6 OCTOBER 2001, Page 65

Posh pulls it off

Vicki Woods

LEARNING TO FLY: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY by Victoria Beckham Michael Joseph, £16.99, pp. 371, ISBN 0718144910

interviewed little Victoria Beckham four years ago when Spicemania was at its peak and there were still five of them. They'd made their movie, recorded an acceptable number of No. 1 singles and albums, collected some Brit Awards, met Nelson Mandela, pinched the Prince of Wales's bottom and told The Spectator that 'Margaret Thatcher was the first Spice Girl'. They were on a roll. Very much still together, they were beginning to do individual publicity stunts to spread the PR load a bit, and were all booked to coverstar on different magazines. Taller, being the posh people's glossy, plumped for Posh.

They were working long days at the Beatles' old studios in Abbey Road. Posh was then vying with Ginger (Geri Halliwell) for the tabloid title of Top Spice. Ginger appeared to be the most ambitious, the quickest-witted and the most grown-up of all the Spices, and she looked as though she'd have the longest shelf life when it all — please God — blew over. But Posh's was the best-selling Spice Doll because little girls thought she wore 'the best clothes'. Apart from being faux-posh, and walking out with David Beckham, she seemed to have less going for her than Ginger. She was the quietest public Spice. She didn't smile. She didn't seem to sing much on `Wannabe', the only song I can remember a line of and the one that introduced the useful phrase, 'Tell you what I want, what I really really want' into mainstream British journalism for a year or two.

Taller whisked her over to Paris for the haute couture, which is always a very grand day out — limos, flowers, a suite at the Ritz, charming hand-written notes welcoming you to Paris 'with love from Karl' and here's your front-row ticket to Chanel and please accept this charming bit of covetable frippery with our compliments. She was still high on the memory of the f25,000-apop couture frocks, and full of loud Spice girl-gang cockiness when I saw her at Abbey Road. It was a tiresome nonsense of an interview. She posed and pirouetted about and tossed off smart-ass one-liners and wouldn't sit still or answer questions.

She struck me as diamond-bright in a streetwise sort of way, pretty damn thick in every other sort of way and overloud, shrewish and quite prickly in a wearisome sort of a way. Her full-on Hertfordshire Cockney was tiresome, too: 'Like — we all got this great vibe thing going — know what I mean? We all just vibe off of each other.' And: 'I never read that article in the — wossit? — Spectator magazine, cos I don't read hardly anything.' And: 'When we saw Prince Charles we was all really like cheeky with him. At the end of the day he might be a prince but he really is no different from anybody else. At the end of the day, he does sit on the toilet like the rest of us. Prince or no prince — know what I

mean? You just affta picture him with nothing on.'

After 35 minutes she whisked back into the sound-studio, and a minion barred my way to the door, holding a legal form that would assign the copyright in my interview tape to Posh, wholly and entirely and forever and across the universe. It was a pretty sketchy interview. but I baulked. Sony, no, it was my tape, my copyright; didn't care what 'industry-established interview parameters' were; didn't care what her lawyer wanted; let him talk to my lawyer; wasn't signing, no; wasn't handing the tape over, no. The crosstalk took longer than the interview, hut I finally left without signing.

Four years later, the autobiography of the woman who doesn't read hardly anything is out, and so is her new single (whose name escapes me), so she has been plugging away at the publicity for weeks now, at the most respectable end of the puff-trade (Parkinson, Woman's Hour, an 'evening with Posh and Becks' on BBC2). The difference between the Posh I met then and the Victoria Beckham I see now is astonishing. That strident voice has been toned down to an acceptably estuarial level. The prickly mannerisms and (most of) the over-acting have been discarded. And the book — my God! The book is unbelievable.

When I read the extracts in the Mail, I thought it was the usual badly written celebrity mush. Not at all. It was badly edited celebrity mush: the Mail cut out the style in order to splash on content. The published book is nicely printed on good, thick paper and bafflingly well written, with pace and wit, in an intimate, demotic, laconic style that manages to make Posh sound both a) as smart as a whip and b) dead ordinary (which is the best thing for an extraordinarily highly-paid entertainer to he in these anti-elitist times). 'Right from the beginning, I said I wanted to be as famous as Persil Automatic.' By Christmas "Wannabe" had sold three million and was No. 1 in 27 countries. I don't think I could even name 27 countries without looking at an atlas.' 'Something I've noticed: when good things happen, they spread like butter on hot toast.' As for Bali — it sounds so romantic, but give me a car park in east London with David Beckham any day.'

There are none of those amateur-writer glitches that you so often get in celebrity 'My Stories': no puddingy adverbs or elegant variation on words for 'said'. I've just read Jennie Bond's memoirs of her years as a BBC telly correspondent, and her book (very obviously without benefit of ghostwriter) heaves with both irritations, often at the same time: 'I hissed spitefully', enquired hopefully', 'I demanded rudely'. The dialogue in Posh's book is clean and pruned and dispenses altogether with words for 'said' (or even 'said' itself) for

the sake of immediacy. The opening lines are:

'Daddy! I'm going to be killed.'

'No, you're not, Victoria. I'm right behind you. I'll look after you.'

I can't see him. We're too close together, jammed in by the crowd. But I can feel his hand on my shoulder, and his hand and his voice arc just enough to keep me from screaming. Calm, in control, like he always is. Not like my mum, who lives off her nerves.

Well, that pretty much walks the walk and talks the talk, doesn't it? Mrs Beckham, Spice millionairess and wife of the football captain of England, has to be bodyguarded through a frighteningly drunken crowd in order to watch her husband play. The drunks chant '0i, Posh' and 'Get yer tits out' and the rudest insult they can think of, which is, 'Posh Spice takes it up the arse.' (How very strait-laced the English working-class are, to be sure.) Victoria's book tells us she's just a nice, ordinary lassie who loves her mum and dad.

It also gives us Posh's View of the Spice Years (Ginger's View having beaten her by a considerable time), which is interesting enough if you like that sort of stuff. She gets in plenty of sharp slaps — to Geri 'the weakest [dancer]: however you look at it, a few months as a podium dancer in Magaluf just isn't the same as ten years at the barre, and it showed'. To an old boyfriend Ca tight-arse', 'a bastard') who kissed and told, to the headmistress of Laine's stage school who told her she was 'too roly-poly' and who never accepted her own assessment of her mountainous talents. Some of the sideswipes are very inside-track. Before she was famous, she worked for a promotions agency. 'The best job was working for the Daily Mirror. (Bet you never realised that one, Piers.) Real bimbo work, this was.' The first two-thirds of the book are much more interesting than the last, where Posh finally becomes Mrs Becks and whines on and on and on about press intrusion and how reporters don't understand 'irony' (he never wore her knickers; that sarong was his idea, not hers, etc.).

No ghostwriter is credited. The copyright (I told you she was good at copyright) belongs to Moody Productions Limited. The imprint says, 'The VB and Victoria Beckham text and logos are trade marks and the copyright of Moody Productions and are being used under licence' — so she's good at money. too. The acknowledgments thank 'everyone at Michael Joseph' for making 'writing this such a pain-free but therapeutic experience'. Pain-free? Not sure about that. For a girl who doesn't read hardly anything, it may have been jolly therapeutic to see Posh's Triumphant Version slowly turn into a great big fat book. (Her husband told Parkinson that he was only 'halfway through it', poor lamb.) But pain-free? Crafting this slick journalistic prose out of five years' press cuttings and Posh's Napoleonic self-obsession? I don't reckon so myself.