A new biography of George Michael reveals how the troubled pop star was doomed by addiction
He wrote Careless Whisper at and was a multi-millionaire by ... but the seeds of his depression and drug abuse had already taken root. A new biography charts the rise and devastating fall of the Wham! legend
It was as he stepped onto a bus to take him from his day job as an usher at a Watford cinema to his night job as a restaurant DJ that the melody came to him. He sat at the back of the bus and started jotting down lyrics inspired by his break-up with a girlfriend. Just six words became one of the great lines of popular music: ‘Guilty feet have got no rhythm.’ It was 1981 and George Michael was still only 17.
Born Georgios Panayiotou, he was the third child and only son of a Greek Cypriot father, Jack, and a British mother, Lesley. Growing up in London and Hertfordshire, his principal interest was nature until one day he fell down the staircase at school when he was running for lunch. He told Greek television: ‘I had a very bad fall, cracked my head and, in the year subsequent to the accident, not only my interests but my abilities seemed to change. Before the accident, I was very interested in nature and biology. But after the accident, literally within two weeks I brought home a violin – unfortunately a violin – and within months was obsessed with music.’
At secondary school, he met Andrew Ridgeley, who shared his love of music, and they became determined to make it in the business. But Careless Whisper, the song George wrote on the bus, wasn’t suitable for them. They needed tracks that showcased them as the fun-loving soul boys they were.
One evening at a club, Andrew was bopping about, showing off, when he started exclaiming: ‘Wham! Bam! I’m the Man’ and doing a rap. It gave George the idea for a song that became Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do).
The pair then came up with the band name Wham!, hired a portable studio and recorded
Wham Rap!, Club Tropicana and Careless Whisper at Andrew’s parents’ house. Their tape got them a contract but Wham
Rap!, released in June 1982, just before George’s 19th birthday, was a flop, failing to make the top 100. The second single, Young
Guns, reached number 42 – still a flop. Then came their lucky break.
A BBC producer happened to be in Stringfellows nightclub when Wham! did a personal appearance and thought they would be perfect for Saturday Superstore, a children’s television programme. Their performance on that put them on the radar of Top Of The
Pops and when another act pulled out at the last minute, Wham! were booked to do Young
Guns on the first show of November 1982. George was on fire, commanding the stage, bare-chested and toned in a leather waistcoat. Afterwards, dripping with sweat, he turned to guitarist David Austin and told him, ‘This is it. This is the rest of my life!’
Young Guns went to No 3. Follow-up Bad Boys reached No 2. Their album Fantastic, released in July 1983, topped the charts.
One evening George and Andrew were
sprawled out in front of Match Of The Day in the lounge of George’s family home in Radlett. George suddenly yelled out and ran upstairs and Andrew ambled up to George’s room to see what was up. George was singing into a tape recorder, worried that if he didn’t do it there and then he might have lost the song that became Last Christmas.
It was not on the album Make It
Big, but was released as a seasonal single. The video, filmed in the Swiss Alps, turned into one big holiday for George and Andrew’s friends. George insisted that their mates and family should travel with them, first class. He picked up the bill. ‘It was a riot,’ remembers one of the inner circle on the trip. ‘Andy couldn’t be filmed because his eyes were so swollen through laughter and booze. During the dinner party scenes, they wanted it to look postmeal, so the booze had to be consumed – and it was.’ Kept off the top of the charts by Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s
Christmas?, Last Christmas was the biggestselling number-two record of all time.
Make It Big also included Careless Whisper and the video for George’s solo song was shot in Miami over two days. Everyone loved the footage – except George. He hated his hair, telling his manager that it was ‘too long, too posy and too poofy’.
An SOS call was made to his sister Melanie, the only person he would trust to look after his hair. She took the first flight out of London and her trim became one of the most expensive cut and blow-drys ever because the entire video had to be reshot at a cost of more than $60,000, doubling the original budget.
Careless Whisper climbed effortlessly to the top of the charts.
By 21, George was a multimillionaire. Though he moved out of his parents’ house and rented a flat in Knightsbridge, his mother would pop in to make sure he was looking after himself and to take his washing away.
Speculation about his sexuality was now almost a national pastime. He refused to confirm or deny the question about the gay rumours that slipped into every interview and continued to reinforce the image of Wham! as two heterosexual boys having fun. The ridiculous nature of the predicament that George found himself in was perfectly captured in his ‘relationship’ with the American actress Brooke Shields. Wham!’s 1985 American tour opened with a couple of nights in Chicago. The whole world seemed to know of his date with Brooke in the restaurant at the hotel where they were both staying. After the meal, George politely escorted her to her room. Brooke, who famously remained a virgin until she was 22, recalled: ‘He left without even trying to kiss me. I was so touched by what a real gentleman he was.’ George was happy to keep the photo opportunity going when, soon after, Wham! played New York. They had dinner together and Brooke observed: ‘He was obviously aware of my hesitance regarding sex.’ But after a third date, at a party for Grace Jones, Boy George mischievously went up to Brooke and whispered: ‘He’s a poof.’ According to Boy George, ‘She didn’t know what it was, but looked worried.’ In 1986 George announced that Wham! were splitting. Asked what would happen to his friend, he replied simply, ‘Andrew will be all right.’ Indeed, Andrew knew the split was inevitable and was very comfortable financially. Royalties from Careless Whisper alone would always be his pension.
George went to live in Los Angeles, but he felt down and was drinking far too much
George Michael aged five, in 1968; with Andrew Ridgeley as Wham! at London’s Lyceum Ballroom, 1983