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They are now the newest and hottest of groups. But The Spice Girls have come a long way - in fact they couldn't sing and couldn't dance when Ian Lee first met them. Caitlin James hears the real story...

The legend of the Spice Girls has them all meeting up at auditions, all desperate for a break and out of work, with two of them commuting from the North down to London. Stories of how they decided to team up, live together and form an all-girl-power group abound. The generally repeated story of their beginnings says that for two years the five girls were writing songs and laying down the foundations for the Spice Girls, and after managing themselves, they met their current manager and the bidding war began.The rest is history. Well, not quite.

Ian Lee, 50, is the main person who helped the Spice Girls realize their immense ambitions and bring them to their present success. He runs the charity-funded Trinity Studios in Woking, Surrey, where he helped groom the band - which was originally called Touch Ian spent time with the girls every day for a year, sat at a piano with them and helped them to train their voices. But according to Ian Lee, the girls never clapped eyes on each other until June 7, 1994. He says: "I couldn't believe it when all these stories came out about how the girls did everything themselves."

They were a put-together band. They'd never met until they were picked from 400 others and Emma Bunton and Geri Halliwell weren't even considered for the original line-up. The whole idea of a girl band to rival boy groups such as Take That and East 17 was dreamed up by Chris Herbert who, together with his father Bob, owned a management company - which was originally called Heart and later, Safe. The Herberts have since been contracted by the girls' new advisers, 19 Management, and they are legally bound not to speak of their involvement with the Spice Girls. What actually happened was that Herbert, 26, went to dance schools and drama colleges in London and the South-East with a rather cheap black and white flyer, asking for girls who could both sing and dance, and who were streetwise, ambitious and dedicated.

On March 4, 1994, girls turning up at a studio in London were given 30 seconds to perform and marked out of 10 on their ability to dance and sing, as well as their looks and personality. The 400 hopefuls were whittled down to 10. Among them were the two Melanies, along with a middle-class girl called Michelle Stephenson, who had received the highest score. Victoria was also picked. Then Geri Halliwell finally entered the picture on April 28 when the management team were choosing the final five. Geri had missed the first audition because of a modelling

job, but had begged with Chris Herbert on the telephone to give her a try. When she walked in, everybody could see she was a bit older than the rest of the girls so Chris asked her how old she was. Her reply was a classic Geri. She said, "I'm as old or young as you want me to be. I can be a 10-year old with big tits if you want." She got the job.

On June 7, the girls came to the studio to work together. Chris had put them all up in a local B&B, and for a week they got to sing and dance together. After a week they were told they had a couple of weeks to think things over, and decide if it was something they really wanted to do. They all agreed and Chris moved them into a house in Maidenhead and asked Ian to allow them to use his studios on a daily basis at a cost of Ј100 a week. The girls were given expenses, but no regular wage. In a bare, bleak dance studio with paint peeling from the yellow tongue-and-groove surrounds, thegirls got to know each other.Soon after Michelle left the band and Chris held a panic audition and Emma was picked. She was suited to the rest of the girls.

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