Girl power grows up as mums turn out for their teenie idols, writes Roya Nikkhah
What a difference a decade makes. Three weddings, seven children and one divorce after it all began, "Girl Power" returned to London Saturday night when the Spice Girls began their UK tour.
An army of fans packed into the O2 Arena to see Spices Baby, Ginger, Sporty, Scary and Posh perform live in Britain for the first time since their acrimonious break up.
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Like their idols, time had moved on. The pedal pushers and platform trainers of yesteryear were no longer in evidence; many had brought their children along to watch the spectacle.
Lauren Appleby, 31, a mother-of-two from Radlett, Hertfordshire, was back to see the band 10 years after she last saw them play live at Wembley Arena.
"I have loved them from the start because the whole notion of Girl Power and their distinct identities really made women more comfortable about their individuality, and I believe it changed the way women were accepted in society and the world of showbusiness," she said.
"I also think they're real style icons, but I shudder when I remember the leggings and platform trainers I wore to the last concert."
This time round, Mrs Appleby, who brought her eight-year-old daughter Olivia with her, sported a sleek blonde bob, black skinny jeans and a demure grey jersey sweater.
"Well, like them, I suppose I have to admit that I, too, have grown up and become a mother. I don't think that mini-skirts and tank-tops would really work this time round."
Jo Berman, 42, from Woodford Green, Essex, brought her daughter, Lianne, 10. "Mum's the real fan," she said.
Mrs Berman, who spent more than £130 on programmes, T-shirts and other merchandise, said: "I've always admired the girls so much because they have always spoken their minds and, yes, they have had their ups and downs, but that shows that they're real people. They're an enigma and there's nobody else like them.
"They represent style and determination and those are the kinds of qualities I want my daughter to aspire to."
If Girl Power was once all about pinching the Prince of Wales's bottom, kissing Nelson Mandela and Union Jack micro-dresses, last night it was more about couture costumes, a 170-strong entourage including more than a dozen hair and make-up artists, masseurs, chefs, a host of nannies, and the demands of celebrity motherhood.
After jetting in to London from Las Vegas on "Spice Force One", their £8 million private Boeing 757 jet on loan from Sir Richard Branson, the band installed a creche at the O2 arena so that their small army of child-minders could keep the children occupied during the two-hour concert, attended by celebrity guests including George Michael and the comedian David Walliams.
The girls, who are set to make £10 million each from the reunion tour, will also change into 12 different outfits by the couturier, Roberto Cavalli during shows.
But would the famous five be able to bounce around the stage with the same exuberance as when they first burst on to the pop scene in 1996?
Kerry Martin, 33, an office manager from Brighton, was nervous before the concert about how Baby Spice would fare following her onstage tumble in Las Vegas last week during the last night of the group's US tour, where she sprained her ankle, forcing the band to adapt some of their dance routines.
"Baby will pull it off," said Miss Martin, who last saw them live nine years ago at Earls Court.
"I loved the Spice Girls when it all started because they were the same age as me; they had real attitude and there had never been anything like them before so they inspired me," she said.
Her friend, Jackie Alexandrou, 46, brought her 18-year-old daughter, Gala, to the concert.
"For me, they were such strong and positive role models, which is something I want my daughter to be aware of too," she said.
"They were, and still are, all about going out and getting what you want from life and showing that girls don't just have to sit at home and do the washing up."
At the height of their fame, the Spice Girls sold 55 million albums and had 10 number one singles. While a little older and wiser, their fans, however, are still as desperate as ever for a slice of Spice, with tickets for their UK dates selling out in 38 seconds.
Gordon Thorn, 35, a website designer from south west London, die-hard Spice Girls fan and the founder of www.spicegirls.co.uk, said that it had been a "roller-coaster ride" for the fans who had hoped against hope that the band would re-form.
After the band announced they were to do that this year, his website received more than 10?million hits from 150 countries in less than a month.
"I think it is fantastic they are back together and they still sound fresh and vibrant. I don't think they have aged - they've just matured, like the rest of us," he said.
But not everyone is thrilled by the return of Girl Power.
Watching them kick off their world tour earlier this month in Canada, Fay Weldon, the novelist and feminist described "the five sugar-coated, air-brushed, painfully thin, desperate mums-on-tour" as an embarrassment "for feminism and for Britain".
"She's just jealous," said Lisa Ray, 40, from Sutton, Surrey, "She's jealous because above everything, the Spice Girls have grown up but they've still got it."