Below is the transcript of Tim Sebastian’s interview with George Michael on the show BBC Hard Talk, which aired on February 25, 2003.
Tim Sebastian: More and more stars from the entertainment world are objecting to a war in Iraq. Is it fashion or conviction? My guest today is one of the best-known names in pop music around the world. What would he do to end the crisis?
George Michael, a very warm welcome to the program.
George Michael: Thank you. It’s nice to meet you.
Tim Sebastian: Why Iraq? Cause it’s fashionable?
George Michael: Oh, god no. I have absolutely no desire to be here today. I’ve got absolutely no…..I’m really reluctant to be here.
Tim Sebastian: Why?
George Michael: Simply because, in all honesty, I was kinda first out of the trenches in terms of entertainers that were going to get behind something which would divide….which at the time was so divisive. That if you’re approaching a subject that is divisive as Iraq was six or eight months ago, then you’re taking a big risk as an entertainer. Because you’re going to alienate a lot of people, and I did, very, very quickly. And I was completely pilloried really for having the audacity to be a popstar, who’s in the mainstream, as opposed to a rock star or some kind of protest singer. But I made…
Tim Sebastian: There’s no such thing as bad publicity, is there?
George Michael: Oh, there is! There is.
Tim Sebastian: Particularly if your record sells are falling?
George Michael: Did you see mine, though? Did you see my pop publicity? Did you see any of it? It was absolutely dire! And I’d like to add, I have absolutely no … my record sells are not falling. I released two singles six years after my last album. And my fans are now 35, on average, right? There was a piece on Channel 4 about three or four months ago where an artist was challenging Woolworth’s because they were not stocking their records. So they had a representative of Woolworth’s on, and this woman said, ‘Well, we’ve done our market research for Woolworth’s and we know that the singles market of 2002, is teenage girls between the ages of 12’ and, no it was 11 and 12, that was as wide as it got, 11 and 12. The only reason that I have to release singles, as someone with an audience of 35 plus, is that if you don’t release them as a single in Britain, you can’t get them on the radio. I don’t want to compete with you know, Pop Idol and the various young people in the charts that are roughly half my age right now. I’d rather just release my albums.
Tim Sebastian: But you said that you’re happier to have a big debate than a hit single. Really?
George Michael: Absolutely.
Tim Sebastian: You must be the only one in the business then.
George Michael: I think I probably am. I think I probably am by now. I’ve had 20 years in this business. I’m never on the television, never. I never do TV. I’m phobic about cameras. I have no interest in promoting my music beyond making videos.
Tim Sebastian: But you never protested at the height of your fame, did you?
George Michael: No, of course I didn’t. I was 19-20-21. What were you doing when you were 19-20?
Tim Sebastian: Well a lot of people at 19-20-21 were out on the streets matching, weren’t they?
George Michael: But for what…
Tim Sebastian: Against Vietnam for instance
George Michael: Yes, I know. But I was a bit young for that.
Tim Sebastian: There’s been a couple of wars since.
George Michael: This is my time. I do understand what you’re trying to say. But the fact is, I really have no concern about being accused of needing publicity. I’ve been supposedly over four times now. I broke up Wham! so it was over. And then I took on Sony and took two and a half years out of my career…over principle by the way, which was a useless principle, because now nobody wants to pay artists let alone a record company. I then was over…so I was over because of that, because there’s two to three years out of my career. Then I was over because I got arrested. And now apparently I’m over because I took on politics. And I’m not in any trouble….
Tim Sebastian: So you’re not looking for the publicity, but then what are you scared of in terms of Iraq? What scares you so much?
George Michael: Before we move on to that. Before we move on to that, as you did accuse me of using, and I know it’s part the program.
Tim Sebastian: I didn’t accuse you, I asked you.
George Michael: Okay, you asked me. Okay, as you’ve implied. We’ll change the wording. As you’ve implied that I needed publicity, I have to tell you, why on earth would I be here today after what happened to me? I did release the single against the advice of the record company that was releasing the single, was very reluctant; against the advice of my manager, my lawyers…everyone told me radio will not play it. These days the control that the government has over radio and television is phenomenal, they won’t play it. I didn’t believe them…..
Tim Sebastian: Alright. So you took a risk then.
George Michael: And I lost…
Tim Sebastian: In your eyes…
George Michael: And I lost. So why am I here? I lost….
Tim Sebastian: So what is it you’re so scared about with Iraq?
George Michael: I’m not scared about Iraq. I’m scared about Mr. Blair and his attitude to the future. I think we’re at a watershed moment. Twelve, I’m sorry, September the eleventh was the first part of this watershed moment and this is the tail end of it. September the eleventh was so obviously directed at America to provoke a response. And the response was supposed to be revenge. We’ve spent something close to, what is it now? Something close to eighteen months trying to prevent that knee-jerk reaction. And if all it’s been is delay, then what was the point?
Tim Sebastian: Well, there really wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction, was there?
George Michael: No, there wasn’t. But you don’t think that….
Tim Sebastian: There has been a properly considered reaction. Consultation around the world, hasn’t there?
George Michael: Has there?
Tim Sebastian: Hasn’t there?
George Michael: I don’t see any consultation….
Tim Sebastian: American politicians….
George Michael: I see a lot of bullying….
Tim Sebastian: Tracking around the world…
George Michael: Yeah, but do you see them actually saying anything but, terrorists…it’s either the terrorists or us?
Tim Sebastian: Your complaint is that there hasn’t been a debate. That the newspaper….
George Michael: No, no, no, no. no, no, no….My complaint eight months ago was that there was no debate.
Tim Sebastian: So you’ve had plenty of debate since then?
George Michael: Oh, yeah. All of which has been ignored. That’s my point. I’m here because…
Tim Sebastian: Ignored by who?
George Michael: By the Prime Minister.
Tim Sebastian: But he needs to make the case for what he believes in.
George Michael: Yes. And…
Tim Sebastian: That’s in response to his faith, isn’t it?
George Michael: Absolutely. And don’t you think that his voters have not told him they’re not convinced by that?
Tim Sebastian: Some have. Some have.
George Michael: No 91% was the count yesterday….91% said that without the UN they didn’t want to go in. Do you think that’s close to unanimous?
Tim Sebastian: You were so much aligned with Blair and Corbett, weren’t you?
George Michael: No, no, no. No, I wasn’t. I never turned up at that bloody party. Excuse me! I was never going to be used that way. When I saw Tony Blair, I saw him in Islington before he got into Downing Street, alright, when he needed people like me. I saw him personally. I went and had a meal with him and discussed it, because my lawyer is a member of the Labour party….
Tim Sebastian: But you supported it, didn’t you?
George Michael: When?
Tim Sebastian: Then. The cause of…
George Michael: Supported what?
Tim Sebastian: Supported Britannia.
George Michael: No. I’ve never really believed in Corpus Britannia.
Tim Sebastian: No?
George Michael: No. You’re not talking to some Noel Gallagher here or somebody from the Brit pop age. You’re talking to somebody who started 21 years ago. Call Britannia is a lot of bullocks to me. You know…
Tim Sebastian: You said, ‘I’m still a believer in Tony Blair. I found him to be a charming and decent man’. At what point did you lose faith?
George Michael: Well if I’m really honest, I’ve lost faith in the last five days.
Tim Sebastian: You said this three days ago.
George Michael: Hmm, but I was trying to be, actually, on Sunday I was trying to be. I was trying not to come across as too wound up in all honesty, and what happened was, I was quite polite and nobody reported anything which is not what I’m here for. So today I’m kind of speaking my mind a little more than I did at 9 o’clock on Sunday morning.
Tim Sebastian: Why? What’s changed in the last five days as far as you’re concerned? How do you, you said he was a decent man…
George Michael: It was on Friday, actually, that I decided…I’ll be honest, I’ve been very distressed by Mr. Blair’s behaviour for several years in terms of, the way I think he’s removed the idealism from politics. By taking a left, taking a supposedly left-of-center party and calling it Labour or New Labour, and then basically saying it is, or we have to be pragmatic. The left is really in these overly consumerist times….
Tim Sebastian: He also said you have to have an ethical foreign policy, didn’t he?
George Michael: Absolutely. And absolutely this is not ethical, is it? This is a Christian country, with supposedly a Christian leader who somehow thinks that the answer to the future is pre-emptive action. Now to me, pre-emptive action is every bit as dangerous a concept as the initial concept of creating the atomic bomb. And by the way, that was created for the same kind of deterrent purposes, by the same nation, and I do not believe that this is any more safe than that…
Tim Sebastian: So you’ve lost faith in him, have you?
George Michael: Well because, until last week, I thought it was bluff. I really did. I thought, well, he’s trying to keep the pressure up until the last moment. But he’s damaging, and he’s making so many damaging statements…
Tim Sebastian: So you’ve lost faith …
George Michael: He’s….well,
Tim Sebastian: Let me bully you a little bit…
George Michael: I don’t know. To lose belief you have to
Tim Sebastian: Are you writing him off? Or are you saying….
George Michael: No! If I was writing him off I wouldn’t be here. If I thought that man wasn’t listening to anybody I wouldn’t be here.
Tim Sebastian: You’ll still vote for him?
George Michael: No, I wouldn’t vote for him. I would never vote for him again. Never vote for him again, because he’s gone beyond the bluff. He’s now bullying the UN on behalf of Bush.
Tim Sebastian: Bullying or persuading, would you say?
George Michael: I say bullying. You have to be, you cannot ignore statements like ‘the UN needs to prove its relevance’…you cannot ignore the fact that America could sit there and say you either agree with us, or you are irrelevant.
Tim Sebastian: 15 members of the Security Council, unanimous, signed the UN resolution 1441. Calling on Iraq to disarm.
George Michael: And why?
Tim Sebastian: Is that bullying?
George Michael: It’s for the same reason….
Tim Sebastian: Even Syria against all expectation…
George Michael: It’s that same reason, right. That if they pass this new resolution, which seems a lot more unlikely considering France and Germany are completely saying there is no need for it. But if they pass the new resolution, it will be for the same reason as they passed the first one. Because they are afraid of extinction. And to me, that is bullying.
Tim Sebastian: What kind of Prime Minister do you want? You don’t want a man who leads on his convictions?
George Michael: I want someone who will lead on his convictions until the point that their public….
Tim Sebastian: Until the point that they don’t agree with you?
George Michael: No, no. Until the point that 90% of the public disagrees with them.
Tim Sebastian: But that’s the hard times and that’s what he’s paid for
George Michael: No, you’re not…
Tim Sebastian: Not to be a populist…
George Michael: You’re not paid to put people’s lives in danger and ignore their opinion on that very subject. No one is paid to do that.
Tim Sebastian: He said that failure to act would lead not to peace but to a bloodier conflict in the future. That’s what he said.
George Michael: Well, I will take the future compared to right now. Because failure to act, we know absolutely the dangers of Saddam Hussein, we know absolutely we can’t afford to leave him alone….why have we left him alone for 12 years, why did we leave him there 10 years ago. And now at the point when Sharron is bombing the West Bank, we’re going to decide to take on Saddam?
Tim Sebastian: So haven’t we given clemency a chance? After 12 years you have to admit 12 years….
George Michael: Absolutely. I have no sympathy with Saddam Hussein. I have no sympathy with him. He should be gone. We need him gone in order to stabilize the region. But you cannot do this at the moment when the entire fundamentalist terrorist network around the world is waiting for this, to legitimize what they want to do.
Tim Sebastian: How do you think you’ve contributed to the debate over Iraq? I mean, you made Shoot the Dog which made Blair and Bush out to be fools….
George Michael: I know…
Tim Sebastian: Been described as rather vicious…
George Michael: It’s called satire, it’s called satire…
Tim Sebastian: It’s described as a rather vicious attack by some people.
George Michael: Well, it’s all satire. And, by the way, satire from the same people that show exactly the same stuff with exactly the same animation and exactly the same kind of character references every Saturday on ITV at 10:30.
Tim Sebastian: But you wanted a serious debate. How does that…
George Michael: You do not, I’ll tell you what…
Tim Sebastian: How do you think that contributes to a serious debate?
George Michael: That’s what I’m here for now. 8-9 months ago, no one wanted to, and believe me we’re talking about a generation which has so little desire for politics in its music. But I knew that if I was going to be head of the game and try and get people to discuss this, I had to do it with some humour. And sure enough, even the humour at that stage in time, it was something people did not want to hear about. Now that they’re deluged with it, it’s okay. I can come out here and I’m relatively safe. At that point in time I wanted to write it, make the statements as broadly and as funnily as I could in the video to make sure that before people were too freaked out to talk, they laughed their way into thinking.
Tim Sebastian: So things like “So Cherie my dear, can you leave the way clear for sex tonight. Tony, Tony, Tony, I know that you’re horny but there’s something ’bout that Bush ain’t right.”
George Michael: What do you…
Tim Sebastian: Tell me what does that contribute?
George Michael: Okay, can I read my lyrics for a second. Excuse me. I’ll tell you what it contributes.
Tim Sebastian: Start at the top.
George Michael: The idea is not anything to do….now Americans have turned this into that they were having a homosexual affair, because that’s kind of a joke that was in the video, right? But actually what it means is, “Tony, Tony, Tony” the idea is that she’s saying she’s going to withhold sex because there’s something ’bout that Bush ain’t right. Do you get the little joke in there? Bush, American….
Tim Sebastian: But what did it contribute to the debate?
George Michael: It was to bring it to people’s attention. Do you not think by any chance that, cause you’re still not giving me any break here, do you not think? I don’t know how closely you were watching popular culture at that time, but I think I dragged that argument into the mainstream out of the political chattering classes, whatever you would call them. I dragged that out of the political classes and into the mainstream two or three weeks before it was going to get there. And I would say at this point in time, when we’re supposedly in such a bloody rush, that those 2-3 weeks, that it was worth what I put up with. It was worth losing the record, no one playing the record, no one playing the video. It was worth it because when I was attacked for doing it, it came into the mainstream and that’s exactly why I’m here again today.
Tim Sebastian: People say it’s and easy subject, anti-war protest…
George Michael: I don’t think it’s an easy subject. And it’s not anti-war…
Tim Sebastian: There’s plenty of precedence for that, anti-war, anti-diswar….
George Michael: And I’m sorry, what was the precedence for this in entertainment?
Tim Sebastian: Plenty of people in the past…
George Michael: Who talked before me?
Tim Sebastian: About this particular, I’m not talking about this particular war.
George Michael: Nobody.
Tim Sebastian: I’m talking about previous wars.
George Michael: So what was the thing that I was contributing when I first talked about this?
Tim Sebastian: You tell me.
George Michael: I brought it into the mainstream. Because I’m a pop singer and there’s almost no way of bringing politics into the mainstream these days unless you’re not a politician. So I’m absolutely convinced that I was one of the first people screaming that we needed to have this chat, and that brought it forward. And I’m very convinced that the actual date that they wanted the debate to start was on September the eleventh. I saw that speech that Bush made from Capitol Hill on the night of September the eleventh when nothing had gone off and everyone was thanking God that nothing had gone off. And I saw that speech and it made me absolutely aware, I couldn’t understand around the time of the World Cup and the Jubilee, why no one was talking about this
Tim Sebastian: You’ve taken a lot of criticism, as you say…
George Michael: And I’ll take a lot more.
Tim Sebastian: You’ve moved this into the mainstream. Now Noel Gallagher says, George Michael is now trying to make social comment, this is a guy who hid who he actually was from the public for 20 years and now all of a sudden he’s going to say something about the world? I find it laughable, and that’s of course before he gets into the song being diabolical.
George Michael: Well, I’m, I think that’s a laughable statement. What? The fact that I did not want to share my sexuality with the world, in this current media atmosphere. The fact that I did not want to share my sexuality with the world means that I have no right to talk about politics. This is not an intelligent man. He’s not someone you should throw quotes at me from, really. If you’re going to find criticism, find it from Mr. Murdock, you know. Mr. Murdock attacked me solidly on Sky News, in the New York Post and in The Sun. And what he would do would be, he would print these slurs in the New York Post in such a way, that then when they reprinted them in The Sun, it’s sister newspaper, I could only sue on the basis of it being reprinted from the American source. And the American source would have been much harder to sue. So either there was a campaign.
Tim Sebastian: What worries you about the New York Post?
George Michael: Well, what shouldn’t worry me about the New York Post? It’s a fascist newspaper.
Tim Sebastian: A washed up pervert.
George Michael: Why should I worry about that? I mean apart from the fact that, I really don’t worry about the Daily Star, I don’t worry about The Sport, I don’t worry about The Sun or The Mirror. Why would I worry about that? I do find it absolutely unbelievable that they were allowed to call a homosexual man a pervert for having been caught cruising, I do find that quite laughable. But that is not sue-able.
Tim Sebastian: You feel a responsibility to speak out. But people are now saying why this issue? Why not about others? Why not against drugs? Why not about unprotected sex?
George Michael: Because my family is not at risk.
Tim Sebastian: That would make people sit up and take notice.
George Michael: No, no, no. But why would it?
Tim Sebastian: It would get people to start talking.
George Michael: No it wouldn’t. I’m expected to do, “Just say no”? Excuse me?
Tim Sebastian: Have you done that?
George Michael: Of course not. Because I’ve taken drugs. I’m not a hypocrite. You know I’m not going to do that kind of rubbish. I’m not going to do that kind of thing. This is something that threatens the lives, and the lifestyle, of myself and the people I love. This is a lot more important than trying to discourage people from taking drugs or telling them that they really should pay for their CD’s.
Tim Sebastian: You really think so? On a long-term basis?
George Michael: What this? This conversation? Well I’m afraid I really do and if you don’t, then I’m jealous. Because you must be sleeping a lot better than me.
Tim Sebastian: What do you want Saddam to do? What should be done with Saddam? He’s made it clear now, he isn’t going to disarm. He’s not going to disarm.
George Michael: I think I’ve already made that point. I think I’ve already made that point…
Tim Sebastian: Just talk to him?
George Michael: No, no. Not to Saddam. Saddam has to be dealt with in the way that Saddam has to be dealt with. But not now. Not until there is some effort shown in Palestine. Otherwise….
Tim Sebastian: Why are you linking the two together?
George Michael: They’re not linked together. But every terrorist in the world who is an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist links those two things. Would you agree with that?
Tim Sebastian: A lot do. But that doesn’t make it right, does it?
George Michael: Of course it doesn’t. But this is not about right and wrong. This is what’s dangerous about this situation. What this is about is this Pandora’s box that was opened by the Americans in the 50’s and the 60’s with the invention of the atomic bomb. That Pandora’s box was opened then and little bits from it are now internationally placed.
Tim Sebastian: Would it make you feel better if the UN had a second resolution authorizing force?
George Michael: Slightly. But I don’t think that , I think that most people who have voted against Mr. Blair on this issue are not voting really on the issue of whether it’s right for us to kill innocent people in Iraq, right. I don’t really think that they’re voting on that. I think they’re voting on that as normal. But this time they’re saying, we do not want this war in our backyards. We did not do anything to deserve it. Our administration, as far as we know, did not really do anything to deserve it. I do not think Americans have the same point of view. I think that they are, they have been attacked. They feel frightened. They understandably want a strong leader. They’re not anywhere near as informed by their media as we are. And I honestly think that the majority of British people have no idea what we’re doing here on our own with the Americans.
Tim Sebastian: Is George Michael disillusioned of the music industry?
George Michael: Hummmmm….
Tim Sebastian: Had enough? Song from your album Older, Star People. “Star people, counting your money until your soul turns green. Star people, counting the cost of your desire to been seen. Can’t help but hope that there’s a difference between you and me.” Is that what you hope?
George Michael: Well I don’t I hope it. As I said, I’ve barely promoted myself since Faith, which was 1988. I’ve barely promoted myself. I’ve been on television a maximum of a couple of times a year, if that, alright. I’ve stepped back from needing this a long time ago. I like to, it’s still, the two most important things in my life are my family, including my partner and my music. And I’m not complete with either one of them being absent.
Tim Sebastian: But fed up with the record industry there. You stand openly saying they’re corporate guys who deprive artists of their art…
George Michael: Oh, they have. Would you want to see much failure here with art on the radio? Which is why it’s kind of .. you know, I’m begging, I’m hoping that they will not be Band Aid 2 because the reality is very, very few people in the industry now that you’re hearing on the radio make their money from their own hearts and minds. They make their money from singing the words of others. So, therefore, the weight of something called Band Aid 2, or 3 or whatever, would be incredibly slight because those people involved would be extremely young and extremely lacking in knowledge about any type of politics. It’s not the same as making a record to try and send money to Ethiopia. This is different and I really hope the pop music, the industry, the current industry, the current generation stays away from it because I really don’t think that it would be a very genuine move.
Tim Sebastian: Too much violence in music? Rapping lyrics?
George Michael: Well, American music has been very nihilistic for a long time. And I find that … I actually, to be honest with you, even though our own music industry is dying on its feet. I would much rather have no youth culture, which is basically what we’re coming to, we had youth culture which is now almost it’s been assimilated and there’s nothing left of it. I’d rather have no youth culture than a nihilistic youth culture, which is what America is having to deal with.
Tim Sebastian: What are the lessons for you on this protest? Are you going to protest? Is this a one-off as far as your concerned, in terms of Iraq?
George Michael: Oh, absolutely! The only other thing that I would ever put my neck on the line for.
Tim Sebastian: George Michael’s going to stop caring and go back to the business?
George Michael: Well, no. I think that the only thing that I could see myself putting myself this far out on a limb again for would probably be Clause 28. I would go that far for Clause 28.
Tim Sebastian: On homosexuals. Teaching.
George Michael: Well, it’s not just the teaching. It’s all kinds of things. As it stands I think I could still be arrested for walking down the street holding my boyfriend’s hand. As it stands. I mean, it would never happen, but it’s just one of the ridiculous things that’s in there. And I think it’s time for gay couples, I have no real view on marriage. Because it’s never been something that I’ve, I’ve no real desire to ape heterosexual relationships. But I think it’s absolutely time that people who live together their entire lives have the rights of spouses. As opposed to the person, you know….the idea that if anything ever happened to myself or Kenny, that our families would have all the rights, and that we would have none, it’s just ridiculous.
Tim Sebastian: Okay, George Michael. Good to have you on the program Thank you.
George Michael: Thank you.
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