As I stumbled down the stairs at 5 o’clock this morning I knew it was going to be a miserable day. Having been awoken by an over-excited four-year-old convinced he had more presents to open, foul doesn’t begin to describe my bleary-eyed mood.
I flicked the switch on the kettle and grumpily opened up Twitter on my phone, planning a dry comment about my current state of affairs. Instead, I saw a flurry of links to George Michael videos, a stream of tenuous anecdotes by people desperate to connect themselves with him somehow. It’s a sign of the times now that as soon as someone dies, social media goes berserk and their name heads all Google searches. Without knowing somebody is dead you can pretty much assume it as soon as you see their name trending on Twitter.
Shocked, I started typing into Google – G-E-O-R… I didn’t need to write any more. George Michael dies peacefully at home were the words staring at my from my screen. Bloody hell. Gutted. What the fuck is going on?
From his 80s heart throb heydays to the most extraordinary Up Yours comeback of all time, George Michael was a lyrical genius with a voice of molten gold; he was passionate, political, and a pin up for men and women everywhere. Having been caught committing a “lewd act” in a LA public toilet in 1998, he could have gone to ground and accepted the end of what had been a pretty good career. But bollocks to that. George, born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in north London in 1963, came back harder and faster with the spectacularly audacious video for Outside, and his career continued to go from strength to strength.
As a child growing up in the 80s I had pictures of Wham! on my wall, I bounced around in front of the telly as they topped the charts time and again, jumping around the Top of the Pops studio with shuttlecocks stuffed down their tennis shorts (did that really happen?). He took the grey skies out of my way, he made the sun shine brighter than Doris Day. I heard Careless Whisper and I cried, certain it had been written with me in mind (I was about 6) and I swooned and screamed as New George donned his leathers and sang about things my innocent mind couldn’t begin to understand. Faith, I Want Your Sex, Father Figure. As a 1980s pop star this man was breaking the mould, singing about sex, starting discussions oh, and basically inventing the concept of designer stubble.
The 90s came along and Listen Without Prejudice became the soundtrack to many a moment of teen angst. Powerful, beautiful, I loved every word of every song. When Freddie Mercury died, George Michael stole the show at the tribute concert with his rendition of Somebody To Love. Every Easter I’d listen to Capital Radio’s Help a London Child fundraiser and without fail you’d hear that George Michael had donated a ridiculous amount of money to the cause, or allowed a new single to be aired exclusively over the weekend. He was known for his generosity and as I sit here typing, listening to a tribute show on Radio 2, celebrities and fans are calling in with a constant stream of stories about how George Michael affected their lives.
The first time I went on a family holiday with my (now) husband I insisted on getting extremely drunk and signing me and his brother up for karaoke. I Knew You Were Waiting was the song, and I insisted on singing the George Michael part, with poor bro-in-law-to-be reluctantly tackling Aretha’s side. George Michael was a master of duets but I, sadly, am not. Our rendition was appalling. But from my earliest memories right up to yesterday when I pressed repeat on Last Christmas far too many times, I’ve loved George Michael and he’s played a part in my life. He was a musician, a heart-throb, a style icon, a human rights campaigner, a political commentator and a hugely influential artist. He affected my life like he affected millions of others. It’s just all so bloody sad.
All year there’s been this buzz around 2016 and the Music Hall of Fame filling up in the sky. I find it a bit cliche, a bit ugly, a bit of a ‘who can jump on the bandwagon and announce the latest celebrity death first’ habit. The Diana effect at full pelt. But today I’m as guilty as the next man. Having absorbed the news I sat quietly as my son absorbed the fact that no, Santa hadn’t popped by again to drop off yet more presents. We sat in a silent mourning, taking in the news that today was, in fact, not going to go as we had planned. But he got up and got on with life, making use of the plastic mountain we now call a living room, and I turned on the radio. I decided to wallow in grief with music fans across the country, the world, who can’t quite believe that such a strong man, such a gamechanger, and such an absolute bloody genius, is dead at the age of 53.
Dancing around the kitchen to I’m Your Man, my son shouts to me “I love this song Mummy because it always makes you smile.” That makes me cry, but it makes me smile too. These songs that I’ve been listening to for the last 30-odd years are the ones I’ll be listening to another three decades down the line.
I didn’t know George Michael. Few of us did. But I screamed until my voice was hoarse when I saw him at Wembley, I cranked up the volume whenever I heard his voice on the car radio, and I instilled in my son by the age of 2 that Wham! were one of the best bands in the world. He played a part in my life and in that of many of my friends – a fact immediately clear from my Facebook feed this morning. There were many aspects of his life most people didn’t know, or didn’t understand. He certainly wasn’t a saint. But in a world of shallow celebrities, scary politics and fickle attitudes he was an inspiration. A Cowboy, and an Angel, and everything in between.
Rest In Peace George. Your legacy will live forever.