The article is from Christie’s The George Michael Deluxe Catalogue, showcasing the art from the private collection of George Michael. His collection is being sold at an online auction from March 8-15, 2019 and a live auction in London on March 14. Proceeds of the sale will be used to continue the singer’s philanthropic work. Visit Christie’s George Michael collection auction website.
‘My subconscious knew that this was very probably the most important performance of my life,’ said George Michael in his last ever interview. ‘I had to take all those years of standing in the bedroom — I don’t think I had the hairbrush, but I would stand and sing to the mirror — and that child was she going to take that knowledge, and sing one of Freddie Mercury’s songs to the world, after his passing.’
Freddie Mercury, the magnificent lead singer of Queen, had died of an AIDS-related illness in 1991. The tribute concert took place at Wembley Stadium five months later, in April 1992. There were 72000 people inside the stadium, and an estimated 1 billion watching on television. Top rock and pop names — David Bowie, Robert Plant, Elton John — performed Queen hits backed by the three surviving members of the band. But no one embraced the responsibility as seriously as George Michael. ‘I just wanted perfection, which is what I always want,’ he said. ‘So I went for five days to rehearse (everyone else went for an afternoon) because it had to be perfect.’
George sang three songs on the day — first, Brian May’s time travel ballad ‘39, which he had sung as a teenage busker, and then the valedictory These Are The Days of Our Lives, on which he dueted with Lisa Stansfield. But it was the last song, George’s rendition of Somebody To Love that stood out. ‘It was the most incredible crowd I’ve ever seen,’ he said. ‘Everybody knew every single word, and there is a real spine-tingling moment for me where I handed over the microphone to the audience and they not only sang every note but they did the descending scale that Freddie had done.’
Somebody To Love would be a Himalayan challenge for any singer, but George seemed to draw a special energy from the audience that night. The dynamism and the passion were palpable, and many observers who still thought of George Michael as one half of a boy band were taken aback by his vocal power and virtuosity. It was easily the best performance on the night, and is now generally acknowledged to be the best ever cover of a Queen song by an artist.
But that show had the meaning that was deeper and more far-reaching for George Michael. At the time of the concert, he was in his first serious relationship but the fact that he had met and fallen in love with Anselmo Feleppa remained private. It was not just that George had yet to declare his sexuality; Anselmo has been diagnosed HIV positive a few months after moving in with George, and it was now clear that his health was failing.
Anselmo was in the crowd that night, and I went out there knowing that I had to honor Freddie Mercury and I had to pray for Anselmo,’ the singer explained years later. ‘ This was the loudest prayer of my life … the most well-known performance of my career was sung to my lover who was dying.’
George Michael was always a consummate live performer, an artist who could cradle an entire Concert Hall in the cupped palm of one hand. Another one of his most memorable shows — one where he ‘felt something magical happen’ — was also one of his smallest and most intimate. The MTV Unplugged session was filmed and recorded in 1996 at Three Mills Studio in London. ‘I suppose I wasn’t used to playing small venues, and the fact that I could hear everything I was doing,’ he recalled. ‘I just lost myself in singing that night.’
The memory of this stand out live performance would also be tainted with sadness. George mother Lesley, who was in the front row of the audience that night, had recently been diagnosed with cancer. ‘I am so glad my mum was there,’ he said years later, ‘and I’m so glad for the first time ever, the only time ever on film, I actually said hello to my mum in the audience. It was the last time she saw me play.’
There would be many more electrifying live appearances, not least the duet he performed in 2002 with Lucianno Pavarotti in the Italian maestro’s hometown of Modena, which saw them singing soaring, bilingual versions of Brother, Can You Spare a Dime and Elton John’s Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.
- George Michael on Anselmo Feleppa
- Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness (1992)
- George Michael on Queen & David Bowie (2007)
- George Michael’s Oprah Winfrey Show Interview (2004)
- An Audience with George Michael: Interview with Chris Evans (1996)