Stop right now, thank you very much. I need somebody with a human touch. So say (almost) the staff and patients of the Royal United Hospitals in Bath, where Spice Girl Geri Horner is visiting and making a round of the wards.
Look at her! Dressed like a duchess in a Max Mara silk coat and cream dress, her size 3 sling-backs clicking along the corridors with zeal.
Geri is awfully good at this. Not everyone has the gift of the gab, the smooth bedside manner that cheers the ailing and fortifies their carers — but Ginger Spice is a natural.
‘How amazing,’ she says, when patients tell her their stories, or a member of staff points out the cross-laminated timbers in the critical care area. ‘You are doing so well,’ says the woman who should be renamed Super Nice Spice, as she gives succour to both the sick and those who tend them.
Geri pictured above with premature baby Ada-Joy, whose mother said was named after a character in hti BBC show Peaky Blinders
Geri visited the Princess Anne wing of the Royal United Hospital in Bath where she chatted to patients and visited babies
In the hush of the neonatal intensive care unit, she cuddles babies and talks to their mothers, mama a mama. She holds a little girl called Ada, who weighed less than 3 lb at birth but is now thriving, and channels her degree in girl power, gained at the University of Spice in 1997.
‘Was she named after Ada Lovelace, the woman who invented the first computer?’ she asks. ‘No,’ says her mother, Natalie Othen. ‘She was named after Ada in Peaky Blinders.’
In the breast unit, Geri talks to recovering patient Stephanie Wilkins, 29, who is there with her parents, doing well after years of gruelling cancer treatment.
Upon hearing that the whole family are Spice Girls fans — ‘I watched the film and everything,’ says Dad — she arranges tickets for them to see the Spice Girls show in Bristol that evening.
They seem pleased. ‘It is my absolute pleasure,’ Geri tells them.
Indeed, everyone seems pleased, for having a Spice Girl around infuses the atmosphere with something approaching merriment; individually and collectively, they are an old-fashioned tonic for the troops.
Geri has been touring with the Spice Girls in performances that are set to come to an end in Lonbdon this week
Once the biggest girl band in the world, the Spices may have peaked more than two decades ago, but their current Spice World tour, which ends in London tonight, has seen the group play to enthusiastic outdoor stadium crowds of around 80,000 every night.
Their gassy brew of pure pop and sequinned chutzpah, unchanged since Wannabe was No 1 in 1996, gives fans the chance to revisit their teens or reclaim their childhoods. And, whether at a concert or in a hospital, feeling nostalgic about the past can also make one feel optimistic about the future.
Geri was pictured earlier this week leaving her home as a group of fans had waited outside for her
Geri Halliwell, as she was back then, first came to the Royal United Hospitals (RUH) 20 years ago to launch its Forever Friends Appeal. Since then, more than £25 million has been raised for medical equipment, patient services and building projects, such as the RNHRD and Brownsword Therapies Centre and the Dyson Cancer Centre.
‘All credit to them, because they have raised all this money through tenacity and endurance. What they do is amazing,’ says Geri, who has also been inspired by the Mail’s Join The Hospital Helpforce campaign. Last year, the Care Quality Commission rated the maternity services at RUH as outstanding — and Super Nice Spice is impressed.
Now married to Red Bull Racing Formula One boss Christian Horner, she has two children of her own: 13-year-old daughter Bluebell, from a previous relationship, and two-year-old son Montague.
‘As a mother myself, the neonatal ward made me want to cry,’ she told me. ‘Having a baby is the most vulnerable thing. You have no control over what happens.
‘Bluebell was 5 lb when she was born — on the verge of being premature. Some of the babies in there were only 1 lb 8 oz.
‘When Monty was born, they wanted to take him away and put him in another room, which challenges all your instincts. As a mother, you just want to hold a healthy baby in your arms, you just want to have a happy life. And here, they help mothers achieve that.’
Her children have been travelling with her on the Spice World tour; Bluebell occasionally, Montague all the time. There is a kind of Spice creche where the three other participating members stash their kids (Victoria Beckham declined to take part in the tour), while Geri also brings her mother, Ana, to help out with the childcare. Handy!
‘I am very lucky to have Mum, who is supportive and grounded and completely loving,’ says Geri. ‘She is in her 70s now, but brilliant with Bluebell and Monty.’
Geri (pictured above) during a recent performance in Manchester
In backstage footage posted on Geri’s Instagram account, Ana is seen jokingly shouting at Geri and calling her a ‘spoiled brat’. Is she really?
‘I dunno. Probably,’ she laughs.
Today, Geri out-poshes Posh Spice, living in grand style as the lady of her 15th-century Cotswolds manor, complete with stables for her miniature ponies, two ovens in her kitchen and shelves crammed with Emma Bridgewater crockery. She bakes cakes, she knits, she takes afternoon tea with titled ladies. ‘I very much enjoy being at home in a countryside environment. I love it. Being around children and animals is my favourite thing.’
Why? She looks thoughtful for a moment. ‘Because there is such an honesty around that.’
But does she still feel like a Spice Girl at heart? ‘Absolutely. There is an evolution. Nobody stays the same, but being a Spice Girl is a spirit. You grow up, but you maintain that sense of fun.’
You also maintain a sense of control over everything, as befitting a multi-millionaire pop star and member of a group that was the original innovator of the band as a brand.
While the Spice Girls inspired a generation of young women to have confidence in themselves and believe in girl power, they also saw commercial pop as a giant, lucrative marketing opportunity.
The Spice Girls were the first to harvest the kinds of merchandising and sponsorship deals that have dominated pop music ever since.
Here, in this fine hospital in Bath, at this uneasy intersection between showbiz wants and charity needs, I find myself being respectful of Geri’s admirable altruism while being reminded of the parameters of her celebrity at all times.
Before her visit even begins, we are told she cannot be photographed getting out of her car as it is not an Aston Martin, with whom she is commercially affiliated. In an alliance with L’Oreal, she has dyed her pale gold hair back to its iconic ginger with the aid of the Preference Infinia P74 Mango Intense Copper colour (£8.25 in Boots, if you’re interested).
Removing her Rolex watch while visiting the wards, she slips it on again for our pictures. And, at all times, she is accompanied by a giant bodyguard, who puts a giant hand on his giant shaved head and slaps it twice.
‘If I do this, it means Geri is uncomfortable with what you are doing,’ he says, to the incredulity of the massed ranks of the media gathered at the hospital — i.e. myself and a polite crew from the BBC’s Points West local news programme.
Geri’s entourage also includes a hairdresser, who has styled her hair in a ‘half-down up-do’, and a make-up artist, who explains that ‘Geri’s overall style is Rita Hayworth meets Audrey Hepburn’.
That may be in direct contradiction to what Geri tells me — ‘my coat today is inspired by Jackie O’ — but I note that she constantly seeks their professional approval while posing. ‘Do I look all right?’ she asks. ‘Check the lighting,’ she orders. We are told that on no account are we to ask about the ‘feud’ between Geri and fellow Spice Girl Melanie Brown, who is Scary by name and even scarier by nature.
On Piers Morgan’s confessional TV show Life Stories recently, Mel B claimed that she and Geri had a one-off lesbian romp during the Spice Girls’ Nineties heyday and ‘giggled at it’ afterwards.
Geri denied it ever happened, amid suspicions Brown was trying to create headlines to hype her new autobiography.
True or otherwise, I imagine that Super Nice Knitting Baking Country Spice was furious with her bandmate. In a statement she said it was ‘very hurtful’ and ‘simply not true’.
As we hurtle around the hospital, it hardly seems like the time or place to bring up something so salacious anyway. Especially in the middle of a mushrooming Geri entourage. Alongside hair, make-up, publicist, giant bodyguard, Forever Friends Appeal’s chairman John Cullum (father of jazz musician Jamie), RUH CEO John Scott, sundry medical bods, administrative personnel and a camera crew, we have been joined by Big Ted, the hospital’s 8 ft tall furry mascot.
Bam, bam, bam go his padded paws along the corridors. Clickety, clickety, click go Geri’s heels as she trots alongside. It seems deeply wrong to pry before the fluffy innocence of Ted’s tufted ears.
On stage and in person, Ginger and Scary are maintaining a united front, but their social media accounts seem to hint at underlying tensions. Underneath Ginger’s self-mocking ‘spoilt brat’ posting, Scary has written: ‘I couldn’t agree more, Mama Ginge.’
And on a more dramatic post, which Ginger captioned ‘Fear?’ and showed herself prostrate and praying before she went on to the stage in Bristol, Scary was scathing: ‘Oh dear lord, Ginge. Stop with the fear. You are bloody fine,’ she wrote.
Geri seems to be closest to Sporty Spice, Melanie Chisholm, on whom she depends to ‘always give me a nudge when I forget the dance steps’ and whom she describes as ‘my knight in shining armour’.
During one of their recent concerts, which had been performed amid lashing rain, it was Sporty who lifted the sopping train of Ginger’s elaborate costume and helped her off the stage.
‘I didn’t ask her to, she just did it. There is such a strong girl code in that,’ says Geri.
Well, it’s not exactly giving her a kidney, but I take the point.
However, now that the concerts have been such a success — more than 650,000 tickets were sold — one imagines that a steely, Spicy pragmatism will flourish in the troubled space where friendships sometimes end.
There are already whispers of a lucrative residence in Las Vegas, while a new animated Spice Girls film has just been announced.
Paramount Animation is working on a musical movie that will feature the hits — and all five Spices are involved. So should we imagine this farewell reunion and tour will not actually be their last? ‘I wouldn’t want to say,’ says Geri. ‘There are three people who will know first how I feel about moving forward because I owe it to them, and they are Melanie, Melanie and Emma.’
Being here at the RUH, she says, has been a levelling experience — something she also felt when a young girl she has supported, who is undergoing chemotherapy, came along to one of the Spice Girl shows in Scotland.
‘It made me feel a little bit human,’ she says. ‘It made me grateful for the life I have been given. Sometimes it is so easy to get caught up in the humdrum of everyday bits and bobs.’
Not that there is anything humdrum about her. At the age of 46, Geri looks fabulous; a tiny child-woman, immaculately coiffed and groomed, in the prime of her life.
Today, she wears beautiful diamonds on her ears and the kind of red thread bracelet on her wrist that usually denotes a Kabbalah worshipper. Is she?
‘Someone gave it to me,’ she says. Does it have any religious significance? ‘No. It is more of an . . . an . . .’
‘No, it is like a spiritual thing,’ she says, but doesn’t elaborate.
She mentions that her singing voice has improved after years of training. ‘My range has got bigger, I’ve got more technique,’ she says, which critics might interpret as a move up the sonic spectrum from chipmunk to budgerigar, although fans would beg to differ.
The most difficult thing for her on the Spice World tour has been the weather, which has not been kind.
‘The rain! I am not good at feeling cold. It has been a challenge to find that hardiness in me. I want to put on a jumper on stage, and that’s no good. When it pours I just can’t wait for my hot cup of tea after the show,’ she says.
Interestingly, she believes she has finally grown into herself. ‘I am really finding that this is my right age, where I am at my most comfortable. Give me a cup of tea and a biscuit,’ she says, ‘and I am quite happy.’
It is 21 years, almost to the day, since Geri broke a million little girls’ hearts by leaving the Spice Girls. Yet, somehow, the group’s appeal is undimmed, a pop legacy that sticks to the senses like glitter.
‘What I really feel, meeting people here in the hospital and looking out from the stage,’ she says, ‘is that we have all grown up together. And it is wonderful to take the opportunity to celebrate ourselves.’
Altogether now, swing it, shake it, move it, make it, we all know who you are.