“Wham!bling On” is part 2 of a two-part article written by Jo Devon for Tiger Beat, published in February 1986. Read Part 1 Born A WHAM!bling Man.
In this second and final part of the interview, Wham!
Andrew appeared less enamored (with stardom) to me on his return home from China. Is the pressure now getting to him?
Not the pressure of pop, but rather that of the press. They’ve been unkind to him recently. He never seems to get a chance to put his point of view across. I don’t blame him for his surly attitude or for the times he got physical, too – I believe he shoved photographers once or twice – but he’s getting rather tired of living his life in full view of the world. If you dared to remove those dark glasses he’s grown so fond of, I’m sure you’d find a really mean pair of eyes staring back.
Are you worried that his surly attitude may jeopardize Wham!’s relationship with the press?
It’s not my place to tell Andrew how to behave. Our relationship has never been one where we give each other advice. We understand our differences and we give each other space. My relationship with the press so far as been very good, but then, that’s me. Andy can’t help it if he gets fed up with people, and I’m sure he’ll come out of it soon, but I don’t intend to tell him to change his ways for the good of our career. That’s entirely up to him.
Do you think he ever feels he’s living in your shadow?
No. Andrew has no reason to feel that way. Wham! is George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley and it wouldn’t work any other way. He contributes a hell of a lot to the band. And don’t forget, we go back a long way together. I owe him a lot from younger days at school. He really took me in hand. I’d never bothered about my appearance and was very quiet and shy, whereas he was the loudmouth of the class. Everyone looked up to him, and at a time in your life when who you are with is as important as who you are, it’s admirable that Andrew bothered to take any time with me at all. He got me to swap my glasses for a pair of contact lenses, and he made me do something with my hair and about my clothes. From that point on, my social life began and I know it’s all due to him.
Were you and Andrew inseparable from that point on?
Yes, although I never had a chance to get to know anyone else. Andrew had decided that he was going to be my friend and that was it. He never gave me time to get to know anyone else. But it was our mutual love of music that kept us together as friends. We used to play truant from school to go to my house to listen to tapes. We were very much into Queen and Elton John at the time. Our teachers were worried about us both not doing our work. But we just used to tell them, “Don’t worry about us; we’re going to be rich and famous soon.”
How long have you known you wanted to be one of the world’s top pop stars?
From the age of seven (on), I wanted to be involved in a band. For my birthday that year I was given a cassette recorder and I used to tape songs to sing back to. I told my parents that I wanted to be a pop star and for a short while they humored me. But, by the time I’d got to the age of about 18 and still hadn’t changed my mind, I think that’s the point at which they began to worry about my future and my career.
Had your parents made plans for your career?
Yes. They had big ambitions for me. They wanted me to be a doctor or something in law. I was taking my A levels (exams) then. They even barred me from buying records or playing them in the house, thinking that would lessen my love for music. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s never tell a kid there’s something he’s not allowed to do! It only served to make me more determined than I’d ever been before. I used to sneak them into the house under my coat! I’m sure they’re glad I did now – they seem to enjoy my success more than me!
Andrew told me about one of the first parties he ever took you to. Do you remember that?
I think I know the one. He’d told me to buy a new pair of trousers, so I got some in bright green. They were absolutely revolting, but I was ever so proud of them then. I got totally plastered that night. It was the first time I’d ever been drunk and Andy had to take me home. I was staggering about all over the place and eventually fell flat on my face. My new green trousers got all dirty and I cried my eyes out. I was really upset because no one had said how nice my trousers looked – on top of which they were now all covered in mud. I thought my world had come to an end that night!
At the age of 16 you formed your first band, the Executive, which soon fell apart. Were you still as confident that one day you’d both be big in the world of pop?
I was, undoubtedly. Even though the Executive’s peak was a gig at our local scouts’ hut, I had total faith in my ability to make it to the top. I believe in myself both as a singer and a writer of good songs. Andrew was simply adamant that he’d be famous one day, but he wasn’t bothered for what reason that would be. At one point I think he’d made up his mind to be a famous footballer. Although he was pretty good at the game, he certainly wasn’t the best. But then Andrew can’t distinguish between the two – if someone tells him he’s good at something, he thinks he’s brilliant.
There aren’t many people who actually see their aspirations fulfilled, yet in spite of the incredible success of Wham!, you’re still surprisingly modest and shy.
Well I’ve always been pretty well-balanced and I came into this business sane. I intend to leave it the same way and the memory I have of me as a child is what keeps me that way. If ever there’s a danger of getting carried away by what I read in the press, I look back at that kid with the spotty face and plump, pudgy waist. That brings me down to earth.
What kind of things do you like to read about yourself in the press?
The kind of thing that people who buy our records may be interested in. And my honest feeling is it’s what we do musically. When we’ve really had an achievement, say, playing in China, or three Number Ones in a row, that is worth reporting in the press. The rest to me is nothing but trivia and it makes me feel trivial in the end.
But having reached the status of superstar, your personal life does hold appeal.
That will only go on for (only) so long, luckily. People, I’m sure, will soon tire of reading about our trivia. It’s gone on for a year now, and that level of interest can only be sustained for a certain period of time.
Are there any aspirations left for you?
If you are a writer, there are always aspirations to make the next song better than the last. I have plenty of ambition to further satisfy myself in my writing. But I’ve no desire to have a go at something new. Andrew is thinking of making a career in films. That kind of thing doesn’t appeal to me at all. I’m particularly uncomfortable in front of cameras. In fact, I was offered a part which I turned down. It was a role in the new Eddie Murphy film, which will obviously be very big, but apart from the fact that I hate to act, I simply don’t have time.
You certainly do have to work very hard, yet you’re always striving for more. Do you think you are a workaholic?
Although songwriting is supposedly my job, I don’t consider it work. Writing and performing are the only loves of my life. I’ve never thought of myself as a workaholic. In fact, I tend to be rather lazy. It’s only my ambition that drives me and drags me out of bed.
Does money come into it at all?
No. The money has never been motivation to me as I’ve never been without it. I’ve always been fairly comfortably off. Music is my life and so to improve my life I have to improve my songs. That is what drives me on.
- An Audience with George Michael: Interview with Chris Evans (1996)
- George Michael’s Interview with the Gay Magazine ‘The Advocate’ (1999)
- Last Wham! Interview: No. 1 Magazine (1986)
- George Michael Interview on Q Magazine (June 1988)
- Wham! You’re On Your Own, George (Sunday Times, 1986)