The article “George Michael: One Night in New York” was written by Adrian Deevoy and published in Q Magazine in November 1992.
In Britain, George Michael is a household name. In the USA, however, he is really well known. To alleviate the pressures of touring there, he travels with an entourage of friends, family and business associates. Oh, and a couple of pneumatically-muscled security persons. Adrian Deevoy joined the party in America.
“It’s a good life,” says Kyriacos Panayiotou, watching the sunset filter through the tinted windows as the over-stretched white limousine glides expensively around the perimeter of Central Park.
“It’s a marvellous life,” corrects his cousin and companion Dimitrios Georgiou, from the far side of the car.
Exactly five hours and one generation later, the two men’s sons, Georgios Panayiotou and his cousin and companion, Andros Georgiou are engaged in a similar exchange.
“This is brilliant,” says Georgios, drinking in the full tackiness of the Lower East Side disco he has found himself in.
“F—ing brilliant,” murmurs Andros.
George Michael is in New York and he has brought the family with him. It has always been thus. Even back in the shuttlecocked days of Wham!, when he couldn’t afford it, George always insisted that he flew the brood, first-class, to stay in extravagantly priced hotels and see their boy in concert.
So roaming the backstage corridors in search of the Hospitality Room this evening at Madison Square Garden we find: George’s dad Jack Panos, a large, gregarious man who shortened both Christian name and surname after arriving in Britain from Cyprus in the ’50s; his cousin Jimmy ( an Anglicised diminutive of Dimitios), a small, talkative tailor; Jack and Jimmy’s mate who has come along for the weekend never having been to New York before and Melanie, George’s sister, who supervises her celebrated sibling’s restless hairstyle, which has been recently revised to resemble what is referred to in the tonsorial trade as a “French crop”.
Finally there is Andros, George’s first cousin and best friend – and, lest we forget, the man behind the Bee Gee-like Boogie Box High and more recently the group Praise – who, at times, appears to have adopted a latter day Ridgeley role as Full Time Party Person and at others seems to be an essential cog in the George Michael machine, acting as confidant, personal manager and drinks roadie. Dressed in jeans, T-shirt and baseball cap, Andros doesn’t look as if he spends most of his time with a multi-millionaire. That is until you notice his wrist.
On Andros’s last birthday, George gave him a present, a pack of six pairs of sports socks. “Oh, you shouldn’t have!” said Andros, no doubt thinking, hang on, he’s my best friend, he earns roughly £30 million a year and all I get for my birthday is a few pairs of socks. Then Andros notices that these are a little heavy for socks and feels between the layers of towelling. Secreted inside is a watch. But this is no ordinary time-piece. It is a Cartier Panthere – £8,000’s worth of watch.
Beyond the immediate Panos family are the people who have surrounded George Michael for the majority of his professional life. There is his manager Rob Kahane, a small, dark-eyed and superhumanly efficient American who has, rather amusingly, taken to wearing the same trademark manicured three-day growth that permanently adorns the jutting jaw of his charge.
Perched on a sofa, sipping a Diet Coke is Dick Leahy, George’s craggy-faced song publisher who has been on the scene since George began to write songs in ’82. Leahy is in town to “have a meeting with George, maybe discuss a few new songs, talk a bit of business, have a gossip.”
Then there is Gary Farrow, Wham!’s former plugger, now a successful businessman specialising in talking very rapidly – his conversation is peppered with expressions like “taking the Concorde back with Elton” – and managing Jonathan Ross. George Michael is godfather to Farrow’s daughter, Lauren Farrow. Farrow affectionately calls him “The Bubble” (cockney rhyming slang: bubble ‘n’ squeak – Greek).
Permanently hovering in your peripheral vision and invariably murmuring into a walkie-talkie is George’s minder, Ronnie Franklin. Ronnie is a bodyguard fitting the small, persuasively chunky and polite description. In America, Ronnie has his work cut out, because although George Michael is a household name in Britain, here he is really well known and maximum security precautions must be taken at all times.
For your reporter to execute the seemingly uncomplicated task of popping into the dressing room to say hello to the stubblesome songwriter, several messages are passed between Ronnie and a pneumatically-muscled US counterpart, apparently called Roger, at either end of the corridor leading to the ante-rooms of the star’s dressing area.
“He’s just leaving me and he’ll be at your end any minute. Roger.”
It’s almost anti-climactic, following such a MI5-like build up, to find George Michael nibbling a piece of bread in his dressing room, sharing a joke with Andros and his sister. They both call him Yog – the unglamorous nickname which has stuck since childhood.
Touring has, in the past, taken George to the brink of breakdown, but this time, he says, he’s taking it easy, approaching everything on a smaller scale and allowing himself more time to relax.
Another pressure he no longer has to endure is promotion. As he announced in a blaze of publicity surrounding the release of Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1, he doesn’t give interviews any more. Still, he is perfectly content to shoot the breeze, in an off-the-record sort of way, coming across as any quick-witted, forthright, overly self-analytical 28-year-old would. He still enjoys a glass of wine, swears like a squaddie and laughs a lot. He doesn’t, you observe, engage in any conspicuously homosexual relationships during the 10 minutes or so before sound check.
At seven o’clock on Saturday, a young girl is waiting nervously in the backstage enclosure, anxiously clutching a bouquet of red roses. She has won first prize in a local radio competition and is here, all expenses paid, to meet George Michael. By five past seven she has begun gibbering.
“I’ve got him these flowers,” she says, taking rapid, shallow breaths. “Do you think he’ll like them? Do you think he’ll like me?” She looks down and says very matter-of-fact, and not a little eerily, “I love him. That’s all. I love him.”
Sooner than she expects, George Michael breezes into the room. In full stage gear, black sunglasses, red jacket and make-up, he looks like the walking poster. The girl clams up but remembers to give him the roses. He puts her at ease making small talk, flashing the Ultra bright smile and even has his photo taken with her. It’s professional without being cold or patronising, and it’s all over in 30 seconds. “Enjoy the show” he calls over his shoulder as his minders which him away. “I will George, thanks a lot,” she says, sadly addressing her first coherent sentence to a clean pair of Chelsea boot heels and a cloud of costly cologne.
The two sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden conclude George Michael’s Cover To Cover Tour – a series of concerts whose focus is other people’s songs. The choice of cover versions is revealing and surprising. As one would expect of a former nightclub-frequenting soul boy, there are the inevitable re-readings of ’70s dance floor fillers such as The Temptations’ ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’, Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’, McFadden and Whitehead’s ‘Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now’ and Gladys Knight’s ‘Baby Don’t Change Your Mind’. But throughout the tour. Songs as unlikely as Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’, The Eagles’ ‘Desperado’ and David Bowie’s ‘Fame’ have regularly cropped up alongside an inspired choice of reworked contemporary numbers including Adamski’s ‘Killer’, Terence Trent D’Arby’s ‘Sign Your Name’ and Soul II Soul’s ‘Back To Life’.
Although a good percentage of the New York audience are barely old enough to remember George Michael as anything other than a Ridgeley-less performer, the selection of vintage period Wham! songs – an introspectively acoustic ‘Everything She Wants’ and a stomping ‘I’m Your Man’ – is greeted with the noisiest of uniquely American howls and whoops, while extracts form George Michael’s solo portfolio, from ‘Careless Whisper’ though to ‘Freedom ’90’, elicit a response so loud as to be quite possibly environmentally damaging.
Backstage, post-show, Rob Kahane is surprisingly unmoved by the cochlea-perforating audience reaction. “Compared to some of the other crowds we’ve played to here they were pretty subdued,” he shrugs. “Wait until tomorrow. It’s Saturday night. They’ll go crazy.”
Similarly, the band don’t think tonight’s gig was up to scratch.
“I think we got into it,” says long-serving and long-dreadlocked bassist Deon Estus, “but you felt the audience wasn’t quite there with you.”
“I enjoyed myself,” says hot sessioneer Jonathan Moffett, who has also recently drummed for Michael Jackson and Madonna, “but you felt the audience didn’t really let themselves go.”
On Saturday night, it can safely be said, the audience let themselves go. George Michael keeps his side of the bargain and produces a formidable evening’s entertainment.
Thankfully, the choreographed set-pieces and sexual thrustings of the Faith Tour have been returned to the Museum Of Awful Dance Routines and he’s settled on a more natural performance, shaking a limb when he sees fit, but concentrating on his voice – an ever-improving instrument. The ballads are handled with a sensitivity only singers with absolute technical control can afford, the uptempo numbers are delivered with a new-found strength. To momentarily slip into the technical argot of music theory, he sings his arse off.
“What did I tell you?” boasts Rob Kahane triumphantly after the final encore. “See, you can put in a performance of a certain standard every night but once you get that sort of encouragement, it takes it into a different realm. It’s like getting it up, right?”
“You can get it up every night but when there’s someone there making it special…you know what I’m saying?”
“I’ve seen all the critics here tonight,” he continues evangelistically, “and a lot of them don’t like George and they’ve written bad things about him in the past but now they’re like this,” he raises his palms in mock surrender, “OK, you got us, he was real good.”
To celebrate a successful tour, George Michael is throwing a small party in a low-rent disco in an undesirable meat-packing district of Manhattan. From the outside, it looks like the type of place they used to bust in Kojak; from the inside, it isn’t quite that salubrious. The walls are covered with red satin and the fabric equivalent of tin foil and are studded at random intervals with giant buttons. The dance floor is tacky, in the most literal and unhygienic sense of the word.
It is a strictly natural-fibre free zone: the seating has been lovingly machine-crafted from some poor relation of plastic; linoleum reigns supreme (and not just on the floors) and the rep from Perspex must have thought it was his birthday.
Even the clientele seem to believe they are attending a Polyester convention. The men – many of whom are dressed like blind John Travoltas with cruel friends – all but crackle with static as they strut around the rayon-clad women who look as though they might disintegrate if they were ever exposed to natural daylight.
Upstairs in a claustrophobic hired room, George Michael – sporting a shirt of Jackson Pollock-like design – is having an earnest, song-writerly conversation with Terence Trent D’Arby who along with Eddie Murphy, Lisa Stansfield, Jonathan Ross and Nona Hendrix, was one of the more recognisable faces at tonight’s concert.
“Wasn’t it good? I think he is fantastic but then I am biased.” Said with the fluent charm of a highly successful restaurateur (it is said that there was a Rolls-Royce in the family long before his son was famous), Jack Panos holds court in the centre of the room, praising his son, cracking jokes and telling stories.
“I was mobbed in Tokyo and Nottingham,” he recalls proudly, in a London Greek accent that he himself admits is not a million miles away from Harry Enfield’s Stavros. “They wanted my autograph! I was there for ages writing, George’s Dad, George’s Dad!”
A consummate party animal, Andros mills about – all leather trousers and social skills – chatting amiably, refreshing people’s glasses and – despite having seen every show on the tour – raving about how good George Michael is, concluding, at one point, that his cousin is “a genius”.
Shortly after one o’clock, the subject of this generous flattery announces that he wouldn’t mind a turn on the club’s wheels of steel and is promptly led to a small control room overlooking the dance floor.
Prior to forming Wham! George worked as a DJ in a restaurant and he sets about the job with all the confidence of a seasoned operator. He thumbs through the house DJ’s collection, alternately setting aside drug-friendly classics and “shagging” songs.
Unaware of the change in DJ, the clubbers cavort keenly to Anita Ward’s ‘Ring My Bell’, Deee-Lite’s ‘Groove Is In The Heart’ and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Living For The City’.
Despite George’s protests (“You can’t leave so early, you useless b——!”) Gary Farrow signs off at three o’ clock, manfully embracing George before cheekily “borrowing” his waiting limo for a ride back to his hotel.
“It’s funny how famous Yog is here,” he muses, as the chauffeur eases the preposterously large car on to Madison Avenue. “You see him on stage doing all his stuff and all the fans are screaming and suddenly you think, Blimey, when he comes round our house, that’s the aunt we send down the shops to get the teabags.”
- George Michael Interview on Q Magazine (June 1988)
- ‘George Michael, Seriously’ from Rolling Stone Magazine (1988)
- Graham Norton Interview with George Michael (2003)
- George Michael’s Oprah Winfrey Show Interview (2004)
- A Year in the Life of Wham! as Told by George Michael (Smash Hits Yearbook, 1986)