The article is from Christie’s Portrait of an Artist series published in 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.
The 25 Live Tour
Making History in London and Paris
I remember the first time I ever saw Paris property, and driving up to this fantastic building and thinking this is the most glorious piece of architecture I’d ever seen. ‘Thirty-eight years after setting eyes on the Palais Garnier, the historic home of the Paris Opera, George Michael was about to make history as the first contemporary artist to play a whole concert at one of the greatest music venues in the world. “I never dreamed I would get to sing on that stage,” he said, ‘but my God. was it worth the wait’.
The final chapter in George Michael’s remarkable career was about documenting his incredible voice and celebrating a songbook that had touched people of every generation and all corners of the world. In 2006, he had embarked on the 25 Live Tour, his first in over 15 years. The triumphant return to the live arena spanned 106 across 41 different countries and included two nights playing more than 172,000 people in the first concerts at the new Wembley Stadium. It was something of a homecoming after Live Aid, Wham!’s farewell concert and the Freddie Mercury tribute concert, to name but three occasions he played Britain’s most iconic venue.
Four years after his emotional return to Wembley, George Michael announced dates for the Symphonica Tour. Backed by a full Symphony Orchestra, the singer would be performing sets comprised largely of new arrangements of classics from the Songs from the Last Century album, mixed with his own material. Opening on 2 August 2011 at the state Opera House in Prague, he soon had audiences across Europe in raptures.
Four months and 46 dates later, however, George was struck down with severe pneumonia and spent five weeks in a Vienna Hospital, three of them in a coma. At one stage, doctors performed a tracheotomy to keep his airways open. When he was finally well enough to return home to London, he told reporters, “I have an amazing, amazing life, and if I wasn’t spiritual enough before the last four or five weeks then I am now … I am incredibly fortunate to still be here. I still have plenty to live for’.
If he needed any further confirmation, it arrived ten months later on
George Michael first sang for Ramone, a producer she described as understanding ‘more about music than anyone I had ever met’, in 1999. His song choice was Roxanne by Sting. ‘I remember thinking, “My God, here I am singing for a man who’s worked with Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Elton and just about every one of my favourite vocalists.” When I finished, he came out of the booth and he gave me possibly the greatest compliment I’d ever heard. I nearly fell over. I thought, “How lucky am I?” It was one of the greatest, happiest moments of my life’.
As was the night at the Palais Garnier, which showed that George had made a full recovery and was back to his scintillating best. Opening with a dazzling arrangement of Through from the album Patience, he then set out on a mesmerizing journey through his own greatest hits, standards immortalized by the likes of Nina Simone and Bing Crosby, and seminal tracks by more recent artists such Rufus Wainwright, Terence Trent D’Arby and Rihanna. ‘With Symphonica George stepped into a new arena’, states David Austin, ‘and he delivered above and beyond’.
The performance was a masterclass, and a fitting showcase for a voice that has been hailed by many of the singer’s most celebrated peers. ‘It comes from someone who’s felt pain and from someone who has deep talent’, remarks Elton John. According to Mary J Blige, with whom George Michael released a memorable cover of Stevie Wonder’s As in 1998, it was a voice that was ‘always very soulful, and very warm and sultry and urgent’.
Proceeds from the sellout date in Paris went to one of the largest AIDS organization in France, and at the fundraising banquet afterwards, Pierre Berge, a former President of the Paris Opera, and Line Renaud, the French singer, actress and activist, got up to speak. ‘I’m 84 and I still love you’,said Renaud, addressing the star of the night. ‘I admire you as an artist but I have a deep respect for the man who stepped into the battle against AIDS. Your weapon has always been your art’.
Symphonica was released as a live album, the only one of George Michael’s career, in March 2014, debuting at number one in the UK charts. It proved to be a fitting farewell for Phil Ramone, who passed away a year before the album came out. ‘He treated me with such respect.’ George said of his friend and producer. ‘He brought the world so much great music and so much joy and I, for one, will always be so grateful’;. Tragically, the album would also prove to be George Michael’s last.
- George Michael: Why I Quit Drugs (Event Magazine, 2014)
- List of Duets and Backup Vocals
- George Michael Voices Hope, Ham & High (2014)
- Christie’s Catalogue: Something Miraculous
- George Michael Interview in Blitz Magazine (June 1988)