book reviews

Andrew Ridgeley’s love letter to George Michael…

Bill and I just spent an explosive evening in Landstuhl, so he could get a colonoscopy. I brought my iPad to pass the time and thanks to Bill’s early morning laxative dose, I was wide awake to finish Andrew Ridgeley’s book, Wham!, George Michael and Me: A Memoir.

You remember Andrew Ridgeley, right? He’s the less famous half of Wham!, one of the hottest pop acts of the 1980s. As a child of the 80s, I was a Wham! fan. I remember when they burst on the scene around 1983, then lit up the airwaves with their hit song, “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go”, which I learned from Ridgeley’s book was based on a note he’d left for his mother.

Published in October 2019, Wham!, George Michael and Me: A Memoir is the story of how back in 1975, Andrew Ridgeley, the son of a Scottish mother and an Egyptian/Italian father who’d anglicized his name, befriended Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, the son of an English mom and Greek dad. George– then affectionately known as Yog, because it was easier to pronounce than his real name– was a shy new kid, and Andrew volunteered to show him around their school at Bushy Meads School. The two boys became fast friends who hung out with each other, got in trouble together, and eventually formed a super popular band and began keeping company with the likes of Freddie Mercury and Elton John.

Although George Michael was definitely the better known and probably the more musically talented of the pair, Ridgeley was the one who had come up with the idea for starting a band. They teamed up with some local lads, including Andrew’s brother, Paul, and managed to write some songs that eventually caught the ears of a promoter at Innervisions Records. In the meantime, the two watched “X rated” Saturday Night Fever, snuck into porn shows, got drunk for the first time, went to dances and parties, and went through the usual growing pains that come from being an adolescent.

Apparently, though Michael eventually came out gay, he dated girls when he and Ridgeley were in school. And Michael was not nearly as much of a clothes horse as Ridgeley was, although he did become rather obsessed with his hair. At one point, Ridgeley notes dryly that his friend and bandmate looked a bit like Princess Diana. Since Ridgeley is generous with photos, I got a look back at George Michael’s appearance back in the 80s and, I have to agree– he and Diana had very similar coifs.

Boy, does this bring back memories…

Wham! consisted of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, but there were also two women in on the act who danced and sang to the music. Shirlie Holliman Kemp was a local girl who used to date Andrew Ridgeley. The band hired her to dress up the act. Singer-dancer Helen “Pepsi” DeMacque-Crockett rounded out the group.

This was one of my favorites… on cassette, of course. The lyrics were definitely dirtier…

Wham’s! time at the top was short lived, but burned brightly. George Michael turned out to be a bonafide star, not only a great singer with a lot of charisma, but also a great songwriter. Ridgeley started out as legitimately half of their duo, but Michael overshadowed him and, in 1986, the group disbanded so that Michael could go solo and released his incredibly successful debut album, Faith. Ridgeley points out that he and George had started out as two young, hedonistic, party boy types who appealed to teenagers. But when George Michael went solo, he attracted an entirely different audience. I thought Ridgeley was extremely complimentary and kind to his old friend, who ended up being a lot more famous and arguably more successful… except when you consider the fact that George Michael died on Christmas Day in 2016 and Andrew Ridgeley is still alive and kicking.

And of course, the annual favorite, made more poignant since George died on Christmas. Andrew has some funny tales about this video, too.

I enjoyed reading Wham!, George Michael and Me, although it was a bit skimpier on details than I was expecting. The writing is basically solid and easy to understand, but it seems like it was a bit short. I was surprised this morning when I got to the end. It was almost like Ridgeley skipped from 1986, when Wham! was doing its farewell concert in London to finding out about George Michael’s sudden and completely unexpected death thirty years later. Still, I found Ridgeley very likable as a storyteller and some of his tales about growing up with George are downright hilarious. I especially enjoyed his commentary about their fashion choices.

I’m glad I read this book, since it framed George Michael in a more down to Earth, human, light. And I was charmed that Andrew Ridgeley got starstruck meeting people like Jimmy Page, whose daughter was a big Wham! fan, and The Bee Gees, who invited George and Andrew to lunch. As George and Andrew had been hugely influenced by Saturday Night Fever, that was a real honor. I also liked reading about how Wham! played in China at a time when no one else was playing in China, and they were offered bicycles as payment… and how they, the children of fathers from other countries, assimilated in Britain. Apparently, George Michael was a very good student, too, and his traditionally minded father had dreams of him going to university and getting himself a “proper job”. I’d say that despite Andrew Ridgeley’s “negative” influence and bent toward hedonism, George did alright with his career.

I think I’d rate this book four stars out of five, because it was fun to read, but a little lighter on details than I would have liked. I recommend it to anyone who’s interested in Wham!

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