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Emma Bunton interviewed for The Mirror - May 4 2001

Black Text = The Mirror/Precious Williams
Blue Text = Emma Bunton


As her solo career takes off, Emma Bunton talks to PRECIOUS WILLIAMS

Gone are the pigtails, lollipops and little girl grin. The Spice Girl formerly known as Baby has re-emerged as a sleek-haired, saucily-dressed, very much grown up solo star. The new Emma - whose recently released debut album A Girl Like Me is riding high in the charts - now cites influences such as Janet Jackson and Sharleen Spiteri and is making a conscious effort to come across all sultry.

You won't catch her posing with fluffy cuddly toys anymore either. In the video for her No 1 hit What Took You So Long, Emma, 25, cavorted through California's Mojave desert clad in a sexy wisp of a gingham dress. At a recent Damage concert, she smooched on-stage with lead singer Jade Jones - her boyfriend of three years.

"I'm feeling very comfortable with myself these days," she chirps. "I'm feeling happy on the inside. Back when the Spice Girls first came out and there was that stuff in the paper about me looking fat in my swimming costume, I was devastated. But you can't let bad press get to you or you'll lose your head and have a complete nightmare."

So what's with all the skimpy dresses if she feels so self-conscious then?

"I've learned to accept myself," she continues. "I don't even go to the gym or anything - I'm just OK with having a womanly figure. Take me or leave me. There are other things to worry about."

Emma is the last of the Spices to leave the nest and branch out on her own. While the other girls have attracted equal doses of extra-curricular drama and solo notoriety, Emma has been keeping a relatively low profile in North London. Apart from supplying guest vocals on the Tin Tin Out cover of What I Am, Emma has been keeping her vocal prowess to herself. Until now.

"The solo stuff is a natural progression," she says. "I was 18 when I became a Spice Girl and now I'm 25. Of course I've changed. Writing the album was like writing a diary. There's dance in there as well as guitar stuff and pop and R&B - all the different stuff I'm into really."

Emma is one of Britain's richest young women - her fortune was rated at pounds 15m in the latest Sunday Times Rich List - yet she tells me that she still gets a bit stressed about cash. "Money was tight when I was a kid," she admits. "We barely had enough to get by." Emma says she can remember times when she and her brother Paul, now 20, had to share a single plate of food for dinner.

"That's made me really careful with money now. Even though I've got it, I can't squander it. I'm wary about frittering it away and I find it really quite hard to be wasteful and extravagant."

This down-to-earth attitude is reflected in her conversation which is punctuated with comments such as, "I'm just one of the luckiest girls in the world".

Emma says her lack of affectation is down to her very modest upbringing. When she was 12, her parent's marriage broke down. Her milkman father Trevor, moved out to live around the corner. As a result, Emma grew closer to her mum Pauline, who she describes as "my best mate". Despite hardships, enough money was scrimped and saved to send her to the prestigious Sylvia Young stage school whose other graduates include Shaznay from All Saints, Samantha Janus and Denise Van Outen.

"I always knew I wanted to be a performer," says Emma. "I was mesmerised by my parents' old Motown albums. I remember dancing around the front room pretending to be one of the Supremes. Eventually my mum realised how into it I was and let me have dance lessons."

So does your going solo too mean that's it for the Spice Girls?

"Nah," laughs Emma. "Baby Spice will always be a part of me and I reckon we'll be performing Wannabe even when we are all on Zimmer frames. I am soooo proud to be a Spice Girl. I love every one of those girls like family." Including Geri Halliwell? "Well, I haven't spoken to Geri for a while actually," she says carefully, "but I'd love to see her. Her leaving wasn't a bad thing - she had to go her own separate way. Everyone's got their own goals."

Emma insists that for the time being she is happy to be both a Spice Girl and a solo artist. She gushes about Mel B's daughter Phoenix ("She's so gorgeous! You just have to see her!") but says she has no plans to have kids of her own just yet. "I'm just so lucky to be in a position to be doing my own solo stuff," she says. "I could have just as easily ended up stacking shelves in Sainsbury's."

A Girl Like Me, is out now on Virgin.

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