IT was a secret that risked bringing an end to one of Britain’s most successful pop groups.
But Wham! singer Andrew Ridgeley was not worried about the future of the band when George Michael called for him that day in 1983 to tell him he was gay.
Andrew Ridgeley has opened up about his relationship with his close pal and Wham! bandmate George MichaelCredit: Chris Craymer
His only fear was that the beloved frontman would become a victim of the era’s new peril: Aids.
In his new book, Andrew tells how George feared that coming out about his sexuality would end his hopes of competing with superstars Michael Jackson and Madonna.
But recalling his own concerns, he says: “A terrible additional worry was the emergence of Aids.
“I know I wasn’t the only friend of George’s who worried about him during that uncertain, frightening period.”
George feared coming out as gay would damage the future of the bandCredit: Rex Features
Fear of the condition, and wide-spread homophobia, was reaching a peak when the late pop idol finally revealed his secret.
The pair had just finished filming the famous Club Tropicana video at Pike’s Hotel, Ibiza, when Andrew was woken by his bandmate, calling him to his room for a chat alongside Shirlie Holliman, their long-term backing singer.
In the book, called Wham! George & Me, Andrew writes: “When I walked across the hallway to George’s room, Shirlie was already there, perched on a large sofa in the suite. George was still in bed. He smiled as I came in.
“The mood in the room was so relaxed and familiar, yet what George was about to reveal was clearly a big deal for him.
Andrew says finding out about George’s death was ‘like a punch in the gut’Credit: Splash News
“‘I didn’t know whether to tell you this’, he said, looking across at Shirlie. But I’m going to. I’m gay’.”
Andrew later learned that George had already confided in Shirlie, who is now married to Spandau Ballet bassist Martin Kemp.
He was incredibly worried about telling Andrew but she reassured him he would not care.
Despite remembering his surprise at George’s confession, Andrew makes it clear he was not bothered about his childhood pal’s sexuality, and only wanted him to be happy.
George had already come out to Shirlie Holliman, the band’s long-term backing singerCredit: Getty – Contributor
It was then that he finally understood why the singer and close mate had never had a serious girlfriend.
He always speculated that a group of men from Barnsley, who George met in Ibiza and would often speak about, were gay.
The bandmates never discussed relationships before or after George came out. Andrew, who went on to marry Keren Woodward from Bananarama, says it just wasn’t part of their make-up.
But that is not to say the pair never talked about sex.
Andrew and George backstage with Elton John at the final Wham! concert at Wembley in 1986Credit: Getty – Contributor
Andrew reveals that during their teens they explored porn together — starting with George collecting X-rated magazines in a field behind his house.
Their fascination with it grew and Andrew wanted to delve into more explicit material, even persuading George, whose nickname was Yog, to accompany him to an adult cinema.
But their visit did not last long because the friends were put off by other men in the audience treating the viewing as an “interactive experience” by attempting to perform sex acts on themselves.
Andrew reveals they then tried to watch a live sex show together but changed their minds after realising they had to pay £20 for drinks. As they attempted to leave, a security guard told them they needed to stump up the cash before going.
Andrew says he and George developed a fascination with porn while in their teensCredit: Scope Features
When Wham! split in June 1986, Andrew took a step back from public life as George’s fame continued to grow. While Andrew’s Aids fears never came true, George did have a close connection to the condition.
In 1993, his partner Anselmo Feleppa died from Aids, leaving the Careless Whisper singer distraught and in a downward spiral.
In his memoir, Andrew recounts how George struggled to deal with the crippling grief as he could not speak about it publicly.
He adds: “It had devastated him but he’d been unable to discuss it in public. Had he spoken out earlier, who knows how differently things might have played out.”
George’s fame continued to grow after Wham! split in June 1986Credit: Rex Features
Then in April 1998, the star was forced to reveal his sexuality to the world after being arrested in Beverly Hills for soliciting sex in a public toilet.
But George’s life was to be cut short, dying from heart and liver disease aged 53. On Christmas Day three years ago, his partner Fadi Fawaz found him dead at home.
In his book, Andrew recalls how hearing the news was like a punch to the gut as it came without warning — and at George’s favourite time of year.
He had just sent a text thanking his old pal for the annual Christmas hamper packed with goodies, and expressed his hope that the pair would be able to meet up in the new year.
Andrew reveals he is struggling to come to terms with George’s sudden deathCredit: Getty – Contributor
Then five minutes later, George’s sister Melanie rang and Andrew assumed it would be further festive cheer. But tragically, that was not the case.
He writes in the memoir: “There was certainly nothing to hint at the awful news that followed.
“‘Andrew, I hate to tell you this’ said Melanie. ‘But George has died’.
“The news hit me like a punch in the gut.
Andrew feels he may never know what ‘really happened’ when George diedCredit: Getty – Contributor
“It was as if my world had been pulled out from underneath me. I felt overwhelmed and couldn’t quite comprehend what was being said. The details and hows and wheres rushed by.
“My best friend had died on Christmas Day and now his sister was having to tell me on the phone.
“I can’t imagine how hard that must be for her to have to call so many people and tell them the dreadful news over and over.
“But Melanie managed to hold herself together and delivered the details with great dignity.
Andrew reveals all in new book Wham! George & Me
“I put down the phone and, doubled over with grief, began to sob.”
Andrew reveals that he is struggling to come to terms with George’s death and still questions what actually happened. Despite the official cause of death, Andrew says George had appeared to be healthy.
In the book he says: “He seemed to be in good health at the time and there are conflicting reports surrounding that night that preceded his passing. It now seems as if we may never know what really happened.
“We don’t like our lives being monitored, so when someone dies alone, perhaps there are always answers that remain out of reach.
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“It still feels uncomfortable though. God knows what it must be like for George’s family.”
Their hit song, Last Christmas, is a permanent reminder of George’s death.
But rather than feeling upset when he hears the track, Andrew smiles in the knowledge his mate’s dreams were fulfilled by writing a timeless classic.
- Wham! George & Me, by Andrew Ridgeley, is out now
I was a rebel… not him
ANDREW reveals that George’s parents banned him from their home, saying he was a bad influence.
The book tells how he was given his marching orders at a house party before they created Wham!
Teenage Andrew drowned his sorrows at the prospect of being separated from his best friend.
Andrew met his future bandmate on George’s first day at Bushey Meads School in Bushey, Herts, when he sat next to him in class.
The teacher said: “We’ve got a new boy, who’s going to look after him?” Andrew immediately stuck up his hand.
As the children of immigrants – Andrew’s dad was Egyptian, George’s Greek – they had an instant connection.
Back then, Andrew was the most outgoing, especially with the girls.
But the friends did not compete and Andrew helped George develop confidence and charisma to match his talent.
Andrew lost interest in schooling after he had learned to read and write. But George was studious, and his parents harboured hopes of him going to a decent university.
Despite pulling George off the path to academia, which the late singer’s parents had planned for him, Andrew did eventually win round his mate’s mum, Lesley.
He writes in the book: “It hadn’t taken a genius to realise I wasn’t Lesley’s cup of tea at first, I’d grown to like Yog’s mum, and she liked me.”
However, George’s strict dad Jack never warmed to rebellious Andrew.