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Emma Bunton on ‘Drag Race’, blowing up mince pies, and the enduring greatness of ‘Maybe’

We catch up with Baby as she prepares to bring 'Emma Bunton's Christmas Party' to the Royal Albert Hall.

By Will Stroude

Even before the Spice Girls stepped out in front of 70,000 fans in Dublin for the first date of their historic reunion tour in May, Emma Bunton was already enjoying her busiest musical year in more than a decade.

Following the release of summery ’60s-styled comeback single ‘Baby Please Don’t Stop’ in February, her fourth solo album My Happy Place offered a warm hug of covers and duets with Robbie Williams, Will Young, and her partner (and former Damage frontman) Jade Jones.

Now, Emma is preparing to bookend a year of pop resurgance with a one-off festive extravaganza, Emma Bunton’s Christmas Party, at London’s Royal Albert Hall next Friday (6 December).

Complete with special guests, Christmas numbers and both Spice and solo hits, it’s a rare chance to see the chart-topping singer strut her stuff solo – and while you might not want to trust Baby with the cooking over the festive period, you can count on her to bring out the big guns as far as her stellar back catalogue is concerned…

Hi Emma! You must be having a busy run-up to Christmas…

Well I need to start rehearsing for my show! I’ve been listening to my setlist but I haven’t actually started rehearsing yet; that’ll be next week. I love Christmas, I love the social side to it, the magic for the kids, being able to just spend a few days in my pyjamas, so I thought why not kick it all off. To perform at the Royal Albert Hall, it’s so prestigious – and I’m sure most of the audience will be my family and friends!

You’ve had a massive year with the Spice Girls reunion tour – does it feel strange to be doing a show like this alone again or are you relishing the prospect?

Well I love both. Obviously it’s ridiculously special when I’m with the girls. Those shows just felt like a massive hen party for everyone, including us! It was insane. We loved it. And then on the other hand, I think the nervousness and excitement of doing it solo is nice. But of course there’s always something special about doing it with the girls.

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Happy birthday @officialmelb I love you so much. I’ll be squeezing you a little tighter today. Can’t wait to celebrate with you! Xxx

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So what can fans expect from Emma Bunton’s Christmas Party?

Well I’ve got a band obviously, I’ve got fabulous dancers as always, and most of my favourite Christmas songs. But of course there’ll be some of my solo stuff in there and also some Spicy numbers. It’ll be between a Baby and a Bunton show: it’ll have a lot of everything.

Which of those solo hits do you most enjoy performing live?

Well, ‘What Took You So Long’ is special. It was Number One for two weeks. It was one of my first steps out into the solo world, so I love that. But I LOVE, love, love performing ‘Maybe’. It’s just got that… I just… I can’t wait. I love that song and the reaction people have to that song, it feels special.

Not a week goes by when we don’t see someone tweeting about their love for ‘Maybe’.

[laughs] Yeah! It’s got such a good feel to it, I love it. So I’ll be looking forward to performing that.

Of course you have previous experience when it comes to Christmas hits, with three Christmas Number Ones with the Spice Girls. Which would you choose if you could only choose one to listen to?

‘2 Become 1’ is one song that I’ve sung quite a lot on my own because I just love it, it brings back so many memories. It does make me laugh, it was always meant for Christmas but the video didn’t feel that Christmassy, so at the end you’ll see that deer kind of appear – that’s how we made it Christmassy! [laughs] But I love it, that’ll definitely be on the setlist. And [on] this [Spice Girls reunion] tour it felt really special.

I mean, I was there along with every other gay man in Britain and it was a stand-out moment; you could feel the emotion in the crowd.

Such a moment! It was insane. Obviously you talk about things in rehearsals – we had such a laugh, it was brilliant fun – and we rehearsed that bit, but as soon as the audience came in and we did that moment the first night, we were like ‘Oh my God’. It was a very special moment; we loved it.

You’ve just released your own Christmas single ‘Coming Home for Christmas’ too – were you itching to get your own festive track out there?

It’s always so funny, because I’ve always wanted to have a Christmas show and single, and I was working on my album and my producer came in [who] had this original Christmas song and I loved it straight away. You know, most of us are very lucky to have our family and friends around us all through the year, but some people only get to see loved ones at Christmas, or they might not even have that opportunity. I got really emotional when I heard it, I thought: ‘This is the single for me’.

Does Christmas Day tend to be a relaxed, idyllic affair in the Bunton household?

I mean it gets a little bit raucous by the end of the night, once you’ve had a few [laughs]. No, it’s lovely and chilled most of the day. Jade cooks and I open the wine. Anything I touch at Christmas, especially food-wise, is pretty disastrous. I’ve blown up mince pies, I’ve tried and failed to defrost a meringue. It’s just not for me. I’m definitely better out of the kitchen [laughs].

The Royal Albert Hall has been the scene of so many iconic moments throughout your career – Spice World even revolved around it. Is it a place that’s close to your heart?

Very much. And also when I was younger, when I was at school, I got to sing there for a charity event. I was in the choir. I was like 8 and singing in the Royal Albert Hall! And obviously it being part of the Spice movie, and finishing this year with a solo show at the Royal Albert Hall it feels very special.

2019 also saw the release of your first solo album in over a decade in the form of My Happy Place – is it going to be another ten years before the next one?!

I feel like I’m a bit of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants girl. I love hosting the American version of Bake Off and I love being a part of that, and then I’m about the host a new show on ABC – it’s a Christmas show and goes out on Christmas Day. If an opportunity comes and I love the idea of it then I’ll go for it, but it’s whatever I feel like is right for me at that time. My Happy Place was from the heart; my family and friends were there with me in the studio, and if it feels right and like it’s something that’s honest and true to me, that’s when I’ll do it.

You worked with Will Young on the record and I know he’s joining you for this show – do you guys have a close relationship?

Yeah I love him, I just love him. We’ve known each other for so many years. We’ve been to America together, we’ve hung out here, we’ve been in the studio together… He’s such a lovely guy and a good friend. I couldn’t think of anyone I’d want more to join me on stage for the Christmas show.

You also recorded a track with your partner Jade – what was that dynamic like? Was it easier of harder because you know each other so well?

I don’t know how we make it work but we had an amazing time. It felt quite romantic, and a bit like we were on a date?! When we were in the booth the producer was like ‘Erm, should we come back later?’ [laughs] Jade and I, we’re a team, we get on great. He’s a great dad, a great partner. When you see us on stage together it’s quite electric, so I can’t wait to do that. We fancy each other so much, I can’t take my eyes off him.

It must be amazing for your kids to see you both up on stage performing together.

Actually, oh my God, they haven’t seen that before! So yeah, that’ll be really nice for them. I didn’t even think about that. They’re always telling us off because we’re kissing all the time. They’re like ‘Muuuum, daaaad!’ I’m like ‘Well, this is it, we love each other’.

You’ll have to get the mistletoe out on stage.

Absolutely! We should.

So… Erm, sorry, I’ve actually lost my train of thought.

That’s okay. You’re thinking of the kissing aren’t you… [laughs]

I was going to ask, given you were on the US version recently, whether you managed to catch Geri on Drag Race UK?

Because I’ve been away so much I’ve actually got it all lined up to watch, I can’t wait. I just need that one night to watch them all. But I saw clips and I know she really enjoyed it. Obviously we spoke because she knows I did it in America as well, but we’re huge fans.

We know series two of the UK version is happening – would you be up for returning to the judging panel?

100%! I mean, I had the the best fun when we did it in America, I’d love to do it here.

We spoke Melanic C recently and she said you guys actually worked with RuPaul years ago?

Years and years ago! In fact, I’ve got a picture actually, and when I was on the show I showed RuPaul and it was like ‘Wowww’, because it was a long time ago. It feels like we’ve known her for years.

Well we need to make that happen.

[To publicist] Yeah, we need to make that happen! [laughs]

Emma Bunton’s Christmas Party is at the Royal Albert Hall next Friday 6 December. For tickets click here.