Read the George Michael interview ‘I was an arrogant, narcissistic egomaniac’ written by Kerryn Ramsey and published in the Australian magazine Looks on November 1990.
What’s the biggest thing about George Michael? His music? His money? His new biography? No, it’s his ego! By Kerryn Ramsey.
Question: How many George Michaels does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: 101. One to change it and the other 100 to tell himself what a brilliant job he’d done and how no-one else can change a light bulb with such style and imagination.
To say George Michael had a healthy ego would be an understatement. Some have gone so far as to call him an egomaniac. And George would be the last person to deny it.
“I seem to have spent the last six years of my professional life trying my hardest to convince the world that l was the most arrogant, narcissistic egomaniac that ever walked the earth,” he admits. “I have to say, that part was easy. The difficult bit is going to be convincing them I was joking.”
Ah, so it was all a bit of a giggle. But whether or not the world gets the joke, George is having the last laugh. This summer he’s releasing his second solo album, Listen Without Prejudice, and a biography, Bare. And he can bet his beard that they’ll both become best-sellers.
‘And when awards time comes round, and George is up on the podium again, he won’t be the one saying, “Gee gosh, I never thought this could happen to me!” He knew it could happen; he had it all planned to the last detail.
I don’t think the way I’ve planned my career is any more meticulous than most planning, I just think it’s more correct,” the modest little petal admits.
I think initially the reason things are going so well is that I release music of consistent quality. I really take a lot of care over it. It’s the most important thin in my life and I am passionately involved in it. The things I do to make sure it gets heard everywhere they’re more at a chore, like doing videos and interviews.”
George has been in charge of his career since the early days of Wham! They may have been a duo, but Wham! was always known as George Michael and the other guy. Andrew Ridgeley became more infamous for racing off beautiful women and cars.
The pair had been friends since schooldays. Their gleaming teeth and solarium suntans grabbed just as much attention as their music. When the band played their last gig at Wembley Stadium in June 1986, more than a million people tried to get tickets.
Four years later, how important is Andrew to George?
“From a professional point of view, he’s not important any more. As a friend, he’s as important as ever.”
George copped some heavy criticism for his image and club-loving personality in the days of Wham!
They were calling me childish and flippant then, and now they say I take myself too seriously!” he says. “You just feel like saying f— off! That was then and you didn’t appreciate me then, and you’re
not going to appreciate me now until it’s all gone. So why should I care?”
Criticism is not something that gets to George Michael these days.
I really appreciate constructive criticism but I don’t get it that often. Normally it’s just vitriolic but I’m used to that.”
Much of the criticism was silenced by George’s first solo album, Faith, and the world tour that went with it.
On the album, George dealt with topics like gun control, wife-beating and drug addiction. The album sold more than 14 million copies around the world. He scooped a heap of prestigious awards and made enough money to buy all the designer ripped jeans his heart desired.
With his dance moves choreographed by Paula Abdul, a wiggle of George’s bum sent Australian fans into a frenzy when the Faith tour hit here. But the live shows aren’t as easy for George as he makes them look.
I do get very nervous before I go on stage and I think that makes you kind of rise to the occasion. But there have been a couple of occasions when I haven’t had the energy to do it or something has been going wrong personally, and I really start thinking, ‘Why am I doing this?’
But he does. On a George Michael tour, everything from the stage design to the ticket prices to the T-shirts sold outside the gig has George’s personal involvement.
“I have a manager but my manager has always been the same as the other people who work around me. They always come back to me for the final decisions on everything. And that’s the way I want it.”
George admits that the prospect of spending eight or nine months on the road during a world tour is daunting.
It‘s an absolute nightmare to me. I try not to think about it. But however much promotion you can do around the world with videos, you still have to prove yourself live. You have to be seen to be a
great performer to work your way into the history books.”
Is that just a touch of the old ego peaking through again? Or when you’ve proven yourself beyond doubt, does it just become self-confidence?
“I think I’ve always had huge confidence. Well, not always – probably for the last five or six years I’ve had huge confidence as a professional person. But l think my confidence outside of my career is pretty similar to that of most people. I have the same weaknesses, the same insecurities or whatever. Maybe I just disguise them better.“
So is George Michael, the person, a lot different from George Michael, the superstar?
“He’s not much different,” says the Stubbly One, “but he‘s probably more human. Strangely enough, one of the big contradictions about my career is that people have always seen me as someone who is in a great position of power and who flaunts it and then when you actually listen to the things I write about, they’re usually the opposite. So when you listen to what I write, I don’t think I’ve got any desire to
Naturally enough, George is telling anyone who’ll stand still long enough that his new album is the best thing he’s ever done.
Like on the Faith album, George proves he’s not afraid to tackle the serious stuff, with the first single, “Praying For Time”, providing a fairly dark view of the way the world is heading.
And what about the biography, Bare, written with British journalist Tony Parsons? Well, it’s best to remember that George is only 27 and still has a lot of living to do. He also likes to protect his privacy, so don’t expect a kiss-and-tell scandal-packed read.
Rumour has it that the book was actually rejected by the publishers first time round for being a little, well, dull. More like Barely There than Baring All. Or perhaps even Can You Bare It?
“I’m very self-contained and I really am desperately private in a sense,” George says. “I don’t even like having anyone coming in to clean my house. I need my space to be my space, uninterrupted.”
Part of the reason he now owns a home in America as well as London was that he felt his mystique had been lost in his home country.
“Everyone knows everything about me in England. I’ve talked far too much about myself. There’s no element of surprise or mystery left for me in England. I’m always here clubbing, and people get pictures of me coming out of here and there. I‘m available. I’m accessible.
In America, they’re judging me much more on the strength of the music and the videos.”
Such inhibition from the man who once sang “I Want Your Sex” and accompanied it with a raunchy video featuring red lipstick and his semi-naked girlfriend.
It was his first solo single, and as far removed from his clean-cut Wham! image as he could get within the censorship laws!
“At the time, I was looking at the next couple of months and wondering what was going to
happen. Well, I knew what would happen – I would release my first solo single and it would be a hit and that was about it. I‘d written this song for someone else six months before and people said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ But I thought I couldn’t do it, it was too far away from what I normally write. And then I thought, ‘Why not?’ I knew it wasn’t a huge risk and it wasn’t going to finish me but it did jar my track record in England. It got to Number Three on the charts but it was the first record l‘d released in years that hadn’t got to Number One.”
Poor George! He reckons he’s changed a fair bit since he made that video. But he’s not grown up enough yet to start thinking about having little Georges and Georgettes.
“I’d like to have kids one day. Marriage is only there for children, in my mind. By the time I decide to have children, I don‘t even know if marriage will be important for that.
To me, being an adult doesn’t just mean reaching a certain age. It means being sure of who you are and who you want to be with.”
George has become mates with some heavyweights in the music industry, including Elton John, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder. Anyone else would sell their grandmother to get a few hints from people like that, but not George.
“There are very few people in life that I ask advice from. Often people see it as a kind of arrogance, but I don‘t see it
Not badly enough to bruise his ego, that’s for sure. But if he’s got reason lo be proud of his achievements. Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou has come a long way from his painful adolescent days, when the kids at school gave him a hard time about his glasses and frizzy hair. With contact lenses, some serious hair-ironing sessions and a new name that sounds as if it’s still waiting for a surname, he showed everyone that he was no disposable pop star.
And the ego thing. . , well, he was just kidding about all that anyway. Sure, we believe you, George!
- ‘Souled Out: George Michael’ Published in Interview Magazine (1988)
- George Michael: The Reluctant Pop Star (Calendar Magazine, Sept 1990)
- An Audience with George Michael: Interview with Chris Evans (1996)
- George Michael Interview on Q Magazine (December 1998)
- BBC Hardtalk Interview with George Michael (2003)