Dear Everyone,

The welcome I received on the first leg of this tour totally overwhelmed me. I didn’t know that kind of experience was still possible in my life, I had become so used to my ridiculous relationship with the media. To say that the evenings spent with you changed all that would be an understatement. Thank you all so much, whether you have already seen the show or are seeing it for the first time tonight. Thank you for reminding me just how blessed I am, and have always been.

George Michael /x

When George Michael walked onstage last year at the Palau Sant Jordi, he wasn’t just embarking on the opening night of a three-month European tour. In a venue perched high on a hill above the bustling streets of Barcelona, he was also reconnecting with a devoted, expectant audience who had waited 15 years to hear him sing live again – and 18 to hear him play a show made up almost entirely of his own songs. Sporting his trademark shades, a touch of stubble and a dark, elegant two-piece suit, he walked slowly to the lip of a high-tech stage before he had even sung a note. Blowing kisses to 16,000 adoring Spanish admirers, he milked the adulation for all it was worth. It was 23rd September 2006 and the first of 49 sold-out dates on the 25Live Tour. There could be no mistaking the message: George Michael was back. A few seconds later, when he finally started to sing, the effect was even more dramatic. As the closing chords of Waiting, an appropriate introductory fanfare, faded away into the cool Catalan night and the opening beats of Flawless began, there were gasps of astonishment accompanied by the electronic flicker of a thousand mobile phones. The combination of the spectacular staging – a curved, electronically-illuminated walkway that stretched out into the crowd – and the rich, emotive tone of George’s voice left many in the venue wonder-struck. It was a moment to capture and savour. And it was just one of many such moments in a show, and a tour, which went on to entrance hundreds of thousands of fans, break attendance records and produce scenes of mutual warmth and intimacy unprecedented in Europe’s biggest arenas.

‘That first night was electrifying,’ says George, looking back. ‘It was the first purely George Michael audience I’d played in front of for a long time. And the fact that it was a Spanish crowd meant that they were particularly demonstrative. It was a remarkable experience. The most nerve-racking thing, for me, was wondering how I was going to work the stage. It all came back naturally after a while. Just as I always have a musical conversation going on in my head while I’m onstage, I have a geographical one, too. Nothing is choreographed. It just develops over a period of time. A voice in my head tells me that I haven’t been over to a certain part of the stage for a while.’

‘In terms of singing, I was also helped by the technology, I can hear myself much better onstage now. As the tour went on, I was quite surprised at how much of my old vocal range came back. My voice still has certain qualities that I thought had gone. But they were still there, just a bit rusty. Once I had been touring for three or four weeks, I was surprised at how well I could sing the older songs. Having been off the road for so long, my voice hasn’t suffered too much wear and tear.’

The 25Live set-list encompassed George’s entire career: there were songs from the Wham! Era, with ‘Everything She Wants’ and ‘I’m Your Man’ harking back to the duo he launched with old school buddy Andrew Ridgeley in 1982; there were the gentle ballads, such as ‘Jesus To A Child’ and ‘A Different Corner’, which first earmarked him as a solo artist of real substance; there was the political satire of ‘Shoot The Dog’; a wonderfully raw, soulful cover of Ewan MacColl’s ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’; and high-octane party workouts like ‘Too Funky’ and ‘Amazing’. Moreover, on tracks such as ‘Father Figure’, ‘An Easier Affair’ and ‘Outside’, there were times when George sang poignantly, honestly and self-deprecatingly about his own life and experiences. Reborn as a live performer, he was also being true to himself.

‘There was no pretence to the shows,’ he recalls. ’That’s the way I like it. I think the audiences could see me enjoying myself in a way that I hadn’t done in the past. There was something magical going on. People had waited a long time to see me, and the atmosphere everywhere was so overwhelmingly welcoming that I felt humbled by it. Even though I hadn’t toured for ages, I knew I was going to be better that I was at 25. I’m more in touch with what’s important to me.’

As the tour moved on from Mediterranean Europe to chillier northern realms –climaxing with 17 tumultuous UK concerts – the 25Live show took on a life of its own. As he reacquainted himself with the ebb and flow of live performance, George changed the set, dropping some songs and adding others in response to the reaction he got each night, feeding off the needs of his fans. ‘We ended up taking four ballads out of the show,’ he says. ‘The strongest pull became the demands of the audience. A lot of my fans might be in their late thirties and early forties, but they still want to party. I understand the value of having a party, so I started removing songs that were there for me rather than the audience. It ended up being a different show to the one I’d originally planned, but I actually enjoyed it more. By the end of the tour, the crowd were really involved, right to the back of the hall, every night. I knew that people were having the best night they’d had in a long time. These are worrying times for a lot of people. I understand what a lot of straight people experience when they get to my age. They have young children, ailing parents, and a lot of worries that I don’t have to deal with. So, to stand in a room of my peers and take them away from those worries for a couple of hours was a humbling experience. I did the last two weeks of the tour with a heavy cold, because I couldn’t bear the thought of cancelling on people who wanted to see me the week before Christmas. I didn’t miss one show. I didn’t even miss a soundcheck.’

‘There were changes in my audience since I’d last toured, too. The sea of waving mobile phones was a new one for me, and the audiences differed from country to country. There were more young fans than before, and a surprising number of gay men, especially in the Latin countries. For the first time that I can remember, there was this sea of handsome men in front of the stage. The more repressed you feel by your society, the more support you are going to give a gay artist and that was definitely the case in the Latin countries. But the crowds were great everywhere. People told me that the Swiss were going to be reserved. I was told that they were a listening crowd. But they partied just as much as everyone else.’

In its staging, 25Live was hardly a humble, low-budget affair. With George’s nine-piece band and six backing vocalists sprinkled across a series of large gantries either side of a central video screen, the special effects were never less than stunning, complementing the music perfectly. The curved, armchair-shaped screen, which ultimately stretched forward to become the floor of the stage, contained 3,000 MiStrip LED modules. Built to withstand the weight of any band members who walked across it, this metallic LED grid relayed a bewildering array of video effects and graphic displays; a sunset here; a cartoon graphic there; the flashing lights of a disco if the song demanded them.

‘Because I was so close to the effects, I couldn’t actually see them,’ says George. ‘All I could see were loose shapes moving around on the floor beneath me. I wanted the shows to be more like theatre than rock ‘n’ roll, and the technology was finally available for me to do that. We had some real geniuses working on it behind the scenes. But if you can command a room full of people without the visuals, then the special effects are a fantastic bonus. There were only a couple of nights when I wasn’t feeling on absolute top form – and then the combination of the visuals and the goodwill of the crowd were enough to stop me from falling.’

Many of 25Live’s most emotional evenings occurred when the party hit UK shores in November and December. With some of the shows also featuring guest vocalist Mutya Buena – who duetted beautifully with George on the sultry ballad This Is Not Real Love – these nights were notable for a series of ecstatic, rapturous receptions and plenty of warm onstage banter, the singer taking advantage of the first English-speaking crowds of the tour to chat more between songs.

‘After all the Latin emotion, I was worried that the British shows might be a bit cooler,’ says George. ‘But even London – Earls Court and Wembley – was simply fantastic. British audiences have changed while I’ve been away. As a nation, we are not quite as reserved as we used to be. I didn’t speak to the crowd as much during the European dates. I’m quite old-fashioned in that respect. If I had a foreign idol, I wouldn’t want to hear him speaking to me in pidgin English.’

As the tour drew towards its December climax at the revamped Wembley Arena, with Wham’s Last Christmas making the occasional appearance in the set-list, 2006’s most emphatic, heart-warming and (some would say) unlikely comeback was confirmed in style when George’s career-spanning TwentyFive album topped the British charts. But while the singer would also receive a well-deserved Brits nomination (for Best British Live act), there was one more date that he felt compelled to keep before the first instalment of his return to the stage was complete.

Prompted by the care that the nurses of the NHS had given to his mother, Lesley, during her battle against cancer in 1997, George and the 25Live team slotted in one more show, a pre-Christmas benefit concert at North London’s 2000-capacity Roundhouse. ‘There are certain promises that you make to yourself and know that you just have to keep,’ says George. ‘My mother’s death was a horrific, minute-by-minute experience. But, in the middle of all that terror, there were also these wonderful, calm people who I knew were genuinely feeling for us. I was struck by how ridiculous it was that a nurse is seen simply as another civil servant by the government, so I was really determined to do something, just to say thank you to them in general. I’ll do it again, too. Nurses are people to admire, and there are not many of those in modern life. We use their vocation as an excuse not to pay them properly. The weirdest thing about the show was that the nurses who came to The Roundhouse weren’t my usual audience. But they knew the songs, so it was a lovely way to finish the tour. I was introduced by Catherine Tate. She came onstage in character, as the nurse Bernie, and said: “the lazy feck isn’t even ready yet!”. The crowd loved that, and the whole gig had a real end of term feel to it.’

‘A lot of people on the tour were due to go back to America for Christmas, but they stayed for that show. It was a really fantastic way to wrap it all up. Ricky Gervais came along, too, and he was so impressed that he now wants to do something similar. My biggest regret about the whole tour was that it was too late for my mum to have seen it. She would have loved it. In a strange way, the Roundhouse gig was my way of involving her.’

Now, just five months after the Roundhouse show, George is doing it all again. Buoyed by the band he has now re-established with his fans, he is taking 25Live into some of Europe’s biggest stadiums. The first leg of the tour featured one stadium-sized show, in Copenhagen’s Parken Arena, where George broke the attendance record previously held by U2 and got together with 50,000 Danish fans to deliver what he describes as ‘one of the best shows of the entire tour’.

(click to enlarge)

‘Not everyone got to see me last time,’ he adds. ‘So this time we’re doing bigger places. Believe it or not, I’ve spent even more money on this one. The visuals worked brilliantly on the first tour, but now we’ve had time to work on them even more. The whole thing will be larger. There will be a walkway that will take me out to a second stage. Last time around I was excited and scared. This time I’m just excited. I just hope I can take the heat – some of the venues are going to be boiling.’

As well as open-air concerts in many of Europe’s major cities, the 25Live stadium tour will take George back to one famous venue he has visited many times before. In becoming the first act to play the new Wembley Stadium on 9th June, he will be returning to the site not only of the last Wham! gig (The Final) in 1986, but also a stage he graced at 1985’s Live Aid, 1988’s Nelson Mandela Freedom Concert, 1992’s Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert and 1999’s NetAid.

‘With the exception of The Final, my experience of playing in stadiums is largely restricted to those big benefit shows. Looking back, I can’t remember very much about The Final. I can remember Elton John coming on, but that’s about it. It’s going to be the first night at the new Wembley, so I’m sure it will be a great day. I don’t think it will be a Wham! reunion gig, though. That would create the kind of exposure that Andrew wouldn’t want. It might have worked in December, when we could have sung Last Christmas. But I asked him if he wanted to do that, and I completely understand why he didn’t want to. But at Wembley Stadium, the emphasis would be wrong. People are getting so much Eighties nostalgia anyway that they don’t need a Wham! reunion as well. That would be sad.’

There is a concert in Athens, too, the first time that George has played in Greece. ‘We’re also trying to put together a gig in Cyprus,’ he says. ‘That’s were my dad is from, and he would love to get up onstage and introduce me. He saw a lot of shows on the last tour, far more than he did on any earlier tours, and he had a great time. He loved it. I’ve always identified my Greek ancestry as one of the reasons that I don’t feel particularly English. Even though my mother was English and I talk with a lower middle-class English accent, a lot of the stronger aspects of my character came from my Greek rather than my English blood.’

Whatever the venue, though, fans can rest assured that George will again put everything into his performance. Having whetted his appetite with a triumphant arena tour, he has truly got the taste for playing live once more. For those who waited so patiently for him to return, George Michael is determined to make up for lost time.

‘Compared to previous tours, I was a different person during 25Live,’ he says. ‘There were a lot of great people on the road with me and I was more relaxed. The whole thing was very chilled, but everyone was also very professional and proud of what we were doing. It was a joint achievement. Whenever we talked about the shows afterwards, it was always a case of “we” and not “me”. Even when things went wrong, which only happened on a couple of occasions, I didn’t get too upset. In the old days, I would have gone into a strop. Nowadays, I’m nowhere near as neurotic about perfection. There was one gig when the video screens went down for the last 20 minutes, but the show still ended on a high note. If you’re communicating well enough, you can make an arena show work without the effects. That’s why I don’t have my image on the screens too much. I like the crowd to be focussed on the tiny figure in the middle of the stage. That tiny figure is the real thing.’

‘I don’t think I’ll ever do this kind of show again. I’m 43 now. The next time, I could be 46 or 47. I wouldn’t want to feel that I’m just about getting away with it. I would never want to be “good for 47”. At 43, I can still do it, but future tours will probably be less about having a party. Otherwise, I might turn into something I wouldn’t want to turn into. I wouldn’t like to be singing my greatest hits when most of my songs are about youth. That would be incongruous. So, I would imagine that the next tour will be different.’

‘But this year is all about enjoyment. This is the show my fans want. It’s my way of thanking them, and I hope they feel satisfied with it.’

By Adrian Thrills

Tour Credits

Chris Cameron - Musical Director & Arranger
Danny Cummings - Percussion
Phil Palmer - Guitars
Andy Hamilton - Sax/Keys/Ewi
Steve Walters - Bass Player
Mike Brown - Guitars
Carlos Hercules - Drums
Graham Kearns - Guitars
Luke Smith - Keyboards
Shirley Lewis - Backing Vocals
Jay Henry - Backing Vocals
Lincoln Jean-Marie - Backing Vocals
Lori Perry - Backing Vocals
Sharon Perry - Backing Vocals
Lucy Jules - Backing Vocals

Michael Lippman - Artist Manager
Andy Stephens - Artist Manager

Ken Watts - Tour Director
Mark Spring - Production Manager
Looloo Murphy - GM Tour Manager
Lisa Johnson - Assistant Tour Director
Sharon Ashley – Band Tour Manager
Thierry Pouchain – Tour Fiancial Director
Kim McCarthy – Financial Controller
Diane Eichorst - Production Coordinator
Kevin Mann – Production Assistant
Ronnie Franklin - Security Consultant
Paul Dallanegra - Head of Security
Andy Frost – Security
Alex Georgiou - G.M. Touring Assistant
Tina Shoemaker – VIP Ticketing
Roy Jurgens – VIP Ticketing Assistant
Yvonne Ryan – VIP Hospitality
Dina van der Elst – VIP / Charity Lieison

Simon Halfon - 25 Live Logo & Tour Book Design
George Michael - 25 Live Logo & Tour Book Design

Bill Leabody - Site Coordinator
Robert Cooper - Site Coordinator
Jay Schmit - Site Coordinator
Phay MacMahan - Site Coordinator

Mike Farese - Head Rigger
Danny Machado - Rigger
Bill Macklin - Rigger
Rick Wilmot – Rigger
Andi Flack – Rigger

Andy Bramley - Video Director
Ed Jarman - Video Engineer / Crew Chief
Koen Lavens - Video – LED Technician
Martin McAuley - Video – LED Technician
Richard Ellis - Video – Camera Operator
Alistair Wright - Video – LED Technician
Abel Berlage - Video – LED Technician
Rickie Jewell - Video – LED Technician
Niall Olgilvy - Assistant Floor Manager

Gregory Gish - Head Carpenter
Gino Cardelli - Carpenter
Albert Thorig - Carpenter
Tim Shanahan - Carpenter
Michael McGuire - Carpenter
Bob Madison - Carpenter
Randy Wilson - Carpenter

Sam Kitchens - Cable
Thomas Tryon - Cable
Gerry Gaffney - Cable
Gerard McNally - Cable
James Gould - Generator
Mark Rennocks - Generator

Michele Baylis - GM Hair / Make-up Europe
Aislinn Corcoran - Wardrobe
Sally O’Mara - Wardrobe Assistant
Simone Johnson - Dressing Rooms/Backstage
Rolant Jones - Trainer/Masseur
Simeon Asher - Osteopath

Dean Freeman - Tour Photographer

Sarah Muir - Head Chef / Crew Chief
Jenny Burn - Catering
Chris Clarke - Catering
Dagmar Hewell - Catering
Sara Battina - Catering
Rachel Carmody – Catering
Steffy Head - Catering
Helen Whittaker - Catering
Liam Brash - Catering
Jessie Collins - Catering
Penny Davies - Catering
Helen Charles - Catering
Jojo Gill - Catering
Karl Bullock - Catering

Walter Melissen - Mojo Barricade And Bridges
Ricardo Dijkstra - Mojo Barricade And Bridges
Jan Aike Luchtenberg - Mojo Barricade And Bridges

Tommy Whitelaw - Merchandise
Jon Ellis - Merchandise

Robert Keller - G.M. Party Driver
Dirk Mannebach - G.M. Party Driver
Matthias Uehr - G.M. Party Driver

Jerry Boyes-Korkis - Head Truck Driver
Nigel Webber - Truck Driver
Andrew Mellor - Truck Driver
Dave Ballantyne - Truck Driver
Cliff Vandome - Truck Driver
Brian Devereaux - Truck Driver
Jon Wood - Truck Driver
Adrian Green - Truck Driver
Andy Maclean - Truck Driver
Steve Spillman - Truck Driver
Paul Lawn - Truck Driver
Mark Poole - Truck Driver
Shaun Bradley - Truck Driver
Graham Briggs - Truck Driver
Alan Clements - Truck Driver
Peter Ham - Truck Driver
Robbie Jones - Truck Driver
Daniel Dupersyn - Truck Driver
Stefan Court - Truck Driver
Gary Workman - Truck Driver
Alan Keegan - Truck Driver
Matthew Kenward - Truck Driver
Stuart Luck - Truck Driver
Petrus Mulders - Truck Driver
Bob Gunter - Truck Driver
Michael Potar - Truck Driver
Thomas Nicholson - Truck Driver

Tour Suppliers
Accountants – Stephen Marks / SRLV
Air Freight – Alan Durrant / Rock-it Cargo UK / Kevin Roach / Rock-it Cargo LA
Aircraft (GM) – Chris Chapman / Claudette Gharbi / Cecile Moncharte / Chapman Freeborn
Audio – Chris Hill / Wigwam Acoustics Ltd
Backstage Furniture – Graeme Dixon / GLD
Bussing – Joerg Phillip / Tim Fortnam-King / Beat The Street
C A D Services – Peter Brungardt / Brungardt Enterprises L.L.C
Catering – Wendy Deans / Popcorn
Communication – Jim McNally / Music Bank
Fan Club Coordinator - Nick Lippman
Inflatables – Robin Harries / Air Artists
Insurance – Paul Twomey / Robertson Taylor Insurance
Legal – Chris Organ / Simon Esplen / Russells
Lighting – Dave Ridgeway / Neg Earth
Merchandise Design – Melanie Panayiotou
Merchandise – Jeremy Joseph / De-Lux Merchandise Ltd / Robin Stevens / Arman Austria / Signatures
Microphones/Radio In Ears – Mark Saunders / Sennheiser
Power – Henry Wetach / John Zajonc / Legacy Power
Pre-Programming – Niall Flynn / James Jackman
Publicist – Connie Filippello / Ross Morgan / Connie Filippello
Rehearsal Spaces – Brent Woods / Ben Brooks / Lite Structures / Pauline Fenner / Dukes Island Studios
Rigging – Gavin Weatherall / Andy Bailey / The Rigging Partnership
Soft Goods – Colin Hannah / Acre Jean Ltd
Stage Engineering – Neil Darrocott / Andy Prescott / Xolve Ltd
Stylist – Sumaira Lateef / SLR
Tour Passes – Mandy Cox / Tim Cox / Publicity & Display
Tour Vip Ticketing – Shelley Lazar / Slo Limited
Travel (G.M.) – Fran Green / Media Travel
Travel (Band and Crew) – Kellie Rayner / Rebecca Ryan / Media Travel
Trucking – Robert Hewett / Will Johns / Stage Trucks
Video Supplier – Chris Mounsor / Phil Mercer / XL Video UK Ltd
Video Screen Technical Design – Frederick Opsomer / Marc Fichefet / Olivier Clybouw / Innovative Designs
Video Content – Sam Pattinson / Onedotzero
Video Content Creative – Luke Halls / Damian Hale / Jan Urbanowski / Shiv Pandya
'Easier Affair’ - Elliot Chaffer
'Edge Of Heaven' - This Is
‘Freedom ‘90’ Animation – Matt Pyke – Universal Everything
‘Outside’ Animation – Alex Rutterford / concept by Willie Williams
‘A Different Corner’ & ‘Careless Whisper’ Animation – Richard Cullen
‘Shoot The Dog’ Animation2DTV / Damien Hale / This Is
Video Archive Consultant – Nick Bradbury
Video Interactive DesignJason Bruges Studios
Video Interactive Programming – Sebastian Oschatz / David Dessens / Meso
System DevelopmentDigital Antics Ltd
Programmers – Quintin Willison and Craig Edwards
Video Archive Footage – Jonathon Ryan / Getty Images Ltd
Video Production Support – Sebastian Davey

Agent - Barrie Marshall / Doris Dixon / Marshall Arts

Austria – Richard Hoermann / Concerts At Event Service GMBH
Belgium – Herman Schueremans / Live Nation
Bulgaria – David Lieberberg / Rock & More / Martin Stoyanov / Joker Media Ltd
Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia – Tim Dowdall / Multi Media International
Denmark – Arne Worsoe / Kim Worsoe / ICO Concert Promotion IPS
Finland – Risto Juvonen / Tumppi Haaranen / Well Done Agency
France – Jackie Lombard / Interconcerts
Germany – Gerd Ludwigs / Uwe Dannbacher / Dap New Star GMBH
Greece – Nick Hobbs / Noula Gkioumousgkiertani / Charmenko / Marilou Zacharopoulou / Le Spot Productions
Holland – Leon Ramakers / Mojo Concerts
Ireland – Peter Aiken / Aiken Promotions
Italy – Adolfo Galli / Mimmo D’Alessandro / D’Alessandro E Galli
Poland – Nick Hobbs / Noula Gkioumousgkiertani / Charmenko / Mikolaj Ziolkowski / Alter Art
Portugal – Nuno Braamcamp / Alvaro Ramos / Ritmos E Blues
Romania – Lasse Olsson / Ray Edwards / Viva Art Europe / Stefan Morosanu / Modus Production
Russia, Ukraine – Peter Brightman / David Fowler / Creative Entertainment group
Sweden – Thomas Johansson / Tor Nielsen / Ema Telstar
UK – Barrie Marshall – Marshall Arts

Tourbook printed in England by Hill Shorter Limited

(Note: This small collection of pictures (photos of photos) posted here doesn't do the book justice, but they are merely here to give you an impression. In the book they look far more glamorous.)