Sugar and spice
AT the height of their fame in the 1990s, the Spice Girls juggernaut could close down international airports. Such was their popularity that sometimes, when they fl ew into a new city, the airport would be closed down half an hour either side of their arrival in an effort to control crowds. But with global success came scrutiny on a grand scale.
Every move, weight fluctuation, romance, power struggle, diva antic and demand, real or imagined, experienced by Ginger ( Geri Halliwell), Posh ( Victoria Beckham), Scary ( Mel B), Sporty ( Mel C) and Baby ( Emma Bunton) was chronicled mercilessly in the media.
So you’re prepared for a lot of things for a fi rst interview with “Ginger Spice” Geri Halliwell, the Nine Network’s judging recruit for revamped reality show Australia’s Got Talent.
You’re expecting a media veteran, well- armed with prepared responses to questions about her parting ways with the band in 1998 citing depression and creative differences.
You’re prepared for a publicist cutting off any question about bulimia, break- ups and blow- ups, a bulging security detail and a strict 10- minute schedule.
Instead, a make- up free Halliwell, hair unkempt, has eschewed a restaurant chat in favour of welcoming you into her hotel room, cheerfully apologising she hasn’t had time to brush her teeth.
The diminutive star is fi ghting a severe bout of fl u, and wrapping up a fi tting session for her wardrobe for the AGT live shows, as daughter Bluebell, 7, gives her opinion on each outfi t and shows off her favourite youtube clip.
“Oh, hello, we’re a bit of a mess here this morning,” Halliwell grins.
“I’m sorry I look like this … I’ve been sick all week. Swimming at Balmoral in winter probably didn’t help. But it’s Australia. There was sunshine.”
Fittings over, Halliwell, 40, opts to sit next to you rather than across from you on the couch and offers genuine thanks to someone offering a much- needed cuppa.
This is Halliwell in 2013. Laid back, yet professional. No- nonsense, but not prickly.
And she’s loving the chance fellow Spice Girl Mel B threw her way to come to Australia.
A contract dispute meant when the Nine Network bought the rights to AGT last year after Seven dumped it, Mel B couldn’t take up judging duties on the rival network.
Instead, with the Spice Girls having kissed and made up since 1998, reformed a couple of times, and last year boarded a tidal wave of adulation and nostalgia when they performed at the opening of the London Olympics, Mel B suggested Halliwell fi ll her spot.
Halliwell, who says she loves the format in the UK, jumped at the chance.
“The sweetest thing about the offer was that it came from Mel,” Halliwell said.
“This industry can be shallow. It’s not the most spiritual industry but she rang me and said ‘ I was planning to do the show but I can’t and I think you should do it, in fact I’ve already spoken to Nine and put in a good word’.
“And I was so touched that somebody, a friend, would stick her neck out. It made my heart smile.” Halliwell had a guest appearance on the UK
X Factor last year and, having managed bands post- Spice Girls, relished the chance to again nurture talent.
AGT has offered her another chance to do that, alongside fellow judges Dawn French, Kyle Sandilands and Timomatic.
Halliwell’s forthright style and willingness to “take the piss” fi t well with the AGT format which celebrates weird, wacky and oddball talent as well as sheer brilliance.
“It’s celebratory of people, which is why I’m proud to be a part of it,” she said.
“Auditions have been like you’re going to a party for the weekend, and on the Monday it’s like a hangover, and you’ve had a really good time.”
Amid the laughs though, Halliwell takes judging duties seriously.
“At the end of the day, as much as you’re dealing with a TV show we’re talking about people’s lives,” she said.
“We need to really remember that every time someone comes on that stage and does their thing. We need to remember it’s really scary and vulnerable, and takes a huge amount of courage.”
That said, Halliwell would have auditioned for a similar show to kick- start her career had it existed pre- Spice Girls. “I was never trained in anything,” she said. “That these shows give the opportunity to the everyman is absolutely wonderful. It completely pushes my buttons.”
SPICING THINGS UP: Geri Halliwell has joined the cast of Australia’s Got Talent.
STAR SEARCH: Australia’s Got Talent judge Geri Halliwell with, from left, Timomatic, Dawn French, host Julia Morris and Kyle Sandilands.