Words: Thomas Stichbury
Destiny’s Child. Little Mix. Bewitched. There have been a gaggle of great girl groups over the years, but none hold as special a place in the cold slab of meat that I call my heart as the Spice Girls.
My childhood bed is still adorned with the faded white flecks of my Spice Girls sticker collection – if you squint hard enough, you can just about make out Baby’s eyeball.
So, when the ladies announced that they were reuniting (minus my fave Posh *sob*) my heart excitedly skipped a beat. Unless it was some sort of murmur, in which case I should probably see a doctor, stat.
Anywho, the iconic foursome revealed that they were hitting the road again on a 13-date stadium tour, and last month I had the privilege of earning a backstage pass to their penultimate gig at London’s Wembley Stadium.
Wandering in during Baby, Ginger, Scary and Sporty’s sound check – and doing my best to catch their eye, to no avail – I sat down with three super-fans charged with bringing the comeback shows to life: lighting designer Tim Routledge, video designer Kate Moross and stage designer Jason Sherwood.
Although expectations were as high as the hemline of Geri’s still gag-worthy Union Jack dress, the trio delivered on all fronts, turning out an entertainment extravaganza overflowing with camp, colour and 90s nostalgia.
Reflecting on the challenge of doing the Spice Girls justice, Tim, Kate and Jason assure that the task at hand was not Too Much, and at no point did they down tools and say Stop (right now, thank you very much).
Apologies, I don’t Wannabe annoying with my terrible puns. That said, if you do want to read more, just Holler…
When you heard the ladies – minus Victoria Beckham – were reforming, what thoughts skipped across your brain?
Kate: I was very excited, but we weren't allowed to talk about it. I had to keep quiet until the official announcement.
Tim: The code name for the comeback was “Project Hampstead.” I think that’s where Geri lives.
Jason: When I was eight years old, the Girls were the first concert I ever went to. I was just so happy to get the chance to see them perform again.
What brief were you all given when it came to putting the comeback shows together?
T: We wanted to avoid cheese, but [at the same time] you are coming to a show that is fun. It was also one hundred per cent about inclusivity, gender, sexual preference, colour, you name it. Spice Girls is all about being yourself and having a great time. Although everyone is in these four houses of Baby, Scary, Posh – not Posh [laughs] - and the other two, they all [eventually] come together and merge.
K: For me the show [was] driven by nostalgia. That was the most important thing to capture, respecting and celebrating the Spice Girls legacy.
J: We knew from the beginning that we wanted to create an immersive, inclusive party environment for all fans.
Stage designer Jason Sherwood
What sorts of obstacles did you face, and how did you overcome them?
T: There were two main things for me to light the show. First off, the girls [had] to look amazing. They were on these huge IMAX screens – twice the size of most tours – so you’re seeing them up close and personal. I [had] soft glamour lights everywhere and it worked beautifully. The second thing we [were] trying to achieve is a show that looks awesome from the get-go. Outdoor shows in the summer tend to take a while to get going [because] they’re too exposed.
K: Just the size of the screens and their layout – Jason's design was very original, and the ticker tape-style screens and the 3D ring were quite challenging to design visual content for.
J: The largest challenge was living up to my own expectations as a fan. I really wanted to deliver a design that felt embedded in the DNA of the group.
What learnings have you taken from the shows?
T: That you can’t control Mother Nature. The Girls’ Bristol gig was biblical on all accounts. When I did Beyoncé’s Formation tour – I was sat next to Beyoncé and her husband [Jay-Z] in a little tent for eight weeks designing that show, that’s something I’ll take to the grave – one of the conversations we had was, “What happens if it rains?” “Well, she’ll go out and get wet.” And she did. The Girls knew there was potential to get wet.
K: Mostly that the fans noticed everything we poured into the project, and that was so rewarding.
J: I’d never designed an outdoor stadium tour before, [so] I was concerned about how to create focus and visual flair when the first third of the show takes place in daylight. Luckily, Kate and Tim knocked it out of the park with the video and light designs.
What part of the show are you particularly proud of?
T: Act three when we go really theatrical. Two guys come up on the lift and do a queer tango. It’s beautiful. It comes from nowhere – and covers a costume change nicely [laughs].
K: The whole of act one, it's a true nostalgia bomb.
J: The inclusive message of the show remains my favourite element. The stage design is built on curves, circles, and an inclusive shape. We begin by welcoming all people to Spice World. It's a beautiful concept, and an antidote for today's world.
Video designer Kate Moross
Which Spice Girl did you most identify with when you younger?
K: Sporty Spice. I loved her attitude and style. She was always so chilled and diplomatic.
J: I remember specifically answering this question as a kid and saying that I loved them all for different reasons. I would say the same stays true today – the Spice Girls, like any great group, or community, are better and stronger together.
Which Spice Girl song would appear on the soundtrack of your life and why?
T: 'Say You’ll Be There'. I did have a thing for the costumes when I was a young lad [laughs].
K: 'Never Give Up On The Good Times', because the frog “ribbit” sample makes me happy every time I hear it.
J: Also 'Never Give Up on the Good Times'. Always makes me smile.
What interaction did you have with the ladies backstage?
K: They were incredible to work with. Their trust in us and what we were making was unique. They knew we were true fans.
J: We worked very closely as a team with the ladies to bring their vision of the show to life. They have been dream collaborators, and it's such a full circle moment. I am very grateful.
When was the last time you spiced up your life?
K: I mean three nights at Wembley was pretty full-on!
J: When we closed the tour at Wembley Stadium. I attended with nine of my best friends to dance the night away.
Lighting designer Tim Routledge
If you were to become an honorary member of the Spice Girls, what would you be called and why?
T: I’ve given it a little bit of thought… Bright Spice.
J: Scenic Spice, of course.
Do you get the sense that the Girls would like to tour again?
T: I have no idea. We as a team would love to do more. Of course we would, but if this is it, fucking great.
It was the first stadium tour I ever saw, as a 21 year old lad in 1998. To come back and be the lighting designer for it is just incredible.
Images by Andrew Timms