Fashion icon, businesswoman, wife of an internationally-renowned footballer and, of course, member of one of the most successful pop acts in British history, Victoria Beckham is the quintessential modern celebrity. Yet although she is one of the world's best-known public figures, very little is known about the woman behind the glamorous exterior. In Victoria, Sean Smith embarks on the first in-depth study of this international superstar, and reveals a fascinating portrait of the girl who transformed herself from an overweight, insecure and bullied teenager into Posh Spice.
Victoria is a complete reasessment of the woman everyone thinks they know. Smith goes back to the very beginning to recount the highs and lows of her extraordinary life, from childhood to the present. Along the way, she has struggled with her weight, jealousy, the pressures of fame, and her husband's alleged infidelity. Victoria is a thorough and affectionate account of the obstacles she has faced, her rise to fame, and her current life, right up to the hugely successful 2007 Spice Girls Reunion Tour.
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Sean Smith is the UK's leading celebrity biographer and the author of the number one bestseller Cheryl, the definitive biography of Cheryl Cole, as well as bestselling books about Robbie Williams, Tulisa Contostavlos and Kate Middleton. His books about the most famous people of our times have been translated throughout the world. His subjects include Gary Barlow, Alesha Dixon, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Victoria Beckham, Jennifer Aniston and J. K. Rowling. The film Magic Beyond Words: The J. K. Rowling Story was based on his biography of the Harry Potter author. Described by the Independent as a 'fearless chronicler', he specializes in meticulous research, going 'on the road' to find the real person behind the star image. www.seansmithceleb.com Twitter: @SeanSmithCeleb facebook.com/seansmithcelebbiogExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Spicing Up My Life: The Spice Girls in concert at the O2 Centre, London, Friday, 11 January 2008
The girl next to me leaned across excitedly. 'Look,' she said, pointing towards the front row. 'It's Brooklyn and his granddad.' She had come well equipped for this large arena - a pair of binoculars seemingly glued to her face. I followed her line of sight and, sure enough, a boy dressed in blue was standing up beside a casually dressed, silver-haired man. They may or may not have been Master Beckham and Mister Adams but, frustratingly, were a yard or two too far away to see clearly with the naked eye. I wasn't too sure I could identify them even with the Hubble telescope. My chatty informant, however, was, I thought, just the sort of person who sent in celebrity sightings to the 'spotted' columns of glossy magazines and tabloid newspapers. She continued, 'Now, is that Cruz or Romeo? I think it's Cruz in white and Romeo in blue.'
By now I was eager for a closer look at the most famous show business/sporting family in Britain today. Come to think of it, they are probably the most famous family of any kind. Having borrowed - snatched - the now communal binoculars, I could see that it was indeed Brooklyn and Victoria's father, Tony. And there was Nan Jackie, looking very glamorous. Victoria's younger sister, Louise, was dressed in red, chatting to a pretty little girl with a short dark bob whom I guessed was her daughter, Liberty. I thought it a splendid turn-out to support their daughter/sister/ mother/aunt Victoria. After all, it was not even the first night of the Spice Girls' tour. At least three burly minders patrolled in front of the stage, gazing impassively back towards the audience but Victoria's family seemed completely unaffected by the bodyguards just feet away as they chatted and laughed and kissed newcomers on the cheek.
The Spice Girls had no support act on this tour so this episode of 'The Beckhams' filled the time divertingly. The Beckhams remind me of The Waltons, the cornball television series of the seventies. At the end of each episode, the whole Walton family could be heard wishing each other goodnight. It must be like that in Goff's Oak when David, Victoria and the boys are staying with her parents. The Adams' family compound now comprises three luxury homes: one for the parents, one for Louise and one for younger brother Christian. Between them the siblings have six children. If everyone had to say goodnight individually, it would take until morning. The key difference, of course, is that The Waltons was set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia during the Great Depression of the 1930s, a million miles away from an affluent area of Hertfordshire where Victoria's father drove a Rolls-Royce years before she made her millions.
Even before the girls took to the stage, there was a tangible feeling of cheerfulness. This was an evening when the great British public were determined to enjoy themselves; from small children to elderly grannies they radiated expectation with a smile on its face. My thoughts drifted towards an evening at the circus or the pantomime - an anticipation that this was going to be fun. I couldn't see any of the nerdy grey men who come out of the woodwork when some ageing rock band takes to the stage again after a twenty- or thirty-year gap. Instead, a huge cheer went round the arena when a group of swarthy young men took their seats wearing their version of the Union Jack mini dress, made so famous by Geri Halliwell in her Ginger Spice heyday. This promised not to be a concert but an occasion.
The Spice Girls did not disappoint. From the first song, inevitably 'Spice Up Your Life', the famous five maintained a level of excitement that never flagged. The show was all bright lights, big city entertainment for the whole ninety minutes. It was unapologetically Las Vegas. They bombarded us with their hits: 'Who Do You Think You Are', 'Stop' and 'Say You'll Be There' followed each other in quick succession. Not only did I discover that I knew the melodies to all these songs but I knew all the words as well.
This was instant nostalgia and that, to my mind, is no bad thing. Nostalgia has become strangely contemporary, if that is not a nonsensical paradox. Like Take That, the other hugely successful revivalists, the Spice Girls seem just a blink in the past. It's little more than ten years since they burst on to the pop stage with 'Wannabe', which sold more than one and a quarter million copies in the UK alone. 'Holler', their last number one, was as recent as November 2000. That may seem far too early for a nostalgic reunion but my own rule of thumb for music is that a generation lasts five years. Lasting longer than one generation is a tall order for any act for a number of reasons; divisions within the group or between artist and record company are obvious ones but, perhaps more significantly, fans grow up and change. There's a huge difference between a thirteen-year-old and an eighteen-year-old. Take That originally lasted five years, Boyzone and Wham also five years, Kylie's first incarnation with Stock, Aitken and Waterman was five years. The Spice Girls were top of the charts for four years and four months.
I quickly discarded my homespun analysis of the sentimental appeal of recent favourites because, as the concert began, there were some serious outfits to appraise. Victoria began the evening wearing a silver spray-on catsuit. She is probably not tall enough to be a catwalk model but she looks like a slender willow among shrubs when she stands alongside Geri Halliwell and Emma Bunton. Victoria is not much above 5ft 4in but Geri and Emma are petite at 5ft 2in, if that. Victoria moves likes a model, a study in elegant poise. Goodness knows how she manages it in those heels. The most extraordinary thing happened when Victoria had the rare opportunity to sing a solo line in a song. The volume of noise from the audience rose emphatically in the sort of crescendo that might greet a pinpoint pass from Beckham that puts Rooney clean through on goal. Throughout the night, every time that Victoria had the spotlight, the roar of the crowd left me in no doubt whatsoever that her popularity somehow had far outstripped her four sidekicks'. The cheering quite obviously reflected a genuine affection. Here is a key question I must answer in my search for the real Victoria Beckham: Why is she so popular? She seemed by far the weakest vocally. Fortunately, it mattered little, because the arena was filled with a wall of noise that made the voices sound eerily the same, except for Melanie C, who stood out in the bunch of mediocrity as much as she always did.
Emma Bunton was probably the second best singer. She wore some lovely, flowy designs that disguised the fact that she had recently had her first baby, a boy called Beau. Mel B, too, gave birth in 2007 and looked fantastic, fit and assertive - still quite Scary Spice. She had a sense of fun about her. Geri Halliwell was perhaps a tad too thin, although she looked very fit. She remains energetic. Melanie C, besides having the best voice, was also the most athletic, even if her costumes were the least flattering.
Superficially, one might think Victoria was the weakest. She never throws herself into the dancing, perhaps for fear that it would upset her poise and elegance to do so. She has an amazing strut but every pose comes from the catwalk manual of poses on the runway. Each of the girls did a solo number - Geri, for instance, belted out her number one 'It's Raining Men'. Victoria, however, just pranced up the stage as if taking part in a faux fashion show. I thought it was pretty stupid but no one seemed to care. It did give her the opportunity to smile close up at her children. I suddenly realized that David Beckham had sneaked in and was standing next to Cruz. How did I miss that?
Victoria obviously saw him, declaring, 'I love you David' and 'I love you boys' as she pranced about, striking a series of sexy poses. I wonder if that's part of her secret - being a sex bomb superstar as well as being mumsy. One could never describe Madonna, for instance, as 'mumsy'. I think it's an almost impossible combination to master and present believably to the general public. I can think of only one woman who managed it successfully prior to Victoria: Princess Diana. This might be a comparison to bear in mind as I explore Victoria's story. Diana, for all too short a period of time, was the most famous woman in the land. She had little discernible intellect or talent but something about her touched people. She was one of us, even though she was the daughter of an earl and a millionairess. I always recall the famous photograph of Diana and her young children on the water slide at Thorpe Park. I can imagine Victoria doing exactly the same thing, provided there were no photographers lurking. If there were, she would have to make sure she was appropriately styled.
The Spice Girls now have seven children between them - only Melanie C is not a mum - so the schmaltzy sequence of 'maternal' numbers was not as achingly cheesy as it might have been. Just before Christmas 2007, they had their kids up on stage during the performance of the number one 'Mama'. Victoria is on the record as saying that she is doing the reunion tour for her boys so they will know that their mother really was a pop star once upon a time. That's a motive very much in keeping with her public image, although the slightly cynical side of me might point out that the tour will also remind potential audiences in the US who Mrs Beckham, new resident of Los Angeles, California, is at a time when she wants promotion there.
The encore was a joyous affair, beginning with 'If You Can't Dance', an ironic title considering that dancing is one accomplishment all of the Spice Girls share. They are undoubtedly better dancers than singers. And then came 'Wannabe', the song that started it all. Victoria was the only one of the five not to get a solo line in the song, which I always thought a shame. They finished with...
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