The Spice Girls' great escape
IN THE days leading up to the betrayal, Chris Herbert could sense a strange atmosphere surrounding the girls. He knew something was going on, but couldn't quite figure it out.
He didn't know it yet, but at 23 years old, he was about to be doublecrossed.
Melanie Brown, Melanie Chisholm, Emma Bunton, Geri Halliwell and Victoria Beckham were ready. After answering an advertisement in showbiz trade newspaper The Stage, seeking young wannabes to form an all-girl pop group nearly a year earlier, they knew it was time.
They were about to embark on a carefully planned, yet ambitious journey; one that would steer them toward a path of fame and fortune.
The Spice Girls.
But first, there was deceit to be had.
It was 1994. A young Herbert had convinced his father, Bob, along with financial backer Chick Murphy, to finance his quest to reinvent the all-girl group.
At the time, Take That and East 17 was enjoying huge success across the world, and Herbert felt like he could capitalise on the gap in the market: Women.
The girls, who called themselves "Spice" at the time (derived from the song Sugar and Spice), were put on a development program and moved into a house they shared in Maidenhead, Berkshire. It's here where bonds would be formed and all hell would break loose. Herbert described it as a "teenage hell hole".
Mel B (then a brash 19-year-old) and Mel C (20) shared a room, Victoria (20) and Emma (18) in another, and Geri (22) by herself in a tiny closet ("no one can live with me and I need my space," she said at the time).
Mel B and Geri were famously hot and cold. They would often fight.
The girls were given a weekly wage towards food and keep, but money was tight.
Insecurity plagued the group for those first few months. On top of uncertainty over the lack of a contract, they weren't sure about their voices; how high or how low they could go. The basic techniques escaped them.
Victoria found it the most difficult being part of the gang because of her middle class status. The other girls had working class family backgrounds and Victoria was more ... sophisticated.
"When all the banter was going on, when Mel B in particular shot off her absolute foul mouth, you could see it really did jar on Victoria," Herbert told news.com.au.
Herbert and co made it clear the five weren't necessarily the final line up; the men wanted to "take their time" to get the formula together. They thought this style of management would keep the girls in line, on their toes, always hungry and with always something to prove.
But it would only cause more fractions, and the girls were ready to fly the coop.
In those fateful few days, the girls would carry on their every daily activities, which was predominantly rehearsing and recording.
"We were drilling four songs to try and get them to a point where you could put them in a rehearsal room and they could perform to any person in the industry with dynamic and great energy that would win people over," Mr Herbert told news.com.au.
By that stage, they had already started recording. Wannabe was written and Two Become One was in the making.
"We'd all jump in a car and drive over to Shoreditch (in London's East End) where (songwriter and producer) Richard "Biff" Stannard's studios were, that's where Wannabe had come together," Mr Herbert explained.
In October 1994, armed with a catalogue of demos and dance routines, they began to plan their escape.
Geri knew the group was destined for bigger and better things. She knew how to work the room, seek out the people that mattered, make them feel special - and she made it work to her advantage every single time. She was the most irritating, but those that knew her admired for her strength of character.
At that point, influential people in the music industry outside of their management were telling them they had value. And in the space of months, the tables turned.
They persuaded Herbert senior, Bob, to hold a "showcase" in December 1994, which would introduce the girls to industry insiders. They received such a positive reaction from writers and producers, the Herberts quickly set about locking them into a contract.
But it was too little, too late.
The tide turned in March 1995 when the girls put their plan in action.
There had been discussion about what to do and how to do it. The girls knew they needed extra writers and producers on board, so they asked Herbert for the number of a well known writer by the name of Eliot Kennedy, whom they had met at the showcase a few months earlier.
"They wanted Eliot's number and I wouldn't give it to them until we had sorted out what was going on within the camp," Herbert explained.
Frustrated, the girls set off. It was now or never.
They kicked off the plan with a huge "argument" between the girls.
Geri and Mel B went back to the house in Maidenhead and the others went back to their respective homes.
They told Herbert they had gone in different directions to "cool off", but little did he know, it was all a rouse.
They took off with their master recordings (a financial settlement with Herbert was worked out behind the scenes later) and Geri and Mel B set off in Geri's barely legal Fiat to track down Kennedy.
The pair made the drive up to Sheffield, rung up every studio in town, tracked down Eliot and turned up on his doorstep. It was this decision that would change their lives forever.
Herbert, though, was left in the dark, bitter and broken up.
"Obviously I now know the fight was all a bit staged. It wasn't really an argument between them, it was a way of kind of trying to cool off the next week's activities," Herbert explained.
"We had to our knowledge trouble in the camp, and we had this writing and recording session lined up with Eliot."
"When the girls left, I didn't want to let the cat out of the bag with Eliot. He was one of our key writers that I really wanted on board.
"I rung Eliot and said, 'the girls have come down with the flu. They won't be able to make the writing session', which was in the next couple of days time.
"Eliot was cool about it, he said, 'that's no problem, if the situation changes let us know the outcome'.
"I'd been trying to get a hold of the girls, I couldn't track them down and then I found out they'd left the house with all their belongings."
The morning of the scheduled session with Eliot, Herbert had heard nothing from the girls. He had to delay. Had to come up with a plan.
"I rung Eliot the morning they were meant to be up there. I said, 'Eliot, look, the girls are still not well and they're not going to make the session'.
"Eliot said, 'OK, fine, I'll call you back'.
The next call would change the course of history.
"Eliot called me back a couple of hours later. He said, 'look, I'm actually sitting here with Mel B and Geri right now'.
"So that was that. I ended up with egg on my face."
"I had a couple of conversations with Mel B and Geri and they were feeling very smug with themselves and very empowered.
"The last words that Mel B said to me were, 'see you, wouldn't wanna be you', and we put the phone down."
That same month, the girls were signed to Simon Fuller's management team.
Herbert was devastated.
"In the immediate aftermath of it I was hurt. I was hurt like a friend had betrayed me. A girlfriend had left me. It was that kind of a hurt, not bitterness. I was kind of like their older brother at that time.
"We were all doing a bit of growing up and learning and all that sort of stuff. I wish I'd been more forceful with the contracts."
But for Herbert, the Spice Girls' success opened up every door in the industry, despite his mistakes. He met Simon Cowell and the pair began a working relationship. A new band was formed: 5ive.
A year passed. The girls had found huge success off the back of Wannabe and Say You'll Be There had just been released. The girls, and Herbert, found themselves meeting for the first time since the split.
Their first words were "fine", according to Herbert. "It was just congratulations and every thing else."
"I didn't feel bitter, I felt proud that these were my girls. I was proud of the fact that my concept had worked and for me it quickly turned into a great opportunity for me."
"It was kind of nice meeting back up with them on a level. I had a new band and we were riding high with their success. Every time I see them they are charming and lovely. They're like long lost friends. We're all really, really close."
"We spent some really special times together. That's not going to go away."
But he says of his biggest lesson in the biz: "I treat all our artists as mutual partners now. Their has to be a mutual understanding and trust and respect right from the get go because it's as much to make them feel secure as it is to make me feel secure.
"Whether it's business or personal you put down some terms, don't you?"
- Chris Herbert is in Australia touring with B*Witched, Atomic Kitten and S Club 3. For Australian tour details, visit metropolistouring.com.