Interview with Wham! backing singer Pepsi Demarque by Sally Morgan published in the November 25, 2019 edition of Hello Magazine UK.
As one of the backing singers of the 1980s pop group Wham!, Helen “Pepsi” DeMacque was among George Michael’s closest friends.
Now, on the release of film Last Christmas — inspired by and featuring 12 of the global superstar’s greatest hits — she exclusively tells Hello! how the romantic comedy brings back happy memories of the singer.
“What moves me most is the soundtrack,” says Pepsi from her Caribbean home. “The title song Last Christmas takes me back to the heartwarming video we made to go with it.”
Set against the snowy backdrop of the Swiss Alps, the video for the 1984 hit, which is one of the most played Christmas song of the 21st century, chose George and his Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley frolicking in the snow with Pepsi and her fellow backing singer Shirley Holliman.
“The laughter and sense of fun were real,” recalls Pepsi. “George always wanted to bring his friends together and making this video was a magical moment for us all.”
Hoping to capture some of that magical mood is the film Last Christmas, which stars Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, and Dame Emma Thompson — who co-wrote the script and included new track This is How (We Want You To Get High) after receiving George’s blessing in 2013.
“When I heard that song I thought: ‘This is amazing,” says Pepsi. So I told George using the nickname we gave him: “Yog, you’ve gone and done it. This is a good ‘un; this is really you.”
The vocalist, who also sang in the pop duo Pepsi & Shirlie, recalls how Christmas was a special time of year for George.
“He loved it,” says Pepsi, 60, who now runs a charter sailing company and youth programme, Jus’ Sail, with her husband James Crockett in Saint Lucia. “George was very generous and would buy everyone a surprise gift. One year Shirley and I received portable TVs, another year video cameras. Over time the gifts became more extravagant, such as amazing hampers full of incredible food and fine wine.
“One Christmas he gave me a set the cutlery, which we use when we have dinner parties. He had foresight in the gifts he gave and I’ll treasure them forever.”
Pepsi was celebrating Christmas 2016 with her husband in St Lucia when she received the call telling her George had died. The singer, who was 53, passed away due to a heart condition at his home in Goring-on-Thames.
“It felt as if everything around me had stopped. Even though it seems unbelievable. I miss him not being on the planet.
“It’s always a shock when someone goes sooner than they should.”
Pepsi has been a practicing Buddhist for 40 years. We are all going to pass, but that’s part of life. My faith keeps my feet on the ground and has helped me since George died. I believe in spirituality, that there’s an energy beyond us we can tap into.
“George had a sense of spirituality, too. He wanted to live well, be free and was caring and loving to his family and close friends. There was a beauty about him — his music was one thing but, as a human being, he was very special.
“What everyone saw on the screen was George the superstar with slick hair, but the George I knew love to wear jumpers, hang out at home, drink tea, just be cosy.”
Pepsi recalls how, after the breakup of the band over three decades ago, it sounds like old times whenever she was reunited with George, Andrew and Shirlie on visits to the UK. “Even when George wasn’t too well he still had the love, humor and laughter. It’s important for him to have his friends around him, the people he could be himself with. this is where he could be who he wanted to be, so he could be accepted as him, as “Yog.”
Pepsi will raise her glass this Christmas in a toast to her friend George Michael. “He’ll always be missed — and remembered — at Christmas,” she says. When I watch the film Last Christmas I’ll be thinking of him. I hope it’s uplifting message encourages people to stay close to the ones they love, just like he did.
- George Michael Interview with Capital FM Radio with Dr. Fox (Dec 1998)
- 12 Things You Need to Know About Wham!’s “Last Christmas” Song
- George Michael on Anselmo Feleppa
- Wham!’s Last Christmas: List of Cover Versions
- Emma Thompson on George Michael and the ‘Last Christmas’ Movie