Lying here in the warm sun it's easy to drift off. Staring up at a cloudless blue sky and surrounded by palm trees that shelter the sun-deck from prying eyes, I can imagine - just for a moment - that I'm on a secret fantasy desert island, miles from anywhere. Only the muffled noise of the traffic from Sunset Boulevard reminds me that I am here in my favourite hotel in Los Angeles, an oasis of calm in the heart of the city. I've been here before but this time it feels different. It's the perfect place to reflect on the journey that has brought me here and choose the path to follow next.
Ronnie has just brought me my lunch by the pool. When I moved into my villa - just set back from the main hotel in the manicured grounds - Ronnie came with the package. His job is to look after me and make me feel at home, so I suppose you could say he's done a pretty good job. He's very funny, very camp and loves to chat. Today's lunch is steamed fish, mustard mash and broccoli with some herbal tea to wash it down. Sometimes you just have to be grateful for the trappings of fame and, when it comes to Ronnie and a delicious meal by the pool, I can honestly say that I am.
I can't say that I came here intending to reflect on my life or even to stay very long. I was drawn to LA by other attractions. The first was the sunshine. I come alive in the springtime so, tired of waiting for the end of the English winter, I wanted to be somewhere warmer. I had professional reasons to be here too. I'd finished promoting my second album Scream If You Wanna Go Faster and I wanted to be where the action is. I had record producers to meet in LA and even some contacts to see in Hollywood.
When I got here I remembered that there was something else that attracted me to the city. Celebrities are ten a penny. Turn the corner and you bump into Christopher Walken making his way down the street with his shopping, go into a bar for a drink and there's Minnie Driver chatting to friends over lunch. Nobody points and nobody stares - in fact, in LA nobody cares and that's a relief. Last week, my sister Natalie came over to see me and we went to a theme park a few miles from town. We had a great time riding on the roller coaster and playing games on the stalls and we weren't disturbed by anyone. I can't see that happening at Alton Towers. I felt so happy. I felt free.
I got a call the other day from my manager, Andy. 'When are you coming back?' he asked. 'It's been a while now.'
'Oh,' I said. 'I'm not sure. I like it here. I think I want to stay a while longer.'
I could hear him sighing down the phone. 'OK,' he said, 'but Geri?'
'Just make sure you don't get lost in La-La Land.'
I could see what he was worried about: here I was in Los Angeles miles from home and from the real world of Geri Halliwell - Pop Star. There's not much chance of stumbling across a copy of the Sun or the Mirror here or finding myself reading a magazine article with the headline IS GERI TOO SKINNY? I don't have to worry about walking down the street or going to the movies or popping to the shops. Here, I no longer have to deal with my fame. Maybe Andy was worried I was being swept up by the glitz and the glamour of the Hollywood social scene but that wasn't it at all. If I was getting lost it was in the opportunity to feel like a normal person again, to step back from the madness and reassess my life. Do I really want to work on that new record yet? Are movies the right way to go? I like it in La-La Land.
It's never as easy as that, though, is it? Something always comes along to bring you back down to earth and my something came along a little while ago as I was relaxing by the pool:
Everyone finds it embarrassing bumping into their ex but only the famous have the moment captured on film, sold to the press and discussed in the gossip columns. When Andy called to tell me that my meeting with Chris Evans and his new wife was all over the newspapers I was very shocked. Somehow somebody had managed to creep into the hotel and get the picture. It was terrible to realise that I wasn't even safe here but it also reminded me that in England it's like that every day of the week.
Chris hasn't been the only old friend to appear at my temporary home from home at the Sunset Marquis. Just last week I was walking upstairs to the villa when I bumped into another:
Apart from the unplanned meetings, I've spent most of the time here on my own, like some old movie star in self-imposed exile. So it was great having Natalie over last week. We had a fantastic time shopping and taking day trips out of town and I even took her to the Vanity Fair party after the Oscars. It was so much fun because everyone was there and she loved seeing people like Oprah Winfrey and Tom Hanks. Now, though, even she's starting to wonder when I'm coming home.
'You can't live in a hotel for ever,' she said as we sat in a café after an exhausting shopping session.
'I know,' I replied. 'That's why I was wondering if you fancied coming and having a look for an apartment with me.'
And that's what we did. It didn't take long to find a perfect little place in a secluded spot a few minutes down the road. It looks like my days lying by the pool and drinking Ronnie's herbal tea are over, but it feels exciting to be moving somewhere a little more permanent. My life is at a crossroads in every way - career, home, family, fame - and this city 5,000 miles from home seems the best place to work out which way to turn next.
First of all, though, I have to understand how I got this far.
For me, the Spice Girls were more than just a pop band. In many ways they were my family, my personal support system.
Six months before I joined the group my father had died, suddenly, of a heart attack at the age of 72. Dad had always encouraged me to follow my dreams and was my greatest fan. His death left me feeling robbed, hurt and angry. I spent the months after his death in a daze. I sank into a depression so deep I wasn't sure I'd survive it.
The group offered me hope in this darkness: the hard work, the grand plans and the fun we had together allowed me to lock my problems away for a while. We became a family as much as a band. We even spent our early days living together. We were five girls in a three-bedroom house in Maidenhead queuing outside the bathroom for hours in the morning, sharing clothes and make-up tips and, most of all, working hard to make our dreams come true. Every day the five of us would pile into my little Fiat Uno and go to the rehearsal studio to work on our singing and our dance routines. We really were five wannabes and our success was built on a foundation of love and support. That closeness filled the empty space I had felt inside since my dad's death.
I could understand why the world was so confused about my decision to leave because I wasn't too clear about it myself. There were good reasons why it happened when it did but, even though they were important, the more I think about it now, the more I realise they only tell part of the story.
The girls and I always knew that a band like the Spice Girls would one day outstay its welcome on the bedroom walls of Britain's teenagers. A group like ours needed to know the right time to call it quits and, in the early days, we talked about giving it our best shot for two years then getting out before we were past our sell-by date. At the time, two years seemed a long way off in the future and when we thought about the band's shelf life we never imagined what a phenomenon we would turn out to be.
By November 1997, the two-year mark didn't seem so far away any more and it began playing on my mind. At the same time the Spice Girls' insane schedule had taken its toll on me and my eating disorders had returned. My response was typical: I thought I could fix my internal problems by changing something external, which was why I thought we should part company with our manager Simon Fuller. Looking back Simon was a wonderful manager and I wouldn't be where I am today without him but, at the time, I believed that we needed a change. For a while it felt great that the girls and I were in control again. It was just like the old days in my Fiat Uno: five girls taking on the world. The downside was that, without Simon, taking on the world was a tiring business. It was ironic that we had sacked him because of our heavy workload but now we were working twice as hard to prove we didn't need his help.
I'd been thinking for some time that the Spice Girls should go out with a bang rather than a fizzle. One wet night in Frankfurt in early March 1998, on the tour coach on the way to yet another hotel, I blurted out that I wanted our Wembley show in September to be our last - a grand finale in front of our home fans.
I wanted to box it up in a nice neat package. The girl band thing conquered. Mission accomplished.
Their silent response told me the girls had other ideas. I suppose I hoped the others would agree with me but they made it very clear that my departure would not be the end of the Spice Girls. They wanted to carry on. It was their group as much as mine and it was only fair that the majority should have their way. I could understand how they felt too. When something was working so well, why would you want it to end?
Excerpted from Geri: Just For the Record by Geri Halliwell Excerpted by permission.
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