A TRIBUTE TO GEORGE MICHAEL
25. June 1963 - 25. december 2016
When I was 15 years old, I experienced love at first sight. I sat parked in front of the TV-screen, waiting for a programme to begin, when I saw an ad for a CD where a boy stepped out of a car, raised his arm and sported the most incredible, beaming smile I’d ever seen, the words “laaaast Christmas I gave you my heaaart” hitting me right in the chest. My jaw virtually fell into my lap, as I watched scenes from Ibiza, black and white stage performances – and finally a darkened room with the same boy, with a suffering look in his eyes, held onto a microphone stand and sang about how he was “never gonna dance again”, the way he danced with… oh, me? The album was 'Wham! The Final'.
Earlier that year, another ad had caught my eye. It featured a dark-haired, black-clothed, morose looking man wearing dark glasses. To say that I “didn’t get it” is an understatement. When I asked my, then, sister-in-law who that “incredibly handsome singer in that band Wham!” was, she first went quiet, then asked if I was kidding before adding with a chuckle, “…that’s George Michael – the guy you said you didn’t like two days ago!”
Fast forward to five months later, in May 1997, when I suffered the – by then – greatest loss of my life. My father, who died at the age of 53 under upsetting and suspicious circumstances. His body wasn’t recovered until September, so it was virtually impossible to know how to feel or react. I was in shock, unable to sleep or cry, and spent a significant amount of time staring at the phone, waiting for him to call and say he was alright “really”.
It wasn’t until weeks later, when I put on an album that I’d got for my birthday at the beginning of May, that I broke down crying for the first time since the accident. The reason for this was a high, light, emotionally charged voice singing “…I know, heaven sent and heaven stole, you smiled at me like Jesus to a child…” I wasn’t even crying for myself, I was crying for him. This man, that I didn’t even know, who had clearly lost his lover. By the time he got to “for every single memory has become a part of me. You will always be… my love” I was crying so hard my mother came rushing through the door. She looked a mix between alarmed and relieved.
Right then and there started my lasting love affair with George Michael.
I tried accidentally running into him at Sarm West Studios in London when I was an au-pair in Kingston in 2001, but we always seemed to miss each other. I only had one day off a week, in between doing slave labour for 14 hours a day, six days a week, so it wasn’t to happen. However, when I came back to London in 2003, I’d been in town for about two weeks when I first decided to try and meet him at Air Studios in Hampstead. I had prepared a little speech, but what I wasn’t entirely prepared for was how I’d feel when he was – actually – standing in front of me with that beaming smile that had made me weak in the knees the first time I saw it 7 ½ years earlier. All things considering, I did quite well. There was no grand speech, but I managed to tell him happy birthday (40 a week or so later), hand him a small token-gift as well as a picture for him to sign. We (my friend and I, also a big fan since Wham!) had our pictures taken with him – and nearly took off with his car keys, that he had somehow managed to pass over to us.
After this, I accidentally ran into him another handful of times. I guess I’ll never know how he actually felt about these short, random meetings – always in Hampstead – but I promised myself I’d stop trying to run into him as soon as he stopped saying “do come again”, “I’ll see you again!” and “it’s been a while, have you been out of the country?” On two occasions, he let me listen to clips from his upcoming album, ‘Patience’, as he usually arrived with a song playing on his stereo. When he asked what I thought of the minute or so I was allowed to hear of ‘Through’, I remember saying, “The immediate feel is ‘Jesus to a child’ mixed with ‘One more try’.” When I asked what the other song was called, he first chuckled, then smiled broadly – so when he actually said “it’s called ‘John and Elvis are dead’ this one”, I thought he was pulling my leg.
The most memorable meeting was a couple of days before Christmas in 2003, when he was so energetic and happy that I found myself saying, “That beard looks so-fucking-sexy” as I was, for the first time, faced with the newly acquired, signature ‘Faith’- stubble. That wasn’t the fan in me that was unable to control itself – that was the woman in me, seeing a man that was so incredibly attractive that I just couldn’t help myself. His reaction was priceless. The smile mirrored the first I’d ever seen him do, as he exited that car in the snow, with ‘Last Christmas’ playing in the background – followed by, “You think so? I’m not quite sure about it yet, but I’ll keep it for now.” I cocked my head and smiled at him, as I touched my cheek (in an attempt not to touch his!), before saying, “You should definitely keep it” – and he, too, cocked his head, smiled and touched his cheek, adding, “I might just do that.”
To my delight, he kept it for years.
Not wanting to overstay my welcome, I handed him a small Christmas gift and wished him happy Christmas. He opened his arms and I went towards him, expecting a hug as we had shared numerous times before, but that day he had other plans. First, I got a kiss – then, with his arms wrapped tightly around my back, he whispered “have a very… lovely… Christmas” into my ear. Sadly, I couldn’t tell you what happened next, because my brain had just about had it and blacked out. I was nearly by the tube station, probably ten minutes later, when I realised what had happened. At the time, I was giggling uncontrollably to someone on the phone, trying to make heads or tails of what I’d just experienced.
I’ll admit, I cursed his sexuality for about a week after that – but like with 1998, I got over it.
During our 2nd meeting, I asked if he’d give me an interview for the promotion of the new album and he handed me his PA’s number. “It’s not spelled like that, but it’s pronounced that way” he said and pointed to the name ‘Shivon’ [in real life: Siobhan] on the note he’d just written. Before I left, he initiated a hug and then pointed his finger in my chest, adding, “Do call!” (She, of course, told me to call back when he actually had something to promote.) By January the coming year, I reminded him of our conversation in July. He told me to call him at Air Studios the next day, so we could set something up. We agreed on the date, I showed up, he was late but in a good mood. I walked behind him up to the top floor of Air Studios, with him saying he’d picked some tracks for us to listen to and talk about. Meanwhile, I reminded myself to be professional as my eyes were virtually glued to his well-shaped behind in those figure-hugging jeans. Long story short, his then manager stated eloquently that he wasn’t too happy about George granting me “the first fucking interview” for the promotion of ‘Patience’ and had me removed.
George, a few months later, pulled his car up next to me and apologised on behalf of said manager – adding that he was “mortified by his behaviour” and “sorry that you had to go through that”. I had no problem accepting his apology. I also said I’d never blamed him for the incident. If anything, I felt bad for him, having to apologise on behalf of an employee. This was the last time we ever met.
However, in 2007 I was commissioned to write a piece from a music fan’s perspective for LGBT-magazine in New York, in a bid to re-introduce George Michael to Americans – at least to those who didn’t already know that he still existed. We reached out to his publicist in NY, with the piece, and asked for an exclusive quote. She said she was going to meet with him and his (US) manager in NY that week, and so the wait began. Not only did we very quickly get the quote we asked for, we got much more: “This is the scoop: You're the first cover of the year with his participation. You're getting approved art from us that no one else has along w/a quote from him about coming to America in 2008” – and, as it turned out, free use of the cover art. I don’t know for sure, but I did wonder if that was his way of saying “considering our agreed interview didn’t happen, here’s a little something.”
The last thing I heard was that 110.000 copies of the magazine got ripped off the shelves as soon as it came out in 2008 – as well as a handful making their way to his people. And, possibly, to himself. I hope it did, because the piece was truly written with love – and as a thank you.
WHEN I THINK ABOUT GEORGE MICHAEL...
I think of a man whose voice could send shivers down my spine, make me cry and turn me on – sometimes all at once. I think of a man who – unknowingly – saved my soul by sharing his grief and his heart. I told him this during one of our meetings, and he hugged me and said, “Thank you… thank you so much. Hearing stories like this reminds me of why I do what I do, and makes it all worth it.”
I think of a man who was unafraid. He was who he was, period. Whatever was in his head usually come out of his mouth without much consideration for the consequences, and the result was pretty much exclusively hilarious. Always a cheeky comment, always an inappropriate joke, always sarcastic remark – and that a big, big smile and hearty laughter.
I think of a man I'd willingly get up before sparrow fart for, on my days off, to hear the new single on the radio. A man that I would wait in line on the phone for, to get a dozen concert tickets for the first tour in nearly 20 years. That I'd get on a plane at 3.30am to attend the first date of the tour in Barcelona for - and cry in public while he sang ‘Jesus to a child’.
I remember seeing the last date of the last tour he ever did, at Earls Court in London in 2012, quietly crying more times than I usually like to admit. And I remember how all the waiting, on numerous occasions, was always worth it.
"IS THAT ENOUGH? I THINK IT'S OVER..."
Then came the day that I’ve always feared, a lot sooner than I had hoped. On the 25th of December 2016, George Michael took his last breath at the age of 53, the same age as my father was when he passed away in 1997. I first reacted with shock, then inconsolable grief. My heart shattered and bled, broke for a man who deserved so much more. For a man who was meant to bounce back again, and surprise us with yet another smashing album, another smashing tour – another outrageously funny interview.
Instead, the wait is now over. For good.
I don’t delude myself into thinking that our meetings meant as much to him as they did to me… but when I say that I love him, I really mean it. I didn’t know him, not really, but through 20 years of following someone’s life, someone’s struggle, someone’s honesty and someone’s musical output, your heart connects with theirs. We all struggle and we all hurt, but George put it all out there – for us all to share. He reached out his hand, wanted you to take it, so he could tell you that “you’re not alone, love – I’ve been there too, just listen to this!”
For every emotion, there’s a George Michael lyric – but no-o-ow, who’s gonna write the lyrics to explain how we all feel?