“You do get to a stage where you go, ‘Can I do that again?’” Emma Bunton admits, perched on a sofa in the back room of a private member’s club in central London.
More than 21 years since Spice Mania first captivated the world, it remains a surreal experience speaking with someone you spent your childhood listening to on the radio, seeing on your television screen every single day, and munching through Walker’s cheese and chive-flavoured crisps with their smiling face emblazoned across the packet. But true to her Baby Spice persona, Emma is immediately welcoming, warm and bursting with positivity.
“That’s why I love this album,” she continues, “because it’s been such a natural progression.” The album we are talking about, of course, is Emma’s first new collection of solo material since 2006’s Life in Mono. As if reuniting with the Spice Girls (minus Posh) for a series of huge shows this summer hasn’t filled up her diary enough, Emma will first release My Happy Place this April – an album of covers in her trademark 60s-pop style, along with a couple of brand new original tracks.
For fans of Baby Spice’s solo material, this new project has been a long time coming. Since 2006, there’s been the first huge reunion tour with the Spice Girls in 2007/08, as well as the iconic London 2012 Olympics Closing Ceremony performance. But with motherhood being her main focus, she resided in London, doing stints on various TV shows and becoming a Heart radio presenter – which ultimately led to an impromptu duet with Lady Gaga on social media. “We were singing a little bit before that and then we sang 2 Become 1,” Emma says. “It was magic. I’m a huge fan of Gaga, so it was really incredible.”
But with this new Spice era coming, she felt it was the right opportunity to put her creative ideas down in the studio. This album, Baby explains, is filled with songs that are incredibly personal to her. Here Comes The Sun, for instance, was playing when she gave birth to one of her sons. For years, both her son and her mother have asked her to record the song for them.
But it was actually a fellow British popstar who first inspired her to get back into music. “About three years ago, Robbie Williams asked me to go do a song at one of his shows and I was like, ‘Oh okay…’ We sang 2 Become 1 and I got so many messages on Twitter and Instagram and the support was lovely,” she says. “Then I thought, ‘I’d quite like to record that with Robbie.’”
Was it hard to get hold of him to get him involved with the project? “Oh I just emailed him!” Emma smiles. “We always have banter and I love his wife, so I was just like, ‘Hey, fancy recording this?’ He said, ‘Absolutely!’ He was wonderful and he’s very professional. I was gutted because he was in LA at the time and so he recorded there and I did my bit here, so we didn’t get to record it together. He would then email me again being like, ‘Is it alright? Do you need me to do anything else?’”
With the first couple of tracks decided on, Emma then started to contemplate writing original material again. It was at this point she turned to her producer Brian Rawling, and her partner Jade Jones. “I’m lyrical and good with melodies, and Jade is very good at listening to the production and working on the music,” says Emma. “We’re both very different. So he was in the studio with me a lot. They were like, ‘Go and see what happens and have fun with it.’ I was like, ‘I’m a bit nervous.’ But I went in and just started doing a few bits and it felt really good. Somehow when I write lyrics and melodies, it’s all very 60s. It has that feel about it. It’s what I love. I co-wrote Baby Please Don’t Stop and Too Many Teardrops, and I’m really pleased with them.”
There’s also her new duet with Will Young on the Dusty Springfield classic I Only Want to Be with You. “He came in the studio and I’m not joking, we got nothing done for probably about five hours because we were chatting away,” she laughs. When they finally got to work, the result, Emma says, gave her “goosebumps”. “I think, personally, his voice is really beautiful,” she says. “That song, I recorded it and did it at the same tempo as it was originally and just thought, ‘I really just want to slow it down and make it a bit more me.’ It felt like it needed to be a duet, so I was thinking about who could do it and immediately Will was perfect.”
Now, when you get to speak with an actual Spice Girl you cannot – and must not – pass the opportunity to clear up a bit of pop lore. It’s no secret that the Spice Girls have an incredibly passionate LGBTQ fan base – one that has loyally stuck with them over the past 21 years. In their 90s heyday they were ferocious advocates of the community, and have been throughout the whole of their career. This very fact has led some to speculate about a lyric change in different versions of 2 Become 1.
The story goes that after originally recording the lyric “Any deal that we endeavour/boys and girls feel good together” on the album version of 2 Become 1, they felt like they needed to adjust that line as to not alienate their LGBTQ fans. A new single version – which they perform in the official music video and on stage – instead goes: “Once again if we endeavour/love will bring us back together.”
When we mention the online debate around the lyric change to Emma, her eyes light up. “We changed the lyrics in a hotel,” she smiles, recalling the memory. “We were travelling and we were like, ‘Absolutely, it needs to be changed.’ We felt like it needed to be more inclusive.”
It will come as little surprise that Emma goes on to credit the LGBTQ community for “100 percent” influencing the Spice Girls’ music in other ways too. “You notice that support – it’s just incredible,” she says. “Thank goodness we’re living at a time where everyone is supporting each other so much more now. I feel so thankful to them – when I write or when I perform, it feels on such a more open, different level. It’s so much more inclusive and special. Whenever you do G-A-Y there’s just this energy from the crowd that is like no other. You can ask any artist that plays there, it’s just so special.”
When the Spice Girls took pop culture by storm in 1996, they brought with them the biggest social statement of that decade: Girl Power. Their fierceness and fearlessness to challenge the patriarchy won them legions of fans and inspired a whole generation of girls and women to speak up and stand up for equality. It’s a sentiment that certainly wasn’t lost on the LGBTQ community either.
The core mission statement to take back power and demand equality resonated with LGBTQ liberation. It was something the Spice Girls recognised and are proud of, and it’s a sentiment that is again needed now more than ever. “We were talking the other day, and of course everything evolves and grows,” Emma says. “It will always be Girl Power for us, but it’s also about people power. People coming together and supporting each other. We feel like we want to evolve with that. We’re coming together now thank goodness, and we want everyone to be inclusive. That’s so important to us.”
That’s why, when tickets for a series of new Spice Girls shows went on sale earlier this year, unsurprisingly the demand was overwhelming. Three sold out shows at Wembley Stadium in London is no minor feat. While nostalgia naturally plays a huge part in the enduring appeal of the Spice Girls and their music, Emma also puts it down in part to the current political climate and a want for people to come together during such a divisive time. “At the moment I find it really frustrating because everything feels like everyone has different opinions and its uncomfortable,” she says. “When the tickets went on sale it was like, this is going to be a gathering of everyone coming back together, watching the show and having a bloody good time.” Girl Power is a timeless message, we suggest. “It is and it feels like that now. It’s not been easy, but slowly and surely it’s moving onwards and forwards. We just want to open those doors and support each other, bring people up, and grow together.”
So how are preparations for the Summer of Spice going? “We haven’t started rehearsing yet,” Emma admits. “There’s loads going on behind the scenes. We’re doing so much stuff business-wise.” She has, however, spent two days in the studio with the dancers for the tour. “I couldn’t get enough of it. It was a dream for me,” she says. “The talent we have is incredible and I’m just so proud that we’re going to have these amazing dancers.”
As you can imagine, details around exactly what we can expect from these new Spice Girls shows are under lock and key. We’re told the setlist has been decided on, but beyond that Emma resists giving anything away. So what about this new animated movie that Spice manager Simon Fuller teased earlier this year? Emma stops. “Yeah, in fact I haven’t told anyone else this…” She looks to her publicist for permission to continue, and is given it. “So for the last three days myself, Geri and Mel C have been literally holed up in a room just chatting about that with a few people,” she continues. “It’s been great actually. It’s weird going over everything that we’ve done right from the beginning. It’s very exciting. I think the animation will be really fun. Again, we’re creating and writing bits…”
The prospect of a new Spice Girls movie is an exciting one for fans – many of who still watch 1997’s Spice World on a rainy weekend to this day. It also continues to open up that world to a new legion of fans who may not have even been born when the first film was released. “There’s a whole new generation,” Emma says. “That’s the reason I want to do it because of my kids. They are so into music – especially my youngest Tate who is constantly performing.”
The Spice Girls’ grip on pop culture has scarcely loosened over the years, continuously reintroducing their legacy to new audiences. One such example recently involved Emma’s appearance on the third season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, where the queens had to form a girl group each with their own individual persona. “I know it’s edited, but every single one of them said something nice about the Spice Girls,” says Emma. “It was amazing to be there. It was a bit surreal because I’m such a fan of the show. It’s just got that effect.” But little did Emma realise she was in fact about to film one of the programme’s most shocking scenes.
After winning the challenge and then lip syncing for her legacy, BenDeLaCreme made the decision to eliminate herself from the competition, rather than one of the other queens. “I could not believe it. I didn’t know what to do with myself,” Emma exclaims when we bring it up. “I wanted to get up and go, ‘What?!?’ I found that when we were recording it, everyone is very reserved. I wanted to get up and scream and dance. I wanted to be like, ‘Wooo!’ They were very professional is what I mean.”
As is traditionally the case with reality television, most of what you see has been set up in advance, but Emma is adamant no-one had any idea what BenDeLaCreme had planned. “That was the thing, I didn’t have a clue. I could tell that everyone was like, ‘What the?!’ No-one had a clue that it was going to happen.” So with a UK version currently being filmed for the BBC in London, we ask if she’d consider a second stint on the panel. She smiles. “Yes… that’s all I will say.”
As our time quickly comes to an end, chat turns to the future of Emma’s solo career and what she has planned beyond this new album. Of course, she has the Spice Girls show to concentrate on first, but she has thought about her next move after that. “I’d like to do a small solo tour after the Spice Girls dates,” she says. “That would be so nice.” We’re pretty certain there are plenty of fans out there that would agree.
And what about the Spice Girls? Although the shows in the UK will conclude by mid-June, there are obviously more plans for Spice projects beyond the live dates. Does this mean this reunion could end up being a little bit more permanent than previously, with the four-piece figuring out more future plans to expand the beloved Spice World? “It’s something we are talking about,” Emma says. “We’ve all got kids and we all have to plan around them, so if it works and we can make that happen then absolutely, we’d love to do more.”
Emma Bunton’s new album My Happy Place will be available to download and stream from 12 April.