Ginger spins her way to victory in the battle of the solo Spice Girls

THE NATION had been on tenterhooks for a week. Which hereditary peers would survive Friday's ballot in the House of Lords? Would Australia vote for a republic? Would France beat them in the Rugby World Cup?

These things may have been important but, in truth, they all paled into insignificance beside the weighty question of which Spice Girl would make it toNumber One. Not since Blur beat Oasis in a similar battle in 1995 have radio stations, record companies, bookmakers and press officers worked themselves into such a lather over a pop song.

Would it be Baby, the blonde Emma Bunton, who claimed there was no deliberate head-to-head battle. Or would it be Ginger, the ex-Spice and, now also blonde, Geri Halliwell, who denied that her new relationship with the disc jockey Chris Evans was a publicity stunt?

Before the artfully-timed leak about her affair, Halliwell's latest release "Lift Me Up" was expected to lose out to Bunton's first solo single "What I Am". Before last week's revelations, Bunton said: "This is not about me and Geri going head to head. It's about enjoyment and any chart position is a bonus." Of course it is dear.

But by the end of the week when it looked like Halliwell might indeed pip her to the post, Bunton had joined in the fight and wrestled back the tabloid front pages by revealing that Evans had in fact rung her no less than nine times to ask for a date, before going out with her one- time colleague.

This left Halliwell free to grab the moral high ground when she pointed out that the joint release date was "unfair" as it would force young fans to pay out for two singles in the same week.

And at 7pm yesterday when the results were announced on The Official UK Top 40 show on Radio 1, Geri Halliwell had beaten Emma Bunton to the top. A spokesman for Radio 1 said Halliwell had sold around 30,000 more records than her rival. "Geri surged ahead on Saturday. On Friday there was only about 4,000 between them so she did well on Saturday - although she has had some extra publicity," he added.

Gracious in defeat, Bunton said she had only ever hoped for a top 10 hit and was happy to take second place.

A jubilant Halliwell said: "I am absolutely ecstatic. Words cannot express how happy I am feeling and I am looking forward to celebrating with my close friends." And just in case anyone might need confirmation, her press agent let slip that the "close friends" would be celebrating at Home House, in London's West End.

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