Spice Girl-turned solo artist Geri Halliwell has dropped “Angels in Chains,” her first global music release in 12 years. Written as a tribute to her friend, the late musical icon George Michael, the song debuted this morning (June 19) on BBC Radio 2. The single is a collaboration with Michael’s former producer and backing band, and prits from its sale go to Childline, one Michael’s favorite charities. To celebrate her comeback, Halliwell spoke to Billboard about her friendship with Michael, her role as a gay icon and memories from filming Spice World: “I was so bloated by the end.”
You wrote “Angel in Chains” about George Michael — and you reference his songs several times throughout the song. You two were close. Can you tell me about your friendship?
You know when you've got one those friends that you don't have to see all the time but when you do, you just click back and you have the most honest relationship? I would say that's the kind relationship. I felt that as a fan, and then I became a friend. I wanted him to be my boyfriend, but I wasn't his cup tea.
We had this connection. He'd lost his mother and I lost my father. Looking back, I looked to him for, sort , objective fatherly advice sometimes. I'd go and take my music to him and say “What do you think?”
I think you see what someone's made when things aren't going as well as you hope and some people step up for you, and he always did that. When I left the Spice Girls, I went and lived with him. When I had my first child and I had nowhere to live, I went and lived with him for nine months. He was always a very kind person.
The song features several members George’s band. Is it safe to say that the session was emotional?
Yes, it was very emotional. It made me realize that the power each other, coming together, we can heal each other by just being open.
I mean Shirley Lewis, she's probably one the best backing singers in the world. I'm in such admiration her. She heard the demo and flew over to England, and she sang on it. She gave this amazing soul vibe — hearing her sing on this, it just blew me away. It was a very healing thing — they all cuddled each other when they saw each other.
I found out was that there's an organization in Britain called Childline, and this is an organization where if any child has been having any trauma in their home life, if there is any abuse or bullying, they can call this number and they can talk to a pressional person with anonymity, and it's been going on for 30 years. George gave all the proceeds his record “Jesus to a Child” to Childline, and so I'm gonna do the same with] the proceeds that I make from this single. So something good will come it.
George is a gay icon, and we’re celebrating Pride Month here at Billboard. How do you hope George will be remembered?
I think we’ll look back at the great artist he was, the kind person he was. In the song that I wrote, right at the end it, it goes “Every young gun has their fun.” And then it ends with line “Looking back the fun we had, it's freedom that he gave.” So I think from his own mission honesty to his humanness, you know, as a gay man I think he liberated others to free themselves.
The Spice Girls were also gay icons — and you’ve made your own mark as a solo artist with your song “G.A.Y.” What does your LGBTQ fanbase mean to you?
I love it. Regardless the sexuality you choose to identify with, for me it's beyond that. I identify with anyone who's had any kind struggle — to have the courage to be themselves. I think actually I connect with that. Whether you're gay, black, lesbian, tall, short, fat, skinny, American, British, African — whatever; everybody's welcome in my gang. Do you know what I mean? I love and respect you all.
Have you ever seen a drag queen perform one your songs?
Well sometimes, I look in the mirror and sing… laughs].
Oh my God, towards the end the Spice Girls, the time I got Billboard Awards, I was looking like a drag queen. Do you know what it is? It's the Elton John effect. You look at Elton John's career and he always tried to get bigger and bigger and bigger. His glasses were getting bigger — you try to outdo yourself, and I think that's what happens. You try and up the ante all the time.
By the time I got the American, I can't remember when exactly, but I was in some sort American flag outfit. I looked like a man in drag.
Spice World is about to turn 20. Can you tell me some memories from being on set?
I studied English literature and drama in college, and we went to the Hamlet at the Donmar Warehouse in London. As a student, I remember seeing Alan Cumming performing as Hamlet and I couldn't believe that this man was spitting and crying and it was just amazing — the emotion he was delivering.
When it came to Spice World, however many years later, it came to casting and we were going through pictures and I was like, “Let's pick him, I saw him in Hamlet.” It was brilliant to have that caliber actors to be in our funny movie.
When you have an idea in your head and then you see it come to life — that was just amazing. But I have to say, I think filming movies are fattening because you have craft services. You're about to go on camera and you want to look your best, but then there's a tower donuts or something. I just remember putting on so much weight filming Spice World. I was so bloated by the end.
Geri, we’re so happy to have you back. What’s next for you?
For “Angel in Chains” we actually had this guy that worked on George Michael’s] “Faith.” He put the music video together.
I'm in the middle writing an album, so hopefully that will follow on shortly — hopefully within this year. That's what I'm hoping for.