The article “Not So Young Guns” by Tony Parsons was published by the Australian magazine Juice in February 1998.
But that made Wham! truly special was that they were based on a real friendship, a friendship that began when George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley were 12 years old and endured even after they played their final concert in front of a sold-out Wembley Stadium in 1986. They were still only 23 years old.
Wham! was where George Michael started to become one of the most acclaimed songwriters in the world – and one of the most accomplished songwriters in the world – where his dreams started to come true. As he prepared for the release of If You Were There – The Best of Wham!, JUICE talked to him at his London home about the best days of his life.
Listening to the new Wham! ‘Best Of,’ what strikes me most is the mad, youthful optimism of the music. It’s very young, very uplifting music – music to make people feel good. Eleven years after the end of the band, how do you feel about Wham! now?
That has always been music’s major use – to make people feel good. And the older you get, the more you realise how important that is – to make people feel good. That’s what Wham! were all about. That’s why Wham! existed. And of course some people didn’t like a group that had such a simple ambition.
Listening to Wham! now I see I’ve turned a corner where the reservation and criticism that some people had – that it is a young, elated music, music that’s full of joy, music for the sake of making you feel good – all those criticisms just seem so childish. When you get older and you realise how much pain is out there in the world, it makes you realise just how much people need music and how amazing music is as a form of therapy. That‘s exactly what Wham! represented to me.
You didn‘t always regard those days with such affection. I can remember meeting you in 1985, at the very peak
ot Wham!’s success, and there was a lot about your career at the time that you didn’t enjoy – the constant media scrutiny, the mobs of girls chasing you everywhere, the punishing work schedule, the assumption that two good-looking boys like you and Andrew were airheads because sometimes you wore swimming trunks in your videos. Has your attitude to Wham! changed with the years?
When I listen to Wham! now I hear two young men who are having the best time of their lives. The best time they would ever have. There’s a window in there where I was blissfully
Wham! were shamelessly joyful. I know I wasn’t cool – but I didn’t know how to be cred. I had no idea of what to wear. I had no real idea about adult sex. I was just a kid with a smart music head. I couldn’t try to be cool. I didn’t know how to be cool. So Andrew and I just had a laugh. I was smart musically but at the same time there was a certain childishness about it all – and that’s what made the records so good.
I listen to Wham! now and it’s amazing the joy in it, the spirit of it. It’s such young music – there’s the assumption that life is going to keep on getting better. I listen to myself Singing in Wham! and I think to myself, “Who is that person?” And I know who he is, and I know who that was – two kids at the top of a dream. I see now that they were the happiest days of my life.
At 34, I can see now that you have this fantastic period in the middle of your life in between living with your parents and settling down. It’s a shame when – probably for the purposes of making sure you go out shagging and procreate – you have this period between your past and your future when you can briefly be your own creation. That was Wham! for me.
l remember having a conversation with someone about “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go.” At the time l was making it I said, “People who hate this record now will be dancing to it at their birthday party in 10 or 15 years’ time.” And I saw the last episode of the BBC series This Life where all the characters are in their late twenties now, prime material for being Wham! fans in mid-puberty, when Wham! was about. And the very last scene in the series was them all going mental and dancing to “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go.” I thought, “That’s what I was talking about.”
Because you’ve had such success as a solo artist, there’s a tendency to see Wham! merely as your training ground. But Wham! was very much a group, wasn‘t it? It wouldn’t be overstating it to say that Wham! was built on your songwriting and Andrew Ridgeley’s personality. I mean, Wham!’s public image was very cheeky, very confident, very much full of swagger and strut – and that’s pretty much what Andrew was like at the time.
When I was younger I was offended by the assertion of Wham‘s former manager that Wham! was the real Andrew and the fake Andrew – meaning me. Musically, of
I am not saying that he blames me in any way but it has pushed him from the past. He really wants nothing to do with the music industry. He doesn’t want to hear about it, he doesn’t want to talk about it. And ultimately, it’s my life. He has his life, it’s very different from mine. There’s certainly no strain between us, or a rift, but we don’t see each other because he lives in Cornwall and he wants to move on.
Your mother died last February. Is your relationship to the UK much different now that she has gone? My ties with this country are definitely less now that my Mum has died. I don‘t love this country any less than l did before my Mum’s death, but when you lose a parent, even if you loved them very much, it gives you a different perspective. It’s hard to decipher if that’s because she’s gone or because there are too many memories here.
I’m starting to be grateful for her life rather than being upset about her death. She was a great mum and l was lucky to have her for a mum. I went through denial – not that I didn’t get really upset. I got really upset. It was just as harrowing for me as it was for the rest of my family. But I worked like a demon. I was in the studio doing a remix of “Star People” two days after she died. Almost in defiance. Because I do genuinely believe that my mum would have done something very special under different circumstances and I think I was her outlet, genetically. And then l did that single “Waltz Away Dreaming,” which was about her. I had this rush of musical energy that I was trying to express – trying to make as much noise as I could with what she had given me.
How has the success you’ve had as a solo artist changed you from the boy you were in Wham!?
I appreciate having my music. I don’t have a great appreciation of money. I didn’t go into it for the money. Money has not protected me in any way from the things I have gone through emotionally.
But I am aware that people have gone through the kind of tragedy that I’ve gone through without having anything to hold on to. They don’t have the money – and it’s nicer crying your eyes out in a nice, warm house and having the option to go off somewhere tomorrow if you don’t like being where you are. I’ve been able to afford that luxury. And some people go through what I’ve gone through and are still desperately trying to pay the bills. But more than money, I appreciate having this amazing thing that keeps me going – I have to write and make music. Apart from being cathartic, it’s a joy for me and a joy for other people. And I have this relationship with the public who don’t know necessarily what my life is like or has been like. My career isn’t my lifeline. Making music is my lifeline – it means having something always to turn to. I have written a lot of sad things that people can relate
Although you rarely give interviews, I always think of you
as the most autobiographical of all the big stars. You use your life as the raw material for your work, don’t you?
I have written directly about what happened to me. But that period is over. What am I going to do? Write an album about losing my mum?
It sounds as though you are trying to return to the essence of what Wham! was about.
I feel more affection for Wham! as time goes on. I can’t pretend that I’m going to go out and make “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” but my next album is not going to a down album. I want to make some great pop music before I get too old. Listening to
- Andrew Ridgeley on Life With and After Wham! (Hello!, 1997)
- Last Wham! Interview: No. 1 Magazine (1986)
- George Michael Interview with Capital FM Radio with Dr. Fox (Dec 1998)
- An Audience with George Michael: Interview with Chris Evans (1996)
- Wham! You’re On Your Own, George (Sunday Times, 1986)