The U.K.'s Spice Girls lost their mojo when Geri Halliwell decided what she really, really wanted was to go solo.

By Erin Richter
June 07, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

Bundles of sass wrapped in skintight clothes and platform shoes, the Spice Girls crashed pop music’s party six years ago. But Britain’s Girl Power promoters suffered an unexpected outage on May 31, 1998, when Geri ”Ginger Spice” Halliwell abruptly left the group two weeks before their first North American tour.

They seemed to be sugar and spice and everything naughty. Short on genuine talent but long on self-determination, Halliwell, 25, Victoria ”Posh” Adams, 22, Melanie ”Scary” Brown, 21, Melanie ”Sporty” Chisholm, 22, and Emma ”Baby” Bunton, 20, rushed the U.K.’s pop charts in the summer of 1996 with their debut single, ”Wannabe.” Soon, they were the top of the pops in another 30 countries, driving global sales of their debut album, Spice, past the 20 million mark. From bedsheets to millions of dollars’ worth of endorsement deals with the likes of Pepsi, Cadbury, and Polaroid, the Spice trade seemed unstoppable.

But word of Girl fights began to spread in 1997, and by May of ’98 the flame-haired one had flared out; Halliwell was leaving the group due to, she said, ”differences.” Her former mates responded with ”We are very supportive in whatever she wants to do. The Spice Girls are here to stay…. Friendship never ends.”

But apparently theirs had. After the split, communication between Halliwell and her former friends ceased. And with solo careers (of varying degrees of success) to attend to, they’ve remained relatively mum about ”the troubles.” In 1999, however, Halliwell hinted at her motives: Hours before her exit she learned that the Girls’ hectic schedule would keep her from doing an interview on breast cancer awareness (she’d had a scare when she was 18), and the others refused to alter their plans. ”I couldn’t understand,” Halliwell recalled. ”[The group’s] decision said to me, ‘Maybe I’m a little bit different.”’

Maybe it was just that Halliwell took the concept of female solidarity more to heart than her mates. Five months after quitting, a kinder, gentler Geri resurfaced as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund, assigned to promote reproductive health and women’s issues, especially in developing countries. ”She has the audience,” says the Fund’s information officer Abubakar Dungus. ”She talks to girls about having the power to say ‘No!’…that they have to be careful about their conduct because it could have unsafe consequences. Our point is that it’s good to empower women.” And isn’t that what Girl Power was supposed to be all about?