About 75 million TV viewers watched Michael Phelps become the most decorated Olympian in history at the London 2012 Games. Twice as many tuned in to see Usain Bolt clinch his second 100-meter gold. Pretty impressive — until you realize the Spice Girls' performance at the closing ceremony drew an audience of 300 million people worldwide and generated 50 percent more tweets than any other event at the Summer Olympics.
The Spice Girls are not just the best-selling female pop group of all time (with the biggest-selling album, "Spice"). They are British icons whose popularity shows no sign of diminishing, even a decade after they recorded their last songs together.
I'll tell you what I want, what I really, really want
It's been 16 years since they reached No. 1 in 30 countries with their debut single "Wannabe," but the Spice Girls are still some of the hottest celebrities around. Mel C (Sporty Spice) is about to star in a revival of "Jesus Christ Superstar." Geri Halliwell (Ginger Spice) has a headline-grabbing relationship with comic Russell Brand. Mel B (Scary Spice) is a judge on "The X Factor" in Australia and the UK, while Emma Bunton (Baby Spice) will sing a duet with Mel C on a new studio album. Victoria Beckham (Posh Spice) has a successful fashion line, as well as the world's most famous soccer player, to keep her busy.
But for die-hard fans of Girl Power, the most exciting recent news is that Spice Girls music will form the soundtrack to a brand-new musical at the Piccadilly Theatre in London's West End this December. "Viva Forever" tells the story of a girl whose dreams of superstardom come true overnight and how her celebrity affects her relationship with her mother and friends. It bills itself as "a wonderfully joyous contemporary musical about the value of friendship in the face of fame and fortune!"
British comedian Jennifer Saunders is writing "Viva Forever," which is produced by Judy Craymer ("Mamma Mia!"), both shown here with the Spice Girls at a recent launch event. Even months before its opening night, "Viva Forever" is already being talked about as a possible Hollywood movie.
After Halliwell left the Spice Girls in 1998, amid rumors of behind-the-scenes fights, the rest of the group slowly drifted apart, finally splitting in 2000. The closing ceremony's super-spiciness has led to inevitable speculation that the Spice Girls are about to re-form — for the second time.
In 2007, all five original members reunited for a world tour whose first London date sold out in just 38 seconds. The reunion lasted slightly longer than that, making it into early 2008 before the Spice Girls again called it a day, cancelling their final six concerts.
But while their surprise Olympic performance surrounded by London taxis and Union Jack flags excited fans about the possible return of Cool Britannia's favorite pop stars, the Girls have been quick to point out that the event was strictly a one-off. Victoria Beckham apparently insisted this would be the Spice Girls' final show together, and on the night of the closing ceremony, Mel B is reported to have said, "This is it, girls, the last time — enjoy it."
Perhaps it's for the best. After all, before the musical's announcement, the biggest Spice Girls event over the last few years wasn't a sold-out secret concert or a chart-busting single but an exhibition last year of "historic" Spice Girls memorabilia at a venue that doesn't exactly shout "Girl Power": Leeds City Museum. Next stop, the Antiques Roadshow?
Did you know?
* The Spice Girls have sold 75 million albums worldwide, the most of any all-female pop group
* Posh, Scary, Sporty, Ginger and Baby Spice rose to fame under multimillionaire manager Simon Fuller, who went on to create "American Idol" and "So You Think You Can Dance?"
* Only The Beatles can match The Spice Girls' record of three consecutive No. 1 Christmas hits in the UK pop charts
* At the height of "Spicemania" in the 1990s, the Girls had sponsorship deals with dozens of companies and products including potato chips, scooters, deodorants, sugar, cameras and supermarkets. They even had their own (widely mocked) PlayStation game.
* The LA mansion where the Spice Girls planned their American debut is on the market. The ultimate piece of Spice Girls memorabilia has six bedrooms (one for each Girl plus one for Fuller?), a swimming pool, a gym and a private screening room, and it can be yours today for a mere $18.9 million.
by Mark Harris
Top: Victoria Beckham, Geri Halliwell, Emma Bunton, Melanie Chisholm and Melanie Brown of The Spice Girls perform during the Closing Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Right: Writer Jennifer Saunders and producer Judy Craymer joined the Spice Girls at a June press launch of the new Spice Girls musical. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)