HOLLYWOOD Inside the cozy Eastman Room bar off the Kodak Theatre lobby, four of the five Spice Girls have taken their seats for a group interview.
Victoria (Posh Spice) Beckham hurries over to the circle teetering in high heels and tries to squeeze onto a loveseat. But even superslim Posh can't fit. Her spot has been taken by 8-year-old Brooklyn Beckham, her son with soccer star husband David Beckham. He's snuggled up alongside Geri (Ginger Spice) Halliwell.
Wrapping an arm around Brooklyn, who stays silent upon his mother's request, Halliwell explains, "Once we're mothers, we're mothers to each of them."
Brooklyn and brothers Romeo, 5, and Cruz, almost 3, were recently treated to a screening of the girl group's 1997 feature film," Spice World." Beckham recalls, "I came in, and my middle child said, "Mummy, have you been working with the Spice Girls again and driving that bus?"'
"Aw, so cute," coos Emma (Baby Spice) Bunton, as the others chirp in with "ahhs" and giggles.
That tour bus has now been retired. "We've moved up in the world," says Melanie (Sporty Spice) Chisholm. "We don't do buses."
Indeed. Their arrival to the Kodak in a Rolls-Royce Phantom indicated that the girl group who has sold 55 million records now has unanimous posh status.
They are in high spirits after nailing their first reunion performance two songs to be featured on the "Victoria's Secret Fashion Show" (9 p.m., Ch. 2, Tuesday). The special airs just two days after the Spice Girls kick off their reunion tour in Vancouver on Sunday, followed by San Jose (Tuesday), Los Angeles (Dec. 5 and 7), then on to Vegas, London, New York and around the globe through March.
The glamour pusses lip-synced their Victoria's Secret numbers ("Headlines" and "Stop") "due to time constraints for their first TV appearance," explains their publicist, Roger Widynowski, who is quick to clarify that "everything from here on out for the tour is all live."
The fortunate few ticket holders inside the Kodak (including Eva Longoria and Hayden Panettiere) didn't seem to care as evidenced by their enthusiastic response.
"When that roar came, it was hard to hold yourself together," says Chisholm, 33.
"I was actually thinking, 'Thank (goodness). They're happy to see us all.' They loved it," adds Melanie (Scary Spice) Brown, 32, who is accustomed to receiving such praise after finishing as runner-up on "Dancing With the Stars." Bunton, 31, describes the debut as "a bit emotional."
"Quite overwhelming," echoes Beckham, 33. "We're getting a second chance to really appreciate everything we probably took for granted."
Their new CD, "Spice Girls: Greatest Hits," is for sale at Victoria's Secret stores through Jan. 15, when it goes nationwide. In addition to two new songs ("Headlines" and "Voodoo"), it features such past hits as "Stop," "Spice Up Your Life," "2 Become 1" and "Wannabe" songs that made them a pop sensation back in the 1990s.
Geoff Mayfield, "Billboard's" director of charts, gives the group credit for "galvanizing the teen-pop market that would later bear fruit for Backstreet Boys, "NSync and Britney Spears, too."
Though total U.S. album sales topped out at about 12 million, with the group at one point having two albums in the top 10, current hype "doesn't always translate into a record, as Britney Spears showed," points out Sean Ross, vice president of music and programming for Edison Media, a market research firm.
It's too soon to determine how well the new CD is performing; Victoria's Secret is not reporting sales, Mayfield says.
Still, many tour dates for the reunion's American leg are either sold out or are well on their way. Ross offers an explanation: "People always maintain an affection for the music they grew up with. To some people, this is a very big deal."
It's an even bigger deal back in the group's native Britain, where Halliwell scored four No. 1 hits and helped pave the way for No. 1 records by Chisholm, Bunton and Brown. Seventeen reunion shows in December and January at London's O2 arena are sold out.
"We have remained obsessed with them as individuals," says Billboard global editor Mark Sutherland. "Posh Spice is probably the most famous woman in Britain."
Duplicating her fame in America has proved difficult. Beckham's July reality special, NBC's "Victoria Beckham: Coming to America", attracted only 5 million viewers, while her husband's injuries have prevented him from blossoming into the sports sensation the L.A. Galaxy soccer team had hoped for when they signed him to a reported $250 million multiyear contract.
Victoria Beckham doesn't seem deflated in the least, however, as the women talk about going back out on the road. Perhaps the biggest change since the performers went their separate ways in 2001: the size of the entourage.
More people tag along on tour
They now have six children among them, and joining the tour along the way also will be Brown's new husband, Stephen Belafonte; Bunton's boyfriend, Jade Jones (formerly of the boy band Damage); and David Beckham, who, his wife says, soon has a break from soccer.
With all the significant others and kids in tow, never more than now has the lyric from their 1996 debut single, "Wannabe." held true: "If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends."
At the suggestion, Chisholm gets the group giggling by joking: "Do you mean is it like lesbianism?"
Bunton takes the fun in another direction: "You have to share (your man) with all of us," inspiring a slew of partner-swapping lines.
"Like in (the movie) "The Ice Storm," with the car keys," says Halliwell, 35.
By far the most serious of the team, Beckham tries to get everyone back on track by explaining the song's true roots.
"Basically, when we were younger, we were all about girl power," she says. "We were all really there for each other."
"We tested each other's boyfriends!" Brown bursts in, resuming the laughter.
"No, no," Beckham continues. "If a guy was going to come in and infiltrate the group, then we had to think he was OK."
Did that mean vetoing unacceptable men?
"Yeah," Beckham says.
"They still do it now, actually, when a new man's involved," says Brown, who was famously dumped by Eddie Murphy last year.
She later gave birth to his daughter, Angel Iris (almost 8 months), and found love with Belafonte, a film producer. "When everybody met my husband, they all said, "Now don't you do this "'
Halliwell playfully pouts that she is "the only one who doesn't have a boyfriend." She's no longer with writer/producer Sacha Gervasi, the father of her 18-month-old daughter, Bluebell Madonna. "I'm a single mother."
"You need no boyfriend," pipes in Chisholm, though Halliwell points out that she's "doing really well" in "a good, solid relationship."
"For nearly six years I've been with my partner," Chisholm says, then clarifies, "It's a boy, by the way, in case there's any girls out there gettin' hopeful."
Chisholm's boyfriend, Thomas Starr, a builder with model looks, has done little to dampen Brits' questioning of her sexuality.
Now the only childless Spice Girl, Chisholm says, "I would love to be a mum. And definitely that's something I want in my future, but it hasn't been the time for me."
In the meantime, she has her hands full helping care for all her bandmates' kids.
Bunton, with son Beau just 3 months old, is grateful for the extra hands. "My baby's brand new, so I was really nervous. I just hand him over to them, and they all help. That's the special part of this."
"Because it's not about you, it's about your kids," echoes Brown, whose older daughter Phoenix (from a previous relationship) is 8.
The women are sensitive to one another's feelings and quick to defend another's reputation. During a TV interview, Halliwell's fur began to rise when the reporter asked Brown about Murphy and then Beckham about her kids. Halliwell spoke up: "The reason why we're here today and wanted to do this interview was to thank our fans." Then Brown got truly scary, wrapping her arms around two of her bandmates, closing in menacingly on the TV camera, pushing the reporter aside and abruptly ending the interview with, "Come and see the show. Byyyeee. Byyeee."
Halliwell at one point is the target of some jabs, too, albeit gentle ones. The last time the group toured the USA, she had left the group to pursue a solo career, and her absence cost them ticket sales during the Spiceworld Tour.
"I'm sorry," Halliwell humbly tells the others. But all she gets are "boos" and hisses.
The faux anger quickly turns into giggles. Then Brown gets serious. "It was horrid. Horrid," she says.
"When Geri left, it was really difficult for all of us," says Beckham. "But we had the American leg of the tour to fulfill, and nothing was going to stop us from doing that. But we were devastated."
"I'm making amends this time," Halliwell says. "I made sure we got America in (the tour schedule)."
"The Spice Girls is about five girls," Beckham says. Taking Beckham's hand, Halliwell smiles and stresses, "All five."