Leeds's connection with all things Spice Girls

It's been 15 years since they burst onto the pop scene and celebrating the anniversary next week is the opening of an exhibition revelling in girl power.

We look at the special connection between Leeds and all things spice.

* Click here to view the YEP picture galleries of Leeds nostalgia.

Yes, it's hard to believe.

What was once thought of as recent must now be viewed through the prism of nostalgia.

The Spice Girls first arrived back in 1996, hooking legions of teenagers with their catchy debut

Wannabe.

Up until the Millennium, Scary, Posh, Baby, Sporty and Ginger dominated pop music. They even cracked America with hit after hit, global tours, not to mention Spiceworld and countless money-spinning merchandising deals.

When it all started to disintegrate in the year 2000 the attentions of the next generation suddenly switched to the products of reality TV shows. From Girls Aloud to Will Young and JLS, the Noughties produced a new breed of stars to scream at.

But as they reach this milestone it's timely to see a new exhibition celebrating their success is to be unveiled at Leeds City Museum.

It's also apt as Leeds has strong connection to the girls.

Melanie Chisholm, better known as Mel C, would frequently pop into Churwell, near Morley to visit her dad Alan Chisholm. After splitting with the Scouser's mum in the 1980s he moved to Leeds.

And when the Spice Girls became huge, he later moved to a quiet cul-de-sac in the suburb thanks to multi-millionaire sporty shelling out for him to have a new house.

Meanwhile Mel B was born and raised in the city. Before moving to

Horsforth when their daughter hit the big time, mum and dad, Andrea and Martin, lived in a three-bedroomed terrace in Burley.

Throughout their ascent to megastardom the house was frequently at the epicentre of attention for the girls. When they reunified in 2008 the Yorkshire Evening Post chatted with the girl band about their vivid Leeds memories.

Gesturing to the girls, Geri said: "Do you remember all of us sleeping in your bed in Kirkstall? It must have been 10 or 12 years ago, we were recording up there, we didn't even have a record deal then."

Mel B said: "Oh yes, it was my mum's house."

Geri continues: "We were top-and-tailing in this tiny house in Kirkstall, mucking in together, eating chips and, erm, what do you call those things....?"

"Scraps!" laughed Mel B.

"That's right, scraps, love those, " said Geri.

"Oh and bread cakes!" chips in Emma.

Mel B said: "We didn't go out in Leeds though, it wasn't quite as happening 10 or 15 years ago as it is now."

"But I seem to remember we did have a great house party there, " recalls Emma.

"Leeds has totally made me who I am today, " said Mel B. "Apart from being with this lot and travelling the world – your childhood experiences mould you completely."

Lifelong supporter Liz West has brought the museum exhibition together featuring over 4,000 pieces of memorabilia from back in the heyday, but she's just one of legions of fans who will always worship girl power...

* SpiceWorld: The Exhibition, from Jan 28 to July 3, Leeds City Museum, Millennium Square, Leeds, free entry, open Bank holiday Mondays, Tue, Wed and Fri, 10am to 5pm, Thu 10am to 7pm, Sat and Sun 11am to 5pm, Tel. 0113 214 1560 www.leeds.gov.uk/citymuseum

WHEN Scary Spice dropped into the children's wards of St. James's Hospital in Leeds some of the parents thought it was little more than a PR stunt.

Mel B, spedning Christmas in her home city in December 1997, said she wanted to raise the spirits of babies and kids separated from their parents.

When she came to visit 20-month-old Rhiann Watson, her mum and dad, Samantha and Neil, initially thought they were just models in a photo opportunity, albeit one which produced a heart-melting image.

"It just wasn't like that at all." said Mr Watson. "She sat with us all for a good 20 minutes or so chatting away and seemed genuinely interested in our situation.

"She even chatted away with Rhiann's big sister and when she ran away from her she went chasing after playing games, it was lovely and really did give us a boost."

But the experience was bittersweet for the Watson family. Doctors told them that little Rhiann, who had suffered kidney failure, probably only had 12 weeks to live.

Thankfully she pulled through and after a kidney transplant is now 14-years old and, suffice to say, a lifelong Spice Girls fan.

UNFORTUNATELY student Sophie Larner-Vincent, 18, of Kirkstall, can't recall the lengths her late grandfather went to in 1998 to ensure his beloved grandaughter got to see the Spice Girls in concert.

Mr Ron Short, who sadly passed away five years ago, knew how much little Sophie, then just six years old, adored the fab five.

"I had everything," she recalls. "I had every single CD they released, I had the dolls and anything with them on it I wanted to have.

"It's just a shame I can't actually remember seeing them in concert or what granddad did for me."

And just what was Mr Short prepared to do for her? Well, after an exhaustive search for tickets to see the girls at Manchester Arena he discovered the only way he could guarantee Sophie a place in the audience was to join the Spice Girls fan club. AT 62.

Thankfully the Yorkshire Evening Post heard of his plight and, after featuring in the paper with Sophie, a kind reader came forward with two tickets.

Sarah Dawson, now 24, of Churwell, Leeds, has been a Spice Girls fan since she was 10 years old. "The first time I saw them they were on Top Of The Pops singing Wannabe, and from that moment on I loved them." she said.

"All my friends liked them too, but I was obsessed. I bought all their singles and albums, all the official merchandise. I even had a life-size cardboard cut-out of Ginger Spice in her Union Jack dress in my room that my mum and dad bought me for Christmas.

"Part of the reason I loved them so much was the outrageous clothes they wore. Although they all looked very different, each Spice Girl had something to offer in the fashion department for a 10-year-old.

"When Scary and Ginger started wearing big platform boots, called Buffalo boots, I wanted a pair too. In fact I begged my mum to buy me some but the originals were from a store in Covent Garden in London. We couldn't go all the way there for a pair so I settled for some cheap imitation ones in black and white instead.

"Even though, with hindsight, Posh Spice had the best wardrobe, I wanted to look like Ginger Spice, with her outrageous clumpy boots, bright red hair and crop tops. She looked a bit like a cartoon character and I wanted to be her.

"I really missed Geri when she left. When the others talked about girl power, you could tell it was a nice catchy slogan, but Geri looked like she lived and breathed it.

"I saw the Spice Girls twice in concert, the first time was in 1998 on their big world tour, before Ginger left, and they were great.

"They reunited almost 10 years later in 2007. This time I was 21, and in my growing-up years I had realised they were a manufactured pop band. But on stage that second time, they were actually a lot better than I expected. I think a part of me will always love the Spice Girls, and I've never thrown away my Geri cardboard cut-out – though she lives in the loft now."

IN 1996: Mel C, Emma Bunton, Victoria Adams, Mel B and Geri Halliwell

GERI SPECIAL: Sarah Dawson with her life-size cardboard cutout of Ginger Spice

TICKET QUEST: Sophie Larner-Vincent pictured with her late grandfather Ron Short in 1998

NOT SO SCARY SPICE: A Christmas kiss for 19-month-old Rhiann Watson from Mel B back in 1997

Reveller Alex Goodwin dancing at the annual Unity Day in Hyde Park, Leeds, in July 2016.  Pictures: Tony Johnson

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