Byline: Liz Jones
I've seen remarkably few celebrities naked. But I have seen Geri Halliwell in just her knickers. It was ten years ago, we were on a magazine cover shoot in Los Angeles, and Geri was trying to decide what to put on. I remember she was as small as a ten-year-old. This was during Geri's super-aerobicised, super-Ashtanga-yogafied period. She had requested only vegetables and brown rice on the shoot. She seemed tense, lonely and, despite the nakedness, terribly unhappy in her own skin .
What a difference a decade makes. I meet Geri again in her lovely home in Highgate, North London. I'm not supposed to tell you about her house, but I can't resist revealing that it's all warm wood, huge sofas and perfect roses, everywhere. She is in a long sweater and over-the-knee socks, hair still wet from the shower. Not much make-up, apart from a slick of mascara. 'I remember that shoot,' she says, tucking her legs under her on the sofa. 'I wore minimal make-up and my own T-shirt. And I remember the superstar photographer just sat there snoozing while all his minions set up the shot, then he just pressed a button!'
I ask how the past ten years have treated her. She's now 38, and has become a mum, for starters. Her daughter Bluebell is four and a half. She laughs. 'My daughter is the biggest gift; I've said it so many times and it sounds like a cliche, but the thing about being a parent is when you think you've cracked it, and you're on top of your game, they change again and you have to catch up and adjust. I feel such a responsibility to instil good values in her, to be polite, to have discipline.'
The biggest transformation is that Geri now seems happy with how she looks. She has just designed a range of swimwear for Next, and modelled the collection for the catalogue. She spreads the bikinis and proofs of the photos on her huge wooden coffee table. 'I always find it hard to find a bikini that fits me, because I have quite big breasts. There's intelligence in the structure - there's an architect involved in making your boobs look good, does that make sense? And the prices are reasonable, too: [pounds sterling]38 for a bikini.'
She says that because her weight has always been up and down - 'I've had small boobs, big boobs, curvy bum, skinny bum' - she knows what works for different body shapes. 'I've got one of those bodies that fluctuates, so I've had to really think about the construction. You know when you feel you've got a bit of a tummy? On holiday you want to eat well, have that freedom. This range is cut to flatter your body.'
She says she has been very hands-on in the design process, and I tell her that every celebrity always says that. 'I always loved fashion but I've never been a slave to it. I've always collected swatches of fabric I like, so I was able to show them exactly what I wanted. Even in the Spice Girls, I would always have input into the costumes. That dress I wore for the Brits was my idea: someone sent me a black Gucci dress so I sewed on a Union Jack tea towel to liven it up a bit.' Why hasn't she designed a collection before now? 'The funny thing is, I was a shop assistant in Next, a Saturday girl. The collaboration just feels right.'
I ask if she went on a diet and exercise binge before the catalogue shoot. She suffered from bulimia when she was younger, and was addicted to exercise. 'Coming up to it, my natural instinct would have been to sort my body out, embark on a mad regime. But I don't have time because I'm a mother; all I did was walk Bluebell to school. The thing is, when I feel like I have to lose weight, the opposite happens. I remember stuffing loads of chocolate on the plane to the shoot, and I thought, "Why don't you have the courage to show up in a body that's natural, not overly worked out?"'
She tells me the people at Next offered to airbrush the photos. 'I said, "Don't airbrush them. I don't mind a little help but don't make my body look what it isn't. …