“The Last Wham! Interview EVER” written by Debbi Voller and published in No 1 magazine on 28th June, 1986.
The Wham! career has been a short, sweet chapter in the annals of pop; a band that burnt so brightly, that they burnt themselves out only four years on. The last time I interviewed George and Andrew was at the video for ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ and I’m anxious to find out how wealth, women and megastardom have changed them. One thing that hasn’t changed about Wham! is their sense of humour. George has had a haircut, Andrew’s lost weight and they’ve both grown incredibly was wise and mature, but they’re both still suntanned. Still as silly as they can be serious. And still the best of friends…
Part of the Wham! fairy story has always been that you once were an ‘ugly duckling’ who transformed himself into a Greek God!
Is it true that you had no confidence in your teens?
George: “Oh, the press loved all those stories about me being an ugly duckling, but they overplayed them. From the physical point of view of Andrew being a great dresser and me being the short, fat, spotty one with glasses, that is all true, basically because I never bothered looking in the mirror until I was about 13. But the pair of us were always very loud, I wasn’t at all introverted. At 16 I was a pretty confident boy with girls and most things. If I look back at myself when I was 13 or 14 – I’d have been very offended if I’d heard people say I was all those dreadful things!”
Your sex lives have played a major role in Wham!’s press, all the stories about you being ‘superstuds’ and the rumours about you being ‘gay’!
George: “From about a year and a half back we were saying, ‘Right, we want to become as big as we can, and then we’re going to split.’ Part of the whole plan was to do something that no one ever does – which is to go out when you really are on top. I think that potentially, Wham! could have been the biggest band since the Beatles, but only since the Beatles, that’s not trying to compare us with them! I mean there’s obviously loads of people who still can’t stand us but there’ll be a Greatest Hits album later in the year, and anybody who can listen to that album and honestly say that they don’t like any of the tracks on it has got to be totally non-musical!”
You say you’ve outgrown the basic idea of Wham! which is about youth and enthusiasm – and yet you are still so young. You sound like old age pensioners when you say you’re ‘retiring’ the band!
George: “That’s Andrew who keeps using that word – retiring! The thing is, an awful lot of pressure has been put on us and we have had to grow up very, very fast and work with people who are a lot older than us. Not cleverer – but older! But I think we still have a fair ol’ sense of humour about what we do, we realise that at the bottom of it all there is so much (sounds positively disgusted) crap! I don’t think we’ve aged as much as some people would do, but there’s no way that we’re your average 22- or 23-year-olds. It’s very difficult to try and stay that way, and I don’t know if I want to. There’s no point in fighting something which is just a natural process.”
What have you lost your enthusiasm for exactly?
George: “I don’t think I’ve lost my enthusiasm for anything, I think I’ve lost my excitement. When you leave school you have no idea what’s in the future, so you’re totally excited by all the opportunities that come up. Most of the opportunities that would excite people have been presented to us within four years! So the thrill of the chase is not really there anymore. Andrew’s racing driving is a totally new chase for him, and I have some challenge in going solo. We’ve always wanted everything to be exciting, that’s why we’ve had to go for things that people weren’t quite sure we could pull off, like China and the American stadium tour.”
How can your last single be a challenge – when you know it will be Number One?
George: “Ah – that’s why we have three ‘A’ sides on it, the challenge there is to get all those three ‘A’ sides played. We’ll be doing two of the songs on Top Of The Pops and hopefully the third song will be a club hit and get radio play as well. We want to go out with the biggest bang we can, that’s why everything’s had to have that little bit ‘extra’. Because once you’re assured of success, you have to risk something.”
I hear you’ve just passed your test and bought a sports car – shades of Andrew?
George: “I passed first time but it was so difficult getting around to doing it. I couldn’t take lessons in London because everyone kept cutting me up! The best bit is when people drive up to you at the traffic lights and there’s the girlfriend and the boyfriend and the girlfriend recognises you and goes, ‘look! look! look!’ and the boyfriend’s face kind of hardens and he slams his foot on the accelerator as the lights go green as if to say, ‘we may only have an Escort but we can get past this pop star!’ I gave my dad a lift in the car last weekend and he was beaming with pride because dads understand what a sports car means. At the moment I’m learning my way around London…”
Andrew: “He’s going to be a bus driver, that’s his new challenge!”
There’s a note on your EP sleeve that says, “Thanks to everyone who’s helped us keep our sanity intact”. What’s threatened your sanity the most?
George: “Andrew, what’s threatened your sanity the most apart from your girlfriend?”
Andrew: (sounding very world weary) “All the bollocks!”
George: “Oh that’s good Andrew, that’s very clear!”
Andrew: “I mean all the preconceptions in the business about what we should be as a band and – as people – who we are!”
George: “All we ever wanted to do was be a ‘pop band’ and we’re the only people I can remember in the last five or six years that haven’t really turned around and tried to be taken desperately seriously by changing our music. I mean ‘Edge Of Heaven’ is as Wham! as ‘Go Go’ was and that’s two years later. We’ve come through all that flak and the public like us more than ever, because they appreciate honesty.”
Your ex-manager (Simon Napier-Bell) often referred to your partnership as being like Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. Do you feel there are no more adventures to share together?
Andrew: “It’s not that we’ve run out of adventures, it’s just that this particular one has come to an end.”
George: “How can you get more pleasure than knowing that we had a million applications for our last gig – that type of popularity is stunning! You can’t want any more than that unless you’re on some manic search for ego satisfaction, especially if you’re English. If we were American, then maybe our goals would be even higher!”
Andrew: “Everything’s so much more vivid in the States, stardom there is the next thing to being like God!”
George: “If you’re going to be a star and want to take it to its final conclusions, you’ve got to go to America and see what it does to people. It’s not a life I’d want to live, because we both understand what a load of old rubbish ‘stardom’ basically is. We have a talent, it’s no different from being a talented writer or plumber but it’s attached to something that people have blown out of proportion, which is performing. The fact is that people believe in the performer, they believe in the image that you portray, and you have to step back from that. The fuss about us will die down, give it a couple of years and I think people will have a slightly less ridiculous view of us as people. I would hope so anyway!”
Simon Napier-Bell has also said that Andrew will become the bigger star of the two of you. How do you react to that?
Andrew: “Yeah, well Simon can speak for himself can’t he? I have no idea why he said that!”
George: “To get at me I suppose.”
Andrew: “Maybe he wants me to be taken seriously, but that’s the last thing I want to see in print about myself. I feel much the same way as George does about how I want to live my life in the next 30 years and I don’t particularly want to be a ‘star’. It encroaches too much – it doesn’t give you enough privacy.”
Do you ever wish you could sometimes pop back in time and be ‘ordinary’ people again?
George: “I have times when I wish I could drop out of this business totally, but it’s very difficult for me to remember what it was that made me happy as an 18-year-old. It’s like I’m at the end of a tunnel, and I can’t see the other end anymore. And I couldn’t see this end of the tunnel when I was at the beginning of it! It’s hard to say ‘would you go back?’ because you really can’t remember what it was like, and at the same time there are parts of my life that I wouldn’t dream of giving up. I wouldn’t say we’ve made any mistakes, I think we’re just trying to make sure that we don’t make any in the future.”
As a solo artist George, will your writing be as prolific as it was for Wham! or will you take your time over the first album?
George: (jesting) “Actually I was thinking of taking five years off to write a bagpipe symphony called – ‘Symphony In B For The Bagpipe’! No, I am going to take a little longer over the solo album but not because it’s more important to me, simply because from a songwriting point of view, Wham! had certain guidelines which I no longer have to stay within. I know exactly what people are expecting from me in terms of material, which is why the album can’t be that! It has to surprise people. I write MOR ballads which are very successful, but I also have the advantage of being only 22 years old with a whole market and a whole image that I can play around with. There are musical areas I feel I haven’t entered yet.”
Will you leave England and become a tax exile?
George: “People are incredibly misled about the amount of money that pop stars make. We are rich, I can buy myself a couple of properties to live in, but once I’ve done that I’m not going to have fortunes to throw around. And the solo album will cost an awful lot to make.”
Does success sometimes equal loneliness? When women throw themselves at your feet, are you suspicious about their motives?
George: “I have the close friends and family that I always had but you do miss making new friends. It’s so difficult to even have an initial conversation with someone because people are so frightened by their preconceptions of you, which almost always wrong! They’re terrified to talk to you and even when they do, they can’t give you anything of themselves, because they’re too busy trying to live up to something which they believe you think everyone should be (laughs) – glamorous, intelligent and rich! So yes, I do find it kind of alienating.”
What can’t money buy – apart from love?
George: “Well it can’t buy you quality in terms of what you do, it can buy me the best people to work with but it can’t buy me my next song. It can’t buy you quality of life but it can buy you luxury. It can buy you fake friends!”
(At this point Andrew walks back into the room, overhears the conversation and bursts into song.)
Andrew: “Can’t buy me love!”
George: (sarcastic) “We’ve already had that one thank you. That’s the most obvious thing you could possibly say!”
Andrew: Money can buy you beer and cars, magazines and chairs.”
George: “Fast women and sweets.”
Andrew: “Woodcarvings, lights and potatoes.”
George: “Ah! potatoes, very important that!”
Will you shed a tear after the last Wham! concert, George?
George: “It’ll be very emotional. Andrew and I have already agreed that we’re going to skip off hand in hand into the darkness through the crowd! Of course it’ll be a sad occasion, but it’ll also be very happy. I mean, for most people when they come to the end of something like this, it happens suddenly under bad circumstances with some kind of argument and not of their own choice. But how can you end Wham! any more perfectly than in front of 72,000 people, still good friends with hopefully a Number One record!”
In ten years time, who do you see yourself ending up like George? Would it be (a) Barry Manilow (b) Frank Sinatra or (c) Demis Roussous?
George: “Ah well, if I eat a lot it would be (c) wouldn’t it, because I’m Greek! But I don’t plan on getting fat. Barry Manilow and Frank Sinatra! (horrified) Oh God, I’d rather be six foot under than any of those ‘cos one of them’s incredibly ugly, one of them’s incredibly fat and one of them obviously has a very seedy past. So none of them! The thing is, if you think about it, there are people in the pop/rock area that are 32 years old and still making music for the very young. I just happened to start very early. It is true that I’ve almost done too much too young and it leaves me an awful long time to fill, but I think that’s exciting. That is my new challenge!”
Since the split there’ve been many accusations that George has been ‘carrying’ you all this time. Do you feel bitter about this?
George: “Not since he lost weight!”
Andrew: “Well it wasn’t the first time they’d accused me of being ‘carried’ and it was inevitable that it would happen because George had released his statement about leaving our management before he’d had a chance to talk to me – because I was racing at the time! So the press pounced on the angle that we must’ve fallen out and all the shit; everything that the papers wanted to say that they hadn’t been able to say up until then (not that they’d reserved much) came out! But it didn’t upset me because the people who wrote those things know absolutely nothing about me and George apart from what we choose to tell them. It’s not a personal criticism, it’s a criticism of a facet of what we do as people – the band – which is only one part of our lives.”
But you haven’t been given much credit for Wham!’s success.
Andrew: “I know, I know, but if people aren’t intelligent enough to understand what it is that makes a band … I mean it took them forever and a day to realise that George could write songs! George does the majority of work in Wham! because he’s the best equipped to do so. That was a conclusion we arrived at very early in our careers.”
So what do you think has been your most valuable contribution to Wham!?
Andrew: “I suppose actually getting George to be in a band when he was 16 because he kept putting it off! But I’ve said it a hundred times – neither of us can define what made Wham! special. A band that captures imagination has got to have some real sort of intangible essence. But people always try to find a label for whatever it is you have, so they call you ‘intellectual’ or ‘mystical’ or ‘out and out crazy bastards’! And if they can’t tag it, they get frustrated. What made Wham! special has got a lot to do with what we have as friends. George and I have something in the band, in pictures, on stage, together – that we don’t have apart. And that’s the biggest part of my contribution.”
George: “Two heads are better than one!” (George actually said something much ruder than this but as No. 1 is such a clean-living magazine, you’ll have to use your imaginations!)
Do you see your face as your fortune now?
Andrew: “The idea of making films is very attractive. I like watching myself on film (it’s a bit vain but most people are a bit vain!) and when you see a film and identify with a particular character, you think, ‘Yeah! I’d love to play that role’. I’ve been in love with the cinema since I was a kid but I know what filming’s like and it’s like this bloody video we’re shooting tonight. It takes forever and a day! I’m definitely going to have to take acting lessons because it must be a strain to have to just ‘click’ into a role and be a professional, and I’m not sure if I’m able to do it. I’d like to break myself in gently, it’d be disastrous to go into a major role. There have been some firm offers but nothing’s been quite right yet.”
What sort of parts would you like to play?
Andrew: “I see myself in adventure films like Indiana Jones, big parodies, big cinema characters. I’m not interested in portraying real people, I like the heroes, the flash things!”
How’s the racing going? Have you won anything yet or do you just keep crashing?
Andrew: “It’s going to take me a while before I win anything! I’m still a novice but it’s going well. The thing is, every tenth of a second counts in racing, it’s so competitive and there’s a stepladder that you have to progress along with the different types of cars. I’m not just going it for fun, I’ve definitely got something I want to prove to myself. I want to find out whether I’m capable of competing at a fairly good level and if I’m not – fine! I’ll just drive in races where there’s not so much at stake. But I’ll always do it.”
Do you actually like dicing with death?
Andrew: “I love the competition, the speed, pitting your wits against the car. You’re competing against yourself, the car, the track and the other drivers, there’s so many elements to it and it’s incredibly exciting. You can always tell when you’ve done a fast lap because you’re sweating and you’re scared. It’s a real kick!”
When you were a ‘young gun’ did you used to bomb around on a motorbike?
Andrew: “No, I didn’t! I didn’t get my license until I was 19 because I was just too lazy. My parents wouldn’t pay for me to have lessons so I had to save up £65 for a course and then my driving instructor nicked off with the money! That set me back six months and I didn’t pass first time. Not like George!”
Are you still a ‘lad’ at heart? Is it fair to say you haven’t matured as much as George?
Andrew: “I’d say there’s fairly conclusive evidence of that, yes!”
George: “I was too mature to be a lad when I was six!”
Andrew: “He can be boyish when he wants to. I’m definitely boyish and I like fairly laddish things but I’m actually too old now to drink as much as I used to. I used to get drunk about three times a week and now it’s only once a month.”
George: “I think you look almost as young as when we started now you’ve lost weight.”
Andrew: “Do you? I think I look older than I’ve ever done on the cover of our last single.”
Is the South of France your home now or will you come back to England eventually?
Andrew: “I think I’ll come back to England sooner or later but it’s fantastic where I am now, I’ve always liked that part of Europe and I’ve finally made a couple of good friends down there. The problem with England is the weather, the winters are so harsh!”
George: (puts on a Scottish accent) “Och, they’re soooo harsh!”
Andrew: “Aye! They’re nooo good for an old man.”
George: “The cold gets right into ya booons.”
Andrew: “When you have good weather day after day you wanna get up, go out and do things but here you just want to pull up the bedsheets.”
George: “I can remember when I was a little boy, I was on my way to get the school bus one winter and it was so cold I thought to myself, ‘If I ever make any bloody money I’m going to get out of this country!’ Funny how you remember certain thoughts!”
Don’t you miss each other with Andrew being in France?
Andrew: “I like to come back about once a month to see Yog and my other friends.”
George: “It must be worse for you.”
Andrew: “It’s not too bad now I’ve made a few friends but if I had to spend six months with no contact, that really would have an effect on me.”
George: (whispering aside to me) “Actually I’ve written to a few people in Monaco and said, ‘Andrew doesn’t know you can’t stand him, please make out that you think he’s a nice guy’. He’s a bit lonely you see, because no one understands that type of b*****d over there!”
Does Donya live with you all the time now Andrew?
Andrew: “Yes and I’m badgering her to do some housework! We’re supposed to share it but she’s worse than me. I cook the dinner and I have to wash up as well! (Here George’s sister Mel chips in, “She’s got the right idea mate!”) When she does cook she always makes (Andrew gets riled and tongue-tied here) the most mess, oh! that really gets me y’know! When every single plate in the house, every single knife and fork is used to cook one poxy meal. When I do it I use the minimum but her – there’s mountains of bloody washing up! (Andrew does an impression here of ‘Donya cooking’ by using things and throwing them willy nilly behind her).
Mel: “That’s why our mum never gets dad to cook or she’d be cleaning it off the walls till next week – ‘Where’s yer dinner? S’on the wall!”
Andrew: “But she did all the floors the other day. Marble floors y’see, you really have to keep them clean. Everything’s marble down there, it must be cheap in Italy because they’ve got a lot of it. Leftovers from the Romans! Nice, but cold on the toots!”
Have you bought this flat and furnished it all?
Andrew: “We’re renting it but we furnished it. It was funny, the estate agent had an interior designer friend who did these sketches of a kitchen for me and he’d drawn in all these ghastly gold discs and guitars round the walls – unbelievable! I’ve just bought a washing machine but I can’t use it because I can’t get it open, and I can’t get it open because I can’t plug it in, and I can’t plug it in because I don’t know how to wire it up, and I don’t know how to wire it up because the instructions are inside the washing machine! We had to take all our washing to the launderette, it cost us £97!”
Was it love at first sight with Donya and do you intend to get married?
Andrew: “It was definitely a ‘big thrill’ at first sight. You only really grow to love someone when you can spend time with them and appreciate everything about them, otherwise it’s just lust at first sight isn’t it? Marriage doesn’t mean much to me but if we had kids, I think marriage gives the family credibility. If you’ve got a mum and dad and they’re married, then it’s a family. But if they’re not, then there’s just something missing.”
Is the music business over for you now Andrew?
Andrew: “No, I’m not going to turn my back on it completely. For the moment the passion’s died a bit but I might do some work on my own in the future. I would like to release just one single. I’m a better guitarist than I was two years ago, I’m still not a good guitarist and I might never be! Almost anyone can write a song but to write a song that would be on the same level as the quality of the songs that we’re used to releasing – that’d be a challenge. To actually write it, arrange it and sing it myself.”
Are you investing your money wisely or being extravagant with it?
Andrew: “I’m spending a lot on motor racing but I have got a mania for cars and I would like to have a nice collection of them. But otherwise I’m not extravagant, neither George or I ever have been, that’s the way we were brought up. I don’t want yachts or private aircraft, I don’t want to stay in fabulous hotels all the time. I haven’t got that sort of money to waste!”
George: “I waste money on clothes, I’ll spend a grand on a jacket and leave it screwed up at the bottom of a suitcase. (I look shocked and George looks guilty.) I know, it’s ridiculous enough buying clothes that cost that much but then not to look after them is really obscene!”
Andrew: “Smack his wrists. Smack his naked botty!”
George: “I’ve yet to see whether I look after my car or not, I think I will.”
Andrew: “What do you mean by ‘looking after’ it? I bet you only get as far as giving it the odd wash.”
George: “Of course I’m not going to wash the bloody thing, you’re joking!”
Andrew: (looks slightly disgusted) “Well that’s normally what’s meant by looking after it!”
Does Wham! splitting up feel like a divorce? Who gets to keep all the gold records?
George: “You’re joking, he’s not getting half of what I do! We’ve got gold records with separate names on (sounds childish) – we never had them with Wham! written on!”
Andrew: “We always had ‘Mine’s nicer than his’ written on them, and mine were real gold!”
George: “I’m just thankful we never got married.”
Andrew: “We’re retiring the band anyway.”
George: “Oh, that word again, you keep saying that. You make it sound as if we’ve been together for decades!”
Andrew: “No, no, you’ve missed the point. In CIA terms (Andrew looks sinister and puts on his best James Bond voice) it means (he does a gunshot noise) Peeow! We’re retiring the agent – termination! It’s a professional divorce, it has nothing to do with our friendship because we still don’t like each other!”
George: “We’d only stay together for the children’s sake.”
Andrew: “The band has reached the ripe old age of four and it’s just got too big for its bloody boots if you ask me!”
I’ll bet you get together again one day, the way bands like Status Quo keep doing!
George: “Oh we’re bound to one day, we’ll do it once, we’re bound to! And we’ll play ‘Rockin’ All Over The World’ in five years’ time.”
Andrew: “We’ll do a one-off just for fun, it won’t be for financial reasons.”
George: “In five years time we’ll probably be broke anyway!”
Andrew: “Well even if we are, we’ll say it’s for fun!”
Andrew, in ten years time, who do you think you’ll end up like? Will it be (a) Rod Stewart (b) Dean Martin or (c) Oliver Reed?
Andrew: “Bloody ‘ell, do I have to choose one? What did George choose?”
He copped out, he said he’d rather be dead.
Andrew: “I don’t know anything about Dean Martin or Oliver Reed. Oliver Reed gets in fights and drinks and has a lot of fun doesn’t he? I suppose he’d be okay. Er … which one of ’em likes motorcars?”
- An Audience with George Michael: Interview with Chris Evans (1996)
- Andrew Ridgeley on Life With and After Wham! (Hello!, 1997)
- Wham! Teen Dreams Come True (NME, 1983)
- George Michael in Q Magazine Interview (October 1990)
- George Michael’s Interview with the Gay Magazine ‘The Advocate’ (1999)