Kristen Baldwin
June 11, 1999 AT 04:00 AM EDT

After enduring years of media mockery for portraying the living blow-up doll named Ginger Spice, Geri Halliwell now just wants to be loved. Or so it seems as the singer fusses attentively over a visiting reporter, fixing refreshments (”Would you like some tea? Do you take milk?”) and making flattering small talk (”I like your hair bobbed. Has it always been that way?”). Perhaps that’s why the 26-year-old Halliwell, in New York to promote her solo effort, Schizophonic, appears happy to take any crumb of critical kindness she can get.

”People have been surprised, and that’s nice. They’ve said it was better than they anticipated,” says Halliwell, whose lusty first single, ”Look at Me,” debuted at No. 2 on the British charts. ”Everybody thought I was going to be crap, so even if I’m slightly good, I’m better than they imagined.”

If the rest of the Spice pack had similarly low expectations for their defector’s debut, they have yet to pipe up. Halliwell says she may send a copy of Schizophonic to her ex-band mates, whom she hasn’t talked to since leaving under rancorous circumstances last June. ”I need a little bit more water under the bridge,” she explains.

She may want space from Sporty, Posh, Baby, and Scary (wouldn’t you?), but Halliwell needed no time away from the spotlight. A few weeks after doffing her Union Jack mini and drag-queen makeup, she asked award-winning documentary filmmaker Molly Dineen to chronicle her apres-Ginger transition period, resulting in a surprisingly candid 90-minute film that aired on English TV last month (viewers saw Halliwell weeping over an impounded puppy and writing Prince Charles to ask for career advice). ”Her morals, her values, are very down-to-earth,” says Dineen of the United Nations goodwill ambassador. ”I think that’s why she gets so lonely, because she doesn’t really mix in that whole celebrity scene at all.” Even so, Dineen says, her subject had an ”inability not to have the stage and the camera” in her life, a fact Halliwell readily admits to. ”Within the Spice Girls, you’re always on film, and I was used to facing a camera wherever we went. So in a way, I was feeling a little bit lost [after leaving].”

As for acting on camera, Halliwell has no immediate plans, though she’s been offered ”lots” of roles, and even met with the director of the upcoming James Bond film (”It didn’t work out”). But fear not, the singer says, 1997’s Spice World was only the beginning. ”There’s an actor in all of us,” she muses. ”Elvis Presley said the world is a stage.”

Her botched literary citation notwithstanding, Halliwell’s current creative focus is her autobiography, If Only, due in October. While the publisher’s catalog promises dish about Halliwell’s ”complex relationships with the Spice Girls,” the author begs to differ: ”It’s not a kiss and tell about the Spice Girls. It’s a portrait of me struggling and chasing dreams.”

Not that she’s ashamed of her platform-sneakered past. ”If you want to call me Ginger, fine,” says Halliwell. ”But I would like you all to get to know me as Geri.”

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