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Tuesday 25 June 2019

Ginger nuts and Sporty types: meet Ireland's Spice Girls superfans

As Girl Power gets ready to sweep through Croke Park tomorrow, Tanya Sweeney meets the group's Irish devotees looking to revisit a golden time in their childhood

Spice Girls superfan Dáirne Black was seven years old when she first got into the Spice Girls. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Spice Girls superfan Dáirne Black was seven years old when she first got into the Spice Girls. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

Tanya Sweeney

When Dáirne Black realised that the Spice Girls were opening their highly anticipated world tour in at Croke Park Dublin, she knew she owed it to her seven-year-old self to be there, front row and centre.

But, given that the tickets were in high demand and eventually sold out within minutes, it was a tense moment when they finally went on sale.

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"I was in work and came in early especially, and had the site open on my desktop and phone," she recalls. "I worked near enough to a Ticketmaster at the time so I sprinted down there and bought two Golden Circle tickets (at around €400). They're probably the only band I would pay that much money to see."

As a seven-year-old in South Dublin, Dáirne was immediately taken with the Spice Girls' "colour and energy" from the get-go. After clocking 'Wannabe' on the now-defunct Live & Kicking, there followed a frenzy of buying memorabilia and slavishly learning the band's dance moves.

"They were a girl gang I just wanted to be part of," she recalls. "There weren't that many other girl bands around at the time, and I just remember identifying with them all. At age seven, they made me feel like I could take on the world. I'm so glad I got to them at the age I did because they were so fundamental in giving me confidence.

Screenwriter/author Lisa Carey, meanwhile, is such a dedicated fan of the band that she is flying to Dublin from her base in LA in order to catch the world tour opener.

"I'd still point to a Spice Girls concert as among the best craic with a gang of pals. It's unapologetic fun pop," she notes.

"Honestly, I don't think they themselves anticipated the phenomenon they created," she adds. "You've got to hand it to them - regardless of whether or not they were products of a genius marketing machine in the right place at the right time, the Spice Girls and what they stood for - girl power, friendship and individuality - caught on like wildfire globally. Their 'be you for you' message seriously resonated with girls at a time when no one else was doing it."

Spice Girls
Spice Girls

Cometh the hour tonight, Lisa and her best friend, fellow author Caroline Grace-Cassidy, will be "in the pit, shamelessly singing and dancing like lunatics".

The two also recently wrote a book together, Bride Squad Runaway, published next week, in which the Spice Girls feature heavily; the perfect opportunity to indulge their mutual fandom.

Recalling her own first impressions of the Spice Girls, Caroline (44) echoes the sentiment of several other fans: "From the moment I heard 'Wannabe' in 1996, I was hooked on their message to women. I adored their attitude; it was a little anarchic. I'd been slightly bold through school, so I related to how they were in interviews - I loved how they didn't toe the line.

"In hindsight, they were very much part of my recognising feminism - the value of female friendship, sisters before misters, pinching the bottoms of Royals, and being an equal."

Author Caroline Grace-Cassidy
Author Caroline Grace-Cassidy

Herein lies the evergreen appeal of the Spice Girls; they rose - nay, kung-fu kicked - to power during a perfect cultural and political storm in the mid-90s.

It was a time when the world's eyes were trained on Cool Britannia. From its jazzy new Blairite politics to the cheeky Britpop craze, England couldn't put a cultural foot wrong.

Yet the pop landscape, curiously enough, was a barren no man's land. For a while, celebrity and fandom had taken a backseat, but BoyZone and Take That had ousted the faceless likes of acid house ravers like 808 State and The Shamen from the top of the charts. Still, female role models were thin on the ground. Even Kylie was having a strangely fallow moment where her attempts at being an indie princess fell flat. The landscape needed a slash of lippy and a heap of fun.

At the same time, an interesting moment in sexual politics was afoot. Germaine Greer noted that feminists were starting to see the potential in the word 'girl': used not as a term of derision, but as a weapon. The industry was thirsty for popstars who were embracing not just ladette culture, but new feminism.

In this respect, the Spice Girls had it all: bravado, the all-potent 'girl power' tagline, a hefty slash of playful, accessible glamour. They were every girl you went to school with; from the mad one who was always in detention (Scary) to the already-going-to-nightclubs one (Ginger) to the aloof, popular one (Posh).

Yet their 'friendship never ends' motto has taken a serious kick to the shins down the years.

Due to differences within the group - primarily, it was reported, with Mel B - Geri Horner left in 1998. In 2015, Mel B turned her sharp tongue on Victoria, slamming her as a "bit of a bitch". She then sparked a feud with Melanie C, who put paid to anniversary reunion plans by refusing to rejoin the group for a nostalgia tour. And then, of course, there has been the more recent fallout with the revelation that Geri and Mel B enjoyed a brief fling at the height of their pop powers.

"Some stuff came out about fights, but I never let it taint my love of them," says Dáirne.

Yet others weren't quite as forgiving at the band's apparent volte face.

"I believe the aspirations and attitudes of these five women go hand-in-hand with the decline of our culture over the past decade," wrote novelist Fay Weldon. "Girl Power was a sham, and its five proponents nothing more than desperate wannabes, desperate for a quick fix of fame. Their singable, suggestive lyrics took away the innocence of the playground. And it's never coming back."

Yet for a generation of young women, the Spice Girls' glamour and unabashed fun of it all was like a Trojan horse for feminism. For their young fans, feminism (long before they even knew what feminism was) was accessible and fun; nothing to be scared of.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the band's movie Spice World, where Ginger scares off a potential suitor by mentioning the dreaded f-word ('feminism'). As he runs away, the ladies laugh him off-screen, and girls everywhere saw that men who are scared of strong women are simply not worth the time.

In the same way that their images gave young women permission to wear whatever the wanted, their lyrics reminded women that they could kiss and sleep with whomever they wanted too (albeit with a safe sex caveat, in '2 Become 1').

Whether the Spice Girls blazed a trail for the likes of Rihanna and Beyonce to enjoy a comfortable ride in their slipstream, or milked their girl power USP for all its worth, the jury is still out.

But there's no doubting that when it comes to many young girl's first brush with Scary, Posh, Ginger, Baby and Sporty, fandom never ends.

"Lisa and I have warned each other that we may lose all control when the girls step out on stage," says Caroline. "If you need a mental image, think Beatlemania. I'm expecting to be transported back to the 90s on soft Buffalo shoes."

The Spice Girls play Croke Park tomorrow night (May 24). For more details of the tour, see thespicegirls.com.

Irish Independent

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