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George Michael’s death left ‘a void’ says Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley

Andrew Ridgeley reflected on his friendship with Wham! bandmate George Michael, and his fond memories of their teenage years.

Wham! in 1986: George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley

1986: Ridgeley with George Michael as Wham! prepare to wind down after an incredible run of success. Image: Tony McGee

Andrew Ridgeley has revealed his “disbelief” at hearing of the death of lifelong friend George Michael, who passed away on Christmas Day in 2016.

The Wham! star told The Big Issue that, despite their very different careers after the end of the huge pop band, his friendship with George Michael – nicknamed Yog by close friends and family – endured until the end.

“When I found out [George had died] it was a moment of disbelief,” Ridgeley recalled, as part of an interview to be published in next week’s Letter To My Younger Self. “I think anyone finds it difficult to comprehend when someone they’re so close to passes away, it’s an inconceivable moment. It leaves a void in your life. I’d love to just sit and have lunch and play Scrabble with Yog again.”

Ridgeley and Michael were close friends from the age of 12, having met at school and quickly made a close bond. They formed a band when they were 16. Wham! went on to become one of the UK’s biggest pop acts of the 1980s, selling more than 30 million records worldwide from 1982 to 1986.

Though Wham!’s huge success only lasted four years, the band’s co-founder and songwriter has no regrets about their decision to end it so early.

“I didn’t feel sad when we brought Wham! to a close [at a farewell concert at Wembley in 1986],” he said. “It may have been the end of a chapter, but we still remained friends. Yes, we were going to be spending less time together. But we were both embarking on new chapters in our lives. We were extremely fortunate to have the friendship we did. And we were extremely fortunate to have achieved far more than we ever thought we would.

“It was not a depressing or sad circumstance. Obviously there was an element of… not sadness, but we knew we were saying farewell to the expression of our youthful friendship. It couldn’t exist into adulthood and old age because that’s not what it was. Which is why we made the decision relatively early on to bring it to a close. We both understood that it couldn’t go on forever.”

Ridgeley insisted that, despite Michael going on to be one of the biggest music stars in the world while his own stardom faded, he was never envious of his old pal.

“I didn’t have the voice to compete with George but that was fine,” he cheerfully admitted. “All I wanted to do was be in a band. That was the full extent of my aspiration at 16 and I had realised it. I had no desires and no burning, deep-held ambition to do anything else. So I was quite content in with the role we’d established by the time we were playing gigs. Once we were touring, we’d already had chart success. So that the context was absolutely fine for me.

“It might be difficult for people to believe I was never envious of Yog, but I just didn’t feel that way. It’s not a factor of my personality. I was thrilled to pieces with his development into the artist that he became.  He was my best friend. It is so alien and bizarre to me that anyone would feel otherwise.”

And though he revelled in the incredible global success of Wham, Ridgeley confessed that his fondest memories of the band were from before they had their first hit with Young Guns (Go for It!) in 1982.

“If I could go back to any time in my life, it would probably be when Yog, Shirley [Ridgeley’s then girlfriend & future Wham! backing singer Shirley Holliman], and me were knocking around together as a very, very happy and affectionate trio. Before anything had been released. That’s when we had the least concerns in life.

“We had absolutely nothing, but we had each other’s company, hours spent together doing nothing in particular, just trying to write songs. In those teenage years there’s no demands of life upon you. You are essentially carefree. And only a few elements of outside life impinge upon that. That’s the golden moment.”

Read Andrew Ridgeley’s Letter To My Younger Self, including more of his childhood memories of George Michael, in The Big Issue from 26 June.

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