The article Remember Wham! was written by Debbi Voller for The No. 1 Book 1987
In 1975. twelve-year-old Georgious Panayatiou spent his first day at Bushey Meads secondary school and sat next to Andrew Ridgeley in class.
Andrew was six months older and a bit of a loudmouth, but at break time George earned his respect by managing to knock him off a wall. They became friends.
Though he was Andrew’s equal when it came to wit and ego. George was a late developer on the fashion front. Tall for his age, he was plump, bespectacled and frizzy-haired. His mum chose all his clothes for him.
As they entered their teens, George developed a passion for music and Andrew developed a passion for fame. Together they spent hours listening to Elton John records, hatching plots and playing guitars in their bedrooms.
As George Michael reflects: “We both had the initial qualifications which make people stars, which is basically a need to (l) show off and (2) satisfy your own ego. You need that will to prove yourself to people.”
In 1979 Andrew went to college and George stayed on to take A Levels.
George kept putting off the idea of forming a band but Andrew kept on pushing and they formed a ska band called The Executive with a few friends. They went down well locally but split up the following year.
“THE DAY WE GOT OUR RECORD CONTRACT…”
1981 was the year that George left school and Andrew quit college. They signed on the dole and started venturing into trendy London nightclubs. At the same time they began writing their own songs.
George thrashed them out, Andrew chewed them over and if they both liked something, it was in. A line in one song went. ‘Wham! Bam! I am a man – it gave them their name.
But George was having trouble with his parents.
“I was a strong character. I fought my parents over being sent to private school when I was only 11 because by then I’d decided that there was no way I was going to be academic to the degree of going to university.
“My dad was in the restaurant business and he might have wanted me to help out there – until he realised how bad I was at it! – but he really wanted me to become a lawyer or a doctor. I wanted to get my ears pierced – and he threatened to throw me out of the house if I did.
“The day we got our record contract I came home with both ears pierced and he didn’t say a word!”
George was committed to the idea of Wham! Everything would be done with care and consistency, passion and energy, but with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour.
“ALL WE WANTED WAS TO BE A POP BAND …”
Most importantly, Wham! were going to be very, very big.
George explains: “On the most basic level, we wanted to be a huge pop band and do something that lacked all the cynicism of the late 60s, the whole of the 70s and the early 80s – that idea that it was wrong just to want to be a pop band.
“Eventually most bands do an about-turn. We’re the only people I can remember in the last five or six years that didn’t turn around and try to be taken desperately seriously by changing our music.
“I mean, our last Wham! single ‘Edge of Heaven’ was as Wham! as any of our earlier songs.*’
But many critics thought Wham! was a sham – and George and Andy were calculating con-men.
George protests. “Wham! was calculated in terms of a career but I think
‘calculated’ is a harsh word because it suggests there was no passion involved.
“We were just lucky that our biggest selling records and our main success was happening at the time when everyone was raving about English bands, the world market had just opened up again and we realised we could ride that wave if we worked hard.
“ ‘Bad Boys’ was the only real point where we put calculation above passion.”
“We’ve never been spontaneous, but there’s no way that any of the best pop groups have ever been spontaneous. Everything’s been done with real care.”
“YOU CAN’T HIDE THE EXCITEMENT OF BEING A STAR AT 18…”
But the laddishness of Wham! was spontaneous.
“Of course. We were genuinely two 18-year-olds at the start, you can’t remove that. You can’t hide that excitement of being 18 and being a pop star, it’s just there.
“But to try and keep that feeling when you’ve grown up and it’s no longer there is worse than calculation, it’s just fake and it looks ridiculous.”
In March 1982 Wham! signed to InnerVision, a record company set by an old friend, Mark Dean.
Their debut single ‘Wham! Rap’ was released in June and the sound was spot on for the summer since both rapping and ‘hard times’ were fashionable.
Although it failed to chart first time around, it caused a stir with its boast that you could have fun on the dole.
‘Young Guns’ followed in September and reached No. 3. This time they sang about staying free and single – and were accused of being ‘anti-girls’.
For ‘Bad Boys’, George and Andrew posed and sneered in leather like stereotype rebels and sang about being “handsome, tall and strong”.
The record reached No. 2 and they were accused of being arrogant prats.
‘Club Tropicana’ sported a glossy tropical video with Wham! acting like flashy jet-setting sunseekers. It reached No. 4 and they were accused of being arrogant prats with a suntan.
“I CAN’T BLAME PEOPLE FOR THINKING WE WERE PRATS…”
When they released a debut LP with the modest title of ‘Fantastic’, and then
stuffed shuttlecocks down their shorts on the Club Fantastic tour, it was the last straw.
“All right, ‘Bad Boys’ was dreadful,” George admits. “But the first two singles and ‘Club Tropicana’ were really tongue-in-cheek, people just weren’t listening. Most people just saw the superficial ideas that came out of the videos or the songs.
“So for ‘Wham! Rap’ they thought we were hip, unemployed kids who were saying how wonderful the dole was – when it was really a satire.
“For ‘Young Guns’ everyone thought we were sexist when it was supposed to be a parody of sexism. And again, ‘Bad Boys’ was a parody of that kind of young rebel image.
“And ‘Club Tropicana’ was a joke about the glamorous idea everyone had then about the club scene in London.
“But everyone thought we meant everything we were singing, in which case I can’t blame them for thinking we were total prats.
“So we decided to get rid of the humour which people were misinterpreting and just get down to the music. It was just a matter of plugging away with consistently good records and eventually I think we covered the whole musical spectrum.”
One thing that was certainly no joke was Wham!’s deal with InnerVision. George and Andy felt they could do better elsewhere, and engaged legendary pop manager Simon Napier-Bell to get them out of their contract.
From October ’83 until March ’84 Wham! got dragged through the courts as
Bell and Dean fought a legal tug of war.
Wham! were forced into a five-month silence at the height of their popularity and InnerVision cheekily released a ‘Club Fantastic Megamix’ which Wham! urged their fans not to buy.
George and Andrew took advantage of the lime off by laying plans for 1984. When all this was over, they were determined to come back with a BANG!
“WE TOLD THEM ABOUT SEX. MOST OF IT WAS RUBBISH…”
And. in 1984, everything really did go according to plan. They bounced back in May with one of the most jauntily irresistible singles ever – “W3kc Me Up Before You Go Go’ – custom-made for the No. I spot. It got there in no time flat.
Wham! were big news now. big enough for the press to take an interest in their sex lives – especially when George’s solo single and steamy video for ‘Careless Whisper’ transformed him overnight into a passionate sex symbol.
At first George and Andrew refused to play the game and talk about how much time they spent in bed and with whom, but so-called ex-lovers kept popping out of the woodwork to spin elaborate sexual yams… and what Reel Street didn’t know, they made up.
“We actually only talked about our sex lives once,” George points out. “when the News Of The World started getting really personal. At first we said. ‘Sod off. we’re not going to tell you anything’ – but then they started inventing stories. And because we were still in a position where we courted and needed publicity, we agreed to talk.
“We gave them the sensationalism they wanted – and most of it was rubbish. But at the end of the day we just made total prats of ourselves again!”
That July, George’s first solo record ‘Careless W’hispcr’ got to No. I. In October ‘Freedom’ did the hat trick. In November the new album ‘Make It Big’ got to No. 1 and ‘Wake Me Up’ hit the top in America.
In December ‘Last Christmas’ only reached No. 2, but not to worry, George was singing on the No. 1 record at the time anyway – Band Aid’s ‘Feed The World’.
Phew! Success was becoming as routine as a wash and brush up to George and Andrew, so they decided to set themselves new challenges for 1985 … like a world tour which took in a trip to China and stadium shows in America.
‘WHAM! HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH REAL LIFE …”
As ever, success stayed on their side.
Only two records were released in ’85, ‘Everything She Wants’ (which was actually ‘Last Christmas’ flipped over) and ‘I’m Your Man’. But ‘Careless Whisper’ earned George the coveted Ivor Novello award for songwriting.
It was presented to him by his hero Elton John. George broke down and cried.
This was obviously an emotional time for him, but his fans had no idea just how emotional. No one yet realised that Wham! had decided to split.
Andrew explains: “It had reached a point where if we let the group get any bigger, it really could start to control us and become this vast thing that’s more important than your life!”
Andrew had found a new passion for racing cars, a steady model girlfriend called Donia Fiorentino, and a house in the South of France. Wham! weren’t so much growing apart, as simply growing up.
“We’ve got that much older,” says George. “When you’re 18 you want to prove things to everybody and being a pop star looks extremely attractive.
“But we were both a bit too bright not to notice that what we’d been going for was exceedingly shallow.
“Both of us recognise the bullshit far too much to want to live it for the rest of our lives. There’s no way of avoiding the bullshit when you’re Wham! because Wham! represents show business and all these things that are nothing to do with real life.
“We both just wanted to step back from that. So about a year-and-a-half before it happened we planned the split and informed our manager Simon Napier-Bell. We planned to stop while we were on top.
“We decided that June or July ’86 would be the perfect time to do the last concert.
“But then I heard rumours about our management company, rumours that they were selling to another company with strong South African connections.
Simon pretended to be ignorant about it.
“He was dishonest and I couldn’t continue a relationship where there’d been any lying.
“So I tried to get in touch with Andrew, but he was racing in France. I had to make a statement quickly before we were tarred with the same brush, especially as I’d made plans to work with black artists (like Aretha Franklin).
“When the press went to Simon he tried to take the heat off himself by saying that I was really splitting with Andrew, not him. He was trying to clear his name but he shouldn’t have tried to rubbish my relationship with Andrew.
“Who manages me at the moment?
No one, I manage myself!”
“THE INTANGIBLE ESSENCE OF WHAM!…”
The cynics had a field day with the split stories. The press accused Andrew of being talentless and made out that George had been reluctantly carrying him all these years.
Andrew smiles and admits: “It’s absolutely true that George did do the majority of the work in Wham!, but he was the best equipped to do so. He’s the best songwriter and the best singer. That was a conclusion we arrived at very early on and it was my decision not to force my ideas into the group because it would’ve been to our detriment.”
The best way Andrew can describe their relationship is as “an intangible essence that can’t be tagged”.
Whatever it was, it worked.
- Last Wham! Interview: No. 1 Magazine (1986)
- A Year in the Life of Wham! as Told by George Michael (Smash Hits Yearbook, 1986)
- Wham! Teen Dreams Come True (NME, 1983)
- George Michael: Artist or Airhead? (Musician, 1988)
- An Audience with George Michael: Interview with Chris Evans (1996)