George Michael: interview
Time Out gets an exclusive insight into the world of Britain‘s favourite media-shy white funkateer and self-proclaimed ’lucky bastard‘, George Michael as he prepares for his forthcoming Wembley mega-gig
We have something to announce which may shock you, so take a seat (unless you’re reading this on the tube, in which case lean to your left a bit). This Saturday, Wembley Stadium hosts its first gig. George Michael will headline London’s new-ish £757 million landmark, gazumping poor old Muse by a week. Never mind that he was probably still in Wham! when the rebuild was first announced, and that grime, emo, electroclash and spunk-jazz have all come and gone since the ground was broken. The nation’s favourite stoner (other than perhaps Snoop Dogg) is obviously excited by the prospect, and has big plans for the night, having plunged back into the live circuit after an absence of 15 years.
‘It’s a big show,’ says Michael of his new stage set. ‘It’s much bigger than the arena show was. I’ve got a big walkway out into the crowd, with a second smaller stage. I’m trying to replace most of the graphics from the first tour, even though they were great. We’ve got some better stuff; that’s really exciting. On an artistic level, it’s going to be even better than the first part of the tour. It is exciting and actually I have a feeling I’ll really enjoy it.’
What the mood of the show is going to be like is a mystery, seeing as it takes place the day after George is due to be sentenced at Brent Magistrates Court for driving while unfit through a combination of drugs (prescription drugs, he maintains). Given that the offence carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail, it could either be a sombre farewell or a joyous celebration (featuring, we’d imagine, a triumphant outing for ‘Freedom’). For legal reasons, Time Out was not able to ask George about any of this. And for entirely different reasons – namely Michael’s distrust of the ‘nasty’ UK press – we weren’t able to ask him about much else, either. This exclusive interview, which we were granted by his people, was conducted by a freelancer from news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur, who’d interviewed George at his north London home. And, though he’s publicly contrite about his erratic motor handling, it seems Michael is more sanguine about his fans’ reaction to his various indiscretions.‘I think people have an idea about modern media,’ he says.
‘I think they understand how negative publicity sells much more than positive publicity. I trust my fans to know the truth and to know that things are not normally what they seem in the press in this country. I’ve already been trialed [sic] and found guilty by the media. Luckily, they don’t make the law yet. And I cannot say anything that won’t fuel the flames. I think if there had been any feeling of disappointment among my fans I would have felt it last year. I would probably have felt it in ticket sales.’Michael’s issues with the press are well documented; what hasn’t really been explained is why he thinks the press would be out to get him in the first place. His theory on this is illuminating, if not entirely convincing.
‘I think at the end of it all I represent something profoundly different for society,’ he muses. ‘I have grown up surrounded by people who think that sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll is compatible with a working life while being married with children. During the 1980s, my generation and the one after me, found that it was impossible. Me, I don’t want any children, I don’t want responsibility. I am gay, I smoke weed and I do exactly what I want in my life because of my talent. I represent an ideal which others have had to let go and they blame me for that. Especially men.’
The George Michael we know (kind of) in this country is, by his own admission, a carefully constructed avatar. His public persona, is more carefully stage-managed than his stage show. It’s easy to put this down to the tabloid storm over his 1998 arrest for lewd behaviour in LA. In fact, Michael has spoken to the press more often since that than he did before;- it had been six years since Michael had granted an interview when he agreed to speak to The Big Issue, then the free and fair outlet of choice for right-on artists, in 1996. Michael says he retreated from the spotlight mostly because the ’90s were ‘just a long line of disasters’. Aside from the death of his long-time partner Anselmo Fellepa and his US arrest, ‘there were dreadful things happening to people I cared about everywhere. There was a point at which I didn’t think it would ever stop, all this bad stuff.’
This didn’t stop him carrying on with life as an entertainer, although the album covers and videos did become noticeably more frowny. These days, however, life’s much better. Legal troubles aside, he’s settled, in a committed relationship, comfortable with his career, at ease with his sexuality and generally chilled out, man.
‘It’s been going much better for a long time,’ he says. ‘Maybe not always professionally, but definitely – touch wood! – it’s been a long time since anything terrible happened in terms of people I care about. So I’m less afraid of life than I was maybe five or six years ago. This period of my life is probably the most relaxed so far.’
This new-found sense of peace has allowed George to open himself up to the world more than before. He might not be ready to ask Richard Littlejohn round for dinner any time soon, but Michael is making a conscious effort to be more honest with his fans, and attempting to reconcile the über-confident stage and screen persona with his more vulnerable human side.
‘It’s much more integrated now, I think,’ he says. ‘I think I was afraid of the power that I held, the power of being your own boss and the power of publicity and fans and stuff like that. I was very afraid of all of that before. And now I’m more comfortable with it. I’ve gone through enough things in my life. I have the kind of perspective that says: You are a lucky bastard. Just get on with being who you are. And accept that you have a certain amount of power and know a way to use it to make your own life easier. Without abusing others, obviously. But they are closer to the same person now. Obviously there’s still a showman there. But I don’t feel embarrassed by him any more.’
Still, while Michael’s relaxed and enjoying life and playing live, he has no desire to get back on the album-tour-promo treadmill. Michael says he has no plans to record another album, ever, but will instead record and release single tracks, harnessing the power of the internet to get them out to fans and hopefully ‘result in a higher quality of music’. This might seem like a stab at cosy semi-retirement, but he maintains it’s actually a reaction to the relatively recent explosion of celebrity culture, and cultdom.
‘Being a celebrity in 2007 is not what it was in 1982,’ he says. ‘The difference is that your talent is becoming less and less relevant to the media, and your life has become almost all that’s relevant. And that’s not what I came into this business to do. And that’s not what I intend to do. A certain amount you have to put up with but I have a life beyond that. They can’t take away any of the things that I really love. The only person who could lose these things is me.’
George Michael plays Wembley Stadium on Saturday.
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