25 Live: George Michael at Manchester Arena & London Earls Court

First published: Gay Times, December 2006

I’m backstage at the MEN Arena in Manchester for the opening night of George Michael’s first UK tour in 15 years, when one of his lovely young staffers notices the somewhat cheeky T shirt, courtesy of Holy Moly, I’m wearing. “Oh, George will love that! Shall I introduce you to Kenny?” And before I know it I’m being whisked away to meet the other half, who was charm personified. “I wanked off George Michael,” he says, then reads the shirt again. “Oh, that’s really cool.” Relieved that I’m not in the doghouse I grab a drink but not before overhearing Mr Goss ask one of the crew “I wanked off George Michael. What does it mean?” Then I remember he’s a good ole Texan boy where they have no need for wankers in their vocabulary when jerk will do nicely, thank you very much.

After an audience with the main man (choice exchange: “Are you going to do Bad Boys?” answer; “Oh, I’m doing lot of bad boys on the tour.”) plus virtually the entire female cast of Coronation Street and Barbara (Sue Johnston) from the Royle Family we’re escorted to our seats as George has a concert to perform, funnily enough. But not before Coronation Street’s Sally Webster shields her screen and real life daughters’ eyes from said T shirt and asks “Is it true?” I decided to go all Francis Urquart on her. “You might think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.” To which she squeals with delight and laughs “You lucky thing!

On stage, George admits to having been nervous about this homecoming shows for the past month, but he needn’t have worried. He has the capacity crowd eating out of his well-used hands (as opposed to mine) from the moment the impressively curvy video screen parts itself to reveal him looking dapper, trim and in great health, not to mention great voice. At 43, middle age, rather large new teeth and substance abuse seem to have left his remarkable vocal chords in amazingly fine fettle. In fact I found myself wondering if the 25Live tour moniker was actually a cheeky reference to the number of joints he’s been known to get through in a day, rather than the official line of celebrating his quarter century of making records, as there’s nothing at all Fantastic here – not one song from the first Wham! album either in the show or the accompanying Greatest Hits triple disc set. We only are allowed to go as far back as 1984/85, but when the era is represented by the tasty triumvate of Everything She Wants, I’m Your Man and Careless Whisper, my gripes appear churlish. The audience, surprisingly dominated by hetero couples, so lapped up every syllable of Whisper that George ended up being a guest vocalist on his own song! In fact, shaking his head in amazement, he seemed so genuinely moved by the response that he looked on the verge of tears, and I’m not ashamed to say that, witnessing such a sight, even this hardened hack felt his bottom lip start to tremble.

As I make my way to my seat at Earls Court the following week, I notice a stream of Star People to my right. As i join a fellow colleague I blurt out (rather too loudly it seems) “There’s Moss, Campbell (Naomi, rather than Alistair), Mcqueen, Geldof, Everett, Halliwell, bliimey even Pepsi and Shirley are here!” and before I know it a careless game of Chinese Whispers has enveloped the whole of the front block of the arena. While slinky vagabonds Kate and Naomi appear to revel in the attention somewhat coquettishly, Rupert looks distinctly sour and I feel guilty, until someone tells me he always looks like that in public. In fact, he didn’t smile once throughout the entire concert.

And there was plenty to be happy about tonight. Georgious elicited even more of a rapturous response than ever. At times slick, assured and perfectly polished, the only cock-up occurred during a slight inflatable malfunction when the British Bulldog representing Blair didn’t seem too keen on showing off his arse while chomping on Bush, while a first-time-live duet with Mutya on the recent ballad This is Not Real Love had most people wondering whether they’d be back in time from the bar for a fast one. There were some serious moments too, and the haunting My Mother Had A Brother, a song about the singer’s closeted uncle’s suicide, was prefaced with a heartfelt speech on why there’s no better time in history than now to be gay. And while we’re on the subject, “I just want to say that I did not have sexual relations with that van driver,” announced the Hampstead Heathen, “Usually I don’t shag old men… but I wouldn’t mind screwing Rupert Murdoch!” And he looked as though he meant it as well, though one presumes it won’t be shown on ITV.

After thanking “My band!” (it would have been nice if George could have remembered their names, though at least we got to know from the closing video credits that his osteopath is a guy called Simeon) a fabulously funky Freedom 90 closed the show, and it’s interesting that the track that effectively announced confirmation of his sexuality and withdrawal from the celebrity lifestyle a good eight years before the LA cottage industry of Outside, now appears to take on a whole new meaning, particularly with his plan of abandoning making records altogether.

Whatever the future holds, the 25 project has only highlighted the fact that George Michael is up there with the likes of the Pet Shop Boys and Madonna in representing the best of the last quarter century in pop music, and it’s even more remarkable that he’s able to draw on such an impressive body of work and still leave out a fair few fan favourites with only bad boys like me really noticing. Fantastic, one way or another.

Steve Pafford

The author of this article was still sporting the same T shirt in 2007 when Yog opted the new Wembley. Washed, naturally
  • The Homecoming Queen title was a header chosen by the GT editorial team after I had submitted my copy.