Learning To Fly

Victoria Beckham’s autobiography called Learning To Fly was published Sep 13 2001.

1 i’ll walk with you
2 girl with a dream
3 a certain age
4 message to the underdog
5 we’ll be in touch
6 wanted
7 the famous five
8 bonnie and clyde
9 top of the pops
10 planet fame
11 into my heart
12 a footballer and a gentleman
13 spice camp
14 girl power
15 losing a friend
16 tangled up in blue
17 truth or dare
18 signed, sealed, delivered
19 nobody touch the baby
20 you’re going to die
21 low life
22 betrayal
23 great timing
24 time out with the wizard of oz
25 helterskelter
26 getting my life back
27 i owe you

From the time when, as an eight-year-old girl, she saw the movie Fame, Victoria wanted to be a star. There was a line from the title song that stayed with her – ‘I’m gonna live for ever, I’m gonna learn how to fly’. With this extraordinary book she gives us the chance to follow her on her journey from lonely teenager to international star; to fly alongside her.
“While everybody else was mucking about and gossiping with their friends, I was stood on my own in a corner of the playground in a puddle with Paddington Bear coat.”
“It turned out that Emma, later in the Spice Girls, was also in the jazz section that year -with me in a number called ‘Reet Petite’ – but I never knew her there. Because she had her little group of friends, and I had my little group of friends. You wouldn’t know everybody.”
“I did get to Doreen Bird, which was my second choice. I left school with five GCSEs and the cookery prize. (Yes, you cynics who believe that poor old Posh can’t even boil an egg, the cookery prize, do you hear?)”
“Then one Wednesday, just after Christmas it must have been, I saw this advert in the Stage, so small you could have easily missed it. ‘Girl singers wanted for pop group’. And a London phone number. Not exactly the West End and not exactly a musical. But why not?”
“And the next day he (Steve Andrews) called. If I was interested he’d like to have me in the band. I was really exited.”
“There were five of us, three girls and two boys, including this Steve. There was Natasha, who I’d known at Laine’s. She was the usual Laine’s type, tall and thin. Then there was another Natasha, a black girl who was a really good singer. (Funny that, two Natashas.) And as well as Steve there was Nick, a good bit older than the rest of us, in his thirties. He’d done a bit of dancing, and a bit of modeling. Everyone was OK, but not outstanding.”
“Then in the middle of March I was reading the Stage over breakfast, and spotted an ad for another band.
RU 18-23 with the ability to sing/dance?
RU streetwise, outgoing, ambitious, dedicated?
Heart Management Ltd are a wisely successful
Music Industry Management Consortium currently
forming a choreographed, singing/dancing
all female Pop Act for a Record Recording Deal.
Auditions on 27 March 1994 at Dance Works
opposite Selfridges, 11-4

“They’re (Bob and Chris Herbert) already halfway through seeing people when this girl comes crashing through the double doors, half tripping up on what look like Vivienne Westwood platform shoes, an original sixties handbag spilling make-up and keys all over the place. We all turn and stare. She’s wearing this purple coat with marabou feathers round the neck and underneath she’s got on a pair of really really tight deep-purple seventies-style Farrahs, slightly flared. And this auburn hair half up and half down, loads of make-up, very high cheekbones, sparkly eyes, brilliant skin. She was really really tiny, really skinny and obviously very very scatty. In fact a bit bloody weird. This was Geri. I recognised her from a month or so before when we’d both done an audition for a film called Tank Girl.
“So I’m sitting in the foyer waiting with Geri, and we’re having a chat and all of sudden she disappears and then comes back with a box of popcorn. And she’s stolen it. She had to do it, she tells me, because she has a low sugar level and no money. So she offers me some of this popcorns, and I say, ‘No, thank you.’ Not because I don’t want any, but because I’m just too scared. So then this woman comes over and starts shouting at me, for some reason thinking that I had nicked it. And I can feel my face go bright red, and obviously I can’t say anything about Geri, so I just say, ‘No, I didn’t. It wasn’t me, I swear.’Over and over. Then she goes and Geri carried on popping the popcorn into her mouth, grinning. And there’s me, so square I wouldn’t even take any of this popcorn because I don’t want to be seen eating stolen property.”
“Geri wasn’t in our group, but there was this mad mixed-race girl called Melanie Brown. I remember thinking she was really really beautiful: lovely little figure, nice pair of boobs, perfect skin, all this black curly hair. She was wearing a cream-coloured top and a little cream A-line skirt with buttons up the front. She had a very strong North Country accent and was very outgoing and confident. In fact she was a bit frightening, if I’m really honest.”

“So it was back to our little rehearsal room; not the best place to learn a dance, particularly when the person learning isn’t a dancer. It turned out Geri hadn’t even some to the original audition. She was a complete blagger – just said she was ill and pleaded to be fast-tracked to the recall. But you could see what it was about her – all this marabou around her neck and all this red hair – she was completely mad, completely over the top. The kind of Yes-I’ve-climbed-Mount-Everest-I’ve done everything kind of person you’d want to hang out with. And, in actual fact, she had lived a lot more than the rest of us. She’d lived in a squat, she’d worked in Turkey and Majorca. She’d been around. The rest of us were fresh out of college.”
“A week later we were back again in Shepherd’s Bush. I had expected it to be the same five, but it wasn’t. The Welsh girl with the great voice wasn’t there, instead there was a girl who said she knew me called Melanie Chisholm. She had a Liverpool accent and I genuinely couldn’t remember ever having seen her before. She told me that she’d been to Doreen Bird’s, the college I would have gone to if I hadn’t got a place at Laine’s. She was soft, and seemed like a really nice caring person. She was wearing a black A-line skirt with buttons on the front, a tight black top, hair all scraped back and a bright red lipstick.”
“So we’re standing round the piano and first we sing individually. Melanie B was very confident, but then she was already quite a professional; she’d been in Coronation Street and Emmerdale Farm. Melanie C, who had been at the original audition but missed the recall because she’d had something the matter with her tonsils, was a good natural singer, generally a lot more controlled and sounded a lot more trained than the rest of us. Whereas Geri was more Here-We-are-Standing-in-a-Pub-type thing with the husky voice to go with it. I was more Take me to the Music Hall. Geri didn’t have an outstanding talent, but she could belt something out, and she was louder than me. Pure personality. Michelle had a good voice, but it was not poppy at all. And I remember thinking, Well, if it’s four, then I stand a better chance than Michelle, my main reason being that I could dance and she couldn’t.”

“We’d like you to spend a week together”, Chris explained. They had booked rooms in a guest house just outside Windsor, and there was a studio not far away. Everything would be paid for.”
“That week I was happy in a way I had never imagined possible. Every morning we’d pile into a car that came to collect us and go working on our dancing and our singing. For the first time in my life I was with people who wanted to know me and liked me and I had something in common with. We never stopped laughing. I’d always been quite quiet and reserved. And already I’d had more laugh with them than I’d had with anyone I could remember.”
“My dad came down to pick me up. As Geri lived quite near us, in Watford, we gave her a lift back. Me and Geri had shared a room and, although she was completely mad, we got on really well. Although our taste in clothes was different – I was designer, Geri was vintage – we were both into style in our own way. The great thing about Geri was that she never did things by halves – she would almost become a character. Like eighties, seventies, or sixties. It made no difference if we were going to the studio, Tesco’s, or out to a club. Geri would dress in whatever character she had decided she was going to be that particular day. She was totally styled all the time, and almost knew how to dress like a pop star even before she was one. In fact it was only a time wore on that she got more casual because we barely had time to go to the toilet, let alone go shopping. We said goodbye with promises to keep in touch ‘whatever happens’. Geri was the first person I had ever felt I could say, this is my best friend.”
“Maidenhead was another try-out, Chris explained when he called me, but this time longer. We would work on our voices and routines during the day and live together in this house to see how we got on together.”
“There were two and a half bedrooms; I shared the biggest with Michelle. It had a light blue carpet and a yellowy floral wallpaper, white wardrobes and white sideboard. Nice, but not matching quilts. The two Mels had to share a double bed. We called it the ‘sex room’ because it had pink walls, a reddy coloured carpet and Mel B put a red bulb in the main light. No lampshade. Geri had a room that was little more than a cupboard. It didn’t even have a proper bed, only a mattress. There was only one bathroom and Mel B used to irritate us all because she hogged it, lying in the bath for hours singing Zhane songs such as ‘Groove Thang’.”

“Chic asked us down to his house in Bray, which backed on to the Thames, to have a swim in his pool.”
“It was when we were swimming at his house that he first had a go about my weight. ‘Do us a favour, Vic,’ he said giving me the once-over in my swimming costume. ‘Lose a couple of pounds, will ya?’
I wished I could just disappear, I felt so terrible. But anyway, I told myself, I wasn’t any bigger than Mel C was I? A few days later, Mel C told me he’d said the same thing to her.”
“The dancing came easily to me and the two Mels, but for Michelle and Geri it was uphill all the way. Michelle had a real problem with rhythm. Nothing we did seemed to make it easier. So when we were dancing we’d be shouting at her, and clapping at her legs. But it was hopeless: she had less rhythm than a cement mixer. She had an all-right voice, but it wasn’t poppy – it was what you might call cruise-ship operatic. In a way we were a bit cruel to Michelle, but then she let herself up for it. When things got though, instead of knuckling down, she’d remember her tan needed a top-up and go out into the garden. Also it didn’t help that she came from a very different background from the rest of us. My family might been better off than the other girls’ families, but basically we had a lot in common. Michelle was different. She lived in Oxford and had a place at university. She didn’t think the same way we did. She didn’t have the dream.”
“Yes, it was frustrating knowing we could have moved on more quickly if we hadn’t been held back by two of the group, but we could forgive Geri – at least she was trying. Whereas Michelle just couldn’t be arsed. First we talked about it amongst ourselves, but in the end we decided we had to say something to Bob and Chris. They agreed. The sun-worshipper, as we called her, would have to go.”
“We knew we had to find somebody else. Even though Michelle hadn’t worked, five felt right. Michelle had looked the part but inside she had been wrong. What we needed was somebody like us – loud, gutsy, ruthless workaholics – but blonde. Did we know anybody like that? No we didn’t. But Pepe (singing teacher, Pepe Lemer) did. A couple of years back she had taught a girl called Emma Bunton. And during the break she got hold of her address from the school where she’d taught her, and asked he to get in touch. Then Emma met Bob, Chris and Chic. They asked her to come and spend some time with us to see if she fitted in and if her voice sat comfortably with the rest of us.”


“Finally it was Us. Or ‘Touch’, as Bob, Chris and Chic had decided we should be called.”
“I quite liked Touch.”
“We decided we should meet Emma at the station, so we piled into Geri’s car. It was a really sunny afternoon and Geri had on hot pants, and this tight little white and red stripey top that she still wears now, her hair up in pigtails, black and white stripey socks and big platform shoes. This was a French day; all she needed was some onions around her neck and a bike and she’d be away. Anyway, typical Geri parks on a double yellow line and says she’ll run in and get Emma while we stay in the car to fend off traffic wardens. It’s funny now to think that’s where the five of us first met. I can see it now: Emma walking towards us with her mum, wearing a little white dress, white knee-socks and trainers, blonde shoulder-length hair, really clear skin and a really big smile – like she’d been to stage school, and she had: six years at Sylvia Young. And she looked so young. In fact, she was the youngest, although she had more working experience than the rest of us put together. She’d done Grange Hill and EastEnders. Within a few hours of meeting Emma we all gelled. A few looks, a few nods. We knew this was right. When Emma moved to Maidenhead it was the first time she’d lived away from home. She and her mum were very close – the first time at the station they were holding hands. She took over Michelle’s place in my room. Like me, Emma found it hard being away from her family and we both used to go home every weekend. As she lived in Finchley I always gave her a lift.”
“Even more tidy than me was Melanie C. She was very houseproud. At the beginning she used to do all the tidying and cleaning. We ended up having a rota: who would do the clearing up, who would sweep the stairs, who would do the hoovering and who would clean the toilets, and we would take it turns, although Mel C always ended up doing more than anybody else. If she saw that the washing-up needed doing, she’d just do it, even though it wasn’t her turn. She couldn’t stand mess.”
“Touch, like the name of Bob and Chris’s management company Heart, was too touchy-feely, we had decided. we wanted something edge. What about High Five? Plus Five? Five Alive? One sounded druggy, one sounded extra-large and one had copyright problems as it was a fruit juice. But the idea stuck. Later Bob and Chris went on to manage a boyband: 5ive.”
“It was Geri who had the brainwave. She and Mel C had just come back from the gym – Mel C was a fitness fanatic and Geri was a thinness fanatic. Geri came bursting in through the lounge foor.
‘I’ve got it.
‘Spice what?’
Was this a knock knock joke?
‘Our name. Spice. It’s got five letters and it’s us. One word for five different tastes. So? What do you think?'”
“In those early days I still felt a bit left out. I knew that I wanted to be part of the mix, but the others were so much more confident than me: Emma with years of work under her belt, Mel B being so totally fearless, Mel C taking a melody and making it really sing, Geri I’m-all girl-look-at-me. It was so intimidating – like standing in a room with no clothes on. And particularly during the early sessions, I didn’t have as much input as I did later. In fact with ‘Wannabe’ I missed most of it. We’d been working with Matt and Biff all week, but by the time Friday night arrived it was only half done – so everyone agreed to carry on over the weekend. But I had a problem. Some relation of Mark’s (Victoria’s boyfriend at that time) was getting married and he put so much pressure on me to go to this bloody wedding. I said to the girls that I really didn’t want to miss anything, but they said: ‘No, no, no, you must go.’ ‘I’ll call you,’ Geri promised. Geri and I had just bought these mobile, which were so big that they could have done duty as coshes. ‘Don’t worry. I’ll let you know exactly what we’re doing. You won’t miss out on anything.’ But I did. The wedding was somewhere near Torquay and from the moment Geri calls me I’m thinking, What am I doing? It wasn’t as if it was anything to do with me. It was Mark’s bloody family. She was great, calling me every five minutes saying, ‘What do you think of this idea, what do you think of that idea?’ But I just couldn’t bear not being there. Because whatever they said about how it didn’t matter, it did matter. Saying `Yes, I like that’ or ‘Not sure about that’ down the phone is not the same. I could have cried. I did cry, later. Because I knew, we all knew, that this song was so perfect. That ‘Wannabe’ was us, that this was it. And it id make a difference, because by the time it came to recording, performing and singing it, all the parts had been divided up between the rest of them. Yes, I did few backing vocals but nothing major. And every time we performed it I just felt like a gooseberry standing at the back not doing anything. ”
“He (Mark) dumped me. Why? My childish behaviour, he said. I should have been delighted but I was in total shock.”
“Looking back it’s hard to work out whether I really fancied him (Corey Haim) or if I was just a bit of a sad fan. Anyway, it was just what I needed – I used to go round to his hotel or he used to come up to our house. But then Mark came round to my mum’s house to pick something up – after all, he had lived there for over three years – and he saw a photo lying on the kitchen table that my dad had taken of me and Corey in the garden. He went totally berserk. Suddenly all the stuff about me being childish and him crying and bellowing, begging me to give him another chance. What’s that, Mark? Another chance? I don’t think so. Funny how much better it makes you feel when you’re the one doing the dumping.”
“It was two years since I had first met the girls and I had changed. When we started out all the other girls would leap on a table and sing and dance, whereas I’d always be the one to say the table might collapse and perhaps we oughtn’t to do that. But they had tapped into my brain and discovered the real me, the person I am now. If I hadn’t met the four Spice Girls, I’d be completely different. They brought out the daring side, the say-what-you-think side. If you want something go and get it. If you want to wear something, so what if no one else is wearing it, just wear what you want to wear. Do your make-up and your hair how you want, and sod everything.”
“The problem was that they (Bob, Chris and Chic) had the key. Not the key to the studio, the key to our future – the precious tape of the songs. Bob and Chris guarded it like it was a winning lottery ticket. Which in many ways it was. Friday. The stars were in perfect conjunction according to Patrick Walker – we bought the Evening Standard every day just to read him – it was now or never. Geri and the two Mels would go to the management offices in Maidenhead and while the two Mels did the decoy bit keeping Chris and Bob occupied, Geri would somehow manage to wangle the tape. Meanwhile me and Emma would go to the studios in Wolking to collect some things we had there till we got the all-clear from Geri. Now we really were a gang. My phone rang. Geri. The deed was done.”
“We knew Bob and Chris had set up a session the following Tuesday with a writer called Elliot Kennedy in Sheffield. The problem was we’d never met the guy.”
“Geri phoned about four on Saturday afternoon. ‘We’ve found him and he’s up for it. So get up here as quick as you can'”
“Elliot Kennedy was the kind of person you meet and feel you’ve known all your life. His house was a three-bedroomed semi – quite big and he’d turned the dining room into a recording studio. The next day we’re just talking about what we want to do, bouncing a few ideas around.”
“Living and working with Elliot was the best thing that could have happened to us at that time. It took our mind off What Happens Now. The first song we wrote with Elliot was ‘Love Thing’ which is on the first album – a great song – especially after what I’d just been through with Mark – full of lines about broken hearts and not going down that road again, and how my plans no longer include you, you loser.”
“Geri had spoken to someone called Marc Foxe. He’d given her his card and said if we ever needed help give him a call.”
“Our routine was very businesslike. Marc Foxe, who was in music publishing, would make the appointments and we’d take turns driving, either me or Geri.”
“Marc Foxe had put us in touch with Paul Wilson and Andy Watkins, writers and producers known as Absolute. They had worked with people like Mica Paris and Lisa Stansfield. The first song we did with them was ‘Something Kinda Funny’. Whereas Matt and Biff were more poppy, Absolute were more soul. They went on to produce ‘Love Thing` and ‘Say You’ll be There’, the two songs we did with Elliot Kennedy.”
“Andy told us that they had sent Simon a tape of ‘Something Kinda Funny’. Simon Fuller started as a publishing scout for Chrysalis Records in the mid-eighties. His company was called 19 Management.”
“Compared to most prospective managers we’d seen, there was something soft about Simon, even a bit camp. Everything was understated, including his voice. He knew how to get control of the room in a calm way by speaking really low.”
“Yet the truth is that we went to him that morning in Battersea with our first album well underway and the image already in place. We were there for about an hour. Here was someone who was totally professional, sensitive, and who listened. ”
“There was no contest. Simon Fuller it was.”
“So. May 1995. We had our manager. Now all we needed was a record company.”
“No sooner had Simon Fuller come into our lives than I met Stuart Bilton.”
“I met Stuart in a bar in Broxbourne where my sister and her friends went all the time. He was a real charmer and he made me laugh. Stuart was one of those boys that everyone fancied: good-looking, wore really nice clothes.”
“We all decided it was only fair that Bob, Chris and Chic were paid back what they had invested in us, including what it cost to record our first three demos.”
“Most new bands are so desperate to sign with anyone that they end up getting screwed, but in taking his time, leaking a little bit of information here, a snippet of a track there, Simon had got the whole record industry talking about us.”
“Virgin was a bit of a wild card. Strangely, they didn’t have any other British pop bands in those days – but our thinking was that this was an advantage, there’d be no chance they’d get complacent, as other record labels might. They had too much to prove. In the end we decided to go with them”
“Days passed and we still hadn’t signed. There was no rush, Simon said. We had to get it right.”
“London Records thought they were still in the loop – and to be fair, until we signed, they were. So in a final attempt to seduce us away from Virgin, London Records threw us a party on the Thames. The problem was the date, 13 July 1995 – the day we were supposed to be signing with Virgin. So we tell Tracy Bennett what’s going on – we’d all decided we didn’t want to play those kind of games. And he says, what the hell, come anyway. So it is just like a seduction: majorly wild, loudspeakers pumping, wine flowing, fantastic food and us. Time was ticking on. We were meant to be signing with Virgin. But, hey! We were on a boat in the middle of the Thames having a brilliant time high on adrenalin – all this for us! I don’t remember whose idea the blow-up dolls were, but it was totally spontaneous. We persuaded Camilla, our PA, to go to the Ann Summers sex shop on Charing Cross Road and buy five of these things, spray the hair relevant colours, put them in our cars and take them to Virgin where they’d think it was us, open the doors, and hey presto! If Virgin didn’t know yet who they were dealing with, they would now. I have no memory of getting off the boat, nor of the journey to Ladbroke Grove where Virgin had their head office, nor signing, nor getting the cheque. But I can remember the party. I can remember chucking the blow-up dolls over the bridge into the canal. I was totally drunk.”
“I was so drunk I fell over and the other girls ripped my knickers off and threw them out of the window.”
“I have a vague memory of hanging out of the window and shouting to the world, ‘We’ve just signed with Virgin!'”
“Our first public outing was the Brits in February 1996. We were there as guests of Virgin, sitting at a table with two blokes who were part of a band called the Brotherhood.”
“The music industry knew Virgin had this new girl band called Spice, but no more than that. And you could see people turning their heads as we passed, and hear the buzz – who are they? And you’d hear the answer: those Spice girls. That’s how the name got changed: people asking if they’d heard ‘those Spice girls’. Or saying, ‘Are you the Spice girl?’ So Spice Girls we became.”
“I continued to try to lose weight. If all went according to plan we’d be doing a lot of television and Geri was always telling me that television makes you look fatter. Miss Laine had made clear that she thought I was overweight, but to be honest I didn’t care that much. When Miss Laine sent me to the back of the line, I just accepted that I was fat. But the truth was I wasn’t. I was just a bit bigger than the other skeletons in the place.”
“Geri never told me in so many words that I was fat. She knew that Chic had told me and Mel C that we could both do with ‘losing a couple of pounds’ so she started encouraging us both to get up early with her and go jogging, to ‘get into shape’. So why not?”
“Then it moved to food. I started gradually. Geri would say things like don’t put sauces on food, that low-fat things were just as good and I could try just not eating quite so much. It was Geri who introduced me to Slimfast, a milkshake drink that fills you up and stops you feeling hungry. The trouble is, when you start thinking like that, it is hard to stop, particularly if you’re an all-or-nothing person like I am.”
“I begin living on vegetables, and nothing else. But it never occurred to me for a moment that I might have an eating disorder because everybody knew people with eating disorders were thin, and I was still the same size as I had always been. I was just eating healthily and getting myself into shape.”
“Japan was crunch time. I couldn’t get my Frosties, there were no normal vegetables. So I just stopped eating. And all of a sudden I found I was losing weight. And I’m thinking, if I can’t eat the food let’s turn it into a positive thing. So every evening I’d spend an hour doing sit-ups, crunches, aerobic exercises. I was getting thinner and thinner every day. I was shinking. And the excitement at getting thinner quite took away the hunger. Even the other girls started to notice, but they were easy to fob off. Because when you have an eating disorder you can fool people. Fooling people becomes part of the buzz.”
“My mum realized I hadn’t been eating. I agreed to go and see the doctor.”
“I did start eating more, but the damage was done. All I would eat was vegetables, fruit, chicken and fish.”
“‘Wannabe’ was released on 8 July 1996. We’d done weeks of promotion. The following Sunday we were number 3. Our first record and we were in the top ten.”
“Back to Japan where ‘Wannabe’ was heading up the charts. I remember we were all having dinner in this Japanese restaurant in the hotel. I had a long down-to-the-floor dress that I’d borrowed from Louise to take away with me. It was Sunday and Camilla, our PA, came in and said she’d just heard from Simon we were number 1. That was totally unbelievable. Number 3 had been amazing enough.”
“‘Wannabe’ broke all records for a debut single. It stayed at number 1 for seven weeks. ‘Say You’ll Be There’ gave us our second number 1 and Ladbrokes were already making ‘2 Become 1’ favourite for that all important Christmas number 1 – a record that hadn’t even been released yet. ‘2 Become 1’ became the fastest-selling single since ‘Band Aid’. That made three in row. Jackpot.”
“People were starting to recognize us when we went out.”
“I could just hear all those arseholes at my school, the girls who found it hard to keep their legs together, who called me names, who I could just hear saying to their friends, Oh yes, I was a friend of posh Spice, we did this and we did that. And the boys who called me frigid, they were probably saying how they’d slept with me. Warning: if you ever hear anybody saying they were friends of mine at school then you will know that these people are lying. I’d always said I’d show them and I had. And I could just hear Miss Laine telling her girls how I’d been at Laine’s and she’d always known how talented I was. And wondered if any of them would remember the truth, or would they just blank out what they had really said and really done? I wouldn’t blank them out. I would never forget.”

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