Well it just goes to show, doesn’t it? Never say never, because hell freezes over on a regular basis. I truly believed that tonight would never happen, that I would never sing these songs to you again. But then, I’m a fool, which you have probably worked out by now. My apologies for being such a tease, but believe me, I am going to make it up to you tonight. By the time you leave tonight, you will have forgiven me for 15 years of silence.

Well, almost……

With all my love and thanks,

George Michael / x

The first time that I met George Michael, he was standing on the roof terrace of a record company office. We were five floors above South Molton Street, one of London’s most opulent shopping thoroughfares. As a cub reporter for New Musical Express, I was there to talk to George and his musical partner Andrew Ridgeley. It was May 1982, and the two teenagers were about to unleash their debut single as Wham!.

The record, ‘Wham! Rap (Enjoy what you do?)’, was driven along by a pulsating bass riff, and stressed the importance of keeping your soul intact in spite of the hardships of youth unemployment. It already sounded like a breath of fresh air in a stagnant music scene. Punk was, by this time, irrelevant and even the new romantic groups of the early Eighties were beginning to sound tired. If Britain was on the lookout for something new and invigorating, the two young guns on the roof of Innervision Records might just be the boys to provide it. As with many of the acts I interviewed for the paper then – ABC, Human League, Haircut 100, The Cure, Bananarama, Madness and The Specials – my page feature on Wham! wasn’t just the band’s first NME piece. It was almost certainly their first piece of press anywhere. Keen to grasp the nettle, they were quickly out of the starting blocks, with George telling me the importance of the duo’s tongue-in-cheek humour and Andrew emphasising how Wham! Rap had developed from a disco parody into a harder, more aggressive record ready to take on the world on its own terms.

‘Our first single was made around the time of the early Eighties Brit-funk movement,’ says George now, looking back. ‘We were trying to sound American and not quite managing it. But I listened back to the original Wham! Rap recently, and it’s really quite a heavy sounding record, especially the 12-inch version. When we made it, we were listening to ‘Tears Are Not Enough’ by ABC, which had a really heavy bottom end, their toughest record really, and I think that’s reflected in the sound we got.’

Those were heady days for George and Andrew. They were heady days for British pop in general. The bands who made it big at home were virtually guaranteed an Access All Areas pass to the American charts, too. And if Wham! Rap failed to make the British Top 40 the first time around – it peaked at a measly No. 45 – there could be no doubting the impact of its sequel, ‘Young Guns (Go For It!)’, which gave the duo their first Top Ten hit just three months later. As a committed champion of Wham! in those far-off days, I can remember making Young Guns my NME Single Of The Week – along with Musical Youth’s subsequent chart-top-per Pass The Dutchie! – writing that it was easily ‘the most contemporary record around’. Wham! undoubtedly had something going for them, as their explosive debut Top Of The Pops appearance a few weeks later would prove. Once things started to happen for them, they started to happen quickly. Just over a year previously, George and Andrew had been classmates at a comprehensive school in Bushey, Herts: now they were on a journey that was about to make them one of the biggest groups around the world.

‘We weren’t the first of the post-punk bands,’ says George of Wham!’s role in the era’s pop explosion. ‘I think Haircut 100 and ABC just preceded us. But we wanted to take it a stage further, because we wanted to be funny, too. It’s strange really. It shows just how much we underestimated ourselves as a duo that we thought we had to be funny to get anywhere. In 1982, there wasn’t much comedy in records. The whole new romantic thing was very aloof and cliquey. We were never cool enough for that.’

‘The early Eighties was the last era where you could flip from being one thing to being something else almost overnight. You could be a soul-boy one day and a mod the next. I remember Andrew as a soul-boy who walked into the Sixth Form common room wearing a parka with a target painted on the back. The trouble was he still had his long soul-boy hair! The naïveté of being able to do that just doesn’t exist anymore. It was the same with me. One day, I was a mod who listened to ska and wearing second-hand suits from the Sue Ryder shop. I used to get picked on by skinheads, and can remember when one of them rubbed chips into my jacket! Then within minutes, or so it seemed, I was wearing a ridiculous zoot suit that made me look three feet tall.´

George Michael is sitting opposite me in the conservatory of his London home. It is 24 years since our first meeting on that West End veranda. It is also one of the hottest days of the year. On the journey up through North London, the car radio had been playing ‘Club Tropicana’, one of Wham!’s early hits. Over two decades on from its original release, the song’s sunny, upbeat flavour resonated pretty much in the same way as it did back then. George Michael, on the other hand, is a changed man. The passing years have been good to him. He has sold 80 million records, written songs that have entranced millions, notched up a string of chart-topping singles and albums around the globe and played some of the most momentous concerts in pop history. Since leaving Wham! to embark on a solo career in 1986, he has inadvertently established the template for every Bryan, Ryan, Ronan and Gary who abandoned the security blanket of a bubblegum pop existence in search of a longer-term career and some appreciation as a serious singer-songwriter. The intervening years have also been tough, though. He has had wrangles with record companies and brushes with the law. He has had personal upheavals and suffered the trauma of losing loved ones. It has all helped to make him the man he is today.

And yet there are also ways in which this changed man is still the same as the 18-years-old who stood opposite me all those years ago. In his approach to music, there is the same scholarly dedication. In his eyes, there is the same uncompromising determination to go about things his way. And, in conversation, the old self-depracating humour is never far from the surface. And despite the efforts of those who would want us to think otherwise, George Michael is a regular guy who is pretty contented with his life.

‘People are led to believe that I’m reclusive,’ he says. ‘But I work all the time. I go to the studio every day, because I feel it’s important to be around people. I have a perfectly healthy, normal existence. It’s important to me that I’m not one of the Heat Generation celebrities. And I do that by staying out of Central London and not eating in the best restaurants. I’m one of the luckiest people I know. I’ve got a job I love after 25 years. I wrote songs that are still played on the radio. I have a wonderful partner, the house of my dreams and I’m healthy. Why should I worry if some people have the wrong impression of me? That doesn’t spill into my life. It’s taken me 25 years to get there, but my life is pleasurable in a way that it’s never been before.’

It wasn’t always this way: ‘So many truly dreadful things happened during the Nineties that I was a wreck by the end of that decade. It seemed that God had decided that my big learning curve was going to occur over those ten years, and it took a long time for me to convince myself that a really distressing part of my life was over. But, despite my fears, I worked through it.’

Having returned to the recording fray with 2004’s Patience – the most satisfying pop album of his solo career – George is now taking the plunge back into front-line live performance. 25Live is his first big international outing since 1991’s ‘Cover To Cover’ tour. That trek featured George singing his own hits alongside classics such as ‘Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone’ (originally by The Temptations), David Bowie’s ‘Fame’ and Soul II Soul’s ‘Back To Life (However Do You Want me)’. And we have to go even further back – to 1988’s Faith, his first solo tour – to find the last time he toured with a set comprising virtually all his own material.

‘It will be magical to stand in front of my own audience again,’ he says. ‘Every audience I’ve played to since 1991 has been a charity gathering made up of fans of various artists. So, for me, it will be very intense to have thousands of people who have all paid to see me. I’ve forgotten what that feels like, and I’m really excited. Having waited for so long, and having said for years that I wouldn’t tour, I know there are people who thought they’d never see this. That’s got to add something to the gig.’

George Michael’s music career since 1982 could be viewed as a series of quantum leaps. The first came in the period between the first two Wham! albums, 1983’s Fantastic and 1984’s Make It Big. With a legal wrangle resulting in an enforced lay-off, and the virtual guarantee that a progressive second album would get a favourable hearing both at home and abroad, George his heart and soul into developing his songwriting. In doing so, he came up with the dancefloor pop classics which would come to define the early Eighties, penning ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’, ‘Everything She Wants’ and ‘Freedom’ in a matter of months, and then capping it off, after the release of Make It Big, with the timeless ‘Last Christmas’. A second leap forward arrived a few years later with the first songs that he released as a solo performer. Suddenly, in addition to the pop craftsmanship of the Wham! period, there was a far greater emotional depth. The brilliant tunes were still present and correct. But, on his first solo album, 1987’s Faith, there was now a more mature, grown-up awareness, too. The dancing shoes could still be wheeled out for ‘Faith’, ‘One More Try’ and the gritty, funky ‘I Want Your Sex’. But, under that, there was evidence of a sometimes troubled, confused man ready to bear his soul in song.

‘I remember playing ‘A Different Corner’ to somebody and they said that it was beautiful – beautiful, but also pathetic,’ he laughs. ‘It was their way of saying: “My God! you do feel bad about something!” But, to be honest, one of the reasons that people have stuck with me is that they can hear that I am genuinely unhappy when I am singing a sad song. And they also like the fact that I can express unhappiness, but then go out and sing a happy song. I can celebrate the other side of life. The power is that both sides are real. You need joy in your heart to write ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’. And you need pain to write ‘A Different Corner’.

‘There is also a difference between a song like ‘Careless Whisper’ and some of the things written later. ‘Careless Whisper’ was really about an imagined sadness. The truth was that I’d been cheating on one girl with this other girl – but I wasn’t particularly sad about it! I was too young to understand how reckless I was. It was a precocious and imagined sadness. But, by the end of Wham!, I was genuinely sad. I had the creeping realisation that I was gay and had painted myself into a corner. And there was also the growing understanding that fame wasn’t going to make me happy in any way. I was very proud of what we’d done and massively grateful for the privileges that went with it. But I also realised that fame wasn’t going to fill the hole, and I was too young to realise what would fill it. So I just felt incredible loneliness. As much as anything, that was why Wham! split up.’

As George’s solo career unfurled, those big, ambitious leaps of faith and ability continued. His second solo disc, 1990’s Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, killed the Eighties stone dead, doing away with synthetic sounds in favour of a more organic, intimate feel on songs such as ‘Freedom’ and ‘Waiting For That Day’. The latter even harked back to the Sixties in referencing ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’, written by The Rolling Stones. Then, with 1996’s Older, particularly on ‘Jesus To A Child’ and ‘You have Been Loved’, George addressed the heartbreak of losing a loved one with an unparalleled power and poignancy.

‘There isn’t one song on Older that comes from a happy place,’ he says. ‘If I had written a happy song around that time, it would have been a pretence. So I achieved what I could in the state of mind I was in. Artistically, I did my absolute best there.

‘When I sing about loneliness, the words I use tend to apply equally to either sex. A lot of women say to me: “If only other men understood things like you”. I think that’s partly down to my own sexuality, but there’s more to it than that. Having had relationships with women in the past, and knowing some women pretty well because I have two sisters, I can probably write songs in a way that women can relate to. Guys can relate to me because I’m a man, but I think a lot of women do, too.’

George’s most recent album, 2004’s Patience, is the most wide-ranging record, musically and emotionally, of his solo career. Intimately sung but also cleverly constructed, its songs run from the grinding funk of ‘Freeek’ to the sophisticated soul and pop of the autobiographical ‘Round Here’. ‘Everything is there on that album,’ reflects George. ‘It has moments of real joy, because it reflects that I am with my current partner Kenny. But there were also songs which dealt with the fact that I was trying to come to terms with losing my mother. One was the best thing that has happened to me. The other was the absolute worst thing that’s happened to me.’

As he prepares to sing his own songs for his own fans for the first time in 18 years, George Michael pauses to reflect how far he has come since I first started charting his career back in 1982. We talk about some of the early Wham! shows, the ‘shuttlecock’ tour of 1983 and the magical farewell concert, The Final, in front of 72,000 fans at Wembley Stadium in 1986. George recalls that Wham! were caught so off-guard by the sudden success of the Fantastic album in 1983 that he and Andrew didn’t even have sufficient material to get them through a whole set: ‘We had to play three songs twice because we didn’t have enough stuff!’

The problem this time around, on 25Live, is slightly different. With seven studio albums, and countless singles, under his belt, George will be spoilt for choices as he puts this show together. Whichever songs he plumps for, however, his fans can rest assured that the man will be putting everything into his performance. After 25 years, he wouldn’t want it any other way.

‘Some of the Wham! songs wouldn’t sound right now,’ he says. ‘So I’m not going to be singing ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’. I don’t think I’d be able to get into the shorts, anyway. But I should be doing ‘Everything She Wants’. ‘I’m Your Man’ and ‘Edge Of Heaven’ might get a look-in, too. And, who knows, the audience at the Wembley shows around Christmas might get lucky!’

‘My voice, possibly because I haven’t been touring, is in really good shape. My speaking voice has got lower, but my overall range is still pretty much what it was. I’ve been smoking for ten years, but I’m still a tenor. Some of the falsetto may have gone, but my voice in general sounds pretty much the same as ever. Maybe that’s a product of not having trekked around the world.’

‘The visuals are going to blow people away, too. I want the shows to be more like theatre than rock ‘n’ roll, and the technology is finally available for me to realise some of the ideas that I’ve had for years. But, as much as I don’t want to disappoint those people who want to see more of my bottom, I’m going to be less of a showman and more of a singer. Madonna has made it difficult for the rest of us, but – even if I gave myself another five years – I’d never be able to fit into that bloody leotard!’

‘If I’m going to do this on a regular basis, I have to enjoy it. I’m not going to be running around like a lunatic onstage worrying whether people are excited or not. That way, it will be less stressful for me. My voice will stand up better. And people will get a much better vocal performance. As a 43-year-old, it’s not natural for me to be a showman. So I want to do what I’ve always dreamed of doing, and that’s just going out and singing. I really believe that’s what the majority of people want from me.’

By Adrian Thrills

Tour Credits

Michael Lippman - Artist Manager
Andy Stephens - Artist Manager

Ken Watts - Tour Director
Eric Barrett - Tour Manager
Mark Spring - Production Manager
Looloo Murphy - GM Tour Manager
Lisa Johnson - Assistant Tour Director
Diane Eichorst - Production Assistant
Stuart Ross - Tour Accountant
Ronnie Franklin - Security Consultant
Paul Dallanegra - Head of Security

Michelle May - G.M. Personal Assistant
Alex Georgiou - G.M. Touring Assistant

The Band
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

Willie Williams - Video Staging Design & Direction
Vince Foster - Set & Lighting Design & Operator

Scott Chase - Stage Manager
James Kelly - Show Manager
John Armitage - Backline Guitar Technician
Cyril Thomas - Backline Guitar Technician
Yard Gavrilovic - Drums & Percussion Technician
Kerry Hopwood - Pro Tools / Keyboard Technician
Ben Leach - Keyboard Technician
Bob Laverick - Assistant Show Manager

Andrew Robinson - GM Monitors
John Roden - Band Monitors
Gary Bradshaw - Front of House Sound
Don Parks - Sound Crew Chief
Simon Hall - Audio Stage Technician
Sid Rogerson - System Engineer
Johnny Sugden - Radio / RF Technician
John Shelly Smith - Lighting Crew Chief
Paul Kell - Lighting Technician
Eugene Benavidez - Motion Control
Stephane Hazebrouck - Lighting Technician
Dennis Gardner - Front Of House
Dan Wiseman - Metal Work
Jim Mills - Dimmer Man
Mike Farese - Head Rigger
Danny Machado - Rigger
Bill Macklin - Rigger
Jamie Cutler - Electrician

Andy Bramley - Video Director
Ed Jarman - Video Engineer / Crew Chief
Jean-Pierre VanLoo - Video – LED Technician
Koen Lavens - Video – LED Technician
Martin McAuley - Video – LED Technician
Rob Wick - Video – Camera Operator
Roger Nelson - Video – Camera Operator

Gregory Gish - Head Carpenter
Daniel Witmyer - Carpenter
Gino Cardelli - Carpenter
Albert Thorig - Carpenter

Michele Baylis - GM Hair / Make-up Europe
Carol Hart - GM Hair / Make-up UK
Aislinn Corcoran - Wardrobe
Amanda Bracebridge - Wardrobe Assistant
Simone Johnson - Dressing Rooms/Backstage
Rolant Jones - Trainer/Masseur
Simeon Asher - Osteopath

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

Sarah Muir - Head Chef / Crew Chief
Rachel Franklin - Catering
Chris Clarke - Catering
Valerie Chalmers - Catering
Helen Bone - Catering
Pete Bailey - Catering

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 / Chapman Freeborn
Audio – Chris Hill / Wigwam Acoustics Ltd / John Fredericks / Technical Earth Ltd / James Gordon / Digico Ltd
Backstage Furniture – Graeme Dixon / GLD
Bussing – Joerg Phillip / Beat The Street
C A D Services – Peter Brungardt / Brungardt Enterprises L.L.C
Catering – Wendy Deans / Popcorn
Communication – Mike Weaver / Mike Weaver Communications
Inflatables – Robin Harries / Air Artists
Insurance – Paul Twomey / Robertson Taylor Insurance
Legal – Chris Organ / Russells & Co
Lighting – Dave Ridgeway / Neg Earth
Merchandise Design – Melanie Panayiotou
Merchandise – Jeremy Joseph / De-Lux Merchandise Ltd
Microphones/Radio In Ears – Mark Saunders / Sennheiser
Power – Anthony Hurlocker / Fourth Generation Ltd
Pre-Programming – Niall Flynn / Rupert Coulson / Pete Gleadall
Publicist – Connie Filipello
Rehearsal Spaces – Lou Hall / Lite Structures / Nunu Whiting / Music Bank / Alison Burton / Air Recording Studios / Audrey Kane / Wembley Arena
Rigging – Gavin Weatherall / Andy Bailey / The Rigging Partnership
Set Construction – Chris Cronin / Merv Thomas / Total Solutions Group
Soft Goods – Colin Hannah / Acre Jean Ltd
Stage Engineering – Neil Darrocott / Xolve Ltd
Stylist – Sumaira Lateef / SLR
Tour Passes – Mandy Cox / Publicity & Display
Tour Ticketing – Shelley Lazar / Slo Limited
Travel (G.M.) – Fran Green / Media Travel
Travel (Band and Crew) – Gary Pennicott / Media Travel
Trucking – Robert Hewett / Will Johns / Stage Trucks
Video Screens – Chris Mounsor / Phil Mercer / XL Video UK Ltd
Video Design – Frederick Opsomer / Marc Fichefet / Olivier Clybouw / Innovative Designs
Video Content – Sam Pattinson / Onedotzero
Video Content Creative – Luke Halls / Damian Hale
Video Animation – Shiv Pandya
‘Freedom ‘90’ Animation – Matt Pyke – Universal Everything
‘Outside’ Animation – Alex Rutterford / concept by Willie Williams
‘A Different Corner’ & ‘Careless Whisper’ Animation – Richard Cullen
Video Archive Consultant – Nick Bradbury
Video Design – Jason Bruges / Zena Bruges / Jon Hodges / Anna Graves / Jason Bruges Studios
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

Belgium – Herman Schueremans / Live Nation
Denmark – Steen Mariboe / Flemming Schmidt / DKB & Motor
France – Jackie Lombard / Interconcerts
Germany – Peter Rieger / Peter Rieger Konzertagentur
Holland – Leon Ramakers / Alison Torrance / Mojo Concerts
Ireland – Jim / Peter Aiken / Aiken Promotions
Italy – Adolfo Galli / D’Alessandro E Galli
Norway – Rune Lem / Gunnar Eide
Spain – Pino Sagliocco / Sagliocco Group
Sweden – Thomas Johansson / Ema Telstar
Switzerland – Andy Bechir / Good News
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.)