Their show-stopping performance at the London Olympics confirmed that, 17 years after they burst onto the scene with debut single Wannabe, there’s still an insatiable public interest in the Spice Girls as a fivesome.
Away from the group, though, their fortunes have been mixed. Tellingly, ‘Sporty Spice’ Melanie C is the only Spice Girl who’s released any new solo music in the past seven years.
The past 18 months have been the most prolific of her career: first came a stellar pop-rock album of original material, The Sea, then a surprise dance EP recorded in collaboration with London drag DJ Jodie Harsh, and finally a covers album, Stages.
She’s also broadened her horizons of late to include a childhood dream, performing in musical theatre. A 2009 stint in Blood Brothers was met with critical acclaim, and she’s now back on stage playing one of the most famous women in theatre – Jesus Christ Superstar’s Mary Magdalene.
Aussie fans eager to see the arena spectacular when it tours in May might be surprised to learn that her entry into the production was via unusual means. Before she was offered the part, she sat on the judging panel for Superstar, a televised search to find the next Jesus (Ben Forster was the winner – he’ll play the role in the Australian tour).
“I was really trying to influence the public to vote for him,” a jetlagged but ever-gracious Melanie C told the Star Observer.
“Fundamentally it’s about the vocal and the acting ability, because Jesus is such a hard role to play. But then, because I’m going to be spending a lot of time with this guy – I’m going to be washing his feet! – I had to like the person and think I could spend a lot of time with them,” she said.
The singer’s leap from pop to musical theatre has been remarkably seamless – she wasn’t dubbed ‘Talented Spice’ for nothing. Was she nervous about making the change?
“I didn’t give it too much thought because I didn’t go into it for accolades or acclaim, it was more a personal challenge. I thought to myself, ‘If I work hard, I reckon I can do a decent job of it’. Then it all went crazy – we got five-star reviews and award nominations. It just felt really nice, because it would’ve been easy for the knives to be out for a Spice Girl in the West End.”
Melanie C will be based in Australia for a month for the Superstar tour, and plans to bring four-year-old daughter Scarlet along for the ride. She’s a single mum now, having split from Scarlet’s father – and her partner of a decade – Thomas Starr last year.
Unlike some of the other Spice Girls – the tabloid juggernaut that is Posh n’ Becks, or Melanie B’s very public babydaddy dramas – Melanie C’s managed to keep her private life out of the tabloids.
“You make those decisions quite early on, and unfortunately, if you make the decision to use your private life as currency, you can’t turn back. If the media still find you interesting, you’re going to be splashed across the front pages whether you like it or not,” she mused.
“I’m not saying they would’ve been interested anyway – there’s much more interesting Spice Girls than me!”
The Star Observer wondered if Melanie could fit in a solo show during her Superstar commitments down under, an idea she instantly warmed to (“I think I need to chat up some of the Superstar band and see if they’d be up for doing a little something. Keep it simple, nice and acoustic…”). While that’ll be music to the ears of many fans, there were other more grandiose tour rumours we needed to enquire about: radio host Jackie O recently took time out from her busy schedule of sighing ineffectually at Kyle Sandilands to reveal an ‘inside source’ had told her the Spice Girls would soon tour Australia.
“Well, we do get together and hang out and talk about the possibilities of doing something. And the last time we toured, we didn’t get here. We talk about it a lot, but it’s not as if it’s happening…yet,” Melanie said, measuring her words carefully.
“We still feel bad we never made it here last time, so if we tour again, we will be here – and that is a promise.”
That she was even able to give that promise shows just how far she’s come since the Spice Girls sputtered to a stop as a Geri-less four-piece back in 2000. Post-Spice, her relationship to the group’s legacy seemed to mirror the public mood: from disinterest and occasionally outright contempt in those initial lean years when being a Spice Girls fan was a dirty word, to an affectionate if slightly ironic embrace in recent years.
“It was a very personal thing for me, because towards the end of my time with Spice Girls I was very unhappy. I was only young and I wanted to break free and have people see me, not a Spice Girl,” she said.
“I had to have that moment of rebellion, and then I had to get over myself so I could realise being a Spice Girl is the best thing in the world.”
MELANIE C POP QUIZ
“I’m really proud of Reason, and Here It Comes Again (both from 2002’s Reason). Not a great album – I think it’s one of my weakest – but what great songs!”
Favourite Spice Girls song
“Used to be Too Much – I love Goodbye as well – but since the Olympics it’s Spice Up Your Life.”
Favourite song by another Spice Girl
“Emma’s What Took You So Long.”
Favourite girl group other than the Spice Girls
“Girls Aloud. And All Saints!”
Dream musical role
“Eva Peron in Evita.”
Time for a little word association
Melanie B: “Scary!”
Emma Bunton: “Loyal.”
Geri Halliwell: “Crazy.”
Victoria Beckham: “Sophisticated.”
Jesus: “Da man!”
Mary Magdalene: “Very much a role model to me. A tough lady.”