If you grew up with the Spice Girls, hearing that Baby has hit midlife may come as a shock. But for Emma Bunton it means her cherished hopes for another child are starting to fade, as she tells Julia Llewellyn Smith
Not long ago, Emma Bunton and her partner of 17 years Jade Jones decided they would like another baby.
‘Jade was desperate and every Christmas or birthday my two children were like, “We want a baby”, and I would say, “It’s not that easy!’” Emma laughs. ‘But it’s something everyone in the family had always wanted, so we were thinking about it more seriously. At the beginning of 2020 we even got out the old box of baby clothing to see what we could reuse.’
At the start of last year when they seriously discussed having a third child (they already have Beau, 13, and Tate, ten), Emma, then 44, knew time might not be on their side. Plus, she had been diagnosed with endometriosis in her mid-20s. But with two happy pregnancies behind her she wasn’t overly concerned.
Then the pandemic hit and suddenly Emma felt less confident. ‘I can be a very nervous and protective mother – so the uncertainty of coronavirus frightened me. It made me take a step back and put thoughts of babies on hold. Jade said, “Millions of people have had babies during this,” but I just couldn’t handle it.’
And so lockdown started. Emma’s mum Pauline was already living with the family, having moved into their North London home in early 2020 – and things slowly found their own rhythm.
‘I had a lot of mixed emotions. Making sure my children and Mum were safe was nerve-racking but we also had some of the most memorable, favourite family times of my life. I felt a sense of ease at not having to rush around. Home schooling was tough but before lockdown everything was so fast-paced, it felt nice to stop and go back to basics and just play with the kids in the garden.’
So, as life began to return to a sense of normality, Emma began wondering again about a third child. But then came another shock. ‘I started to feel unbalanced and anxious,’ she says. ‘At first I put it down to the pandemic. But then the anxiety became more regular, until it was daily. I was also lethargic. Something wasn’t right.’
Friends who were going through the menopause told her they had felt similar in the years leading up to it. ‘I looked up the symptoms and saw I had quite a few. So I spoke to someone on Zoom who came to the same conclusion. I was perimenopausal.’ Emma found herself shaken by the realisation she may never be able to have another child. ‘I cried my eyes out,’ she says. ‘I thought, “Is this the end?” It’s been a very weird time. I’m a very mumsy person; when I see my friends’ babies I always become broody. But now I thought, “OK, this is it.”’
Let that sink in. Baby Spice, who in the mind of the British public is still leaping around in pigtails and a pink dress, bellowing ‘girl power!’, is in the run-up to the menopause. This is going to make a whole generation who grew up with Baby and fellow Spice Girls band members Victoria ‘Posh Spice’ Beckham, Mel ‘Sporty Spice’ C, Geri ‘Ginger Spice’ Horner and Mel ‘Sporty Spice’ C, feel ancient. ‘I was thinking the same the other day,’ says Emma. ‘But I am quite young to be perimenopausal. My mum was very young, too. I’m on a low dose of HRT to balance out my hormones and because Mum had a tough time with the menopause. I don’t want to go through what she did.’
Despite all this, Emma remains upbeat. She and Jade, 42, the former lead singer with R&B band Damage, haven’t abandoned the dream of a third child.
‘We still talk about it, but it makes me nervous,’ Emma says. ‘And the one thing about me that drives my entire family crazy is that I’m indecisive. So, with the baby, some days I think, “Right! Let’s do it”, and then other days I don’t know if I can. If it happens, of course, it would be amazing.’
Emma certainly has enough on her plate without adding babies into the mix. She’s a co-founder of eco-babyware company Kit & Kin; before lockdown she presented The Great American Baking Show with Paul Hollywood in the US, and she is about to publish her book, Mama You Got This, a guide for new parents. But with an estimated net worth of around £20 million, she ensures she fits her work commitments around family. ‘My children are my priority,’ she says. ‘I love taking them to school and picking them up, and make sure I work between the hours or nine and three so I get that time with them before and after school.’
Emma credits Jade with the reason she is able to work when, where and on what she wants. ‘He makes everything calm. He’s sacrificed a lot.’ His supportiveness also enabled Emma to start rehearsing for The Return of the Spice Girls tour in 2007, just weeks after Beau was born by caesarean section. The new family flew across the Atlantic for the American and Canadian gigs, something even Emma – who hates to whinge – now admits was ‘a difficult time’.
‘Physically, my body wasn’t ready to be doing two-hour shows every night. Your hips don’t move the way they should, I fell over a couple of times backstage, I cried at everything, my skin broke out in rashes. I said to our physio, “What’s going on?” and he laughed, “What do you mean? You just had a baby!”’
On one occasion during a performance she felt breast milk leaking into her rose-gold lamé Roberto Cavalli costume. ‘I ran off stage screaming at Jade, “Get the pads!” I was getting criticism along the lines of, “Why are her thighs so big?”, which was heartbreaking. But in other ways it was magical: I had this gorgeous little baby who I breastfed and put to bed every night. It just would have been nice if afterwards I could have put my feet up and watched TV instead of going on stage for two hours and performing in front of hundreds of thousands of people in big arenas!’
Much of the Spice Girls’ superstardom came down to the fact we could tell the band members were close rather than just a manufactured entity. In the group’s earliest incarnation, the five shared a small terraced house in Maidenhead, Berkshire. ‘It was the best time. We got to know each other so well – it would have made a great sitcom,’ Emma chuckles. ‘Mel B and I would always stay up the latest, chatting, getting a pizza, watching a movie. I shared a bedroom with Victoria and ours was definitely the cleanest.’
She says Geri took out the bins, Mel C made them corned beef and rice for tea and Victoria cleaned the bathroom. ‘I had to do the washing up, which I hated, so I used to pretend that I was allergic to washing-up liquid. I did the vacuuming – we used to love a bit of Shake n’ Vac.’
Despite being the band’s youngest member and her Baby nickname (‘Which I love!’), Emma was definitely no pushover, haranguing record executives to change their minds, after they decided against the girls releasing ‘Wannabe’ as their debut single.
‘I remember Geri and I sitting on my bed during a phone call to them, saying, “Absolutely not!” We were very strong-headed women and we wanted our first song to smack people in the face.’
‘Wannabe’ went on to sell seven million copies worldwide and become the bestselling single by a girl group at the time. ‘We created something from scratch and for that you needed to have a good head on your shoulders and to work hard. From the start we did everything ourselves and made sure we were on top of everything.’
Once they became megastars, their solidarity largely protected them from much of the unsavoury elements of the music business. However, in 2005, Emma was left to fight her corner alone when she was interviewed by US shock-jock Howard Stern. Shocking footage recently resurfaced of Stern asking her how old she was when she started her period and speculating on what underwear she was wearing. He also commented that, as she had worn revealing clothing in the band’s videos, ‘You’re asking for it, you’re gonna get it.’
Emma has refused to comment on this awful behaviour – until today. ‘Something like that would never happen now. I felt shocked and thrown because I’d never had to deal with a situation like that before,’ she says. ‘I got out of there as quickly as I could, I didn’t finish the interview. I think [he] was trying to be controversial as it was cool back then. It was heartbreaking.’ Thankfully, such abuses of power were few and far between for the Spice Girls. Emma says, ‘It was a storm but we were solid in the centre together and we looked out for each other.’
While this is largely true, others in the band had less happy experiences. Geri quit at the height of their fame, saying later she was unable to cope, and Mel C has spoken about how she was too overwhelmed to enjoy her time with the group. ‘Everyone had their own journey,’ Emma says. ‘But I bloody loved it! I was having a ball.’
She still is. The members have reunited several times since their split in 1998. Emma is bemused by rumours of a second Spice World film (‘That’s something we haven’t been talking about, but it would be fun. Maybe I need to get on to that?’), but she’s eager for them to keep singing – now with their children (the five members have 12 in total) in the audience.
‘We love getting up on stage together. The last tour [in 2019] was the most magical. I looked into the audience and could see 35-year-old women having the best time with their girlfriends, then there was a mum with her daughter on her shoulders and I looked again and there was a man dressed as Baby Spice – all singing along. It still gives me goosebumps just talking about it and thinking about the people that came to our show including [self-confessed superfan] Adele. I tried to stay in the moment. I thought, “I’m going to take every second of this in,” because you don’t know if it’s going to happen again.
‘We did the shows, came off stage and went home and got our kids into bed. It made me so proud – we’ve come such a long way. We are mothers. All of us have never been happier.’
Mama You Got This by Emma Bunton will be published by Ebury Press on 10 June, price £16.99. To order a copy for £15.12 until 20 June go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193. Free UK delivery over £20.