The Spice Girls have had an impressively enduring legacy for a girl 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 of course been multiple reunions since, including a smash-hit tour in 2007, but the lingering tail of this particular astronomical phenomenon comes down to a handful of wildly infectious songs, a cult-classic movie, epic '90s fashion and, at the heart of it, five compelling personalities. Even when some of them were known for not having personalities, they were compelling as all get-out.
Moreover, each has remained on the radar to varying degrees on her own—and at least one of them really doesn't want you to forget just how wild a time they had back in their blazing heyday.
There has been no public comment as yet from Geri Halliwell in response to Melanie "Mel B" Brown's shocking (though not shocking to hear it from her, considering how outspoken she is) claim that she and Geri 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, known in the '90s as Scary Spice to Geri's Ginger Spice, said in an interview taped last week for Piers Morgan's Life Stories. "It just happened and we just giggled at it and that was it."
It was also only the once, Mel B assured, while Melanie "Mel C" Chisholm, sitting in the audience, begged ignorance of the tryst. When Morgan asked if anything happened between Mels B and C, B 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."
Well, this quickly had folks remembering Halliwell's 2003 interview on The Howard Stern Show in which she said she had sex with a woman once and "realized quickly [she] was not a lesbian."
"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.
Mel B 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.
Meanwhile, Halliwell married Formula One driver turned team owner Christian Horner in 2015 and they have a child together, plus each has one from previous relationships. Mel B has been married twice and has three daughters, including one with each ex-husband and another with Murphy. So, both have lived a lot of life since they were spending every day together.
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 Mel B, 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."
Mel B wrote in her 2002 book Catch a Fire that she and Geri 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.
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," Sporty Spice, Mel C, told the audience. "Get will soon, Geri!" she added, pointing at the camera.
Geri, 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 Geri 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, Geri thought she had made her intentions clear before she actually left.
"Everyone had their theories," Victoria Beckham 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."
"It was mad," wrote Mel B in Catch a Fire. "We didn't have a spare moment to absorb what had happened. We just had to get on with things."
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 Victoria (and David Beckham) in the south of France a few weeks after the Wembley show.
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 Emma "Baby Spice" Bunton 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.
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 all 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 Mel B were "always getting into trouble."
"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," Mel B wrote in Catch a Fire. "We used to drive down the motorway with our boobs out. It was hysterical."
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."
Mel B's favorite rumor was "that I had three in a bed. I didn't!"
"As far as we're concerned, any press is good press," added Beckham.
Down the road, Mel B 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 Mel B's mouth.
"Because she was still talking," Bunton quipped when she and Mel B, Mel C and Halliwell sat down with the U.K.'s Heart Radio in November. "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 Prince Charles.
For years it was part of the lore that Geri pinched the Prince of Wales' behind when meeting him at the London premiere of Spice World, but she finally told The Times in the U.K. 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."
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. Mel B and Geri each kissed him on the cheek (and Meghan Markle's not even supposed to take selfies with young fans!), Mel B asked if she could come to dinner and Geri 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, Emma asked Charles in the receiving line if he had "a Prince Albert?" (The Prince of Wales 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.
The more reserved Victoria 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 nuptials last May, not least because Mel B teased as much, but—just like at Prince William and Kate Middleton's ceremony in 2011—Posh went solo (not including 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 Victoria's mic "and just let the others sing." Whether that was a prank or something more shady, Beckham wasn't sharing, but "I got the last laugh and now my mic is well and truly on, finally."
The acclaimed fashion designer is not part of the group's upcoming tour—which, as of now, is still on. Back in November they joked on Heart Radio that they might add more dates "if Mel B behaves herself." (Mel C also assured that Beckham remains "a huge part of the band.")
Mel B has always been the one most likely to spice up their lives in the headlines over the years but, according to The Sun, she immediately called Geri to do damage control after her chat with Piers Morgan last Friday. Morgan confirmed to the Mail Online he was told that his guest had gone off to make a call to "try and smooth things over."
"The girls all know Mel struggles to keep her mouth shut but Mel C, who was in the audience, was visibly horrified when it all came out," a source told The Sun. "The tour is just two months' away, they don't want anything jeopardizing it, but there were real fears this would upset Geri's husband and cause serious issues."
The insider added, "She needs to do some serious grovelling to make up with Geri. This isn't something she's going to forget easily. It's not going to derail the reunion and they're all still excited about going back out on the road together, but it's done damage to their personal friendship."
Halliwell didn't have anything to say when she was photographed leaving her house in north London on Monday. Perhaps she was trying to set an example.