Michael Parkinson: Hush. Thank you. More than I deserve. My special guest tonight is the artiste formerly known as Giorgios Kyriakos Paniaytou. He’s a one-time disc-jockey at the Bel-Air Restaurant in Bushey who became a superstar of modern popular music. He’s the boy who worked as a dish-washer in his father’s restaurant, who Sir Elton John described as the Paul McCartney of his generation. More recently, he’s been in the news because of what’s been described as the most public ‘coming-out’ in history.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome, please – George Michael.
Michael Parkinson: May we begin?
George: What a lovely bunch.
Michael Parkinson: Yes.
George: They’re very large, these Greek families, aren’t they?
Michael Parkinson: Well, nice to see you anyway. Good to see you, and a good looking family.
George: I have to say before we start actually, I wanted to say that this is a great honor for me, because I can remember, I don’t know, 8 or 9 years old, and my mum would allow me to stay up beyond a certain time in the evening – only to watch the ‘Parkinson Show’. She thought it would be a bit of quality watching. So I’m very, very privileged to be here. Thank you.
Michael Parkinson: Well, that’s very, very kind of you. Very kind of you. It’s good to have you.
George: And she probably wouldn’t have been quite as thrilled that I had to take my willy out to get on here.
Michael Parkinson: Well…
George: I mean, really – really, would I have been on for an hour tonight without that incident?
Michael Parkinson: Well, it pleased the producer anyway. But certainly – yes, of course you’d have been on for an hour, because…
George: Because I remember calling earlier in the year, and they said they could get me a walk-on on ‘Going for a Song’.
George: And that was about it, you know. But suddenly, here I am.
Michael Parkinson: Oh, here you are. Let talk about that incident which led you to be here tonight. I mean, what happened? What was the story?
George: I think it’s fairly well documented by now. I mean, it’s something that I’ve had to talk about for a while so that I can not have to talk about it in the future, you know.
Michael Parkinson: Sure.
George: What happened was, basically, I fell prey to one of these swat teams that they have in America. And I think they kind of – they probably still have them in parts of England, but they’re basically, they’re paid to nick guys who are looking for sex with one another, I guess. And the way that they do this, unfortunately, in the States, is to actually try and induce the crime and then – or if they get a response from someone then they nick them basically.
So what happened with me – even though the police report suggested that I was a flasher, you know, I mean, I may be screwed up, but I’m not a flasher – I responded to something. I responded to something. And I responded to, you know, a very handsome, tall, good-looking American cop. You know, they don’t send Colombo in there to do…
George: And so I responded to that. And I can’t be ashamed of the fact that, you know, it was there in front of me, and I thought well, why not? You know. It was a stupid moment, and obviously I’ve suffered for it. But…
Michael Parkinson: They said, of course, the police say that, in their justification, they’d had complaints of lewd behaviour in there.
George: All about me, of course.
Michael Parkinson: Yes.
George: You know.
Michael Parkinson: But in that sense, I mean, you’ve said you were – you felt you were entrapped. But is there a sense in which also you might believe you were set-up? I mean…
George: I think it’s difficult to go that far without sounding, you know, like there’s a conspiracy against me, and god knows, I’ve kind of suggested that before. So I think it’s fairly likely that there was a little more collaboration between the paparazzi and the police than is necessary or legal, put it that way. And that was indicated by the fact that the next day, or within hours there was a police arrest report, which is not – they’re not released from the LAPD, but there was a police arrest report which was obviously on the desk of the tabloids within 4 or 5 hours.
Michael Parkinson: I suppose a lot of people would ask the question about why you, as a public figure, as somebody who is recognised – both here and in America, why you take such an outrageous risk.
George: Well, I suppose that’s the whole point, isn’t it?
Michael Parkinson: Is it? That’s why I’m asking you.
George: I think so. I mean, I think so. I don’t know. I mean, to some degree – oh, you know, I was not in the best state of mind, and it was a kind of reckless thing to do. But ultimately, you don’t see it as a massive risk if there’s no one else around, and you, you know, I’ve said this before, but it’s true, if there’s someone standing there waving their genitals at you, you don’t think that they’re an officer of the law, you know, it’s not your first presumption. So you know, I fell for the trick, you know, I fell for the trick, and it was very well done.
Michael Parkinson: But nonetheless, you knew the risk you were taking, that’s the point.
Michael Parkinson: And one wonders, I mean, one it’s been suggested that, perhaps, in a sense, what you are doing is that you are actually begging to be arrested, so, in fact, that you – the ‘coming-out’ will be public.
George: Believe me, I wasn’t begging to be arrested.
Michael Parkinson: No, no. But I mean…
George: People have actually even suggested that somehow – and I mean, I have to say, I have had the Number 1 album for the last 4 weeks, which I’m very glad of. But I’d have to say…
George: …I’d have to say that if I was the bravest and most genius popstar in the world, maybe I would have done it deliberately, because in the rest – in the vast majority of the world, with the exception of America which, you know, it’s like a wall to wall homophobia anyway, everywhere else I’ve never had my records kind of – well, I have actually, but probably not since the days of Wham, ever had a record that’s done to well. So you have to, kind of, presume that some of it is about the fact that the arrest focused people on the fact that, you know, I had a Greatest Hits album out there. So yes, I can see, obviously there would have been – from a mental, from my own point of view – there would have been reasons that it would probably have been quite a good idea to do it that way. But believe me, I would rather have run up and down Oxford Street naked saying “I’m gay, I’m gay” than have it happen the way it did.
Michael Parkinson: But let’s go back to that moment in time where you – well, not, but later on, you’d been arrested, you had been bailed out, you went back home. Now it can’t be at that time that you were in an optimistic frame of mind. You must have felt that, indeed, your world had collapsed from underneath you. What was your frame, what was your feeling?
George: My frame of mind, I think, was still very much influenced by the fact that I lost my mother last year. And as has been fairly well documented, I lost my first partner, my first ever real live-in partner about 5 years ago.
Michael Parkinson: Yes.
George: So I’ve had a very strange, not just strange, but a very distressing 5 years, and I’d actually literally, within – the arrest happened within about a week of what I felt was the end of my intense grieving period for my mother, so I’d come out of about 5 months of terrible depression, depression that where I was afraid for the first time, that I was really scarred by the things that had happened to me. And when I came out at the other end of that depression I was so grateful that that was over, that when this happened it almost, within a day – of course, for a day I was, like, humiliated as hell, and I was embarrassed and had to deal with GEORGE MICHAEL: everything with my boyfriend and stuff – but after about a day, a day and a half, I could – almost immediately, actually, I saw the funny side of it, you know, and I just thought, you know, you’ve got to be able to laugh at this. If you can’t laugh when everyone else is laughing then you’re in trouble, you know. And god knows, everyone else was laughing.
So within about a day, day and a half I was able to see it as, kind of, something that put it in perspective really, just having gone through such heavy stuff in my life recently, just put it in perspective.
Michael Parkinson: In fact, you went to – you took the decision, I think, 24 hours after all this was happening, with helicopters and news crews all outside, you decided to go to a restaurant, didn’t you?
Michael Parkinson: To sort of make your public declaration. Tell me what happened when you got there.
George: Well, I suppose I just – I was.. There’s one recurring theme to my actions as a celebrity or as a person, as an adult, and that is if I’m pressured into anything, or pressured into a point of view or a certain position, either by individuals or by history i.e the way that celebrities normally deal with scandal and shame, you know, or supposed shame, I react against it. And my reaction to this was I’m not going to be like another one of these people that’s peeking out from behind their net curtains a month later, you know, trying to get rid of the press. They were surrounding the house, and I thought for god’s sake, you know, what is the game here? What do you want, a reconstruction? What is it? You know. Why are you all here? So I thought I’m just going to go out for a meal. I know they’ll all chase me. I know they’ll just, you know, I know it will cause – and it did cause havoc. You had all these cars going across red lights, and this and that. And I was just ambling down to my local restaurant, you know. And I just thought that’s the only way to deal with it.
In fact, someone had said something to me earlier in the day, that – one of my closest friends said that his mother said he’s not the first, he won’t be the last, he’s just the biggest. And I thought, oh, I like that.
George: I thought, I like that. You can take that any way you want. But I thought if, you know if – and this is.. and she’s the friend of my mother, and she’s in her sixties, so if someone of that age can see it in perspective from another generation, can see it in that kind of perspective I thought, you know, then pretty much most people probably will. And I really – I gathered confidence over that day, day and a half, that there really was no need for this to be a disaster.
Michael Parkinson: You obviously talked to friends as well, and you found solace and consolation, and inspiration, I suppose, from them. Since you came back and came back to England, what’s been the public reaction? Has there been any anti-public reaction, for instance?
George: Well, I was saying to people – 3 or 4 months after the arrest, I could honestly say that if someone had bashed me over the head before I got back from LA and given me amnesia, I wouldn’t have known what was going on. All I would have known was that I was signing more autographs, more people were coming up to me in the street and saying we love what you do, and good luck to you, and this and that. And with the exception of a few cars that drive past at 50 miles an hour – “you queer bastard”
George: You know. And they’re gone before you can even absorb the insult. So it’s like, you know, with the exception of that, which might have confused me a little, I wouldn’t have known what was going on. I wouldn’t have known. Everyone’s been so great, you know.
Michael Parkinson: When – you called your dad from LA, didn’t you?
George: Uh-huh. He called me, actually.
Michael Parkinson: He called you, yeah.
George: Yeah. That was not a phone call I was looking forward to, I have to admit. I don’t think it’s terribly inhuman of me to admit to that.
Michael Parkinson: But your dad knew, of course, that you’re…
George: Yeah, yeah, my dad – I was ‘out’ with my dad.
Michael Parkinson: Of course, that’s right. But what did he say to you?
George: Well, my dad – I mean, he’s been great about my sexuality in general. I think obviously, it wasn’t easy for him at first to accept. But I didn’t know how he would react, but he basically called me up and said tell them all to sod off, you know. Tell them all to sod off, you know. You’re who you are, you know. You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of, and tell them to sod off. And so that’s basically what I did.
Michael Parkinson: I mean, you’re not contrite.
George: I’m contrite in that it was a stupid risk to take in my position. It could have gone horribly wrong. If I were weaker than I am, it could have finished me off. So it was a stupid thing to do. I’m contrite in the fact that, of course, you do have to accept when things are against the law, they’re against the law. But I’m not contrite for what I actually did because I wasn’t being flagrant, I was absolutely – again, regardless of what the police arrest report said, there was no one in the vicinity but two undercover cops and a, you know, slightly drunk, randy popstar, that was it. You know, I was not subjecting the public, you know to my – to full-frontal nudity or anything. It was completely – as far as I was concerned, it was completely an encounter between two adults, and it was totally private.
Michael Parkinson: One final question on this, do you think that the police knew who they had before they had you?
George: I think somebody in that group of… What was that laugh for?
Michael Parkinson: The problem with this is…
George: I think you suggested – exactly, anything you say.
Michael Parkinson: …the double entendre.
Michael Parkinson: That the possibility is infinite.
George: Exactly. Yeah.
Michael Parkinson: But you know what I mean. I mean, do you believe that they actually knew…
George: I don’t think the person who nicked me was, because he looked scared shitless. He really did. Once we were out on the street, and I was in the street saying to him – this is ridiculous, this was entrapment. What is this about? You know. In fact, I told him what a great job I thought he had. But…
George: …but he was standing there and he looked – I didn’t mean it!
George: He was standing there and he looked absolutely terrified, because someone had obviously told him who I was. I think somebody who directed that little hit squad knew I was there. Because the other thing that has to be remembered is that the police station – another part of this genius plan of mine, the police station was about 45 seconds down the road, literally, at the end of that street. So you know, someone would have only had to spot me,. or a paparazzi person would only have to spot me, make a call, and they were there, you know, within a minute.
Michael Parkinson: Let’s go back then, you mentioned your dad there, and I mean, he came over from Cyprus as an immigrant, a quid in his pocket, and worked hard and married your mum, built up a business. What sort of a background was it that you grew up in, what kind of a – was it a very close family background?
George: Very close. It was – my connection with my mother, and I spent a lot more time around my mother, so from that point of view, my mother being English and, in a strange way, very, kind of, classless, because she came from a very working class background, but she’d been sent to a convent school because her mother was afraid she was going to be a tomboy. So she was sent to a convent school which, firstly, put her straight off religion, and she spoke very well, so she spoke almost with a middle-class accent. So I had this kind of really weird thing, that I spoke like someone who was relatively middle-class, and yet my father was first generation immigrant, so the mentality of the two things. And my mother was also very British in that she had very – I get my attitude to money from her, which is always, you know, her attitude to money was that it was something to be afraid of, and that took a long time for me to get rid of that idea, you know. And yet my father’s attitude to money was you just grab it and move up, you know.
Michael Parkinson: Yes. But was it to be rich and famous, your ambition?
George: I actually realised about 6 months ago, someone put a question to me, and I actually realised that at no point during my early life, when I was – all my ambitions, or even when I started to realise my ambitions, at no point did it ever occur to me that one of the by-products of this would be that I could buy whatever I wanted, or, you know, live in a big house, have a flashy car, all the things that are very pleasant, you know. But it really hadn’t occurred to me, it had never occurred to me. So I didn’t want to be rich, I just wanted to be filthily famous.
Michael Parkinson: But why was that? Did you think that would make you more attractive? Do you think that makes you a different human being?
George: It was like most singers, it was feeling not listened to. It was lots of feelings of low self-worth. All kinds of things that – all the things, all the kind of screwed up things that go together to make someone who becomes well known.
Michael Parkinson: Well, what was the low self-worth based on though? It was about your looks, wasn’t it, about the way you were?
George: Well, it was everything. I think my looks didn’t help. You know, I wasn’t…
Michael Parkinson: Tell us – I mean, what did you look like? You look alright now, I’ve got to say. I mean.
George: Well, I looked kind of like a – I suppose I looked like a curly haired, fatter version of what I am now.
George: But I don’t know if it was really about that. Actually, I didn’t – I probably felt better about the way I looked when I was 17 or 18 than I do now. But it was all kinds of things. It was more this desire to be recognised and all – like I said, just all the same things. I mean, I haven’t met one – and people talk about them, but I have never met a star who didn’t come from the same kind of insecurity. You know, it’s the things that are missing that make you a star. It’s not the things that you have.
Michael Parkinson: You did work, for a time, in various odd jobs. I mentioned in my introduction that you were a DJ at the Bel-Air at Bushey. Now, that must have been a hell of a job, that.
George: It was. Yes. I was a DJ. It was my first – I think my first performances consisted of – well, I had to say this every night, just before.. because basically, it was a dinner-dance restaurant. It was very, very hip, you know, dinner-dance. And I was allowed to play the occasional vaguely disco-ey record in between 17 requests for the Birdie dance, you know.
George: And I had to just – when people had finished, when it was kind of winding down, the kind of dinner thing, if you’d never been there before, you didn’t know there was a DJ because I was stuck behind a big post, pillar thing, and you weren’t supposed to see me, which did obviously did wonders for my confidence as well. And every night I would have to say -“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, I hope you’ve enjoyed your meal. Welcome to the Bel-Air Restaurant. We hope you’ll partake of a little dancing…” It was so awful. So awful. And my hands used to get clammy and sweaty every night before I had to do this because I knew that the moment I stopped talking all the restaurant noises, all the clinking of glasses, all the cutlery and everything would just go schzummm! Because everyone would be, like – what’s that? Every night, it was the same thing. And I was absolutely hopeless at it. I’ve no idea how I’m able, or was almost immediately able to sing to thousands and thousands of people when I literally just used to shudder at the thought of talking to these few dinner dance people.
Michael Parkinson: Let’s then now – I think it’s time for music, don’t you?
George: Yes, I think so, yes.
Michael Parkinson: A little musical break, a little musical interlude. Tell me the song you’re going to sing – it’s called ‘A Different Corner’.
George: Yeah. It’s called ‘A Different Corner’…
George: I haven’t actually sung this for about, probably for about ooh, about 11 years, 10 or 11 years. But I thought it was quite fitting, because the song I’m going to play later is the most recent song, but this one, even though people see ‘Careless Whisper’ as my first solo record, the truth is that ‘Careless Whisper’ wa}s written when Andrew and I were at school, and it was written for, you know, whatever we turned into. But ‘Different Corner’ was the first thing that I wrote as a solo artist, so I thought it would be a nice thing to do, just to bring back a few old memories.
Michael Parkinson: The band and your singers awaits you.
George: Thank you.
[George sings “A DIFFERENT CORNER”.]
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