Remember When Nelson Mandela Met the Spice Girls


Throwback to the year 1997: Gas was .22 dollars a gallon and 1.5 billion people tuned in to watch Princess Diana’s funeral following her tragic death on August 31st in Paris, France. In the U.S., and on radios around the world, you couldn’t change stations without hearing the Spice Girls. The global “girl power” phenomenon was at the height of its popularity and toured relentlessly, performing hits from their sophomore album, Spice World.

Scary, Baby, Posh, Ginger, and Sporty are responsible for many seminal moments that have since come to immortalize the ‘90s, but it was their unlikely meeting with Nelson Mandela and Charles, Prince of Wales in South Africa that forever sealed the time as a golden era in pop culture history. Mandela passed away from a respiratory infection four years ago on December 5th. On the anniversary of his passing, CR looks back and remembers the great Nobel Peace Prize winner as an iconic statesman, a symbol of hope, freedom, and democracy—and a staunch fan of the Spice Girls.

The story goes that the girl group was in town to perform at a charity concert to support local entrepreneurs. Staged in Johannesburg, the event was organized by Nation’s Trust—a nonprofit established in 1995 by Mandela and the British monarchy. Post-gig, the group gathered for a photo-op outside the leader’s official residence in Pretoria and was joined on the red carpet by the prominent leader and Charles, U.K. heir to the throne.

“You know, these are my heroes,” Mandela said of the Spice Girls to onlookers and reporters gathered for the surprise event. Sandwiched in-between Mel B and Geri Halliwell, the 79-year old leader smiled from ear-to-ear as he continued: “It’s one of the greatest moments of my life.” Halliwell returned the compliment before Prince Charles pitched in that the meeting was the second greatest moment in his. “The greatest was the first time I met them,” he explained cheekily.

Always the most outspoken of the group, Halliwell went on to draw comparisons between Mandela’s fight for racial equality and the Spice Girls’ message of female empowerment: “I think there’s a classic speech that Nelson Mandela did. I can’t remember exactly, but he mentioned [to]never suppress yourself, never make yourself feel small for others’ insecurities—and that’s what girl power is all about,” she said. “So I think we’re on the same level, in that view.”

She wasn’t wrong. At the time, Mandela was in the third year of his presidential rule. Following 27 years of imprisonment for conspiring to overthrow a political system that upheld racial segregation and white privilege, he negotiated an end to apartheid in 1994.

The improbable attendance of Prince Charles at the event was widely regarded as a PR move by Kensington Palace. The British tabloid press was in the midst of a particularly hostile series of attacks on the Prince, which began shortly after Diana’s death two months prior. Palace officials hoped that positioning him alongside Mandela and the Spice Girls would help shake off his “fuddy-duddy” image.


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