Baby Come Back: Grazia Speaks Excusively To Emma Bunton

This week marks 20 years since the Spice Girls released Wannabe - and began their ascent to world domination. To celebrate, Grazia's Joe Stone grilled Emma Bunton on friendship, fighting and that fling with Justin Timberlake...

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by Grazia |
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Nelson Mandela famously claimed that the Spice Girls were his heroes and meeting you was the ‘greatest moment of his life’ (Emma responded ‘Of course it was! He met the Spice Girls!’). Looking back, do moments like that feel surreal?

It was just unbelievable. It never became normal, doing those kind of things, we always really appreciated it. There were so many moments, meeting Madonna, my mum going to get a tattoo with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers – Bizarre! Prince came to a show and then came backstage and said ‘I’ve just watched your show, you sang live, I’m so proud of you!’ I wish I’d kept a diary to remember it all, it all went so fast but it was an incredible time.

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Are there bits that you’ve completely forgotten about until the other girls mention them?

Yes! Geri mentioned the other day that right at the beginning Virgin were saying they weren’t sure if Wannabe should be the first single. And Geri and me were like ‘it absolutely will!’ I’d forgotten that.

Do you think that people underestimate how in control you were? You were obviously put together, but you left your first managers and had co-written lots of the songs before you even signed with Simon Fuller, who was painted as a Svengali figure…

100%. We’d written practically the first album before. People forget that, they go ‘what? You wrote the songs?’ but there’s only so much you can bang on about it. We were very strong in everything we did, we had ideas for videos, wrote the songs, we did all of that ourselves.

I remember Geri saying you once worked for a full year without a day off, that must have been quite tough?

I was such a family girl, and being so young, it was quite difficult being away from home so much, but I had the girls – they were my rock. It was crazy on the outside, but the centre of it was quite calm. We looked after each other, hugely. We never really let anyone in; we were very solid as a five of us. Even now Jade, my other half, says ‘it’s so incredible when you five are in a room. It’s almost like you’re being pushed back from the force of it’. Because of what we went through together, there’s a bond between us that no one else will understand. We might not see each other for months, but if I need one of them, they’ll be there in a minute.

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Photographs by Peter Pedonomou ©

Several of the girls battled eating disorders, and Mel C has talked about suffering with depression – why do you think you emerged from that mad period relatively unscathed?

I honestly don’t know. The main thing for me was having a great, supportive family. I saw how hard they worked to send me to classes and buy me tap shoes, and that kept me grounded. Going to theatre school at ten meant I had lots of knockbacks early on and learnt not to take criticism to heart.

Cynics called Girl Power a gimmick, how seriously did you take it as a philosophy?

Very. My mum is a very strong female, who went back to college at 40, and was a black belt in karate - she was my influence. Because of her I thought, I could do anything.

Are you glad that your fame came before the advent of social media?

Yes, absolutely. I remember the first time someone took a picture of me on a camera phone in a club, and it was frightening. A lot of what happened in the Spice Girls stayed in the Spice Girls. I’m glad we had that room.

All Saints famously split up arguing over a jacket. Can you remember the silliest argument that you had?

I’m sure we had arguments over clothes we wanted to wear for videos, or who was getting their hair done next, but we stuck together. We knew we couldn’t really have those big arguments. We didn’t have time!

Obviously the darkest hour was when Geri left. As the band was built of friendship, how did it feel for her to walk away?

I was so close to Geri – she was like my older sister. I didn’t think about anything else other than ‘oh, I’m going to miss my friend who looks after me!’. It took a while to forgive her. We probably didn’t speak for about a year.

How had the dynamic in the group changed by the time you did the 2007 reunion?

We were all much calmer. I think when you have children your priorities change. The first time went so fast that this time round I thought ‘I’m going to take all of this in, and make sure I love every second of this,’ and I really did.

What do your kids make of it all?

Music isn’t my eldest’s thing but my youngest Tate, who is 5, is absolutely obsessed with the Spice Girls. I’m not his favourite though, he likes Geri.

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You’ve recently been back in the studio with Geri and Mel B – is it true that you’re coming back as a trio?

What happened is that Mel came over from LA and it was just the perfect opportunity to have a bit of a laugh and reconnect.

Is there a song?

No. But I think our fans deserve for us to celebrate [the 20th anniversary] in some way with them. Whether that’s having a party or whatever, really. They’ve been so loyal and so committed, just as a thank you.

Can we finish with some rumours? First, that you were having an affair with Simon Fuller.

Not true. There was a rumour about Dennis Rodman and me, and I’d never met the man in my whole life!

That Mel B and Geri were romantically involved at some point…

I’m sure we’ve all kissed once in a while but no, nothing more than that.

That you and Justin Timberlake had a fling…

I’m going to say no comment [laughs.]

CREDITS:

Photos: Matrix, Photoshot, Capital Pictures

Styling: Jane Taylor-Hayhurst

Hair & Makeup: Christian Vermack

READ MORE: Spice Girls’ Reunion Plans Are Off As Talks Break Down

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