entertainment

Inside the mind-blowing memorabilia collection of a Spice Girls superfan

Doctor Spice’s collection of Spice Girls memorabilia is estimated to be worth up to £60,000. But what is it about the '90s icons that still inspires such tireless dedication?

2022-03-24

Words: Gary Grimes; Images: Doctor Spice

The special relationship that exists between female pop stars and their legions of devout queer, and often particularly gay male fans is as deep-rooted as it is well documented. Over the years, some have posited that this devotion stems from a feeling of shared oppression. In a world dominated by the patriarchy, both gay or effeminate men and women, however famous, will suffer, so of course it makes sense that the defiant lyrics and feisty attitudes of stars like Lady Gaga, Christina Aguilera or Beyoncé would resonate deeply with those of us our fighting our own battles against The Man.

Oftentimes the central messages in an artist’s lyrics become words to live by for their fans, the way one might take lessons from a parable in a sacred text. Love thy neighbour. Honour thy father and thy mother. Spice up thy life?

As far as super fandom goes, few acts have gone on to inspire the levels of devotion and adoration as the Spice Girls. At the time of their brash arrival to the scene in 1996, they offered fans not one but five role models, each representing a different archetype of femininity. They quite literally took to the streets, and stage, to preach their all-important message of Girl Power and when any of them spoke, with all the pomp and clarity of an impassioned evangelist, their fans listened.

At a time when masculinity was still largely worshipped and the word ‘toxic’ was reserved for describing nuclear power plants, the Spice Girls certainly helped to push the needle on how women were expected to look, sound or behave. But they were also, undoubtedly, mavericks of branding and self-marketing. In the early years of Spice-mania, the band truly laid the blueprint for acts who wished to monetise their newfound fame beyond just album and ticket sales, lending their fresh-faced pouts to just about every product you can imagine: dolls, crisps, antiperspirants, soda drinks, socks, pencil cases, cameras, wash-bags, Playstation games, motorbikes, make-up – you name it, they slapped a logo on it.

So, what do you get when you combine five brassy young women chanting messages of hope and empowerment, a global army of superfans, and a seemingly never-ending range or products and merchandise? Well, besides from at least five bulging bank accounts, you’ll also find a subset of fans who engage in a specific type of stan-dom – that of the obsessive collector.

Late 1997 display from The Doctor Spice Collection: A Superfan's Collection of Spice Girls Memorabilia

Not content with a comprehensive CD collection and a few ticket stubs in a memory box, these fans make a sport out of getting their hands on each and every piece of artist-branded tat in existence. They treat these collector items with the respect they feel they deserve, perfectly preserving them in mint condition like museum artifacts.

One such avid Spice Girls collector is the mysterious figure known only as Doctor Spice, who has developed something of a cult following on Instagram where he shares professionally shot, studio-lit images of the many bizarre and wonderful items he’s amassed over the last 25 years, also offering followers trivia and detailed cultural context of what was going on in the life and career of the band at the time the item was released.

Earlier this month, Doctor Spice released a book documenting this enormous collection of over 2,000 pieces of ephemera and memorabilia entitled The Doctor Spice Collection: A Superfan's Collection of Spice Girls Memorabilia. The 168-page book not only displays the Doctor’s vast collection but also tells the group’s unique story, both as a band and individuals, as its never been told before: through the products and magazines they so dutifully lent their faces to over the years.

When we recently caught up with the Doctor himself, he revealed that for him, as an LGBT+ person, his fandom and collecting has at times been a form of escapism from the daily perils of queer life. “Growing up as LGBT+ can be tricky at best, so if there is an artist that allows you to escape to a positive place in your mind, whether it be through music or whatever, we hold on to that because it's precious to us and we remain grateful for the rest of our lives,” Doctor Spice explained.

“Also, the Spice Girls represent a confidence to be your authentic self, whatever that may mean for you, which really resonates with people who have struggled with or questioned their identity.

Melanie C 'Beautiful Intentions' display from The Doctor Spice Collection: A Superfan's Collection of Spice Girls Memorabilia

“I think Girl Power was a much-needed movement in the 90s that empowered girls to believe in themselves and form strong friendships with other girls. But, of course, Spice Mania attracted all sorts of people including boys and non-binary people, so over the years it has become much more inclusive.”

There’s no denying that a great deal of the passion Spice Girls fans have for the group can be credited to the enduring relevance of Girl Power messaging as it continues to speak to those oppressed by misogyny, homophobia or transphobia today. “I think LGBT+ people are loyal to artists who have made them feel something profound,” Doctor Spice suggested.

“For me it is a philosophy and a way of life which is particularly empowering to anyone who has felt different to the mainstream, whether that's women, LGBTQ+ people or just a person who doesn't follow the crowd.

“I don't remember falling in love with the Spice Girls because I was gay, I just loved them. Would I have loved them if I was straight?” he stopped to consider. “I hope so!”

“As I've gotten older I realise that they have really shaped the person I have become. I always try to lead a positive life, live in the moment, respect myself and others and just try to be the most authentic version of myself.”

It’s clear that Doctor Spice feels the band have added a lot to his life over the years but, of course, maintaining and growing a collection of this magnitude is surely a very time-consuming task. You can’t help but wonder how such devotion to a musical act might impact other areas of a superfan’s life, such as the pursuit of romance, but in Doctor Spice’s case, these two strands of life go perfectly hand in hand.

“Actually, my boyfriend gave me his Geri "On Tour" doll in 2011 when we first started dating so I knew he was a keeper,” he admitted.

Excerpt from The Doctor Spice Collection: A Superfan's Collection of Spice Girls Memorabilia

It sounds as though a shared appreciation for the band and the art of collecting would have been a necessity during the book’s production as their shared home became something of a make-shift photo studio. “I would get the items needed out of storage, set up the home studio and spend a day shooting. My flat looked like a merchandise stand had exploded but luckily my boyfriend loves the Spice Girls as well so he didn't complain too much.”

It's not just the sheer volume of items or its estimated value of up to £60,000 that makes Doctor Spice’s collection so impressive. Exhaustive of the group’s various brand collaborations, the Doctor Spice collection is also home to a number of extremely rare, one-of-a-kind artefacts which carry immense sentimental value to Spice Girls fans. These include items like the membership card to the original Spice Girls fan club (and the Spice-branded envelope the cards were mailed out in), numerous garments worn by the group on stage, and even a limited-edition Mel C badge which only a handful of fans were lucky enough to find buried in packets of Spice Girls-branded Walkers Cheese & Chive crisps.

But perhaps the most precious and unrepeatable item in the collection is the card opened by Caroline Aherne in character as Mrs Merton at the 1997 BRIT Awards which revealed the group to be the winner of that year’s Best Single category. How many Spice Girls fans can say they are in possession of the piece of paper which lead Mel C to publicly taunt Liam Gallagher to “Come and ’ave a go if you think you’re hard enough?”

Although Doctor Spice’s love for the girls is deep, some might even say extreme, he says he stops short of the sort of stalker-esque expressions of fandom that originally inspired the term ‘stan’. “I don't like to think of myself as a stan, although others may see me as that. I usually enjoy my fandom of the Spice Girls in my own world, without bothering the band themselves,” he explained.

“I have met them all a couple of times but I don't feel the need to be close to them,” he went on to say. “They have my love and respect whether I'm standing outside a TV studio or not.

Excerpt from The Doctor Spice Collection: A Superfan's Collection of Spice Girls Memorabilia

“Generally I take their philosophy of being a strong individual and lead my own life... which does include some obsessing from time to time, but not the stalker type!”

Doctor Spice’s relationship with the “Wannabe” hitmakers is a great example of where sincere, wholehearted fandom has clearly brought so much joy to someone’s life. Now, with his book, he hopes to share some of that Spice-fuelled positivity with the world.

“When I see it all just stored away it feels like I'm hiding this joy from the world. I want people to enjoy it, so until I get my own museum I thought a book would be a good way to celebrate it,” he explained.

As the items were shot and arranged chronologically from the date they were produced or released, the book is not just a display of one fan’s robust collection but also a depiction of the Spice Girls story from their humble beginnings in middle England through to the pandemonium of Spice Mania, their respective solo careers and their inevitable reunions.

In particular, the collection’s meticulous archive of newspaper clippings and magazines covered by the group is a fascinating look into how they were portrayed by the media throughout their remarkable careers. Often the press sought to objectify or even vilify the women for owning their sexuality in a way few British female acts had done before, as evidenced by items such as a 2007 cover of The Sun headlined: “I really, really want a bigger bra” or a 1997 cover of Sky Magazine which lead with the quote: “Look out, I’m going to flash my boobs!”

In perfect contrast to this is a rare copy of the first issue of the band’s own magazine which sought to entice readers in not with the promise of sex stories or nudity but with the allure of true empowerment: “Take control!” it reads. “How girl power can change your life.”

The Doctor Spice Collection might not hold the answers to how to change your life but it is certainly a brilliant snapshot into how Ginger, Sporty, Scary, Baby and Posh changed at least one man’s life for the better. In celebration of the book’s launch, we asked Doctor Spice to choose a handful of the rarest and most precious items featured in it to give you a picture of what’s in store. Be warned though – some of these items are enough to make a Spice Girls fan really, really, really want to zig a zig ah.

1) Melanie C’s Spiceworld: The Movie costume (1997)

"Melanie personally donated this to a charity auction in 2016, which I won. I was so happy to own a Spice Girls costume and movie memorabilia whilst also helping a great cause."  

2) BRIT Awards 1997 Best British Single winner card (1997)

"Mrs Merton presented this award to the band on the night of their iconic 'Union Jack dress' performance. The card which announced that 'Wannabe' had won, was left on the podium and then thrown into the crowd, following Melanie C's "Come and 'ave a go" message for Liam Gallagher."

3) Australian limited-edition Ginger 'Viva Forever' CD (1998) (1 of 500)

"This edition of their 1998 UK No.1 hit was only available to 500 Australian competition winners, making it a super rare item. It has become a holy grail for Spice collectors and can sell for up to £1,000 on online auctions."

4) Bulgarian Impulse body spray/shower gel box set (1998)

"This is the only one I've seen. It features an image of Mel B on the front whilst the back shows all four - yes, despite the Impulse campaign peaking in the late summer of 1997, this must have been released after Geri's departure in 1998."

5) Istanbul '97 concert ticket (1997)

"This is an extremely rare item. Their first live concerts consisted of two nights in Istanbul, Turkey in October 1997. The audience were predominantly Pepsi competition winners and press, this concert ticket is the only one I've ever seen for these shows."

6) Attitude magazine (1998)

"Photographed whilst on tour in America, the Girls (minus Geri) featured in their only Attitude cover story as a band, dressing up as The Village People in a fun shoot. I was too young for Attitude at that time but I couldn't wait to add it to my collection in later years. Geri has also been Attitude's cover star three times!"

7) RIAA framed disc award

"This was sent to music industry professionals including radio station DJs celebrating 6million sales of 'Spice' and 3 million sales of 'Spiceworld'."

The Doctor Spice Collection: A Superfan's Collection of Spice Girls Memorabilia is out now.