Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The dear friend I never met - tribute to George Michael

George Michael is gone, taken from all of us far too soon. He died on December 25, 2016, Christmas Day. Even now I can scarcely take it in, it seems unbelievable.
I never met George. For me he was the dear friend I somehow never got to meet. I could turn to him for a joyous celebration when I was happy and ask to be comforted by him when life was unbearably sad. I felt I knew him through his music, as much as he allowed us to know him that is. My dear friend is gone forever but he left his music behind. It will have to be enough.

Forever in our hearts

We fans are all grieving, each in our own way. In these days of social media it's easy to see how many lives George touched, how many people loved his music, loved him. The group of people who mourn him, from celebrities to  just regular people like me, is surprisingly diverse. So many in the music world professed their admiration, respect or even love for him.

For so long George Michael sought to be taken serious as a solo artist, to be thought of as a talented musician rather than that pretty boy from Wham! Looking at twitter, Facebook and the media the day after his passing it's obvious he had earned the respect he so craved - in spades. What makes me cry for George is the thought that he will never see this outpouring of love. Because I don't think George ever knew how much his peers, his fellow musicians respected him and even looked up to him.

Today, time and again my thoughts turn to George Michael's father. A little over 4 years ago I watched George Michael walk on stage at the Viennese Stadthalle to resume his Symphonica Tour after a long hiatus due to illness- and my heart rejoiced.  As luck would have it, his father was sitting 2 rows behind me. Of course I didn't want to bother him too much but during the break I walked up to him and quickly told him how grateful and happy we all were that George was doing better. I'll never forget the look on mister Panayiotou's face when he told me what it had been like for him to get his son back from the dead. My heart aches for him at the thought that after all this he still will have to bury his only son - it's too cruel for words.

Some time later I discussed with Shirl (@mollie5555), a fellow George Michael fan from Dublin, how nice it was to see Mister Panayiotou in the audience. She had also had a quick chat with George's father and one of the things she told him was that she was so grateful to George for bringing so many people together. Today our talk popped into my head and she's absolutely right. It's one of the surprising ways George Michael has enriched my life.

Without George I'd never have met so many lovely people. Some fans were kind enough to sell me their superfluous concert tickets at face value prices, so I had great seats for sold-out shows. Some fans I met at the venues where the 25Live and Symphonica tours played, there was a small group of people I saw at nearly every show I ever went to. The George Michael fan world was at times a very small world. I remember collecting our tickets at the box office at Madison Square Garden in New York City and promptly bumping in to two of George's biggest fans from England! Some fans I met at fan get-togethers where we laughed, swapped stories and played a lot of GM music.
And some fans whom I  consider to be among my best friends I only met online. Like the lovely but formidable Anne, the woman behind GeorgeMichaelNL. And the incomparable Meme (@memelamour, who I finally met last year, yay!) What bound all of us together was our shared love for George Michael and his music. And for that I am grateful to George.


The phrase 'soundtrack of my life' is overused at this point, but for George it definitely does apply. George's music was with me for years and years. As a teenager having a bit of a crush on the blond guy in Wham, and secretly dancing to 'Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go' as it was not cool at all at our school to be a Wham! fan. As a twenty-something sobbing my heart out to endless repeats of  'One More Try', and 'A Different Corner' when I got my heart broken for the first time.
Eleven years ago, on the morning of our wedding listening with my wife to 'Amazing', his joyous love song for then-partner Kenny Goss. It was a fitting way to start our day of love and celebration together.
When I went through a long period of grief, mourning the mother that I never knew, I sought refuge in George's music. His voice was the only one that could comfort the inconsolable child within me.
Only last week I changed my alarm ringtone to 'Spinning The Wheel' and was gobsmacked anew by the sheer brilliance of the song. It's such a great track and live it was even better - mesmerising even. And while it hurts too much to listen to his music now, I'm sure in time it will help me get over the pain of losing him.


Like all of us, George had his flaws. It was no secret that hugely talented as he was, he was also burdened with what the Guardian lovingly called "a somewhat inept approach to being alive". Most of the fans felt quite protective about George and I was no exception. At times, as Simon Hattenstone of the Guardian so aptly put it, I felt "more parental by the second". I pray infrequently but whenever I did I always included a quick prayer for George, asking that he please be healthy, happy and safe.

Sadly quite often George tried to shield his fragile soul from the pain and grief of life in ways that were clearly not good for him. His family must have been so worried for him and his self-medication probably caused them a great deal of pain and anguish. I'm convinced though that in the end the person he hurt the most was himself. By all accounts George was at heart a very kind and loving man, truly one of the good guys. The fact that through it all his true friends stood by him and never, ever blabbed to the tabloids says it all. He was clearly a man worth knowing and loving.

Still, being a a George Michael fan wasn't always easy. It meant being there with him through all the highs and the lows, the good times and the bad times. And some of the bad times were very bad indeed.
George and cars, it was forever a dangerous combo.  I can still feel the utter shock of walking into the breakfast room of our English hotel and seeing the blaring headlines that George had been in a near-fatal crash. It had left his big, sturdy car a write-off and the scary photos of what was left of his Jeep stayed with me for days. Amazingly, he walked away from the wreckage without any serious injuries.  A few years later he was not so lucky with that horrid incident where he somehow ended up lying in the middle of a motorway. And of course there was the embarrassing mishap that resulted in millions upon millions of free publicity for Snappy Snaps - and a short stint in jail for George.

But all of that paled in comparison with the weeks of desperate worry at the end of 2011, when George was fighting for his life in Vienna after he fell ill during his successful Symphonica Tour. Like most fans I wept tears of relief when he finally flew back to London after a month of hospitalisation in Vienna. And I cried right along with him as I watched his tearful impromptu press conference the day he got back home, his face gaunt, a frail man looking like a shadow of the star who'd played to sold-out arenas only a few weeks before. Oh George.

Joy and laughter

Of course there were many high points as well, many moments that made me so proud and happy to be a George Michael fan.

That beautiful smile

He was an absolute joy to listen to in interviews. Part of it was his honesty (he must have been a dream come true for any good good interviewer), part of it was his innate charm and sense of humour. George could be very funny, his hour long special with Michael Parkinson is a great example. And he was never afraid to send himself up,  appearing in hilarious sketches with Catherine Tate (I still listen to their version of Fairytale Of New York), Little Britain and Ricky Gervais to name a few.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, could rock a suit like George! The black and silver Armani suits he wore for most of the 25Live shows were an inspired choice. As was the wonderfully naughty cop uniform he used for Outside, both the video and the version for 25Live.

George was such a handsome man. Over the years we saw quite a few image changes - one even more appealing (that's a polite word for hot) than the other. With the notable exception of his short Mafia Don phase in 2009 of course.

That beautiful, infectious grin. Whenever George was having fun, onstage or in some other situation, his smile would light up any room or auditorium. No matter how sad you were feeling, if you saw George laugh, you automatically smiled too, you couldn't help it.

Live in London (and a lot of other places)

I've been very lucky to see George Michael in concert a lot during the 25Live and Symphonica tours. It cost quite a bit of money and time but it was totally worth it.  Along the way I accumulated a wealth of priceless memories. Far too many to mention here, but here are a couple that are on my mind today.

Lost in music, adored by his fans.
Earls Court, October 2012

Rotterdam, November 4, 2006
Back in 2006 it was a big gamble for George to tour again. The music scene was changing, and everybody needed to tour to make money and to support their careers. George didn't want the kind of lavish show (constant costume changes, lots of dancers etc.) designed to distract you from the fact the performer on stage couldn't actually sing that well. He wanted his voice to take centre stage. But would his voice hold up, and would the crowds still love him? Yes and yes - and it was touching to see how happy that made him, night after night.
Dutch crowds always were good to George, he loved us and we loved him right back. At the end of the last of 3 sold-out nights he told us he'd had a fantastic time and thanked us for 'singing all night  with him '. So humble and touching.

My Mother Had A Brother, August 1, 2007
One of the most beautiful songs George ever wrote. It was never a single so the casual George Michael fan might not even be aware of its existence. But it's such a wonderful, emotional song and I feel blessed that I heard George sing it live a few times. George didn't put it on the setlist all that often, because vocally he'd have to be on the top of his game to do it justice live.

Where I Hope You Are - Herning August 29, 2011
What can I say. This was the song that told the world how much he'd loved Kenny Goss and how much he was hurting from their break-up. And on that particular night he showed us as well, welling up a few times during the song, his voice breaking a bit. It was a special moment on an already very special night.

Verona, September 13, 2011
It was a very warm September afternoon in Verona, 5 years ago. I was sat on a bench on the square in front of the amazingly beautiful Arena di Verona (an historical, open-air venue), all excited for the concert to come that evening. And then I heard George's voice, he was soundchecking by singing 'Understand'! I remember it so vividly,  the feel of the warmth of the sun, the view of that wonderful historical Arena and George's voice drifting over to where I was sitting. It was a perfect moment.

Thank you, George

I feel  so privileged to have heard George's beautiful voice so many times. Live in concert that amazing voice of his was even better than on CD. So warm and full of emotion, always sounding as if he was singing just for you. The thought of his live voice being silent forever in this world makes me sad beyond tears.

I'm not yet able to say goodbye to George. Today 'goodbye' hurts too much. Today is a day for tears. Tears for George because I hoped for so much more for him; he deserved a longer and happier life. Today is also a day for remembrance. And for being grateful and saying a heartfelt 'thank you' to the man who had such a big impact on my life.

"I'm so sorry George that you had to leave here so early. I hope you are with Anselmo and your mum and most of all I hope you are at peace. Be well dear George and thank you for all that you've given me. I've loved you for a good part of your life and I will love you for the rest of mine."