The article “In Praise of George Michael” was written by Ciaran Campbell, Mandate Divisional Organiser for the magazine Mandate Trade Union in 2017.
CHRISTMAS day 2017 marked the anniversary of the passing of popular music icon Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, better known as George Michael who, with pop group Wham! and later throughout his long solo career, blazed a path of top ten chart hits and musical awards.
But Michael wasn’t just a champion of popular music. He regularly advocated lesbian and gay rights — none more so after his very public ‘coming out’ as a homosexual in 1998, and was equally outspoken in the lead up to and during the 2003 Iraq war, criticising the then-UK Prime Minister Tony Blair for slavishly following American President George W Bush’s line that ‘if you are not with us, you are against us’ in the US’s ‘War on Terror’ against the so-called ‘Axis of Evil’.
He immortalised the Bush/Blair relationship in his hit single Shoot the Dog, and was very vocal in criticising Blair’s lack of public consultation with the UK people on the Iraq War when he commented: “On an issue as enormous as the possible bombing of Iraq, how can you represent us when you haven’t asked us what we think?’
He was a regular outspoken critic of UK and American foreign policy on the Middle East, frequently opining that those same policies led to increasing instability in the region which would only come back to haunt the western world through increased terrorist activities.
In February 2003, Michael recorded another song in protest against the looming Iraq war, Don McLean’s The Grave. The original was written by McLean in 1971 and was a protest against the Vietnam War. Michael performed the song on numerous TV shows including Top of the Pops and So Graham Norton. His performance of the song on Top of the Pops on 7th March 2003 was his first studio appearance on the programme since 1986.
He ran into conflict with the show’s producers for an anti-war, anti-Blair T-shirt worn by some members of his band. In response; Don McLean issued a statement, through his website, praising Michael’s recording. He said: “l am proud of George Michael for standing up for life and sanity. I am delighted that he chose a song of mine to express these feelings. We must remember that the Wizard is really a cowardly old man hiding behind a curtain with a loud microphone. It takes courage and a song to pull the curtain open and expose him.” George Michael’s socio-political conscience stretched as far back as his early Wham! days when the group took part in a benefit concert in aid of the striking National Union of Miners in September 1984 at London’s Royal Festival Hall.
The group’s support for the striking miners facilitated the unlikely future campaign relations between miner organisations, other unions and lesbian and gay right organisations in the UK. In 2006, he performed a free concert for NHS nurses in London to thank the nurses who had cared for his late mother. He told the audience: ‘Thank you for everything you do — some people appreciate it. Now if we can only get the government to do the same thing.”
His undisputed legendary kindness, philanthropy and politics belied the flash pop star image that he was so often expected to flaunt. Michael regularly debunked his alter ego lifestyle and work expectations relative to a global pop music superstar, often courting media and political prejudices throughout his short life, but which typified his grounded upbringing in London.
It is in this context that revelations shortly after his death about his membership of the Young Communist League by the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Britain, Rob Griffiths, demonstrates the substance of his socio-political motivations.
General secretary of the Communist Party of Britain says the late singer George Michael was formerly a member of the Young Communist League pic.twitter.com/wAGSC1Yvbq— Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) December 27, 2016
- George Michael’s Cover of Don McLean’s Song ‘The Grave’
- BBC Hardtalk Interview with George Michael (2003)
- Graham Norton Interview with George Michael (2003)
- George Michael Interview on CNN Defending ‘Shoot the Dog’
- World Exclusive Interview: George Michael (Mirror, 2002)