It was hard to grieve for George Michael today, with the sound of giant whoopee cushions going off left, right and centre to a backdrop of Listen Without Prejudice. The joy of my children at Christmas took the edge off the death of my own childhood, which I guess is the main purpose of having them.
Like a lot of girls my age, George Michael was responsible for my sexual awakening. I didn’t know it at the time. I just remember breaking out into a sweat watching an interview with him on the Michael Aspel chat show and I didn’t know why. My memories of a family holiday to Cornwall are eclipsed by the memory of a giant pull-out poster of Andrew and George in that week’s No1 magazine that I unfolded, slowly, on Polzeath beach. I remember waiting by the radio waiting to hear the first broadcast of their new single Wake Me Up Before You Go Go and being beside myself — it was and is an absolutely superb pop song from the first listen. With Careless Whisper he gave us all the first inkling of what heartbreak would feel like. That song, played at every school disco across the land, the cue for boys to rub themselves ungraciously against over-eye-linered, grimacing girls.
My memories are probably the same as everyone else’s. Revising for my GCSEs in the garden on a sun lounger, A4 folders scattered, earphones dangling, Father Figure thumping through them, angst and longing pumping through me. Kissing a Fool played after a disastrous party, One More Try for the hope of the boy coming good after the exams, A Different Corner when he didn’t.
What made George so special was he grew with us. When we ditched our school uniforms for Kookai suits and went to work, he followed. When we had a fling with a possessive IT support engineer with a BMW, he released Fast Love. If you listen to his albums, it was mostly heartbreak. For many of us, if you look at your twenties, it was mostly heartbreak.
When he came out as gay, I don’t know about anyone else, but I didn’t feel any differently about him. When he got caught up to mischief on Hampstead Heath, nothing changed. I wasn’t adolescent, I wasn’t hormonally unhinged, but he was still, despite his sexual preferences, ultimately a magnetic, charismatic, kind, warm, gentleman. Stories that have emerged today about his generosity and kindness, his private charitable acts, are testament to this. George Michael, despite his flaws and the press’s attempts to expose them, was a gentleman.
I must admit I had less need for George in my thirties. That’s not to say I forgot him. On a visit to LA in 2003, a friend and I devised an itinerary that took in the toilet blocks opposite the Beverly Hills hotel in which he’d been caught in ‘a lewd act’. We were in the area, it seemed the obvious thing to do. In manner of the character of Heather from Eastenders I paid the odd visit to his home. Goring in Oxfordshire, only 13 miles from us, is a regular Sunday stroll location for us and I knew his beautiful house on the Thames, so we’d glance over fondly. The last time I went was for dinner with a friend and we got a photo of ourselves with George’s glorious weeping willows a very respectful distance behind us.
For all the lurid press coverage of various strange incidents, his soul was a good one. You just knew it. My uncle was talking about how someone had seen George in a local Goring pub recently and if you hadn’t known it was him, you would never recognise him. Life had taken its toll.
But his music is definitely built to last. Someone wrote today that George Michael was the music they always played when they got tired of everything else and I knew exactly what they meant. He made soulful, heart-wrenching, timeless music and upbeat songs that will define pop forever.
In 1977, when I was four, my neighbour played Elvis songs full blast for an entire day. It’s one of my earliest memories. That was me today. Her Elvis. My George.