Twenty years ago, when ‘Cool Britannia’ was at its zenith and the Spice Girls were the biggest band on the planet – even bigger than The Beatles, and they were bigger than Jesus – I took my little sister to see them at Wembley. I was into drum and bass and grunge and ordinarily wouldn’t have been seen dead at such a thing – but, like most 11-year-olds at the time, my sister was a mega-fan, and I love playing Santa.
It was the hottest gig in town and the hype was mental. These slips of paper were like Willy Wonka’s Golden Tickets and EVERYONE was scrambling to get their hands on one the day they went on sale (eat your heart out, Glastonbury). But I had a Saturday job at Stargreen Box Office – it’s still there on Argyll Street, near The Palladium. And as soon as I saw the promoter’s allocation inching its noisy way out of the fax machine, I asked Barry to put two aside for me, and take the money out of my wages.
It’s a good thing I got my request in when I did. Because what came next, in true Spice Girls style, was utter pandemonium.
The moment the key turned in the lock, a sea of squealing Spice Girls fans came pouring through the doorway like a tidal wave, and Barry’s box office – which is roughly the size of a shoebox – was soon under siege as they all clambered for the counter. He hadn’t seen such a frenzy since 1988, when tickets went on sale for Michael Jackson at Wembley. The queue went out the shop and down the street and round the corner, and the entire switchboard lit up like Oxford Street’s Christmas lights as the phones rang off the hook.
It was a whirlwind: within the hour, every ticket had been snapped up – and those lucky enough to get one were in for an absolute treat. They may not have been the best singers, or the best songwriters, or the best dancers – but my word, did they know how to put on a show (see for yourselves in footage from this very gig). It. Was. Phe. Nomenal. Barry had sorted me out with fantastic seats, halfway back on the pitch and directly in front of the stage, so we had an amazing view – all for the princely sum of £23.50 each, including VAT.
They had a HUGE live band that somehow managed to make every song sound like a musical masterpiece (no mean feat, I can assure you). There was popping percussion and costume changes and confetti canons and glitter galore. This raucous carnival of bubble-gum playground pop – a glorious riot of unbridled youthful energy and ridiculousness – washed over us for two magical hours. And we lost our tiny minds.
Imagine the rainbow bursting into a sugary shower of Hundreds and Thousands. In a sequin factory. With bongo drums.
I’ve never had so much fun at a concert in all my life. In fact, I was having so much fun, I was escorted back to my seat by security on several occasions (dancing wildly in the aisles is a safety hazard, apparently). In fact, I’m fairly certain I enjoyed it even more than my little sister, who was virtually hypnotised by the entire experience, mind blown. She caught one of the strips of shiny foil confetti that rained down from the sky for the big finale – and the other night she confessed she still has that cherished memento, along with her ticket and a Spice Girls necklace.
It was a simpler time back then – in many ways, the Spice Girls marked the beginning of the end of innocence, in my humble opinion. The internet hadn’t really happened yet (Google launched in 1998 – but no-one knew because only 9% of UK households had access to excruciating dial-up broadband). There was no such thing as the euro, let alone the looming prospect of Brexit. And the omnipotent iPhone was merely a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ eye (I purchased my first mobile phone in 1999 – it was a transparent brick by Orange and I only bought it because I left my pager in the toilets during Freshers’ Week).
And there was an endearing naivety to the Spice Girls that no longer exists in the music industry. Their outfits were skimpy, but somehow the girls came off as cheeky – sexy without being sexualised, more panto than porno. By contrast, I felt compelled to cover my sister’s eyes when I took her to see Beyoncé in 2014 – and she was 27 at the time. So you can see why it would have been cute to revisit a nostalgic piece of pop history for my sister and my little niece by bagging tickets for their 2019 reunion tour.
But alas – how times have changed.
The gig went on sale on Saturday morning – but a laptop had replaced the fax machine. And once Ticketmaster’s website finally stopped crashing after an hour and a half spent in a non-existent ‘online queue’ (the company doesn’t even bother offering a phone line in the digital era), I discovered that I’d have to fork out a mind-boggling £297 for a couple of tickets that were not on, in front of, or anywhere near the stage – but actually two floors up, towards the back.
Now whilst I understand that there is such a thing as ‘inflation’, there’s also such a thing as ‘daylight robbery’ – and this is certainly a case of the latter. For one thing, the Spice Girls are fairly knackered now (aren’t we all), and they definitely won’t be as boisterous and bouncy as they were back in 1998. Have you tried a high kick lately? Sporty could put her hip out. Presumably, you’ll be getting far less bang out of them for your buck this time round.
But, to add insult to injury, if my maths serves me correctly – and despite their protestations that none of them are in this for the money – they still want me to pay five times more to see one-fifth less of the line-up (Victoria – you party pooper)! Surely that should warrant a discount, not a price hike – talk about a markup!!! Not that any of this stopped them from selling out all 10 UK dates in record time, of course. Apparently, demand was so high, they could have played every night for the entire year.
Still, at least we have the memories. And as for my niece? Well, she barely knows who Michael Jackson is, let alone The Spice Girls. She’ll be fine.