Spice girl effect on City and business

Are the Spice Girls finished? And does it matter a jot? Yes and yes, says the stock exchange. David Lister, Arts News Editor, analyses the rumblings and concludes that girl power has not yet been deposed.

Predictions of the demise of worldbeating pop groups are always made with relish and have been made since the dawn of rock`n`roll.

The Duke of Edinburgh once found it necessary to defend himself publicly when he was reported as saying The Beatles were "on the wane", a remark which inspired hundreds of column inches. "I actually said they were `away'," he explained.

Now it is the turn of the Spice Girls. At the start of the week it was confirmed that the Spice Girls had sacked their manager who had helped build their image and exerted total control. By Thursday night they were being booed off the stage at an awards ceremony in Spain. "Never believe your own publicity," pop guru Pete Waterman warned as the girl power champions said they would be managing their own affairs henceforth.

Hubris rarely comes so quickly. But does any of it matter outside the group's fan base, which anyway is largely aged under 10 and has little interest in backroom fallout or Spanish irritability?

The answer appears to be yes. On Monday, shares in EMI, the parent label of Virgin on which the Spice Girls record, fell, with dealers claiming that was a direct result of fears for the group's future.

A whole host of companies from Pepsi to Walker Crisps to Asda will also be worried. They are among the product endorsements that Fuller arranged for his charges. And, of course, the balance of payments might suffer a blip. The girls have already sold 19 million records worldwide, and their world tour is only just beginning.

The parting of company with 36-year-old Fuller, Svengali Spice, might yet return to haunt the girls. Feistiness and girl power had much to do with their disillusionment. Fuller had become too close to one of his charges, Emma Bunton, aka Baby Spice, and her colleagues resented that encroachment on their unity. He also worked them extremely hard and told them when they could go out and where they could go, which they came to resent as they became millionaires. Suspecting the bubble could burst at any time, Fuller also piled up product endorsements which made money but weren't good for the rock image.

But one industry source said last night: "These were factors. But the other factor was the mathematics. Fuller was on 20 per cent. Work out how much that leaves for each of the five girls. Less than 20 per cent. They have done their simple division. The golden rule in this industry is `don't earn more than the talent'."

With sales of their new album lower than expected, less than 250,000 compared to 750,000 for Oasis's latest offering, their imminent downfall is being predicted. Overkill in product endorsement, the over-10s losing interest, and potential fall-out among the band are all being mentioned.

But that is likely to be a premature analysis. In the short term, Virgin will now step in where Fuller so studiously kept them distant before. They will provide the necessary back-up from drivers to roadies and publicists. Then there is a film, Spiceworld The Movie opening on Boxing Day. It is certain to be a huge holiday attraction.

With such a young fan base, the Spice Girls were never destined to have too lengthy a flirtation with global fame. But as the parents of all pre- pubescent girls know, to talk of them being finished already is much exaggerated. They only have to look on the bedroom walls.

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