No one does super-fandom quite like the Brits, and back in late ’90s, it looked as though Beatlemania might finally be outdone by the ultimate feminist quintet. Today you might remember them for their failed musical, adorable children, or amazing 2012 appearance at the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics. But not that long ago, the Spice Girls were a global phenomenon, influencing everything from fashion to British elections with their Girl Power, platforms, and leopard-print body suits.
Amidst a decade-long deluge of boy bands, here were five spunky women ready to put ladies back on top, including on pop charts across the globe. But were they the big-dreaming friends portrayed in Spice World, or just a manufactured entity, a la Backstreet Boys? Below, 10 things you might not know about the most outspoken women to hit mainstream pop since Madonna.
1. They didn’t choose their nicknames—and neither did their management.
Writer Peter Lorraine and his editors at Top of the Pops magazine had a clever idea to illustrate his story about the group with a spice rack—one that doled out the instantly iconic labels of Scary, Sporty, Ginger, Posh, and Baby. (Luckily they scrapped an idea to call one of them “Old Spice,” which would have given the teen-mag story some mean-spirited bite. And, though they cheekily declined to say who that moniker might have gone to, we’ll just say it’s a good thing Geri Halliwell had dyed her “mousy brown” hair red during that timeframe.)
As David Sinclair wrote in his biography of the band, “If either the girls or the record company had tried to foist such an idea on the public, let alone the media, it would have seemed cheesy beyond belief.” Instead, “they became an instantly recognizable part of British pop’s royal family.”
2. Ginger Spice chose the phrase “Girl Power” because she didn’t like the word “feminism.”
Though “Girl Power” had been used for a few years by the Riot Grrrl movement in the Northwest, Geri Halliwell, a.k.a. Ginger Spice, came at it from a somewhat different angle. While she liked the idea of women’s autonomy, she was turned off by the F word.
“It’s very unglamorous,” she told The Guardian in 2007 about her thoughts on the “feminism” label. “I’d like to see it rebranded.” But that’s exactly what she had done a decade before, bringing “Wannabe”—an anthem that celebrated female friendship over dudes—to the top of the global charts, and landing “Girl Power” in the Oxford English Dictionary by 2002.
3. Ginger credited Margaret Thatcher as the original proponent of “Girl Power.”
In a very surprising profile—one that compares the group to Descartes, Voltaire, and a burgeoning political party—the girls revealed their admiration for the Iron Lady. “We Spice Girls are true Thatcherites,” Ginger famously declared to The Spectator in 1996. “Thatcher was the first Spice Girl, the pioneer of our ideology—Girl Power.”
But reportedly, not all of the group shared that view. When asked by The Independent in 2022 if she considered the controversial former Prime Minister to be the first Spice Girl, Sporty (a.k.a. Melanie Chisholm) replied: “Absolutely not!” She then added: “Geri, in the past, was very vocal about her support for Margaret Thatcher. I’m from Liverpool. It was a name that was not celebrated in that region.”
4. When a magazine revealed their conservative tendencies, liberals freaked out.
Tony Blair and the Labour Party won the May 1997 election by a landslide, but there was a moment where they thought the Spice Girls might derail them.
In December 1996, the girls all sat down with The Spectator and were quizzed about their thoughts on the upcoming election. Blair, the liberal, was seen as the young people’s candidate, until the article made the girls out to be conservatives, with lines like: “Indeed a Spice Girl may have the thighs and hot pants of a feeble hussy, but she possesses the heart and soul of a Tory country squire. These are old-fashioned Tories with the conservatism of the great Salisbury, the radicalism of Thatcher, and the monarchical legitimism and sexual athleticism of Viscount Bolingbroke.”
Some worried the massive Spice Girl bloc might toss Blair aside. (It didn’t help that, at a press conference, he could only name three out of five Spices.) Turns out at the time that it was just Ginger and Posh—Halliwell and Victoria Beckham, then-Adams—who were the Tories, though: Emma Bunton (Baby) said she didn’t know anything about politics, and Mel B. (Melanie Brown, Scary) came out as an anarchist. Mel C. (Melanie Chisholm, Sporty), from working-class Liverpool, didn’t agree either, and called Margaret Thatcher a “complete prick.”
5. The team that brought them together wasn’t the team that made them stars.
When father-son team Bob and Chris Herbert put an ad in The Stage, a trade paper, in March 1994—which called for “streetwise, ambitious, outgoing, and dedicated” 18-23 year olds—they brought together four of the five future Spices (Emma Bunton was rounded up later) and named the group Touch. But the Herberts had a very different image in mind—they moved the girls in together and allegedly asked them to all dress the same.
The girls, obviously, would not stand for this. After being offered what they saw as an unreasonable contract, they ditched their management and were scooped up by Simon Fuller in March 1995, who changed their name, embraced their differences, and let their personalities seep into their music—which all the girls helped write.
6. Ginger’s iconic Union Jack dress was actually just a dish towel.
The first time the Spice Girls had gone to the Brit Awards, Ginger had made her own outfit, a green sparkly dress. But by the next year they had a number one hit, and she knew she needed something to top it. She told Piers Morgan in 2010 that when she was sent a little black Gucci dress for the 1997 awards, the patriotic Brit had her sister sew the towel on the front. The look landed her plenty of front pages, and the dress sold at auction in 1998 for almost $70,000.
7. Spice World references Pulp Fiction.
The girls are pitched a show, Spice Force Five, a reference to the Fox Force Five, a fictional pilot in the Quentin Tarantino classic—with similarities down to “the Black girl [being] a demolition expert.” Ginger was particularly good as the master of disguise: she went into a phone booth in a silver bodysuit and emerged as Bob Hoskins.
8. They had some delicious merchandise.
You know how Baby Spice was always carrying around a lollipop? Not only could you pick up some Spice-branded Chupa Chups at the Limited Too, or some Cadbury chocolate bars if you were lucky enough to live near a Tesco. But, as Posh’s mom rediscovered in her freezer in 2014, there was also … Spice Pizza?
9. Victoria Beckham has been on the cover of Vogue 29 times (and counting).
Posh rose to independent fame as a model, designer, fashion icon, and the world’s most famous footballer’s wife. As of July 2022, she has graced the cover of Vogue a whopping 29 times—including a recent one in Australia. As part of the Spice Girls, she landed on the seminal mag’s American cover in January 1998—a decision Anna Wintour has since said she’s “not terribly proud of.” Posh did, however, do a hilarious 73 Questions interview for Vogue.com in January 2015, throwing in sly references to her younger years (Favorite spice? “Posh”) and other pop culture jokes (Diamonds or pearls? “Both. We love Prince.”).
10. Nelson Mandela was a total fanboy.
When the Spice Girls first met the South African President in 1997, he called them “my heroines.” Ten years later, he invited the quintet to perform at both his 89th—and 90th—birthday parties, but it never came together.
A version of this story ran in 2015; it has been updated for 2022.