George Michael: My personal recollections of his life

We met at a gay disco when he was still an unknown teenager

By Peter Tatchell

London, UK – 26 December 2016

Commenting on the tragic, unexpected death of George Michael, UK LGBT rights and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said:

“George’s sudden, sad death has robbed the world of a great artist and a star with a social conscience. He spoke out against injustice and the Iraq war and helped raise huge sums for AIDS and other charities.

“I first met George about 1980 when he was still a teenager and before he was famous. It was a chance meeting in a small gay disco above a pub by Manor House tube station in north London . He was a great dancer and sang along to songs. He had a good voice and said he was going to be a pop star. There were lots of wannabes in those days. I thought: may be. I was surprised and pleased when he hit the big time three years later with Wham.

“He never came out until relatively late, 1998, after he was busted in an undercover police sting operation in Los Angeles. But he turned his arrest into a defiant defense of the right to be gay.

“In the 1980s, he chose not to reveal that he was gay because he feared a negative reaction from his parents, fans, record company and, particularly, the tabloid press. Back then, the red tops were vicious to gay public figures. They were vilified and smeared. Being gay was portrayed as a scandal and shame. It ruined many careers.

” This was also the era of AIDS, which was often dubbed ‘the gay plague.’ Gay men were blamed for the deadly virus. Public attitudes become much more homophobic. Gay-bashings and murders rocketed. It was a fearful period to be gay, let alone a gay public figure. I wish George had come out then. He could have helped counter that tide of prejudice. But I understand why he didn’t.

“As well as being a brilliant artist, George had a social conscience, did message music and raised lots of money for charities.

“His 1990 record ‘Praying for Time’ was a hauntingly beautiful, albeit despairing, critique of poverty and injustice. He did not appear in the official video. There was no dancing. It was a black screen with the lyrics in white. He clearly wanted his fans to see and understand a message that he felt strongly about .

“He opposed the Iraq war. His 2002 ‘Shoot the Dog’ track was a savage satire on George W Bush and Tony Blair and his song ‘The Grave’ a year later was a lament about the wasted young lives lost in war. ‘Shoot the Dog’ was a brave move that lost George fans in gung-ho patriotic America. But he stuck to his principles and showed his critics that he wasn’t a mindless, hedonistic pop star.”