Listen to George Michael’s interview with Chris Evans aired on BBC 1 radio on December 8, 1996. The audio is incomplete but transcript covers the entire interview.
Chris Evans: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Radio One two hour George Michael special. But before we play it to you, the interview, and then the concert specially recorded for Radio One, a word of warning. In order to obtain a frank and entertaining interview, myself, Christophe Lamby Pie, and my interviewee, George Michael the world famous, global musically unbelievably talented bloke, relaxed, and just had normal chat, using normal words, and a couple of swear words do creep in. I apologise about this, but we didn’t want to cut them out, because it takes away the sincerity of the interview. So we don’t mean to offend you in any way. Thank you…
George Michael: You want to start it with the opening of the wine?
Chris [opening the bottle]: Would you like to describe the wine, George?
George: It’s a nice ’94 Merseaux
Chris: What’s so special about that.
George: It’s the one that I like, that’s what’s special about it.
Chris: Why did you choose it?
George: Umm, Well actually, it’s just kind of the creamiest one, I think
Chris: The creamiest one?
George: Yeah, Merseaux is really kind of creamy.
Chris: Is it?
George: Yeah. It’s also really kind of expensive as well so.
Chris: It’s always a safe bet?
George: Yeah, it’s a fairly safe bet.
Chris: How much is it for a bottle of Merseaux?
George: In a kind of relatively good restaurant, a good bottle of Merseaux is going to cost you sixty quid.
George: Put it this way, if I order the wine at a meal I always make sure I pay.
Chris: Is it always red or white?
George: Umm, always white.
Chris: Why is that?
George: What are you asking me for? I don’t know anything about wines.
Chris: Well, you must prefer white to red then, there must be a reason for that.
George: To tell you the truth, the reason that I stopped drinking red wine is because I actually think red wine is much nicer than white wine. But the reason I stopped drinking red wine was that I was informed that it was the absolute worst kind of alcohol for a singer. Red wine makes all your sinuses swell and stuff like that, so I stopped but of course then I started smoking cigarettes, there wasn’t much point in changing over, I should have stuck to the red I think.
Chris: What can’t I ask you about?
George: What can’t you ask me about?
George: Listen, there’s absolutely nothing you can’t ask me about. There’s lots of things I won’t give you any answers to.
Chris: When was the last time anybody slapped you?
George: Slapped me?
George: Oh God, when was the last time anybody slapped me? I know I got slapped in the video but that doesn’t count because that wasn’t for real. When was the last time I got slapped? About three years ago.
George: I think I was a bit out of order, I was being out of line.
Chris: Was it a girl or boy?
George: A girl.
George: I think that’s as far as I can go on it really. It was somebody who was extremely pissed off with me, and I was drunk and you know… I think I said something untoward and I got a slap for it.
Chris: Can I just slap you very gently now?
George: Slap me? Is this some kind of… are you joking? I slapped George Michael!
Chris: No, I just want you to go Ooh!, as a comedy slap.
George: All right then.
Chris: There you go.
George: Shit, that hurt.
Chris: OK. Are you worried about this interview?
George: In what way?
Chris: Just generally.
George: No, if I was worried I wouldn’t do interviews I don’t think.
Chris: Why have you chosen to do one?
George: I decided this month really. Well the last two months I’ve been working on serious things. Initially I thought I was going to try to do some shows at the end of the year. It’s not something I really want to do anymore, this promotion. I think it would be a bit much to have gone through the court case, taken all that time off, and having my fingers crossed that there would be an audience for me when I got back. I obviously thought that there would be. When you get a really strong response to your work you have to acknowledge it somehow in someway, especially after such a long gap, so I thought I’d pile a bit of promotion, kind of quite deliberately once people realised that the album had already done very well. And I was not going back on my word, and had chosen to do it, I’m very proud that way.
Chris: On the subject of that, rather predictably, why did you choose to talk to the Big Issue?
George: I do actually believe that there shouldn’t be people with their hands out on the street, in this country these days, and half of me thinks the next government has to do something about it and half of me thinks no government is ever going to be able to do anything about this ever again. Sometimes I’ll put my hand in my pocket, and nine out of ten times I don’t have any money on me, you know. Because I don’t carry cash, I’m like that. I really think its a great idea in any situation to encourage self-help as opposed to charity. I think the Big Issue is a really great idea in the first place, plus it was a way of me talking and doing a print interview without it being in the mainstream press. Obviously I’m not a big fan of the mainstream press, so….It wasn’t bad, I was very pleased with the way it read, it didn’t feel like a great interview when I was doing it, it still felt like someone praying, you know?
Chris: Did you say you hate the tabloid press then?
George: No I didn’t, I said I wasn’t a great fan.
Chris: They are in a way responsible for you in the beginning?
George: They’re responsible for me now, I think that’s why I don’t, it think it would be very stupid for me to say I hate them because, much as I dislike the things they write about me there’s no question that they help my career.
Chris: Have they had a real go at you?
George: Over time, they’ve had a pretty hard go at me yeah. I think people don’t realise how hard a go at me they’ve had, simply because I don’t respond to any of that.
Chris: Somebody said to me once, somebody who is very high up and you know him, probably very well, he said the way to react to the press is to think that there are only two people who remember the article, the person who wrote it, and the person who its about. Is it like water off a ducks back now?
George: It really is, honestly, to a degree that I’m really glad of because it now even amazes me the things they can write about me and I totally forget or I just .. It really is a separate character that they’re writing about as far as I’m concerned and I’m perfectly happy with that and myself I’m not offended by anything they write anymore. I get offended by things they may write that will include other people. I think sometimes friends and family have been caught in the crossfire a bit, but, other than that I really don’t care. They can write what they want about me really.
Chris: Would you ever take action against them, for anything, based on what you just said?
George: There are certain situations, you know I remember my old famous quote always used to be “as long as they don’t call me a child-molester they can call me what they like” and now of course that’s not such a joke anymore is it. There almost nothing that I can think of that I would respond to. I tend to respond… I tend to get annoyed when they make me out to be a… Normally if they’re having a go about money, or sex or anything like that I just kind of brush it off. When they make me out to be some kind of real arsehole that tends to be when I get the most tempted.
Chris: You can’t sue for someone to be making you out to be a real arsehole though can you?
George: Well the only time I sued The Sun was over this ridiculous story that said that I had gone into the Limelight club and thrown furniture around and said “Don’t you know who I am?” And then apparently I threw up over some poor girl…
Chris: But what is the basis of suing someone. Is that defamation?
George: Well no, it was the fact that I hadn’t actually entered the club. I hadn’t actually done anything other than had walked up to the club and seen that there was a private party for a, I think it was an Andrew Lloyd-Webber party and I walked out again. So everything that they actually put in there was fabricated. It’s incredible, The Sun has this way of rephrasing things so that you’re not even sure whether you said it or not. You just know that you don’t remember sounding as stupid as that. They have, whatever you call it, Sun speak.
Chris: You know when you started, and you were very excited and carefree as we all are, did you ever imagine that you would get so angry that you would sue a newspaper? When you start you just don’t care do you?
George: Of course, when you first start you welcome them with open arms, it makes me go cold to think, I had someone from the Daily Mirror at my 21st birthday party, I mean, that’s how…
Chris: And now?
George: I don’t think it’s likely, no, they won’t be at my 40th you know.
Chris: We’ve been out for dinner before, do you think I like you?
George: Yeah. Do you like me Chris?
Chris: Just tell me why you think I like you.
George: Because I think you probably like me because I’m nowhere near as big an arsehole as you expected George Michael to be. That’s about right, isn’t it?
Chris: That’s bang on. What do you think people generally think of you, or have you already answered that question, in what you thought I would think of you.
George: Yeah I think so, most people probably think that I’m a bit of an arsehole.
Chris: What about the people who buy your records though, they don’t think that.
George: No, I think probably not. A lot of my character is very evident in the way that I write. And if you’re a fan of the way somebody writes you listen to the lyrics, and the lyrics say a lot about their character.I think that I don’t write like an arsehole, I just perform like one. That’s kind of what I think. I have a very, very bad physical self-image, I always have, and I’ve never made any bones about that. I really don’t like the way I look in general, I’m not comfortable with it so do everything I can to be as groomed as I can for people because I have this ridiculous desire to live up to their expectations on that level because I’m so insecure about it. On every other level, I think I’ve dragged myself esteem up to a point where I’m perfectly capable of dealing with being a celebrity but on a level of being looked at I’m still not pleased. I remember being a kid and thinking I loved what Adam Ant did in the early eighties, right, I thought he was so cool, right, and so handsome and all that show and everything.
Chris: He was the thing.
George: He was the thing. Yeah. And I remember being in my bedroom and thinking it’s such a shame, because basically no matter how good I am as a musician I’m never going to be that famous, right, because I don’t have that way of pushing myself forward visually, and physically and I’m not interesting enough to people. So, I was determined to be noticed for what I did. What I didn’t realise was going to happen was that the whole Wham! thing. Obviously Andrew starting it off and everything. I didn’t realise that I was going to be selling something else as well. I didn’t realise I was going to be selling my physical persona. The truth is what do most people, when you see somebody famous on the street, or in a restaurant, and you’re with people, what’s the first thing people talk about? Because there’s nothing else, you didn’t speak to them or whatever, you talk about how they looked. If those people all go home to their own lives or to their own friends, and they talk about the fact that they met George Michael today, or they saw George Michael today or whatever, which is nice for them all right a bit of entertainment for them in the evening, but you can be absolutely sure that if you look shit that day, that’s the first thing they’ll say.
Chris: But why do you care about that?
George: I don’t. I don’t. On a rational level I don’t care at all. That’s the point, I’ve actually managed to realise that it is not rational, that I shouldn’t spend any time worrying about it. But it doesn’t stop the fact that I still, when I’m getting ready to leave the house, I still feel that I’ve got to do my best before I leave the house.
Chris: When you were on the MTV awards last week, although when this goes out it will be a few weeks ago, you arrived in the biggest, sequinned limousine that I’ve ever seen. You come out…
George: Mirror-tiled, Mirror-tiled, it wasn’t sequinned.
Chris: Mirror-tiled, sorry whatever, and you come out and this is the guy I went out to dinner with the night before, literally, the night before, and you come out, and you’ve got the shades on, and you’ve got this, I don’t know, this waistcoat / dresscoat / outfit on. And it’s like…
George: There he is, George Michael, there’s the arsehole!
Chris: But why do you do that though?
George: Because people love it. At the same time, it is great entertainment.
Chris: Surely, ultimately, you’ve got to draw them in, and they’ve got to know you, they have to know you.
George: You don’t think that they do by now?
Chris: Well no, because the facade that you’re talking about isn’t you in this interview?
George: No, that’s true.
Chris: You, in this interview.
George: That’s one of the reasons for doing this interview. You see, what I’m trying to tell people is look, you actually quite enjoy me being an arsehole up there, and looking like, people enjoy me looking that self-absorbed and that kind of full of confidence and that is performance, you know that is for me, a career that I never expected to get into. Performance is never something that I expected to get into. But the fact is that it is one of those things that I do quite well. I can work it out and I can do it well And people enjoy it, so I should have the freedom to do it and not worry about the people who don’t care about the music anyway, just think, what an arsehole in his big silver car or whatever, but I think that the people who really like the music and that understand the music will get that as well.
Chris: Do you still wake up every day with Richard and Judy?
George: I do, indeed. I do, yeah. I do. Richard and Judy, I have a good old laugh at Richard and Judy in the morning, it’s kind of brainless stuff when you’re half-awake in the morning, isn’ it?
Chris: What’s your routine in the morning?
George: My routine?
George: I get up about ten o’clock normally, and I go through the thirty or forty messages I’ve received since I last picked up my messages and then decide slowly, who to call back because I’m normally extremely tired in the morning.
Chris: Your circle of friends, would you say it’s very small?
George: Yeah, it’s pretty small. It’s not very small, it’s pretty small. I’ve got quite a wide circle of friends but my close, close friends, I spend most of my time with a small number of people at the end.
Chris: And you have done for a long time?
Chris: If you get to the point, where privately, like you said to me about a few certain individuals, if you get to the point where they’re not at their best anymore, who would tell you to stop? And how would you know, you wouldn’t know yourself?
George: Who would tell me to stop? Well, luckily, a couple of my closest friends take great pleasure in putting me down, so I’ve got people who would tell me absolutely, this is a pile of shit, don’t put this out, but in all honesty I’m very, very self-critical, and I throw away an awful lot of stuff. I’m not a Prince type that can lay hundreds and hundreds of tracks down and think that because they’re me, that they must be good. I throw an awful lot of material away because I just know it’s not up to scratch. It’s quite often material that other people like.
Chris: Would you ever write a Disney soundtrack?
George: No. No, I don’t think so.
Chris: Are you bored yet?
George: Are you having a go at my mates?
Chris: No, I’m not at all, I just want to know.
George: No, I would never do that. I wish that Elton hadn’t done that.
Chris: Circle of Life was a good song though. I was thinking about it this morning. I like that song.
George: I just don’t really think that a great musician can be done justice by cartoon characters really. I know Elton loves the stuff and he’s thrilled with it, and it’s sold very, very well because lots of people loved it and it’s great. My own feeling is that I don’t want to hear Elton John’s voice and think of Simba the Lion, you know. It’s just, I have too much respect for what he does, as a musician. The truth is, Elton made an album, and it probably sold more than any album he’s made since the seventies, at least His next album, didn’t… Those people were buying a Disney album to some degree, had they all being buying an Elton John album… They were buying an acquired album. Yeah. Exactly and I think the album he followed it up with was the best album he’d made in years and years, and I think a lot of people didn’t take it particularly seriously because of the Disney record. He’ll hate hearing this, I’m really sorry to say this but I thought it was beneath him really.
Chris: Have you told him?
George: I don’t know if I’ve ever told him actually. I think I kind of did initially, but he’s very enthusiastic about these things and its his absolutely, he knows what he’s doing, he knows what he wants to do. I personally can never see me putting myself into that position.
Chris: You should tell him. You’d hope he’d tell you wouldn’t you?
George: Yeah, I think I did tell him to tell you the truth. I’d certainly tell him when what I think, I’d definitely advise him when I think he’s putting out something that I don’t think is going to do well. And I’d definitely tell him what I think he should put out, when he plays me stuff. For instance, Believe, which was the first single off of his last album, it was one of the best songs he’d written in years and years. They were going with something a bit more commercial and up-tempo first and I think I was part of Elton’s decision/reasoning maybe in deciding to put out Believe, but again, everybody I spoke to, it didn’t do great chart-wise, but everyone I spoke to said that they loved it, which I hadn’t heard them saying about things off of the Lion King.
Chris: Can you believe he’s your mate?
George: Yeah, I’ve known him for so long that still occasionally when I’m with him, I get a little voice from a nine year old that says “God, I can’t believe I’m here!” It’s just a very weird thing, it never stops that. It never stops with the people you idolise as a child I don’t think that that ever goes away however long you know them.
Chris: Also, he’s not only your mate, but he phones you up and says “What do you think of this?”
Chris: What do you think about that?
George: It’s amazing. I’ve had an incredibly, you know, two of the biggest records of my career were with people I’d idolised as a child, and neither of those things happened in any kind of deliberated way. They just both came out of situations, you know, with Elton, he came on with me at that certain point, he’d sung with me many times before when we decided to release the record, and the Queen situation, the tragic thing about that was that I was singing with three of four people that made a huge difference to my life when I was a child. So, that was extremely tragic, but somehow, the fact that I’ve ended up working with these people is some, and not just working with them but doing some of my most well received work with them, is there’s a very strange sense of destiny about it, obviously, for me, I can’t believe it happened really. I look back on a lot of things, when I look back on my career in general, I do find it quite hard to believe really.
Chris: I think, out of all the people I’ve tried to draw a parallel with, as far as you’re concerned, I do think you’re closest with Freddie Mercury. Everybody says Elton John, everybody says Stevie Wonder or whatever, it’s got to be Freddie Mercury, because the songs you write don’t make sense next to each other. And his songs never made sense next to each other.
George: You mean as a, you mean they don’t make sense in terms of direction?
Chris: They’re just like, Kissing A Fool, compared with Praying For Time, compared with A Different Corner and Careless Whisper, they just don’t make sense.
George: But they do make sense don’t they? The thing is they don’t in the sense that they don’t show any particular, there’s a kind of continuity that no-one can quite put their finger on, you’re right, If you look at Night At The Opera… You’re right it was all over the place, it was kind of ‘”vaudeville”, then heavy rock, and yeah, absolutely right. And that’s something that I think it is something that is difficult for artists to actually fight against, because people want you to make a lot more sense than that.
Chris: What about Faith? It was so simple.
George: Yeah, but you’d be amazed at how much time it takes to be that simple.
Chris: Tell us.
George: To me, the better the song is, the simpler it should be recorded, or the simpler it should be recorded, the better the song it has to be. So something like Faith which was really, really simple, the arrangement has to be absolutely rock solid, so that with a really, really simple format, everyone’s still going to get it.
Chris: Why did you prelude it with Freedom? Because I’ve got to tell you, as a disk jockey, right, it’s the hardest record in the world to cue up, because we’ve always got to cut off the freedom bit.
George: Because the track was called Faith, I wanted to insinuate something religious about it at the beginning of it, it had to be an organ, and I thought what’s the song about, and Faith was basically absolutely nothing to do with Freedom, from Wham! one, but I knew that from a melodic point of view, it would sound really good there, so I stuck it there. Do you know what I mean?… … There’s a song on the album called It Doesn’t Really Matter, which is one of my favourite songs on there. But that has literally got one of those little old, do you remember those Dr Rhythm boxes? The first rhythm synthesisers, and it’s just got a little Dr Rhythm thing going on, bass guitar, and me playing a few piano chords, I think I, I did play it all. It’s one of the simplest things I’ve ever recorded, and it’s right in the middle of the album, and the rest of it is quite heavily produced. I love that, I really love that, but, a remarkable number of people don’t notice the song.
Chris: Here’s a question for you, right in the middle of all that, right?
George: All right.
Chris: When you wrote Careless Whisper, based on what you just said, did you think people would want to hear that?
George: Yes. I remember having a conversation with Andy, Andrew Ridgeley, and saying to him, Andrew, because we didn’t know what we were doing at the time and we weren’t sure whether we wanted to have a band, or whether to have just the two of us, and we write Careless Whisper together, and I remember when we demoed it, and we made this crappylittle demo that cost us thirty quid to make, and literally, we were in Andrew’s front room whilst his mum was out and he had like a broom with a microphone tied to it, and one of those little four track, portastudios that had just come out at the end of the seventies. And I remember, we made the demo, and I remember saying to Andrew one day when we were walking along from school, remember saying to him, I don’t care what anybody says, whether or not either of us are going to make it, or whether I can be a singer or whatever, I said to Andrew, “someone is going to have to want to make money out of this”.
George: Because I knew, in my own head, I knew it sounded like a number one song. You know, even though I’d never made a record.
Chris: Was it about anything?
George: No, it was about nothing to me really. I worked at the cinema at the time and I just kind of put lots of bits and pieces, influences, all kinds of romantic imagery that was just totally cliched.
Chris: Tell us what number bus you wrote each line on.
George: It was the 142. Actually it wasn’t the 142, I told you it was the 142 before but it wasn’t. I can’t remember.
Chris: Well, initially you wrote each line.
George: Yeah, I remember where the melody, which is obviously my most famous melody, it’s the one you hear in the lifts all of the time, I remember hearing the melody for it, as I walked out onto the bus, and was handing the guy the change, and it was really, as the guy was handing me the change, I remember getting the melody and going up and sitting at the back of the bus and putting word to it and everything. And I used to do just a little bit every day, on my way between working at the cinema and working as a DJ. I used to just kind of work on it every day in my head.
Chris: A friend of mine said, because I talked to him about the conversation we had over dinner with him, a good friend of mine, knows a lot about music, been in the music business for a long time, written for the papers, when they were good, for about eight or nine years. And I said to him, one of the things you were terribly worried about, you said this to me, was that you are petrified of losing your talent to write songs, because you’ve seen some people, no names, your words, you’ve seen them lose it. Do you think then you’re facing two deaths, the scary thing about death is that it’s inevitable, one is a mortal death, and are you saying that you face another premature death as a popular globally renowned musician and songwriter.
George: I would say that one of my obsessions now is to make sure that I only have the one death to deal with.
Chris: So you want to go all the way?
George: I want to go all the way, I want to work until the day I die, I want to have some thing creative to do, somewhere to take things, you know, creatively, I want to drop dead in the studio.
Chris: Do Sony, the battle which we have to talk about, what was all that about, because I was very worried at that point. I mean…
George: I can imagine, you weren’t sleeping were you Chris?
Chris: No, that you care whether or not I was worried or not, but I read the papers everyday, because I have to, it’s part of my job, and I was very angry, and I was angry probably completely incorrectly, that you were spending so much time in court, and here’s a guy who’s job it is, whether he likes it or not, to write music, to play concerts…
George: That annoyed you did it?
Chris: Well yeah, because I was thinking why is he spending, you know, it is not your job, to be in court.
George: It wasn’t my choice Chris, it seriously wasn’t my choice.
Chris: Yeah, I know, and I know that.
George: I tried every other option first. I really did.
Chris: But you spent so much time, doing what you don’t do for a living, why?
George: Well because I really, really, believed that a working relationship, creatively, I mean, ultimately, I’m not interested in compromise really. I’m not interested in compromise in terms of what I do for a living, and that was what I was being asked to do. I was constantly being asked to compromise and…
Chris: In what way?
George: In ways like, the main problem of course was that Sony was particularly unsympathetic to the fact that I was really unhappy, at the end of the whole Faith thing.
Chris: Why were you unhappy?
George: I was unhappy because I just didn’t spend enough time doing what I had originally wanted to do, which was making music, writing. It was all about promotion, you know, it was all about the videos, it was all about the touring and … Touring is just not rewarding when you get to the stage of playing in huge arenas and you sing, and you can’t hear what you’re singing either because people are making too much noise, or because you’re playing in a big cavernous hall or, you know. Playing the way I did in the Radio One session, that to me is what musicians do. Doing what I ended up doing was doing what entertainers do. Right, and as I’ve said before, I never expected to be an entertainer, I thought I was going to be a singer, songwriter, and you get to a certain status, in the pop field where you can’t do that anymore. It is impossible for you to play a reasonably small place, even secret shows, or anything like that. You can’t do the things that would actually improve either your singing or your, well, mainly your singing actually, live, I would love to think, I would love to do something that would improve my voice greatly, and the way that I sang in the eighties and the places that I sang at and the types of shows and the whole thing, was just not about me being a musician at all. It was about me selling the record, and about entertaining people, and it really wasn’t what I was out there to do. And after ten months of that I didn’t know what was going on basically.
Chris: But if somebody had offered you that when you were eighteen you would have jumped at the chance.
George: Of course, of course.
Chris: That’s why I didn’t understand.
George: The thing is it’s not about what you thought when you were eighteen, is it? It’s about because everyone feels the same when they’re eighteen, they’re entering the business and they’re just desperate. And desperation makes you think that you love everything that you’re doing.
Chris: But also, that’s not just desperation, that’s unfair because your ambition was to play to halls of people, full of people, who were looking back at you saying, “we love your songs.”
George: No, the thing is it wasn’t. It became my ambition. Because it was offered to me. I really, really didn’t expect that to be offered to me. And once it was, I was eighteen, nineteen years old and I wasn’t exactly the most desired male at my school for instance, and I had only just left school. People forget that, I hadn’t had any kind of real adult life before I went into the business. I was thrilled to be the centre of all this attention, absolutely thrilled and this completely new area of my life opened up that I never expected to, and of course it wasn’t until I was a little bit older, a little bit more mature that I realised how ultimately that, I was on the wrong bus really.
Chris: But you lost the court case didn’t you?
George: Oh yeah. I lost the court case but I was expecting to lose the court case, after about two or three days after I got in there.
Chris: Did you pay for it yourself?
George: I paid for it myself at the time, and then it was paid for by the companies that bought the contract.
Chris: Now, can you remember, because you lost the court case, I don’t know if you expected to lose it when you said you did or not, I can’t imagine that you really, truly expected to lose that otherwise, I know you, and you wouldn’t have gone into it.
George: No, no, I expected to …. I thought it was 60/40 in my favour, easily, on what the case was, then I got in there and felt the atmosphere and saw the judge, and his reaction to the two QC’s, and I knew. So, yes.
Chris: So, you had lost, did you immediately start making any inroads as to how else you could get out of it?
George: No, to be honest with you, David Geffen had been talking to me about, a lot of, you know, David Geffen was initially trying to talk to me in terms of stopping us all going to court, because I didn’t want to go to court.
Chris: David Geffen owns a record company?
George: Yeah, David Geffen was obviously hoping that I was going to sign to his label, which I eventually did, but he also, believed, much as, I agree with him, and I agree with your premise as well, that a successful artist should not be spending their time in courts, a successful artist should be making records, you know.
Chris: So what happened, how did David Geffen get you out of this? Did he just pay millions, and millions of pounds?
George: He paid millions and millions of pounds, and I think that his relationship with Sony. To be honest with you, I think his relationship with Sony was good enough to spur things on, and I honestly think that without David Geffen, it would have been very possible that I would have been in the court of appeal.
Chris: Did he pay more money for your contract than you were worth? Not worth in the future, but worth at the moment?
George: For my contract? Did he pay…
Chris: So how long are you contracted to Geffen for?
George: I’m contracted to both labels for two albums, a period of two albums. Had I been, had I not been, you’ve got to remember that they’d been paid somewhere in the region of fifty million dollars, just to get me out, so I couldn’t, if I had really been in a position where I was free, I would have done a one album deal with Virgin and a one album deal with DreamWorks in America, because I think that that is the way that business should be done. At the end of a business project, if one partner is failed, or the relationship is not good, I think people should be able to walk away.
Chris: Business wise, record company wise, contractually wise, are you happy now?
George: Yeah, very.
Chris: Have you any idea, any thoughts about the future, about who you are going to go with, who you are going to be with?
George: No, I’ve got no, I mean I’m very, very happy with the job that Virgin have done, they’ve done an excellent job around the world, and I’m very happy with that decision.
Chris: Do you like them?
George: Yeah, I do yeah.
Chris: Are you your boss?
George: Umm, absolutely yeah. I am a complete and utter, I freak, I do freak at anyone trying to control me, there’s no question about that.
Chris: Why do you want to give up smoking? Why do you smoke first of all? Why do you smoke?
George: I smoke because…
Chris: You don’t like it really, do you?
George: No, I don’t like it.
Chris: Do you smoke incessantly?
George: I smoke incessantly when I’m with people who smoke incessantly, Chris. I smoke because I started, when I had a real kind of, all kinds of reasons but I had a real low point about five years ago, and I smoked, I started to smoke grass to relieve stress and whatever, and because I didn’t want to be on any kind of sedatives or…
Chris: Can you roll a joint?
Chris: Who does it for you?
George: Anyone who will. I mean the truth is, this is incredible when you think about it, because I am, smoking is the most stupid thing I’ve ever done, it’s the worst thing for my health, it’s completely out of control, but somehow, I think I’ve got control over it, because, I don’t roll my own joints, which means I can’t go home with a bag of grass and sit and get stoned out of my head. I have to have someone smoking with me.
Chris: Let me tell you, if you had to, you would roll your own joint.
George: Oh, I’m sure, but I’m not saying I haven’t attempted the odd, really nasty looking sausagey thing, but the truth of it is, that I started smoking grass for, you know, whatever reasons at that point in time, and what happened, was that…
Chris: So how long is that from now?
George: That was about four years ago.
Chris: Now you’ve said to me that you desperately want to stop, and you’ve tried three different ways of stopping, I think you said?
George: No, not three different ways, I’ve been to three different hypnotists, right.
Chris: Why? Only pop-stars do that stuff. Don’t do that.
George: No, lots of people do that. Lots of people do that.
Chris: Not three different ones.
George: No, not three different ones, they normally give up after the second because they can’t really afford the third one.
Chris: Why don’t you say you like it?
George: Why did I say I like it?
Chris: No, why don’t you say you like it?
George: I don’t like anything that has control of me basically.
Chris: Give up now.
George: Would you stop this? I get this the whole time, I get this at home, I get this everywhere. Stop this.
Chris: Stop now, just put that out and stop now. Just stop.
George: I’ve stopped Chris, look, we’re on radio. I’ve stopped. I’m just putting it out now.
Chris: I think you should do what you want mate.
George: Absolutely, I know. Actually, there’s another thing. I’ve always had really a great, it’s always been a real issue. Control of, self-control has always been a real issue with me and I really let go of a lot of that, four or five years ago, and it, just by, and I’m a much happier person for it. I’m much less cautious and much, much more about kind of you know, living for the moment than I was. I’m not as frightened of the future and everything. And it’s just an unhappy coincidence that this change, this kind of big change in my life started at the, roughly the same time that I started smoking. Smoking was obviously one of the results, and I have this fear, that controlling my smoking is somehow, going to set this reverse pattern, and I’m suddenly going to start controlling everything again. I kind of associate, the immediate gratification of picking up a cigarette and inhaling it, I associate that somehow with freedom. I know it’s really odd.
Chris: It’s very odd.
George: It’s really odd, but as a child I was always told, “you will not ever smoke”. I never smoked.
Chris: Were you told that, “you will never have a hit single”?
George: I was told that as well, yeah. That was bollocks too. My father actually after the third hit-single, was telling me to save my money because it wasn’t going to last.
Chris: And now?
George: And now?
Chris: What does your father say to you now?
George: Now my father says, “thank-you very much for my stud farm”.
Chris: A friend of mine, right, Dan, who you’ve met, who’s in the other room, and he shut up, right, and his heart was pounding, and in the middle of his sleep he thought, “What are we going to ask George Michael?”, bang, bang, bang… Have you thought about this interview at all?
George: Everyone presumes that I don’t do interviews because I’ve got loads of things which I don’t want to talk about, which is not the truth at all. I’ve had to re-assure people that I’m perfectly, I’m a big boy, if people ask me something I don’t want to tell them the answer to, or I went to tell them to piss off, then that’s what I do.
Chris: People are obsessed with your sexuality aren’t they?
George: Of course they are.
Chris: Is there a question you’ll answer there?
George: No, I mean I think it’s, I think the whole, it think it’s far more of an issue in a way because I don’t talk to people in general.
George: And I think people really seem to like to talk about it. I totally understand the debate, I have a real strong theory as to why people are so obsessed with one another’s sexuality. And because I have that belief about it, I see absolutely no, I feel no obligation to join the debate, put it that way. It’s like, I think it’s a perfectly understandable question, I have no problem with everyone thinking I am gay, or some people thinking I’m gay, some people thinking that I’m straight or whatever. I think it’s totally, totally, irrelevant to my life, that everyone else is talking about my sexuality because all the people that I know and care about are perfectly clued in, I mean everybody knows who I am.
So for the sake of people that I never speak to I really don’t feel any desire to define myself, because I, I’ll tell you what I really believe. I believe that we all sit, look at each other and we all, I think every human being constantly questions themselves. Questions their own position, whether it be their race, their religion, their sexuality, their looks, you know, we all question ourselves, and use other people to define ourselves. I think that one of the things that is so difficult in the modern world to actually accept, is that sexuality is a really, really blurry thing I know lots and lots of people who I thought were of one sexual persuasion, but they turned out to either be the other, or sometimes to be the other, so that, whatever.
All I know, is that I have never, never regarded my sexuality as a moral question, of any description. Or anyone’s sexuality as a moral question, other than when it is some kind of twisted sexuality that involves people that do not give their consent, you know. But I, personally, have never thought that would be wrong, that would be right, that’s what I should do. I think, most people do regard their sexuality as a moral question, and I think that they look to one another to reinforce their ideas of themselves. In other words, if somebody looks at me, and says, “I think he’s gay”, and then next week, I make a statement saying, “I am gay”, right, that guy, feels a little bit more secure, in the fact that he knew, that that was my sexuality. Whether he was right or wrong, do you know whether I’m telling the truth or not, people use it as the, it’s the typical old thing, the queen that stands in the gay club, or standing in the straight club, pointing out all the people that he thinks are gay.
George: Hoping, that’s right. Now, why is he really hoping that they are gay? It’s like me, people who talk about me, they don’t really think, I mean, there’s nothing in it for them, they go home and…
Chris: They could be right? That’s what you’re talking about isn’t it?
George: In other words, they’re saying, “I know what a gay person looks like, I know what a straight person looks like”. Therefore, in most people it’s in an effort to prove that they are straight themselves. Because, obviously, being straight is the socially acceptable and the most common, human form of sexuality. But most people, are, most people have some questions at some point in their life, and even if they are very young when they have those questions or whatever, they scare the shit out of them, those questions scare the shit out of them. And, one of the ways that they reinforce their own idea of their own sexuality, whatever it may be, is to tell themselves that they can spot it in other people, and that they can spot people who are of different sexual persuasions, right, and that’s why, you get a huge debate, about somebody like me. You’ve got all these guys for instance, maybe their girlfriend likes me or whatever, and they’re like, “Oh, he’s a fairy, its obvious to me”, now, if they were wrong, if they were proved to be wrong, that would be unsettling for them. If they were proved to be right, that would be comforting for them. That’s what I mean. It is literally as simple as that. I’m right, I know who he is, because I know who I am. I know his sexuality because I know mine. Now, I have got absolutely no desire, to be that for people. Do you know what I mean? I’ve got no desire to stand up and define myself to a whole bunch of people, and say “yes, I was right”, or , “No, I was wrong”, or “No, you were wrong”. Do you know what I mean?
Chris: Is it better for business that you never say whether you are one or the other?
George: I think that a lot of people think I play with it for that particular reason. I don’t think it would make any difference to business, I really don’t think that my sexuality has got much to do with my business anymore. There was obviously a point where it did, it did have a lot to do with it.
Chris: When you were younger, did you ever realise, or did you ever think that one day you may be grilled about this every time you do a bloody interview?
George: No, I never did actually. I never really thought, I mean I’ve always been asked about it, but I never really thought it would reach this kind of a pitch, you know. I obviously knew when I made references on the record, with lyrical references, to somebody that I knew that died, a man that I knew that died, and I’ve absolutely no problem in saying that I loved him very much, and he died, I have no problem in writing about that experience, I’ve got no problem with people reading my lyrics about that experience. I’ve got no problem with the honesty that’s there. I’ve got a real problem, with this constant need for definition.
Chris: You’ve answered that question longer than any other question.
George: Oh, of course, because it’s the question I have most time to think about because everyone asks me it. If there is one question I know is going to come up it’s that. I mean, you’ve been much more direct about it, but you can almost see people sitting there waiting for a moment to throw the question in, where’s it going to be received the best.
Chris: I’ve got to be honest with you, I talked to you on the phone, twice, and I think I’ve met you once before, and we had a good long chat, for a few hours, and I haven’t got a clue, and I honestly don’t care, but, it was under the list of what can’t I ask you about, and that’s why I asked you.
George: Ah, of course, yeah.
Chris: And I don’t care. If you’d have slept in, one day, in your life, which day would have been the worst day to sleep in?
George: Oh my God, if I’d slept in? My God, that’s a good question. I’d say probably the day I signed that first, shitty contract. What actually happened was that Andrew gave a tape to someone that we both knew, just literally from knowing them at the pub, and this guy had just started a subsidiary label, with CBS records. And that was our first break, and however shitty a break it was, in terms of, it left us in a very bad contractual position, where if we didn’t sign it, we weren’t going to get the rest of the money to finish our demos. It was still, an incredibly important day, and this incredibly positive thing that we signed it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here, I would be somewhere else.
Chris: You’ve got everything you want, you’ve done, everything, so far, you wanted to do, I would imagine, and you’ve even got out of your contract. Multi-million-pound contracts that you didn’t want to be in, for paying you to do what you wanted to do in the first place. Do you get up in the morning and sometimes you know that what you do will be accepted, you know that a lot of people will pay for it, and people will buy it over the counter, do you think that that is a little bit automatic now, and do you feel a little bit empty sometimes?
George: Well you said that with, your voice almost broke there didn’t it?
Chris: Because I mean it.
George: No, not at all. I felt for a long period of my life that my career was running my life and that I didn’t, I felt very empty a lot of the time, I felt very empty for a lot of the eighties, definitely.
Chris: What about now? Now you’re on top of the world.
George: I feel absolutely, I feel far more affection from the public than I’ve ever felt, I feel far more empathy with them. I mean, I couldn’t, it sounds really, everyone says this kind of stuff, but it really, an experience like the one I had, being, kind of pushed out of the picture, at least musically, for the amount of time that I was, to come back pick up where you started off, and actually do better than where you were, I just feel outrageously lucky, and, I’m not completely lucky, because I’ve always treated the ability that I have with respect, so I think if you treat your gifts as it were, with respect, I think that it pays dividends, so it’s not all luck, a lot of it has actually been me actually deciding, no, I won’t do that, or yes, I will do that.
Chris: You said to me that you’ll do anything for the record for a month, at least until the end of November, and then you won’t see me for four years.
George: I didn’t say you won’t see me for four years, but I’m off, I’m definitely off for a while, yeah.
Chris: Where are you going? What are you going to do?
George: I just get on with making records, I’ve started a record label, I’m just starting one now, so I’ll have a lot of work going on with that, and I’ll carry on doing what I do, I’ll just keep on recording, and hopefully I’ll get to record lots, you know, last time I said this, I ended up in court for three years, but I really would like to record more, you know.
Chris: Do you write to commission, because Shakespeare often, it was said about him a lot that he used to literally write to commission. Do you want to?
George: No, I am not able to write because I need to, in terms of, it’s an obligation that I need to get a certain amount of, for instance, the first thing, the only thing I can think of in the near future is going to be a total obligation is that getting out of my Sony contract, by promising three new tracks for the greatest hits album, so that’s the first thing I can remember in a long time that I have to do.
Chris: But you’re not going to want to do that? Another mate of mine, he’s a very old guy who I told you about, said that you swing, and the reason for that, the reason you swing is that actually you mean it. So how can you write those three tracks then for Sony?
George: Well, you know I won’t be doing them for Sony you see, I’ll be doing them for my greatest hits album, which having waited for fourteen years, or thirteen years to do one, I want it to be a great album. I want it to have the best of my stuff on it, and I want it to have three, killer new tracks on it. That’s for me, that’s not for Sony. So I will, it’s just the time frame I actually have to contractually, deliver these things by a certain date. That’s the difficult bit. In terms of actually doing the three new tracks, I’m doing them for me, not for them.
Chris: Do you think we should cut this interview down, or run it as it is? Has it been dull at all?
George: I think some of my answers have been a bit duller than they should have been. I think the questions have all been very good to be honest with you.
Chris: Unfortunately, at the end of all this, we’ve got to link to the Radio One concert.
George: We do.
Chris: So would you like to do that right now?
George: I enjoyed it hugely, it’s exactly the type of thing that I wish I had been doing for the last thirteen, fourteen years, I wish that I had had that kind of experience as a singer, and I think that had I been playing in this type of situation, then I, for my career, I would be a much better singer than I am now, and that makes me a little bit sad.
Chris: But you couldn’t have got here without all of that thirteen, fourteen years beforehand so…
George: Exactly, I’m really glad that I now have all that, you know, it’s almost like I really do have this genuine feeling of starting all over again. And one of the things I intend to do, in the, lets call it the second phase of my career, or the second half of my career is to make sure that when I sing, I sing in situations that I enjoy. This was definitely, definitely, you know, at the first of those.
Chris: Can you just tell us, very briefly, how you prepared for it? How important it was to you?
George: Well, we did four weeks rehearsal, with a really excellent band, some of whom I had worked with before, or some of whom I hadn’t.
Chris: Whose idea was it?
George: Mine, it was my idea.
Chris: What did you want to achieve? Without being too calculated.
George: I think I wanted to do something I’d never done before, which was a live radio show, and I think really I wanted to do something for Radio One because I had not, I mean in reality, I haven’t done anything at Radio One for years and years, and I thought it was about time really. Radio One has changed so much, I’m hardly a core artist of Radio One anymore, because people who listen to Radio One are generally younger than me now. I still think that it is the most important radio station in the country, and I think that to just kind of ignore it because it’s base is younger would be stupid really.
Chris: Okay, so here’s the concert, this is George, live, as he wants to be, and he’s going to dedicate it to one person.
George: To one person? God, I really can’t think of anyone who deserves it at the moment.
Chris: Who was the first lady, whose legs you were in-between?
George: Her name was Lesley Bywaters.
Chris: She was your mum.
George: Isn’t that a lovely romantic name? No, my mothers name is Lesley, she’s not the first girl I was ever romantically linked with. Unless you include breast feeding, I suppose. Her name was Lesley Bywaters, and she took off my glasses, which I wore at the time, which, incidentally, were thicker than yours, and she took off my glasses, and this is a typical teenage story, this is a typical story of my lack of self-esteem as a teenager, but, and she said, “Haven’t you got beautiful eyes?”, and I was just convinced she was taking the piss out of me, so I just got up and left the party, that was it I was actually in between her legs at the time, to be honest, but we did go out for a while after that. Her friends came and convinced me that she wasn’t joking.
Chris: So it’s either for her, or you Lesley.
George: Yes, for Lesley Bywaters, the Radio One George Michael concert dedicated entirely, to Lesley Bywater.
George: She’ll be thrilled.
- George Michael’s Interview with the Gay Magazine ‘The Advocate’ (1999)
- George Michael Interview on Parkinson Show 1998 (Part 2)
- George Michael: Sex, Drugs and Sony (1996)
- George Michael Interview with Jim Moret (CNN, 1998)
- George Michael Interview on Parkinson Show (1998)