The George Michael we knew: celebrities remember him one year on

November 18, 2017

Its almost a year since George Michael succumbed. Here, Elton John, Mariah Carey, James Cordon and Tatjana Patitz recall their friend

Elton John:’ On Christmas Day last year I lost a beloved friend’

George was always great fun to be with. He was never afraid to speak his mind. Like me, he’d often get himself into trouble by saying what he really believed. He was straightforward, which meant you always knew where you stood with him- rather than someone who will be nice in front of you and then horrible behind your back. So fulfilling up with George was always an event because he had such a definite sentiment on everything and when opinions clashed it would make for an interesting evening.

People genuinely adored George and it wasn’t just the music. They felt for him and they felt his conflicts; he was completely authentic. He wasn’t touring all the time or putting records out year after year. He was a true starring. When you considered George perform you were going to see someone who really could sing beautifully and move you with his music. It was a treat. With all his trials, afflictions and the publicity, people could relate to the imperfection. We’re all imperfect and we all have our flaws. He had his fair share of pain in life and this “re coming out” in his songs.

Throughout his problems he maintained dignified and tried hard to stay private. George, like the rest of us, induced mistakes and sometimes publicly, but people could see what I personally was lucky enough to know about George. That he was one of the kindest, most generous people that I ever met in my life.

‘He
‘ He was a true star ‘: George Michael with Elton John and Andrew Ridgeley in London in 1985. Photograph: Rex/ Shutterstock

What he will be remembered for most importantly is being a brilliant and talented artist. He wrote unbelievable tunes and had an amazing voice. I never heard him sing a bad note. You can hear every emotion in his voice- ache, sorrow and pleasure- and that’s the mark of a genuinely great singer. George could sing anybody’s lyric and make it sound like his and that’s an extraordinary talent to have, to be able to interpret his own and other people’s songs in different ways every time he performed them. He was without doubt one of the greatest songwriters this country ever made and certainly one of the best vocalists ever.

On Christmas Day last year I lost a beloved friend: a lifetime’s friendship that was founded on music to start with. One of my earliest memories with George is of he and I sitting in a car only off Hyde Park listening to Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go on cassette and I said:” This is the nearest record I’ve heard to Motown .” It was( and still is) simply such a brilliant record and we went on to have a brilliant relationship.

George was a very private man. He always had the mystique thing about him. He wanted to keep things private, had his own group of friends and he didn’t want people to know everything about him. Of course he lived under massive scrutiny and some artists would do anything for that level of publicity all the time. Not George though. He wasn’t in the paper everyday, he wasn’t posting their own lives on social media and I think it made a difference. What people might have forgotten about George is that when Listen Without Prejudice was originally released over 25 years ago now, he did no promotion for the album, which back then was revolutionary. This was 1990 and he was following up Faith , which was huge.

This was a massively foresaw album and a completely different sound and feel to Faith . Where as Faith was joyous, Listen Without Prejudice was his grown-up record. Like George, Listen Without Prejudice has a sense of mystery. It’s a very ethereal album that has an aura about it. It’s probably his masterpiece. It’s an album that has grown in stature. George got everything that he had inside, every feeling on to the record and thank God he did. At the time I thought he was bonkers for not doing any promotion, but appear how it all worked out. He let the art do the talking.

The video for Freedom’ 90 was genius. At the time, it was completely sensational. It was the high levels of the supermodels and having them in the video was brilliant. It said everything he needed to say.” Here’s my record and it’s fabulous; here’s my video and it’s even more fabulous !” The video is all people talked about, it was so huge. Once it was in your mind you wanted to buy the record.

I was incredibly touched when George named me as one of his major three influences alongside such brilliant company- Freddie Mercury and Stevie Wonder. Recently, as part of the Listen Without Prejudice re-release promotion, I was asked if I could hear my influence in his music and I can hear little bits of me in him. When I write, I’m influenced by other people, too, so I know what it’s like, and I’m very flattered. There are songs like Praying For Time where I can hear little bits of myself, but I also hear a lot of John Lennon. There were so many different facets to George and you can hear his progression through early Wham ! on Faith and on his later albums. You can hear him grow as an artist and evolving from his original voice into more beautiful territory.

You can always tell a George Michael song- from the intonation of his words and the way he exhales and the way he phrases. I will always recollect him for his wonderful music, his kindness and his beautiful voice. Voices like that don’t come along that are typically. He had a gift from God which he shared with the world- a truly beautiful instrument. His music continues to touch people all around the world. He was such a generous human who dedicated so much without wanting any publicity. He’ll be missed for his music, but above all his humanity. I was lucky to have him in my life.

Mariah Carey:’ It was so nice to sit down and have a proper dialogue with him’

‘We
‘ We first met somewhere in London. We ran for a three-hour dinner, and we had a lot in common ‘: Mariah and George perform on stage for the finale at Live 8 London in Hyde Park on 2 July 2005. Photograph: Getty Images

He was in Wham! when I was in school, and I used to love Careless Whisper. My friend Rene and I would sing it in gym class. We used to sing that anthem all the time. That was before I actually knew about George, about Wham! It was Faith that became my favourite of his albums. It was a masterpiece, and it inspired and influenced me. I loved it so much.

I was a new artist on Sony when all the drama around Listen Without Prejudice happened, when there was the issue of him not wanting to appear in any of the music videos. I was behind the scenes[ Carey’s then- husband, Tommy Mottola, was head of Sony in the 1990 s, when Michael sued the label ]. I would hear the executives behind closed doors, and I didn’t like what I heard them saying because I was a huge fan of George.

We first met in England, somewhere in London. We ran for a three-hour dinner, and we had a lot in common: we both had these big issues such as Sony. I love Sony now, it’s a totally different place, but at the time we’d both gone through our own situations with the label, and we had quite the conversation about it. It was a little traumatic.

He was very kind. We both loved music. We both loved writing and make-up music. And I loved him. We had a long talk about a lot of things that I’m sure many people would be interested in knowing. It was a really nice experience for me. When you’ve grown up listening to somebody, and genuinely admiring them and their artistry, it’s nice to be able to sit down and have a proper dialogue with them. Some of his songs are my favourite sungs ever. I was so happy we were given the opportunity to get to know each other.

When he passed away I was devastated. I was in Aspen for Christmas, and I didn’t really believe it at first. People make up so many gossip. It seemed surreal. I put on Faith again and merely sat and listened to it, and supposed again about what a masterpiece it is.

Way before he passed away, I decided to remake One More Try, one of my favourite of his songs. I had wanted to do a duet with him, and I was told that he would have loved to, but it was difficult at the time because he wasn’t doing too well. I wanted to do a live version, like when he and Elton did the duet[ of Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me ].

A lot of people loved his music. He was one of the top artists we had. I wasn’t surprised by the reaction to his death- I was going through it, too. It was tough, and it’s so sad that we’re not going to get any new music from him now. He made a great contribution to the world.

Tatjana Patitz:’ I remember getting really drunk on tequila and devoting him advice’

Model
Model performance: Tatjana in a scene from the video of Freedom’ 90. Photograph: Brad Branson

George’s music was the backdrop to my upbringing in Sweden; he was my first crush as a young teen. My modelling career started in the early 80 s, and in 1987 I flew to LA to work with Herb Ritts. At the time, he was working on an ongoing magazine project where he’d shoot a model and musician or performer together: I’d done one with Johnny Depp, and I was to do one with George. It was the first time we met and I was starstruck.

He was so lovely to work with- sweet and softly spoken, the opposite of what you think such a huge starring is likely to be. At the time it wasn’t OK to come out. A lot of artists had to hide their sexuality, for the sake of fans and record sales. Things were very different then, so it must have been difficult for him. After the shoot, I maintained bumping into him in LA at various nightspots. I remember get really drunk on tequila one night and devoting him some unwanted “advice”.

A couple of years passed and my agent called to say George wanted me to be in the music video for his new anthem, Freedom’ 90. I was really surprised, as the last day I’d seen him I’d been quite …[ inebriated ]. A lot of people were using models in videos then, but usually accompanying the musicians. George didn’t want to be in the video at all. He’d asked David Fincher to direct it. I flew in on Concorde for the working day and we filmed at Merton Park Studios. That was the last period our world’s collided.

His death was a shock and it’s sad to think that those who soundtracked a whole generation’s teen years- Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Prince and George Michael- are run. George was so very influential, a true pop star.

James Corden:’ He had empathy for people and a great sense of mischief’

‘I
‘ I owe George for the success of Carpool Karaoke ‘: James Corden and George Michael in the 2011 Comic Relief sketch. Photograph: Toby Merritt/ Comic Relief

We’d written this sketch for Comic Relief with George in mind[ the first-ever Carpool Karaoke , in 2011 ]. I’d heard he liked Gavin& Stacey so I hoped he’d be interested in working with me on it. George was in Australia, but his director was happy to set up a bellow. I was told he’d ring me at 3.45 am. It was the strangest impression, get into bed and thinking:” When I wake up it’s going to be because George Michael is on the phone .” I define my alarm for 3.30 am and then went and sat in the spare room waiting for the bellow. After initial small talk, I told him the idea and he loved it. I recollect him saying:” This is great. I’ll be back in the UK in a few weeks’ hour and we’ll can fix a date to do it .”

We’d exchanged jokey texts in the weeks leading up to shooting- it was his idea to wear matching tracksuits and he’d had a lot of input- so when it came to the day, and we got a message saying George had cancelled, I was astonished. It’s only retrospectively that I realise that when he was in Australia, he was feeling great- it was sunny and blue skies and he was feeling confident about the way he appeared and was in a positive place. He’d come back to north London and had suddenly retreated back into himself and felt a bit scared about doing anything publicly.

At the time, I sent him a text saying:” Look, I can’t begin to imagine how you’re feeling, and I can’t begin to imagine what life is like for you in London, but I simply want you to know that if you change your mind, we’d still love to do this, but I get it if you don’t .” He reacted, joking about something else, and then ran quiet. Finally, at around 11 pm that night I sent him a text saying:” Your silence is deafening my ego ,” and he called me two minutes later. We talked for half an hour and he said he wanted to sleep on it. I woke up to a text saying:” OK, let’s shoot it on Friday .”

He turned up and did it and he was just wonderful. I feel I owe George for the success of Carpool Karaoke . It was the first one and Mariah Carey agreed to do the second, having ensure the one with George in it. I don’t think we’d have been able to volume the level of talent we have without him having been the first.

It must have been difficult to be George Michael. To be that famous all the time. For most people who get to that level, it’s fleeting, but George was consistently world famous for so long. From what I know from those that have experienced it, “the worlds biggest” you get, the smaller your world becomes, until it’s just a handful of people around you and the four walls of your house.

The thing I loved most about him was that he had an unbelievable sense of empathy for people and an innate understanding of the fight that we all have as humans. And that was counterbalanced with a great sense of mischief. I feel very fortunate that I ever got to be in his orbit.

George Michael: Freedom ‘ will air on Channel 4 on 16 October at 9.15 pm. Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1 is likely to be rereleased on 20 October

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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