AS Geri Halliwell’s two Pomeranians bound across her pristine, wood-floored kitchen, I notice one is much less fluffy than the other.
Scooping up the nearly bald pooch, I coo: “Awww, someone’s had a little haircut.”
“Actually,” Geri deadpans, “He has alopecia. The stress of me getting another dog sent him over the edge, and his fur fell out.”
Only Geri Halliwell, whose 20-year showbiz career has seen plenty of ups and downs, could have a pet with “issues”.
But as we settle down in the landscaped garden of her North London mansion for a chat, the permanently smiling, fresh-faced singer insists she is now 100% issue-free – and happier than ever.
In fact, the story of just how she came to acquire the 12-year-old, balding pooch pretty much sums up Geri.
Just as troubled celebs – George Michael and Robbie Williams to name two – have always flocked to her for support, Geri had to rescue Daddy, named after 80s wrestler, Big Daddy, from a pet shop in LA.
Happy with her trader boyfriend, Henry Beckwith, and four-year-old daughter, Bluebell, the Spice Girl believes 2011 is already her “best ever” as she focuses on the launch of her latest fashion collection and a new solo album.
But Henry, who Geri has been dating for the past two years, shouldn’t get too complacent – his girlfriend admits a secret lust for another man.
“I have the most ridiculous TV crush on Michael McIntyre,” she giggles.
“I fell in love watching him on Britain’s Got Talent.
“I want to apologise to his wife, and tell her that I’m saying this from a pure, unpredatory place.
“I think Michael’s brilliant on that show – he totally stole it on his first week.
“Michael’s completely different to Simon Cowell and it’s not easy to step into somebody else’s shoes, but he’s helped refresh the show and made it more exciting.”
Since quitting Britain’s biggest female pop group in 1998, Geri, 38, has stayed in the celebrity spotlight.
Firm friends with David Walliams and Russell Brand, she remains on speaking terms with all the Spice Girls – “We’re like family, you speak to some members more than others” – and supported George Michael during his spell in prison for drug-driving.
“I’ve just seen George actually, and he played me his new record,” she smiles.
“He’s on really good form – probably the best I’ve seen him in years.
“I sent him letters in prison. But I got scared that the guards would open them all and read them.
“So I gave a letter to the one friend who was allowed in.
“George is such a nice bloke, such good company. It’s often the way, the more A-list the star, the kinder they are.
“Often it’s the newly famous who are the worst-behaved.”
The one-time Ginger Spice says it was George who gave her the most extravagant present she’s ever received – a customised Mercedes sports car.
“He gave it to me for my birthday,” she explains. “He is incredibly generous.”
Although Geri and Robbie Williams were close and she credits the Take That star for saving her from bulimia, the pair have drifted apart slightly.
She adds: “Rob’s great but I haven’t seen him for ages.
“The last time I saw him was in October when I went to one of his shows. He is getting his confidence back and he’s grown-up a lot – marriage does that to you.
“But he lives a different life now, he lives in LA. I didn’t go to his wedding because it was a private affair.”
Geri, whose eponymous clothing range at Next has sold out across many lines, has not ruled out marriage herself. Beaming as she chats about the good-looking City worker, she says: “I’m cautious talking about it, I feel a bit like a deer in headlights. But Henry’s a lovely, lovely guy and I could gush.
“And I’m a pretty good girlfriend! For his birthday, I took him to Russia to fly on a Top Gun fighter plane.
“I love him but my other dog, William, hates him! When Henry stayed over the other night, he did a huge poo outside the bedroom – William, not Henry.
“Henry’s a good influence on me and my mum loves him too.”
Cue Mrs Ana Maria Halliwell. Poking her head out from the kitchen whereshe has been rustling up cheese omelettes for both of us, she grins: “Henry’s lovely.”
Would he be a good son-in-law? “Fantastico!”
Admitting that she no longer dreams of a big, white wedding, Geri is also very laid-back regarding more children.
“Of course I think about it and I don’t have any judgment on having kids outside marriage.
“I love the age Bluebell is now, she’s the best age – young enough to believe, but old enough to understand.
“If I was lucky enough to have more then I would be grateful but, equally, I feel so lucky to have one already.
“Also, on a practical level, I’m about to release an album so I’d like to give that my full energy and, well, wear something relatively tight for the pictures, before getting pregnant!”
Of course, Geri has battled with her weight. From a curvy size 12 in “that” Union Jack dress to a yoga-obsessed, anorexic-bulimic in 2001, Geri is finally happy with her body.
A toned size eight, she insists she eats a lot – “people are shocked by how much” – and practises a healthy amount of yoga in her five-bedroom home.
“God, I’ve been there and done it all… not been body-confident, thought ‘My boobs are too big, too small, I’m too small, too tall, too skinny, too wide, too slim, too fat…’
“But when I had Bluebell, I knew I had to set a healthy example.
“So, take today as an average day… Bluebell woke me up at 7am and I had breakfast, eggs and toast. Then I had a meeting with the record company at lunchtime, and on the way I snacked on nuts and a banana, then scoffed two cookies during the meeting. “Afterwards, I had a little bit of chocolate and then my mum said I had to eat something “proper” so she made me some salmon with pasta.
“I’ve learnt that if I tell myself I’m not allowed something I binge on it later.
“So if I want chocolate, I have chocolate. If I want biscuits, I have biscuits. I love cake. I just love cake. We’ll only call the food police if I eat 20 packets.
“Now, I can just have one – or maybe two – slices of cake whereas before [when I had bulimia], I would have the whole cake.”
However, at her lowest point, the singer, whose album is currently at the centre of a bidding war between two major record labels, admits she did consider quitting the celebrity world altogether.
She says: “Celebrity has some amazing advantages, of course it does.
“You’re given an extraordinary power. It’s a door-opener. I might not have to queue for things.
“I can get a table easily, people are nicer to me in the butcher’s. There’s a familiarity.
“But at one stage it did get a bit too much. Being a celebrity, you can remain a child for ever, almost. You get away with more, you can get too pampered and it’s not healthy.
“I went through a stage of not having a clue who I was.
“I did think about giving it all up and just moving away somewhere remote.
“But people don’t realise that once you turn fame on, you can’t switch it off.
“I realised that when I was climbing Table Mountain in South Africa. It was completely quiet except for this one person – and they recognised me.”
Geri refuses to comment on the rumours that Bluebell’s father is flim-maker Sacha Gervasi.
A hands-on mum, Geri takes Bluebell to school every day and reads her a bedtime story every night.
Geri says: “Bluebell was singing in the garden earlier, and it was like watching myself at that age. There’s a picture my mum’s got of me when I was eight years old, with a curtain wrapped around myself, singing in the garden. It’s uncanny.
“I love the person she’s becoming. She utterly charms me but I am very strict on manners, getting her to say please and thank you. Manners cost nothing.
“Motherhood made me reassess my responsibilities and I had to grow up.”
With her career on the up, a stable home and a circle of good friends, Geri is, to slip into the psychobabble she used to spout, now “in a good place”.
And struggling not to revel in her good fortune, she says: “It’s hard to stay modest and conservative.
“As English people, we put ourselves down. But I will say this… 2011 has started off incredibly excitingly.
“Music and fashion, two working loves of my life developing incredibly, and coming to fruition.
“I’ve been in this house for six years, the longest I’ve stayed anywhere, and I think this reflects the stability of my life. I feel very happy and very lucky.”