Girl Power goes out of fashion in Spiceworld

Geri's departure has failed to move the Spice Girls' fickle young fans.

THE day that Robbie Williams left Take That, teenage girls congregated outside a house in our street with blotchy, tear- streaked faces. A plump girl, who was obviously known locally as a major fan, stood on her doorstep sobbing, her room lit- up against the evening sky above her with smiling posters of the doomed boy-band.

It was difficult not to smirk with adult cynicism when I asked them if they were all right, and words like "abandonment", "loneliness" and "betrayal" tripped off their tongues as easily as in a Hollywood group therapy session. Later that evening, my sister reminded me of how we had cried in primary school when Les left the Bay City Rollers. Just as we knew then, these Take That girls understood that it effectively meant the end of their favourite group, and telephone helplines opened up to deal with the wave of teen-grief that swept the nation.

Parents' hearts sunk in anticipation of a similar reaction to last week's announcement of Geri Halliwell's departure from the Spice Girls, and the question mark that must hang over the band's future, whatever the remaining members might say to the contrary.

My own three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, whose bedroom was full of pictures of the fivesome, and who became the nation's youngest stalker when she found out that Scary Spice lived opposite her grandmother, gave an irritated reply when I told her about Geri - "Mummy, I don't really know the Spice Girls anymore, do I?"

Thinking perhaps that she is too young to fully understand , and knowing that because she actually saw them a couple of times in real life she regarded them as close personal friends rather than pop icons, I turned to my seven-year-old son's female contemporaries.

They have spent the last 18 months in a shiny, Lycra-clad Spiceworld. My son's friend Etta had a Spice Girls party only a couple of months ago, much to his disgust, (he and the only other boy invited dug a huge hole in the lawn) at which girls dressed up as their favourite Spice.

"We don't care if they split up. We like All Saints and Cleopatra now. The Spice Girls are not girls anyway. They should be called the Spice Women or the Spice Old Ladies," said Etta, contemptuously. At this, her friend Bella seemed embarrassed of her pink Spice Girls lunchbox and started swinging it around and hitting the other girls with it.

What about their potential, I asked. After all, surely they had so much more to give than two albums? And what about the economic implications of cancelling a world tour? And what were they going to do with their Spice Girl duvet covers and pillow cases now?

The girls looked at me blankly and one of them asked politely if I can "stop talking about it now, please?". They started singing "Cleopatra, coming at yer" and I walked away muttering to myself about the fickleness of extreme youth.

Their love of the Spice girls was completely genuine and devoted while it lasted, but unlike the older girl fan-base of Take That, it was not dominated by a freshly awakened hormonal longing and safely unrequited desire.

The simple message of "Girl Power" caught the mood of the classroom, where (as parents of boys are constantly reminded by worrying little leaflets saying things like "Has the lad culture destroyed your son's future?") boys are struggling to keep up with ambitious, conscientious, confident girls. The Spice Girls were gloriously and fabulously tarty in their faux animal skins and platform trainers and will be remembered for being the brashest and brassiest of them all.

Seeing the Spice Girls a month or so ago on TFI Friday they didn't seem to have much to say, except the usual declarations of sisterly love and feelings of best friendship for each other. Now we know that to be a bit of a sham, it is difficult to see how they can possibly try and continue.

The remaining Spice Girls should retire gracefully many millions richer, while the mothers of young daughters throughout the country take down their daughters' posters to make room for the new ones (maybe saving one for posterity so they can laugh about it together in few years' time), chuck last Christmas's Spice Girls dolls in the box under the bed, along with the Tellytubbies, Buzz Lightyears and Power Rangers that are brought out occasionally to play with Barbie, the enduring Queen of so many little girls' hearts.

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