Emma Bunton admits she'd love to have a baby and chats secret marriage plans ahead of Spice Girls reunion tour
AMID the Brexit turmoil turning the UK into a battleground, there may be only one thing capable of uniting such a divided nation: the Spice Girls.
Tickets for the long-awaited reunion stadium tour (minus Posh) sold out within minutes when they went on sale last November. Extra dates were hurriedly added and snapped up just as quickly. The internet went into meltdown, and it felt as if the entire nation was desperately trying, by hook or by crook, to get hold of a coveted ticket.
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“Absolutely,” says Emma Bunton, when it’s suggested that what the country needs right now is a big injection of Spice.
“I think everyone has got such different opinions at the moment and it feels like we’re all shouting at each other. But when our tickets went on sale, everyone came together.
"Mums, dads, kids, friends… It feels so special that everyone put all of those other things aside.
"I feel really proud about that. I feel proud of the girls, that it’s something we still have, and we’re gonna get up there and do the best show.”
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It’s been more than 20 years since Baby, Sporty, Scary, Ginger and Posh bulldozed their way into the public consciousness, becoming the biggest girl band of all time, selling 85 million albums worldwide and sealing their place in music history.
The phrase Girl Power (Emma says she can’t remember which of the five first coined it) still resonates today.
The girls remain icons, and with their various careers post-Spice – Emma, 43, has a new solo album out, which we’ll come to shortly – each has proved there is life beyond the band.
“But we’ll always have that thing between us because no one else understands exactly what we have been through. No one else knows, so we have a very close bond, and there are things that only we know about each other.”
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Ahem. Some things, anyway. Because in a world where not much is certain, it’s good to know that loose-lipped Mel B can still be relied upon to drop a big old bombshell.
While filming Piers Morgan’s Life Stories last month, and to the obvious shock of Mel C sitting in the audience, Mel B revealed that back in the day she’d had a fling with Geri.
The public revelation, which made the front pages, was said to have left Geri humiliated, and after a week of gossip and headlines she felt forced to release a statement denying the story, saying it was “disappointing”, “simply not true” and that she’d found all the attention “very hurtful”. Ouch.
There were reports that the subsequent ill feeling had thrown the whole tour into jeopardy (Mel, in turn, has been furious about the insinuation she lied), although Geri has insisted she’s still looking forward to having an “amazing time” and “making some new memories”. So, um, what was that all about?
Emma’s blue eyes widen, her lips purse and her face tightens. She lets out a little squeak. Her team had warned ahead of the interview not to ask about this at all, but come on: what did she make of Mel’s indiscretion?
Another squeak. And then a very firm “move on” by her publicist. Emma has always managed to dodge controversy and she’s not about to start rocking any boats now – unlike Mel, who is used to being at the centre of media storms.
Last November Mel published her memoir Brutally Honest, detailing the emotional and physical abuse she claims she suffered at the hands of ex-husband Stephen Belafonte. She wrote about the years she spent feeling under his control, the drug use to blot out her pain and her suicide attempt in 2014 just days before the X Factor final.
Emma says she never realised and was horrified to discover the extent of the alleged abuse.
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“I read the book and… I was just very shocked,” she says softly. “Heartbroken, actually. I cried as I read it because it was incredibly painful to learn that your friend has gone through that and dealt with it on her own. It must have been so difficult for her.”
Emma did have concerns about Stephen, but Mel had become very good at hiding everything from even those closest to her.
“There were lots of time that I reached out to her, but [victims] often keep things to themselves. I remember spending some time with her a few years ago filming the X Factor judges’ houses over a couple of days, and we just sat and chatted for a bit.
"I was trying to see if she was OK really and asking her lots of questions, but I think she was very guarded at that point. And although I [suspected], I had no idea how bad things were.”
Mel and Stephen eventually divorced in 2017, and she has been rebuilding her life ever since – she has said that the marriage left her in financial dire straits, with less than £800 in the bank.
The tour, which is set to net each band member over £2million, will give her a much-needed lifeline.
“She’s in such a brilliant place now, which is why I think it’s so lovely that we’re going on to do this,” says Emma.
“Being on stage is where we feel happiest and I love looking to the left and right of me and seeing my girls.”
I cried as I read it because it was incredibly painful to learn that your friend has gone through that and dealt with it on her own. It must have been so difficult for her
Having said that, it’s no small wonder that the tour is happening at all. The band reunited as a five-piece in 2007, and then again in 2012 for the Olympics closing ceremony, but since then, while there had been plenty of whispers, nothing came to fruition.
Emma, who has made no secret of her desire to get the group back together, must have started to doubt they’d ever make it work.
“It was very stop and start. It’s a big thing to commit to as mothers.
"You have to create, rehearse and tour, and as a mum it can be hard to find the time. It had to be right for everyone, and this was the right time.”
Three years ago, with Victoria Beckham a definite “hell no”, Mel C backed out as well, declaring it all or nothing, and for a while it looked like Geri, Emma and Mel B might instead form a trio dubbed GEM. But then came reports that Mel C was threatening legal action if that went ahead, and Geri became pregnant with her son Monty, now two, and those plans fell by the wayside, too.
“GEM was never really going to happen,” says Emma. “The three of us did this thank you message to fans and people thought: ‘Oh, it’s Geri, Emma and Mel.’ I just remember it all running wild and we were like: ‘Hold on a minute!’ It went a bit crazy.”
She admits, though, that without the persistence of herself and Mel B it wouldn’t have got off the ground at all. Geri and Mel C took some convincing.
“I’ve always been very open about wanting to do more stuff with the girls, and Mel B’s always been like: ‘We’re gonna do this!’ We’ve been the ones who have been very willing to get this going and so we’ve maybe given them a little push.”
The fact it’s accidentally coinciding with the release of Emma’s fourth solo album, her first after a 12-year break from music, is a sign of how unexpected the reunion was. She recently quit her five-year breakfast gig at Heart FM (she still presents a Sunday show), which has helped ease the burden, but life is still rather busy right now.
“There’s loads going on, but weirdly it feels like doing both has made things less [stressful].”
The album – My Happy Place – is a ‘60s-inspired mix of old and new and has been a collaborative two-year process involving family and friends. It features the voices of eldest son Beau on Here Comes The Sun as well as duets with partner of 21 years Jade Jones (You’re All I Need To Get By), Will Young (I Only Want To Be With You) and a joyful slice of ‘90s heaven with Robbie Williams on a stripped-back version of the Spice classic 2 Become 1.
It’s such a special, magical time, having kids, and I didn’t want to run away and miss it all
Former Damage star turned chef Jade, 40, did the vocal arrangements for the album, and the video for the first single Baby Please Don’t Stop shows Emma’s children Beau, 11, and Tate, who turns eight next month, proudly watching their mum perform the track in front of the cameras.
“I did feel nervous getting back into music because you just never know,” she admits. “It’s something I love but time runs away with you. When someone said it had been 12 years I didn’t believe them. I was like: ‘No way, it can’t be that long!’ But yeah, children and life take over.
“It’s such a special, magical time, having kids, and I didn’t want to run away and miss it all.”
Of all the Spices, it’s arguably Emma who has emerged from fame, fortune and life in the spotlight the most unscathed. She has seemingly avoided the personal crises, relationship heartbreaks, eating disorders and mental health issues that have affected Geri, 46, Mel C, 45, Victoria, 44, and Mel B, 43. She’s a calming presence, utterly secure in herself and with no evidence of ego or hang-ups.
“I was at Sylvia Young Theatre School from a young age,” she says. “So I grew up in that industry. But my family has been such a big deal to me and they are my priority. Obviously I think: ‘Wow, this is all fab,’ but it kind of comes and goes.
“This [she gestures around the plush room in the private members’ club we’re sitting in] is not something I rely on. I rely on my family and friends. My job is what I do and I think it’s lovely and special, but my family and friends – that’s reality. That’s what I go home to.
“Especially with the Spice Girls – if you take too much from that then you get a very big head. And when it’s not there then you become very down. So I just feel that it’s important to balance everything out.”
Jade has been Emma’s constant, and her face softens at the mention of his name. To still have that effect after so long together is really quite something.
“Oh, he’s the dream. I still pinch myself. He’s just helpful and supportive, and we laugh together, and he’s been a really good friend as well. I do feel very lucky. And he’s lucky too, mind! We’ve got a great relationship.”
Last month she was papped at Enfield Registry Office, apparently giving notice of intent to marry following an eight-year engagement. So does that mean there will be a wedding this year?
“We’d love to and I’ve said it before, but we’re terrible at organising things. We’d want to do it really privately.”
Jade wants more babies, and I'd love it, too
She emphasises the word. It must have been frustrating for news of wedding plans to leak. It would be wholly out of character for Emma to express irritation, but she considers this for a second and grimaces.
“Yeah, it was actually,” she says. “We’d like to do it for our children and families, but it has to be as private as possible. But then again, we both understand that we’re in this industry, so of course these things happen. I just feel very settled and know where I’m heading. Apart from, in all honesty, Jade wants more babies…”
She smiles when we encourage her to go for it.
“Do you think? My mum says: ‘Oh, go on!’ as well. And Beau is like: ‘Please, can we have another baby?’ Jade talks about it constantly. I’d love it, too. The baby chapter is never closed with me so we’ll see.”
Time you cried?
I cry all the time. This morning it was because I was late!
TV show you loved?
Celebs Go Dating is so funny, mainly because of Rob Beckett.
Documentary you watched?
Bros: After The Screaming Stops. I was in love with Matt when I was younger.
Movie you watched?
Bohemian Rhapsody. I loved it.
Podcast you listened to?
I never do. I pretend to but I actually don’t!
Time you lost your temper?
I lost it with myself because I burned salmon in the oven.
Passionate kiss you had?
Me and Jade are the people being told to get a room. The kids are like: “Eugh, stop it!"
Time you were drunk?
Jade’s 40th in February.
DM you received?
From Dawn French after I was on Dermot’s Radio 2 show.
There are tentative plans to tour My Happy Place later this year. Emma has also celebrated the second birthday of her eco-friendly baby range Kit & Kin, and recently returned from the States where she hosted The Great American Baking Show.
So it’s not all about the Spice Girls. Although it really kind of is.“I know my legs will go to jelly on that first night,” she says. “Taking all that in when we go on is going to be incredible. I remember the last tour and it was like magic. It just hits you and runs through your body.”
There will be no Victoria, though, despite rumours that she’s set to make a surprise appearance at one of the shows.
“No. She is so supportive, but I don’t think that will be happening.”
Victoria is on the girls’ WhatsApp group, but when asked if they still consider themselves a five, Emma says not any more.
“I’d say we feel very comfortable now, the four of us. We’ve definitely become the four of us and we’re very excited about that. I literally can’t wait.”
- My Happy Place is out now
- Hair: Craig Marsden at One Represents using Balmain and Milk + Blush
- Make-up: Lan Nguyen-Grealis at Eighteen Management using Mac
- Styling: Nana Acheampong
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