the rice girls

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 July, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 July, 1998, 12:00am

The Rice Girls, in case you hadn't guessed, are Hong Kong's answer to the Spice Girls, who are popular culture's riposte to the belief that you can't fool all of the people all of the time. The Spice Girls have been having a wonderful, if overly lengthy, joke at the expense of, among others, Nelson Mandela and Prince Charles, and they have gladdened what pass for the hearts of Fleet Street editors while speedily lining their pockets. So it's no surprise that Hong Kong, land of opportunity and copies, has come up with a fake version.

We met round a table in the lobby of the Fringe Club where the group had been rehearsing upstairs. It so happened at that exact moment President Clinton, a man who knows a thing or two about girl-power, was pressing the flesh in Lan Kwai Fong. As a result, excited people kept running into the Club, squeezing past the girls' clobber in an effort to reach the telephone, and ringing up their friends with news of presidential handshakes. 'He's looking for us, you see,' said Rachael Blackmore, gamely. 'He's heard we're round here somewhere.' Blackmore is Scary Rice and the group's manager. The others are Janet Taylor (Posh Rice), Joanne Jackson (Baby Rice), Helen Rigby (Sporty Rice) and Helen Campbell (Ginger Rice). I was concerned about Ginger's career prospects given that her doppelganger, the pneumatic Geri Halliwell, abruptly departed from the original group last month. Moreover, Ginger was the only Rice Girl who didn't appear at our gathering. The others claimed that it was because she had to go to work at Post 97, where she's the manager. But I have my suspicions.

Indeed, what happens when the rest of the Spice Girls lose their flavour and crumble into dust? 'It doesn't matter,' replied Scary. 'People will still want to see the Rice Girls.' Scary, as you can tell, is a stalwart believer in the whole concept, no doubt because it was her idea. 'I run an entertainments company called Rachael's Fun House and I do impersonations - you know, Madonna, Tina Turner, Betty Boop, Tom Jones.' How often has she done Tom Jones? 'Well, just once. I made a mistake. I thought he threw his knickers at the audience and I bought a whole load from Marks & Spencer. I didn't know it was the women in the audience who threw theirs so they were all sitting there going 'What?' ' She paused and added, reflectively, 'That was for the Japanese Embassy, they always want the most bizarre people.' Last autumn, she started getting requests to do the Spice Girls so she rounded up the others. Baby, who actually has her own baby known as Tiny Rice, used to be a beauty therapist; Sporty, who worked for RTHK Radio 3, is currently studying Putonghua at Chinese University (this is an important factor in the Rice Girls' plans for world domination) and Posh teaches English in a kindergarten. Apart from the elusive Ginger, they also work as the Clown Sisters - Bubbles, Muddles, Goggles and Crackers - and evidently don't mind wearing glitter, platform shoes from Mongkok and, in Blackmore's appropriate case, full body make-up.

'I had to be the one no one else wanted to be,' she admitted. 'I was going to get a coloured person to be Scary and I'd be Ginger but when I advertised, Helen turned up and she's perfect as Ginger so I had to do it.' They spent three months rehearsing their routine, which includes some magic tricks, then launched themselves in May at the Hong Kong Country Club swimming gala. They seem to have got the hang of things pretty quickly. 'Tung Chee-hwa was there and Ginger and Posh were draping themselves over his car and shouting 'Girl power!' ' recalled Scary. What on earth was the Chief Executive doing there? 'Looking for us!' cried the others (this is evidently a running joke). 'And George Bush was staying at the Island Shangri-La when we were doing the Tai Po Rotary Club Ball,' added Sporty meaningfully. 'But the official line on that is no comment.' They've done about seven shows since and have plans for a promotional video and Asian tour after Christmas. They had spent the earlier part of the afternoon we met with the British Minister for Film and Tourism, Tom Clarke, who was launching a rock'n'roll map of Great Britain at the British Consulate. Cuddling ministers, of course, is a genuine Spice Girl activity so they obviously have matters well in hand. 'He was covered in glitter when he left,' observed Sporty. 'That's our motto: you can never have too much glitter.' Said Scary: 'He was very, very keen on us. He's met the real Spice Girls and he said that we were better.' Encouraged by such feedback and in expectation of local interest, they intend to rejig their names so that Sporty will become Kung-fu, Baby will be Siu-siu, Posh will be Tai-tai, Ginger will be Wan Chai ('You know, naughty, sassy - cheeky') and Scary will be The Rice Dragon. The idea is that Sporty will come on and do the introductions in Putonghua and then they'll start crooning in English. Despite what many might think of as the banal simplicity of the songs, full translation is not a viable option. I was worried that there might be something illegal about this process but Scary is a licensed entertainer and says that she's sorting out that end of things so with any luck there won't be a Jailbird Rice.

The girls seem to be torn between a tender regard for the originals they're spoofing and an understandable desire to have a good laugh. 'I think I'd get on really well with Sporty,' mused Sporty Rice. 'She's got no airs and graces, she's down-to-earth, just like me.' Posh Spice loyally said, 'I think there's more to Posh than meets the eye.' Hmmm, I said, it's a pity her footballing fiance, David Beckham, is such a moron. 'We were all upset when he got the red card,' cried Baby. 'We thought, 'Oh poor Posh.' ' 'Though at least she got to see him sooner,' said Posh.

But do they honestly think that the Spice Girls are good? 'Brilliant,' they chorused. Even though they like Margaret Thatcher which really is scary? A momentary gloom fell upon the table. 'No comment,' sighed Sporty. 'The funny thing is that after a show, when we have a drink, we start getting much louder and much cheekier,' said Scary. 'And then we think, 'Oh my God, we're turning into them.' '