The rock star and actor Meat Loaf, who has died at the age of 74, will forever be best known for classic anthems such as “Bat Out of Hell” and “I’ll Do Anything for Love”, but he also had a decidedly different claim to fame for a younger generation: driving the Spice Girls bus.
In 1997, Meat Loaf played a key supporting role in the maligned – yet secretly masterful – Spice Girls film Spice World: The Movie. The singer played Dennis, the group’s exasperated tour bus driver, who ferries the flamboyant fivesome around London while they sing and make TV appearances and meet aliens. Would he clean their toilets, though? “I love these girls, and I’d do anything for them – but I won’t do that,” he tells them.
But how exactly did the Grammy-winning legend end up driving around one of Britain’s greatest cultural exports? The story behind his casting is somehow even weirder than what he does on-screen. (Remember the bomb on the bus? Why was there a bomb on his bus?)
Meat Loaf’s supporting role served as an in-joke alluding to his 1980 film Roadie, in which he played a truck driver who takes a job driving musicians across the USA. But he also joined Spice World at the last minute, after boxer Frank Bruno reportedly dropped out days into filming. Stories from the time claimed that Bruno left the film after his two-year-old son’s request to have his picture taken with the band was turned down.
In an interview for his 1998 albumThe Very Best of Meat Loaf, the singer said that he had a meeting with the head of Virgin Records shortly before the offer to star in the film came through. After Virgin’s Paul Conroy told Meat Loaf that he was busy working on the Spice Girls movie, Meat Loaf began pulling his leg: “I said, ‘They’re doing Spice World and you didn’t put me in it?’ I was winding him up … He goes, ‘Ooh. Well, I’ll probably get you in the film.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ll be here all afternoon. I’ll be waiting.’”
Literally hours later, Meat Loaf was surprised to receive an offer to be in it. “I said, ‘Paul, I’m kidding. It’s okay. No, it’s fine. I gotta go to Germany.’ And he says, ‘No, no! They really want you to do the film.’ I’m going, ‘Paul, it’s okay, I don’t need to do the film.’ Well, anyway, I end up doing this Spice World for three days and did whatever I did with them.”
Asked by Entertainment Weekly in 2003 about his presence in the film, Meat Loaf remembered that he had met Mel B – aka Scary Spice – before they actually worked together.
“I’d borrowed £5 for a cigar,” he said. “So the first thing she asked when I showed up [on the set] was, ‘Do you have my £5?’ I said, ‘Do you have change for a 20?’ I still owe her £5. Just remember, if anyone wants money, ask them if they have change for a 20.”
While Meat Loaf rarely discussed the film in the decades after its release – journalist Sirin Kale’s hopes for his contribution to a 2018 oral history failed, even with a viral “#tweetloaf” hashtag – his Spice World co-star Richard E Grant did share his memories of their work last year.
“Meat Loaf was so friendly,” he recalled. “I thought he was going to be in another dimension of … I don’t know what I expected, really, but I didn’t expect this really friendly guy to be there.”
Meat Loaf’s death was confirmed by his agent on Friday (21 January). A cause of death has yet to be announced.
Tributes have already begun pouring in, along with fascinating tales from his storied career. Among them is the story of how he got his stage name, and how he helped David Fincher direct the 1999 film Fight Club, in which he played a supporting role.
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