The article “Wham: Why We’ve Reached Breaking Point” was written by David Thomas and published in the March 9, 1985 issue of No 1 magazine.
After a year of staggering success, Wham
are taking a break. Passing through London recently, George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley stopped to explain it all to No. 1, and to look back over their years together…
If it wasn’t for the girls gathered
There’s no luxury inside the small building in a Central London side street. Just an incredible clutter of records, photographs, press cuttings and letters from George and Andrew waiting to be posted to their fans. A small, hard-working and somewhat harrassed staff are trying desperately to cope with the flood of work brought on by Wham’s international superstardom.
Nevermind, things should be calming down a little soon, because Wham
They’re also going to be taking a long, hard look at their future.
When I met George, he had just come from a shopping trip in the West End. So many people had approached him, or just stood and stared at him, that he had been unable to buy anything.
For two people whose most striking features – looks aside – are their normality and politeness, fame is a drug to which they do not necessarily want to become addicted.
Assuming that you stay this successful, can you face another ten years of fame?
George: I don’t think I can face another year of it. Over the last two years, every jump forward we’ve made has been so according to plan, that I do find it very hard to believe people when they tell me that it’ll be OK and all the publicity will go down.
The honest truth about most of the people that the public let go of is that their records get a bit lousy. But I think that I can repeat the success of the last album without repeating myself creatively.
If I can take a long break and sit back and say, ‘What was good about the last album? What wasn’t good about it?’, I feel sure I can do it again.
I really can’t see
But I need to take a break to decide whether we want to continue the way we are, with the image that we have at the moment being so public.
The way we work at the moment does everything to
I have to decide whether we’re going to come back with the same sort of idea, or whether we’re going to try to do as much as we can to stay out of the public eye.
I could move my writing to something that is going to keep us functioning as a band, but won’t reach the same number of people.
But that’s like deliberately getting relegated to the second division.
George: Exactly. I don’t know … I’ll have to see. I’ll also have to see how much I miss the attention. I know I’d feel better about it if it had been my own choice.
Every step I’ve made so far, both as a person and as a businessman, has been my own choice. I haven’t been pushed into any corners that I haven’t wanted to be in.
Was there ever a time in your life when attention was something that you positively wanted?
George: Definitely. It must have been what I wanted from
Were you the kind of kid that was very prominent in a classroom or a playground?
George: I was in the middle; I needed followers, but that wasn’t incredibly loud, so I got the real lousy followers.
At a certain age, about nine, I
Andrew was the first friend I had who was as strong as me character-wise. That’s why I didn’t need anyone else after that.
Do you boss people about now?
George: I definitely boss people about at work, but I’m a different person at work. I mean, I’m a different person talking to you now than I am when I’m off duty. I can’t help it. But
Andrew: He has to be authoritative, but that’s not the same as being bossy.
How important an experience was leaving school and being unemployed?
Andrew: It wasn’t an educational experience like some people have. It was very much like a holiday, especially for me. George was doing some work, but I wasn’t.
George (to Andrew): I remember us sitting down at one point and it was getting you down. I had much more to do. I was making a bit of money for myself as a DJ and a cinema usher.
It was definitely not very pleasant after a while, was it? I had that bit of independence, but I could see that it was pissing off Andrew a bit.
Mind you, not enough to get a job!
He used to go to interviews and describe them to me
Andrew: That’s true. I did once get offered a job in a record shop, but retail work is awful, particularly if you’re serving. I wouldn’t have minded the other aspects of being in a record
George: Like stealing the records! That’s exactly what he would have done.
What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t musicians?
George: There’s no way that I wouldn’t still be trying to become one. I never wanted to be anything other than …
Andrew: … rich and famous. I’m not sure that I’d be doing anything.
How important were, or
are, your family backgrounds?
George: Very important. One of the reasons we’re able to supply such straightforward and commercial entertainment is that all the clichés that are incorporated into what we do – which are the reasons for our success – are related to our backgrounds, which are very middle-class.
Well, my family weren’t originally middle-class, but as long as I remember I never really went without anything. We moved into a middle-class area when I was about eleven so throughout my main growing-up period I always had everything I needed.
My Dad never gave me any money, but I always had a secure home where people didn’t fight. And it was a nice big house and my Dad had a nice big car.
Everything was very secure. The stability of both of our backgrounds has got a lot to do with the fact that a lot of what we do is straight down the middle of the road.
Which is also why not only do kids want to be like Wham, but their parents would want them to be like that too.
George: That’s true, but it’s a horrible thing to think. Most parents’ idea of how their children should be
Andrew: I can’t see why most parents shouldn’t want their kids to be like us, although that’s a bit wholesome – a bit like stage school. If you’re going to be a pop star, be a pop star like Wham. I accept that. We don’t try to shock or go out of our way to be controversial.
George: We don’t wear make-up or sing about coming.
How true to life is your image?
Andrew: Very true. The difference between us and a lot of people’s perceptions of rock ‘n’ roll, is that people used to really live rock ‘n’ roll – driving Rolls Royces into swimming pools and so on.
We’ve always perceived what we do
Do you both still live at home with your parents?
George: Yes. The trouble is that the moment CBS gave us the money to buy houses we had our first No. 1 and we’ve only had about three days off since.
I was thinking today, I’m going to have to get someone to design my living
Andrew: It’s strange, I was thinking about that too! I can’t
George: There’s no way you can get away from that. What are you going to do – steal all your mum’s furniture? I was once shown around Elton John’s house by Bernie Taupin’s wife and I was literally laughing because it’s so stupendously huge.
Anyway, I mention it because she showed me this piece of furniture by Bugatti, who’s incredibly famous, and it was horrendous. I don’t care how educated you are, if something’s ugly, it’s ugly, no matter what its history is.
Speaking of history – your manager Simon Napier-Bell suggested to me that people like yourselves, who are the children of immigrants have always tended to see success in material terms. He thought that was one of the reasons your work was so unashamedly commercial. Is that a fair comment?
George: I don’t think it has any relevance at all because we both feel very English.
Andrew: I’m from a much more unusual background than George in the respect that although my father was born in Alexandria, Egypt, he went to a private school in England and he had very middle-class attitudes.
My mother was just the same – my grandfather used to row for England – and there’s never been that materialistic mentality. It’s always been a case of deferred gratification.
The aims were always intellectual.
George: I had the same thing because although both my parents came from working-class backgrounds, my mother’s mother came from a good family and married beneath it into poverty. But she brought my mother up with a good speaking voice and tried to give her middle-class attitudes.
My father was the typical Greek who comes to London and works 24 hours a day and just sees the kids before they go to bed, so his views were never impressed upon me when I was very young.
I always saw it through my mother’s eyes in terms of what I should be after, and it wasn’t money.
Mind you (to Andrew) your family pictures of when you were a little boy are a lot prettier than mine are – my father and mother were running a little fish ‘n’ chip shop in Muswell Hill.
This is an entirely trivial question for George. In most stories about your youth, they make a great play about the fact that you were fat …
George: …and ugly and spotty, yeah. Actually, I was never spotty. I never had acne.
But I was fat and I had glasses and I had one very bushy eyebrow that joined very thickly in the middle.
I am probably the most changed person I know. I see pictures of myself five or six years ago and compare them with pictures of myself now and it really doesn’t look like the same person at all.
How much do you think that people’s perceptions of you now are affected by the image that they’ve been fed?
George: You mean, do they see your face as being more attractive than they otherwise would do? Yes, definitely they do. People didn’t use to stare at me like that.
Andrew: They used to stare at me like that.
George: There was a point early last year when our publicity started getting to the stage that people were saying we were sex symbols and I used to sit and think, ‘This is a new one’. I certainly have never felt worthy of being called that. I felt like
The press became obsessed
by your sex lives.
George: The reason that happened is very basic. They’d had six months of Boy George, who wouldn’t talk about his sex life, although everyone had their own vague idea and didn’t particularly want to know the details.
Then they had Frankie Goes To Hollywood, who were out to say that they had abnormal sex lives.
The original stories were totally fabricated by the papers and the second lot were fabricated by us.
We thought that if they were going to write rubbish about us, we might as well know what kind of rubbish it was. So we made most of it up and we had quite a laugh until we
Are you able to maintain a private life at all?
George: Of course.
Andrew: You just have to learn how to do it – although it is becoming increasingly difficult.
George: I think the main problem is that I’m extremely suspicious of most people I meet nowadays, and probably rightly so. The better thing to do would be to try to ignore that
Andrew: I’m not as suspicious as George, but I have all the friends I need. I don’t need to meet other people.
- After George Michael Strained His Back (Smash Hits, 1985)
- Wham! In China (Part 1), Smash Hits Magazine (1985)
- Wham! The Art of Parties (No. 1 Magazine, 1983)
- Last Wham! Interview: No. 1 Magazine (1986)
- Wham! In China (Part 2), Smash Hits Magazine (1985)