differences between us."

Obviously whenever someone leaves a good gig like that, rumors fly, and stories of tensions with other members of the group tend to soar the highest. In Halliwell's case, talk of a power struggle with Brown was the most prevalent tale. Meanwhile, Halliwell thought she had made her intentions clear before she actually left.

"Everyone had their theories," Beckham, the erstwhile Posh Spice, wrote in her 2001 book Learning to Fly. "That there had been some great row on the flight back from Helsinki. That we'd been hitting each other. The truth is that we'd all really had a laugh on that flight back... We didn't know [why she took off]. Why she said that I have no idea; perhaps because it made her look better, because otherwise it was like admitting she had left us in the lurch. Which, of course, was exactly what she did. Geri Halliwell had left us totally in the lurch."

Brown write, "It was mad...We didn't have a spare moment to absorb what had happened. We just had to get on with things."

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Beckham continued, "She was one of my best friends. And now she had walked out without a word. What I felt was anger at the selfishness of it all, then betrayal."

Halliwell acknowledged in Just for the Record that her departure "was sudden and the timing was far from ideal."

She also wrote that it wasn't any one thing that sent her packing, but she acknowledged that the girls were squabbling—and she wanted to own her role in trying to topple the ship. The singer, who went on to release three albums as a solo artist, wrote about the pressure piling up, the thrill being gone, the invasion of privacy becoming too much and intense stress triggering the return of her eating disorders.

She told her mates early in 1998 that she wanted their September show at London's Wembley Stadium to be the Spice Girls' last, but when no one seemed to agree, Halliwell, as she put it, "did a runner." 

Her first water-under-the-bridge dinner came around four months later, with Beckham (and husband David Beckham) in the south of France a few weeks after the Wembley show. 

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Halliwell said that she missed the sisterhood, and the reality that she was on her own wasn't easy to adjust to, but she pressed on with her solo career and wrote that she was pleased to see the Spice Girls thriving without her, and was happy for each of their solo successes when they had them. 

The next big rumor to keep the cat-fight narrative alive sprung from Halliwell having a single due out the same day that Bunton, a.k.a. Baby Spice, was releasing her debut single as a solo artist, Nov. 7, 1999. 

"It was like Blur v. Oasis all over again," Halliwell wrote. But at the end of the day, she insisted, it was a complete coincidence, at least to the extent that she or Bunton had anything to do with it.

Beckham also ventured into solo territory in 2000, dropping her first single, "Out of Mind," that August after, as she only recently revealed, she had realized that girl group life wasn't for her.

"Remember years ago," the fashion and cosmetics mogul wrote in a letter to her future self published in British Vogue , "watching your dear friend Elton John on stage in Las Vegas. He performed 'Tiny Dancer,' as if it were the first time, and you realized this was like oxygen for him. It was a life-changing moment—while singing and dancing was fun for you, it wasn't your passion."

"That day, you started your quest to uncover your own dreams," she continued. "It was time to step away from being a Spice Girl. For the first time, you were venturing out on your own, and it was terrifying."

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While reunions featuring all five Spice Girls have been rarer than three or four getting together, due to respective family lives and next-chapter career obligations, all was copacetic enough for the five to go on tour in 2007—and a massively successful tour at that—and then perform at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, one of the most talked about moments of the whole international sporting extravaganza.

Since then they've all been called upon to shut down rumors that one or the other is out—out!—of the group for good. And while most of that press is done separately and thousands of miles apart, it's reminiscent of the days when the Fab Five would giggle at rumors together, crowded onto one sofa. 

And when it came to rumors about wild behavior... well, plenty of them were true. As Halliwell wrote, she and Brown were "always getting into trouble."

Brown ecohed that sentiment: "Sometimes Geri and I went to bed on Saturday afternoon, got up around 2 a.m. and went on an all-nighter at [the nightclub] Ministry of Sound. We used to drive down the motorway with our boobs out. It was hysterical."

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Asked by Rolling Stone in 1997, one year into the Spice Girls phenomenon, if they really did enjoy streaking through hotel lobbies as rumor had it, Bunton replied, "Three of us have, me included. We've never done it in a lobby. It's just been a good laugh."

Brown's favorite rumor was "that I had three in a bed. I didn't!"

Added Beckham, "As far as we're concerned, any press is good press."

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Down the road, Brown also admitted to swiping toilet paper from Nelson Mandela's house, Beckham recalled the girls swiping her undies and tossing them out the window in celebration when they got their first record deal, and Bunton once got sick in the car after a night of drinking and some of the upchuck got in Brown's mouth.

"Because she was still talking," Bunton quipped when she and Brown, Chisholm and Halliwell sat down with the U.K.'s Heart Radio in November 2018. "If she had kept her mouth shut for five minutes, it wouldn't have flown in!" 

Moreover, several of them have stories about taking liberties with King Charles III.

For years it was part of the lore that Halliwell pinched the King's behind when meeting him at the London premiere of Spice World, but she finally told The Times in 2016 that it was only a pat on the bum, not a pinch.

"I didn't pinch Prince Charles's bum, as was reported. I patted it," she cheekily explained. "Patting him on the bottom was against royal protocol but we're all human. It was the premiere of our film, Spice World, in the late '90s. There was a lot of nervous energy—young women, happy antics."

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The Spice Girls were known favorites of Charles—and his sons, Prince William and Prince Harry—and they were invited to perform at the 21st anniversary celebration of the Prince's Trust at the Manchester Opera House. Brown and Halliwell each kissed him on the cheek, Brown asked if she could come to dinner and Halliwell told the royal she found him "very sexy."

Their performance was encore-worthy, because they were back for Charles' 50th birthday celebration in 1998 where, according to the evening's emcee, Stephen Fry, Bunton asked Charles in the receiving line if he had "a Prince Albert." (He did not appear to know what she meant, so Fry filled him in: "It's an item of intimate jewelry.")

"They didn't care, it was all girl power, you know," Fry recalled the moment appreciatively on The Graham Norton Show years later. 

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The more reserved Beckham, however, was the only Spice Girl to attend the weddings of Charles' sons. Reunion rumors were again all the rage leading up to Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's May 2018 nuptials, not least because Brown teased as much, but—just like at Prince William and Kate Middleton's ceremony in 2011—Posh went solo (well, plus her husband).

"When all the other girls were being fun and spontaneous and jumping on tables, I was always the one checking the table wasn't going to collapse," Beckham said at the launch of the "Vogue 100: A Century of Style" exhibit in 2016. "I was always the sensible one. Luckily, because I used to wear heels, I just used to jig about a bit and I got away with it."

So...she probably wasn't doing much streaking back in the day, either. She wasn't even always for singing—sometimes an unidentified "they" would turn off Beckham's mic "and just let the others sing." Whether that was a prank or something more shady, the award-winning designer wasn't sharing, but "I got the last laugh and now my mic is well and truly on, finally."

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Citing various other work commitments, Beckham did not join Brown, Bunton, Chisholm and Halliwell for the 13-date The Spice World—2019 tour (Chisholm assured in a Heart Radio interview before they set off that Beckham remained "a huge part of the band") but she is reportedly in on a still-gestating animated Spice Girls movie.

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On May 29, 2019, while on tour, Brown's birthday, she and Halliwell tossed cake at each other onstage as Bunton grabbed an umbrella to shield herself and Chisholm admonished them not to make a mess.

Brown noted that it had been on her birthday, 21 years prior, that Geri had left the group. She added playfully, "You'd better not leave tonight!"

As for more recent reunions, Halliwell and Chisholm were both at Wembley Stadium last year to catch England's historic win in the 2022 UEFA European Women's Football Championship.

"What a joy to watch this iconic moment with my fellow Spice Girl @therealgerihalliwell," Chisholm wrote on Instagram. "We're beyond proud."

(Originally published March 26, 2019, at 3 a.m. PT)