It’s 1996 in a wet and windy Britain. Terry Venables announces his resignation as football manager of England's team, Prince Charles and Princess Diana are finalising their divorce and even pop group Take That won’t be back for good.
But just when all seems lost, there’s a clattering of heels, a throaty laugh and a hotel rampage, and the whole country breathes a collective zig-a-zig ahhh. Girl power has arrived and, with a few high kicks and some less-than-polished dance moves around a derelict London hotel, the entire nation has something to get excited about.
The Spice Girls landed as five refreshingly mouthy, unapologetically in-your-face young women, and they’re still heralded for giving 90s girls around the world a voice.
This year, the band’s debut studio album Spice celebrates its 25th anniversary and Friday will mark the release of Spice 25, featuring much-loved original anthems as well as some previously unheard tracks.
And with the UK now welcoming fully vaccinated passengers from the UAE, there’s never been a better time to don your Union Jack mini dress and join the festivities.
Spice Girls fans can head to St Pancras Renaissance Hotel London, where the hit music video for Wannabe was filmed. You can indulge in a relaxing spa day or just slam your body down and wind it all around by recreating the band’s dance moves on the hotel steps made famous in the video.
For Sam Jones, director of sales and marketing at St Pancras Renaissance Hotel London, the legacy from the Wannabe video lives on. “We have been dubbed the Spice Girls hotel, or the hotel with the Spice Girls staircase,” he says.
“This year more than ever, we are constantly receiving enquiries for photoshoots, wedding ceremonies or social media collaboration requests to include the staircase. We continue to have fans visiting the hotel daily, reenacting the signature group pose and we often hear fans playing the music video to get the setup just right.”
Although today’s reenactments are painstakingly put together, the original was far more chaotic. “The shoot was originally meant to be in Barcelona, however they were not able to get permission to use their location, so it was relocated to Midland Grand Hotel,” says Jones.
“The building was still undergoing major restoration at the time of the music video so there was no heating. The girls were freezing and it was so cold that the video ended up being filmed in one take.”
In spite of this shaky start, Wannabe was hugely successful around the world, reaching No 1 in 37 countries. Geri Halliwell, Mel B and Mel C, Emma Bunton and Victoria Adams, later Beckham, changed the world as young girls fought endlessly over who was Posh, Baby, Sporty, Scary or Ginger.
In the UK, their first hit notched two million chart sales, including 1.32 million pure sales, making it the seventh best-selling debut single of all time, as well as 84.2 million streams, according to Official Charts figures. Smash hit singles that followed in 1996 included Say You’ll Be There, Who Do You Think You Are, Mama and 2 Become 1.
The band’s success soared to new heights the following year with the release of the Spice World movie, featuring the legendary Spice Bus, on which fans can now spend a night on the Isle of Wight. The unique double decker travelled around the UK as part of the SpiceUp exhibition in 2018 and was parked outside Wembley Park when the band embarked on a reunion tour in 2019.
Since then, it has been moved to Island Harbour Marina campsite in Newport, where it is available for private bookings. Although the exterior of the bus maintains its original Union Jack paint job from the film, the inside was refurbished by a team of designers who fitted pink Union Jack cinema chairs, a girl power neon light installation, animal print and disco balls. Christian Hewison, marina administrator at Island Harbour, says: “The bus is the genuine article from the Spice World film and it’s extremely popular.
“Spice fever is definitely ramping up. We usually have guests every single night, with fans coming from as far as the US to stay onboard. People visit to relive their youth and it’s not uncommon to see Spice Girls costumes – we’ve had a lot of Union Jack dresses around these parts,” Hewison says.
“The bus is still road legal so if we needed to, we could take it on tour and it did make a journey up to Manchester once for a Spice Girls exhibition. A couple of years ago, we even had Geri Halliwell visit and film a short video for her YouTube channel. She arrived by boat and brought us a great chocolate cake.
“There’s always people standing outside for pictures – it’s a real pop culture icon.”
Back in London, Spice fever continues at Abbey Road Studios, made famous by The Beatles and cemented in history when the girls recorded their Forever (2000) album there. The studio in St John’s Wood was originally a nine-bedroom house built in 1829, before being converted into the world’s first purpose-built recording studio by Gramophone Company in 1928.
As well as the Spice Girls and The Beatles, globally celebrated artists including Pink Floyd, Shirley Bassey, Oasis, Kate Bush, Adele, Ed Sheeran and Kanye West have recorded here, and tourists come from far and wide to snap a picture on the iconic zebra crossing just outside.
This November, the studio is opening its doors to the public for its 90th anniversary celebrations and lectures covering its past, present and future. Tickets are available on the Abbey Road website with lectures beginning on Friday, November 12. You can also snap up your Spice 25 album from the onsite shop while you’re there.
About three kilometres away from the studios lies the most integral stop on the Spice tour, because though we may be a quarter of a century too late to join the Spice Girls, we’re never too old to look the part. The band were renowned for their experimental fashion choices and fans can recreate some of their iconic looks at Camden Market, where the band sourced many of their original costumes.
Keep an eye out for Buffalo trainers, baby-dolls and Union Jack tea towels, which was the actual basis of Geri’s renowned mini-dress. The market is open every day from 10am until late and has more than 1,000 places to shop, eat, drink and dance at its historic central London location.
It’s time to Spice up your life all over again.