On the fourth anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death, I’m reminded of a candid conversation I had four years before that, with another famous Michael. George Michael. Jacko died on George’s birthday, and the day before mine. George and I have known each other since he started messaging me online out of the blue, a decade ago. After years of badgering him, he agreed that I should interview him for a Gay Times cover story in 2007. Two years earlier, our first face to face meeting proved rather different. Thank heavens I kept a diary.
It’s Monday 13th June, 2005, and after being cruised by George Michael on a well known gay website, I am finally invited to visit him at his palatial Georgian home in deepest Highgate. I arrive dead on 8pm as agreed, and the fellow hairy half Greek comes to the gate dressed in khaki shorts and a baggy black T-shirt, one of his beloved golden retrievers tracking his every move. As I pass endless old masters from the likes of Picasso and Miro on the walls, I’m led into a kitchen diner that looks out onto one of the biggest gardens I’ve ever seen, but before I’ve had a chance to sit down George gets a call on his mobile. It’s his sister, Melanie: “Put Sky News on,” she instructs. “They’re about to announce the Michael Jackson verdict!”
We sit glued to the flatscreen TV on the wall, waiting for the court’s judgment on the latest round of child abuse allegations. George realises he’s completely forgotten to offer me anything. “Do you drink? I think I’ve got a bottle of wine somewhere.” It’s obvious alcohol is no longer his regular drug of choice. This becomes ever more apparent as he spends a good ten minutes looking for a bottle opener. I turn round and catch George Michael with his head inside the washing machine. “Oh, I thought the cleaner may have put the bottle opener in there. I think she’s hiding it from me.”
George sits at the dining table with two packets of Silk Cut and a large stash of hash and starts to roll a joint for each of us. We watch the Not Guilty verdicts come in. After the first one George is incredulous. “No, fucking way!” he cries. Then the next: “I don’t fucking believe it. This is a travesty. Just how many people have been paid off?” It goes on and on, and I can see George’s rage building up. He’s as red-faced as Jacko is white. He clearly believes the court have reached the wrong verdict. But why’s he so sure? He obviously knows stuff but doesn’t want to elaborate just yet, so I ask him if the two of them have ever met.
“Oh yeah, we were even going to work together. But his bizarre behaviour put the kibosh on that. It was 1988 and it’s funny, looking back, but at the time we were the biggest male pop stars in the world, rivals I suppose. And our label Sony had this grand idea of a duet – the two Michaels – it could’ve been the biggest thing ever! But I’d heard that Prince had turned him down, I also knew that he was sitting on stuff he’d done with Freddie Mercury – apparently they fell out because Freddie kept urging him to come out of the closet!”
“Was Freddie trying it on with him? Who knows? But it wouldn’t surprise me, knowing Freddie! Anyway, a meeting was arranged at the Jackson family compound in Encino. Michael had just bought Neverland but we’d heard that no adults were allowed there, except staff. It took ages to get there; a really long drive in a stuffy car from LA and I’m really hot and sweaty. When we arrive at the house, we’re shown into the porch by the front door and told that Michael will be down to see us shortly. I was standing there for 20 minutes. Then Michael arrives, in full-make up with shades on, inside the house! He’s accompanied by his manager Frank DiLeo, and I have my manager with me, so there’s the four of us standing in the hallway, and Frank does all the talking. Not once does Michael ever shake our hands, take his shades off or speak directly to us. I try to engage him in conversation but he just turns his head and looks at the floor. All questions to him have to go through his manager, even when you’re standing right in front of him. Unbelievable rudeness!
As the managers try to work out the logistics of who would write the song and all that, the only time Michael volunteers to speak is a whisper in Frank’s ear. “Michael wants to know how much do you think we could sell of this record?” enquiries DiLeo. It would have been absolutely massive, and my manager made it clear it would be, but it was almost like Michael wanted some kind of guarantee: “I will only agree to work with you if it’s going to sell at least x million.” But by this point I’d lost interest. We’d been talking for over an hour and not once were were offered a drink or even a chair. I came away thinking this guy is a complete and utter nutter. And that was the last time there was ever any talk of the two of us working together. No amount of record sales was worth that kind of behaviour.”
George Michael has had his own run ins with the law since then. Happily, he’s also recording his first new album of new material for a decade…