meet liz west, the world's most obsessed spice girls fan
Holding the Guinness World Record for having the largest collection of Spices Girls memorabilia in the world, it goes without saying that Elizabeth West is more than just a fan. She's quite literally obsessed. Then, again, this was the band that made the whole world want to spice up their life. Who wasn't obsessed with the Spice Girls? Starting her collection at the age of 12, it wasn't long before Liz became hooked. Fast-forward to today and she is recognized far and wide for her fandom. But it hasn't all been peace signs and zig-a-zig-ahs; along the way Liz has had to endure the vitriolic wank of internet trolls and the jealous wrath of competing fans. Not that she lets that bother her. Of course there were times, she admits, when her priorities became skewed, and collecting took over her life - a way of coping with depression when she was at art school - but she still remains proud of everything she has achieved. And why wouldn't she? Who else can say they've won an award for following their dreams?
What is it about the Spice Girls that you first loved and what made you want to start collecting?
The first time I ever heard the Spice Girls was when they introduced themselves and their number one hit Wannabe on Radio 1's UK Top 40 countdown in the summer of 1996. I was a very young and impressionable 11-year-old and was hooked. Their voices had energy, and happiness resonated through in their interviews; I wanted to be part of their gang! Collecting Spice Girls memorabilia wasn't a conscious decision at first. As a youngster I asked for and loved receiving Spice Girls related gifts for Christmas and Birthdays, and initially this is how my collection started. I felt a need to own their branded objects, however I never had the inclination to wear or use the objects (other than listening to their CDs), which perhaps demonstrated my collector's instinct. For me this was my way of showing my fandom: the bigger collection I had, the bigger fan I was!
What was the first item you collected?
When I was about 12 years old I had one cardboard box that was full of Spice Girls memorabilia. When I started buying both versions of each single (mixes and B-sides) and keeping every item wrapped up in the original packaging, I knew I was hooked on making a collection. It was only when I went to art school in Glasgow and I started buying the girls' actual outfits that I knew that I was mega serious.
How did you feel when Geri left the band?
I remember the day vividly. I was staying at my grandparents' home for the half-term break and they had just had their daily paper delivered. My Grandma came straight into the room I was in and showed me the front-page headline and waited for my reaction. I wasn't sad or upset and to be honest I think I half expected it. After watching the Spice Girls perform on the Lottery TV Show a few days prior without Geri; her excuse was illness, but I knew her level of commitment and thought she would have been there even if she were ill, so I knew something was wrong at that point.
What is the most treasured item in your collection and why?
The outfits have to be my most treasured because the girls wore them; therefore are intrinsically connected to the individuals and their image that I am so attracted to.
When did you meet the Spice Girls and what was that like?
I met Emma outside at Glaswegian radio station when she was on a promotional tour for a single when I studying at the Glasgow School of Art. When she rolled up I remember being very excited, anxious and nervous; I had no idea what to say to her even though I had had years to think about that moment. It was another fan who ended up telling her about my collection, I got a few things signed and had my photo taken with her, it was a good day. I've met Melanie C a few times. The last meeting was the best because she was introduced to me in relation to my collection; it meant I didn't have to explain why I was there. She recognized me for what I have built and achieved rather than being seen as just any fan, recognition from your idol is the best feeling in the world!
Has your love of collecting Spice Girls ephemera surpassed your love for the Spice Girls the band?
Collecting their 'stuff' is thrilling, as any collector will tell you about their chosen subject matter. The underlying passion for the subject of the collection is key in the search for objects: the thrill of the chase, the satisfaction of owning said items, the fun in arranging your collection, the notoriety it may bring and the often (with music memorabilia) diverse spectrum of objects available to collect is why we do it. I have tried to like and collect other things, but it has never been sustained or enjoyable.
How did it feel to win the Guinness World Record?
I was happy to have an official acknowledgment of my hard work, passion and determination. Having prioritized my collecting above most things for a chunk of my life it felt good to be 'known' for it. The 12-year-old girl in me was doing somersaults!
What's the worst thing about having the world's largest collection? You've spoken of bullying, competition, bitchiness can you explain a bit about that?
Cyber-bulling is a problem, as is jealousy. People can sit behind their computers and say whatever they think or feel, not realizing that there is an actual person behind the story. It is frustrating because it is up to me how I lead my life, what and who I love, how I spend my money. No one has the right to tell me what to do. Thankfully, most people are very positive about my collection. They appreciate and admire the ambition of making a collection of this scale even if they're not Spice Girls fans.
You speak about control in the video, do you find that there is a negative side to needing that much control over inanimate objects? Has it ever got in the way of real life relationships?
When I was at art school I was totally and utterly obsessed and my priorities became temporarily slightly skewed, this was partly down to the fact I was extremely depressed and needed a distraction. Collecting became online retail therapy; it was the only thing that brought me joy at that time. I felt that I was creating something wonderful and historical that might be appreciated by other fans all over the world someday. Looking back, I have no regrets and am glad I have what I have and did what I did, it was an experience! Funnily enough - in day-to-day life I have no materialistic desires. I rarely shop and treat myself to new things. I am at heart a bargain hunter, too. I have been very lucky, my collecting has never got in the way of relationships. The people I have chosen to surround myself with think my collecting is quirky and love me for it.
Where do you see all of this going in the future?
Amongst other things I hope to keep adding to my collection. I would love to exhibit my collection in more museums. I want as many fans to enjoy what I have made and be able to get up close to such special and treasured artifacts from the Spice Girls history.