I know you are struggling right now. You are not the prettiest, or the thinnest, or the best at dancing at the Laine Theatre Arts college. You have never properly fitted in, although you are sharing your Surrey school digs with really nice girls. You have bad acne. You think the principal has put you at the back of the end-of-year show (in a humiliatingly bright purple Lycra leotard) because you are too plump to go at the front. (This may or may not be true.)
There is a red telephone box outside the school and you have just rung your parents, crying, “I can’t do this, I miss home, I’m not good enough.” And Mum has told you to come home. “We’ll go to Lakeside and buy a new pair of shoes,” she said. It’s tempting. But then Dad got on the phone: “Stay there, prove everyone wrong.” If you’d listened to Mum, you would be going to Lakeside. (Shoes are important, just not right now.) It would be the easy solution. And I’m writing to jolly you along, to offer consolation and encouragement, and to tell you, aged 18, to be strong.
You haven’t forgotten being bullied at school, have you? Do you recall that first day at secondary school? Most children were wearing their own coats and had the latest cool bag, but not you. Kitted out in the full St Mary’s High School uniform, you stood in the freezing playground while other teenagers walking past threw soggy tissues and old Coke cans that they plucked from the puddles. But the thick skin that you developed then is already standing you in good stead, and it will do so for the rest of your life.
Your complexion will sort itself out (in fact you will launch your own make-up brand); as soon as the Eighties are over, your perm will die down, and your weight will settle itself. At school you eat Super Noodles and boxes of Frosties because they say they are fat free, and you will endure many other silly fad diets (including an addiction to green juices). Instead, learn to embrace your imperfections – that is what I want to tell you. Let your skin breathe; wear less make-up. (And don’t ever let that make-up artist shave your eyebrows! The effects last forever.) You will always be addicted to Elnett hairspray but you will tone it down. Less of the “Hello! I just got stuck in a wind tunnel”, please. And I should probably say, don’t mess with your boobs. All those years I denied it – stupid. A sign of insecurity. Just celebrate what you’ve got.
Do answer an ad in The Stage, looking for candidates to form a new girl band. Line up around the block and audition to change your life. You love musicals – Miss Saigon, Cats, Starlight Express and Les Misérables – so you will perform “Mein Herr” from Cabaret, while everyone else sings a Madonna song. You haven’t yet heard of the internet or electronic mail or smartphones. Nor have you perfected the art of the selfie for Instagram (you can’t even turn on a computer right now, and Dad still drives to London to send a telex). But one day you will find that audition performance again online, and at the same time discover that your name brings up 47,800,000 search results on Google.
The judges of the competition will match you to four other girls, all misfits in their own ways. Together you will make it OK to look different. And, as the Spice Girls, you will sell 75 million records. You cannot possibly imagine your future life right now. You will travel on private planes, visit incredible countries, stay in fantastic hotels. (At the beginning, you will steal the hotel mini shampoos, shower gels and conditioners, but you soon realise that they leak in your suitcase – often disastrously.) You will storm into people’s offices, leap on to tables in hotels and go crazy (although you will also be the one checking that the table isn’t going to collapse). You will meet Nelson Mandela, Mariah Carey and Elton John. But please, I implore you, keep a diary. There will be so many amazing moments, and you will forget.
There will also be down days and bad days. You will often be so busy that you will be in a different country every day. And being young and a bit silly, you’ll complain and sit in hotel rooms and moan about being tired. Go out and see the country where you are. Go to galleries, go to museums. Soak up the culture. You are lucky to be there. If you don’t join the Spice Girls, you might always be that insecure person in that little shell, and you will never become who you truly are. With this in mind, be kind, be polite, be considerate of others’ feelings, because I know that every one of us would sit here now and say they’re not the main culprit, but we didn’t fully appreciate each other a lot of the time. So practise what you preach when you sing “friendship never ends”, and celebrate everyone’s uniqueness.
You are going to have so much fun with your clothes – PVC catsuits; chokers that say absurd things; weird spiky blonde hair. It will never occur to you that you appear ridiculous. You will turn up at awards ceremonies resembling a drag queen. But I look back at you and smile. It will add interest to your life to go from one extreme to another. I love the fact that you will feel free to express yourself. Fashion will take on added stature one day, but try not to be stifled by it. You will learn, as you mature, to swap heels for Stan Smith trainers, minidresses for crisp white shirts. And you will never be one of those people who just roll out of bed. Wear sunglasses a lot. Even inside. Especially at airports. They turn a nothing-outfit into something quite pulled together and cool. You are going to really like Aviators. (Then one day you will develop your own!)
On boyfriends and lasting love: learn more about football, especially the offside rule. And yes, love at first sight does exist. It will happen to you in the Manchester United players’ lounge – although you will get a little drunk, so exact details are hazy. While the other football players stand at the bar drinking with their mates, you will see David standing aside with his family. (He’s not even in the first team at this stage – you are the famous one.) And he has such a cute smile. You, too, are close to your family, and you will think how similar he feels to you. He’s going to ask for your number. (He still has the London-to-Manchester plane ticket on which you wrote it.) I’m afraid that most of your first dates will be in car parks, which is not as seedy as it sounds. It is because your manager, Simon Fuller, will warn you, “Don’t let anyone see you out together or you’ll get hounded.” At the time, you won’t understand why.
You are going to be very, very famous, both for the band you form and because of the man you marry, and then later for a fashion business you will launch in your own name. You will get used to fame. Although you cannot set a price on losing privacy, you will learn to use celebrity to your advantage. For good things. For charity. One day you will have the privilege to campaign on behalf of the United Nations to end mother-to-child transmission of HIV and Aids in Africa. And people will listen. Changes will happen. That is not to say you won’t be affected by what you see of yourself in the press. It will hurt you when people comment on your weight. It will continue to upset you whatever age you are, because we women are very tough on ourselves.
The paparazzi will become part of your life, their long lenses waiting. Some are nice, some not. They may make your children cry, or they may give you a compliment – but you will not be able to control every image they publish. When you are pregnant with Brooklyn, they will snap you sitting by the pool at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles in a black-and-white bikini, and the picture will make the front page of a British newspaper. It is an unkind shot and so upsetting that for the rest of the tour you will barely leave your hotel or sit outside. And I’m the same now.
Do I relax on the beach in a bikini? No. I am still hugely self-critical, and because of that I can be a little uptight. My 60-year-old self would probably say the same thing to me as I am telling you now: enjoy yourself a little more. Be less image-conscious. Learn to relax. You are going to make mistakes – of course you are. You will be super-super-successful, but you will find out that you can lose it all much more quickly than you can earn it. That is a hard lesson to learn. Collectively, I now see, the Spice Girls were victims of our own success, believing we could do anything, that the sky was the limit, that we could do it all on our own. You will learn from that, and when you have another opportunity you will not lose it again.
On being a mother: once you are a parent, you worry. And you are going to have four, so that’s a lot of worry! Mum likes to say, “You might be 42, but I still worry about you.” Children mean that you will be constantly tired and will develop big bags under your eyes. Your children will always come first, but never forget who you are and what you want to achieve. Is it possible to have it all? To be a successful working mother? You will hear this question asked by many women as you grow older. What you will realise is that by working hard, yet always putting family first, it will be possible to achieve that balance. Nothing will be perfect, but it is only now that I have learnt to appreciate all I have and all I have been blessed with. I am happy.
A word on school sports day: never wear platform heels and flares if you have to take part in the mothers’ race. And never believe another mum when she says she will stick with you at the back of the race. Because she won’t. And when they announce, “It’s the taking part that counts,” it’s not. It’s all about winning. You will shout at home but never at work. Be a nice boss. Ultimately, go with what you think, but don’t smother those who are talented. (If they are not, then admittedly I get frustrated – I’m not very tolerant.)
On marriage: have patience. Bite your tongue. Be supportive. And preserve a bit of mystique. Never let yourself go completely (at least brush your hair, clean your teeth, have a bit of a brow going on because you will always want him to look at you and feel attracted). Always make time for each other. Because if you don’t, everything will revolve around the children and I’m not sure how sexy that is! And do not forget the person you fell in love with. You will follow your man around the world, moving from Manchester to Spain, and then America. In Spain you will revel in watching him enjoy some of his best footballing days. Spain is also where you will lay the foundations for your own fashion brand by collaborating with others on denim and sunglasses.
But I need to warn you: a lot of your time there will be really hard. I’m not afraid to say now what a horribly difficult time it was. People will say awful things. You will be a laughing stock. Every time you turn on the television or look at a newspaper it will seem as though someone is having a go at you and your family. You will learn how mean other women can be. (And it will teach you always to support the women around you, to take them on a journey with you.) Others would crack under the pressure, but you won’t. Use that time to close off, to focus, work hard and protect the children. In relationships people will throw obstacles in your way, and you either manoeuvre around them or you trip up. You will never discuss with David how many children you both want; you don’t say to each other, “Where shall we live?” You don’t discuss any of that because you will be young and in love. Even when you don’t necessarily want the same thing, your support for each other will mean that you will stick together and grow up together. And it will be worth it.
Most days, you will look at your life and think, “Wow! I was never the one who was supposed to get all this.” I want to tell you that I still feel that way now. Recently I was in New York for the British Vogue cover shoot in a penthouse at the Carlyle hotel. I looked out of the window and I could see the sun shining and all the yellow cabs below and I pinched myself. You are going to have many of those moments.
Don’t take them for granted.
Culled from Vogue
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