Flame-haired chanteuse reduces quintet to the power of four

TWO years ago the world hadn't heard of Ginger Spice. But yesterday, after quitting the band and going into hiding, she shot to the top of the national news agenda, proving just how much impact the female Fab Five have had on the nation.

Everyone seemed to have a theory as to her whereabouts and the reasons why she turned her back on her fellow Spice Girls. Ex-Spice was rumoured to be renouncing the world in a Buddhist temple in the Lake District, indulging in retail therapy in Paris or attending a summit with solicitors in a Continental hideaway.

But some of the world's prepubescents were too distressed to care where she was. As far as they were concerned, Geri Halliwell, alias Ginger Spice, was history. In a symbolic severing of ties, they attacked their posters with scissors, physically cutting the traitor out of the picture.

They wept as they wrestled with the terrible truth that Ginger really had abandoned Baby, Scary, Posh and Sporty. In a pique of Girl Power, the red-headed daughter of a Spanish-born cleaner from Watford has decided that what she really, really wants is a solo career.

Confirmation of the rumours came from Ginger Spice's lawyer, Julian Turton, who read out a statement on her behalf. "Sadly, I would like to confirm I have left the Spice Girls," it read. "This is because of differences between us. I am sure the group will continue to be successful and I wish them all the best." She apologised to the fans of the group which has sold 30 million albums, adding: "PS: I'll be back."

But can she be a rock star in her own right? She may be the loudest - and therefore the band's unofficial manager - but she is also said to be the least musically talented. But then again, there may be hope: she is said to be blessed with the best business sense.

At 25, Geri is the eldest of the Spices and, with a CV that includes spells as a topless model and a hostess on a Turkish television game show, the most experienced.

Despite the rolling millions, Geri is said to have been disgruntled for some time. During their recent European tour, the Spice camp began to give out rumours of disquiet. Long known to be interested in a television presenting career, Geri was seen having lunch with the presenter and executive Christ Evans.

On Wednesday she did not turn up to a performance with the band at the National Lottery draw and the following day when the girls arrived in Oslo for the last two dates in their tour, she was nowhere to be seen.

The People newspaper reported that it was a row with her mother, a Jehovah's Witness, three weeks ago about her plans to live with her boyfriend which pushed her over the edge.

Another factor, according to friends, is the fact that Geri has been "virtual manager" since the sacking of their manager Simon Fuller last November.

Now the remaining quartet are preparing to tour America without her. "They feel Geri leaving is not as damaging as the furore that erupted with Simon Fuller was sacked," said a friend of the band. "They survived that are are sure they can survive this." Evidently, the Spice show must go on.

Rosie Millard, page 15