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Music

George Michael's incredible generosity went far beyond Band Aid

George Michael supported many charities and individuals in need – often in secret

George Michael onstage in 2011

George Michael performing on stage at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, in aid of the Elton John Aids Foundation. Image: Matt Crossick / Alamy Stock Photo

George Michael was as generous with his money and his fame as he was with his prodigious talent. 

Music lovers were left bereft when Michael died aged 53 on Christmas Day 2016. As the desperately sad news filtered out, so did stories of the star’s generosity. 

The vast sums of money he donated in secret, the hours he spent volunteering, the charities and individuals he helped. So many stories of selflessness came out in the days and weeks that followed. 

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This was no surprise to The Big Issue. He had supported our work for a long time, showing us that kindness, that generosity with both his time and his words.  

In 1996, after recording Older – the album considered by the singer and many fans and critics to be his finest work – he talked to the press for the first time in six years. He gave the exclusive interview to The Big Issue. 

Michael knew EVERYONE would want to read his first print interview in years. By giving this exclusive to a magazine whose vendors make a living on the streets, he used his fame to help people facing poverty.  

In the 1996 interview, Michael talked about his charitable giving with refreshing clarity. “I can give away large amounts of money without it having any effect on my life. So you can do a lot of good at arm’s length… which I’m sure people will criticise me for,” he said.  

And he continued to help us, and countless others, both publicly and privately for the rest of his life.  

In the days after Michael’s death, the stories were everywhere. Novelist and former Pointless co-host Richard Osman tweeted: “A woman on Deal Or No Deal told us she needed £15k for IVF treatment. George Michael secretly phoned the next day and gave her the £15k.”

George Michael on the cover of The Big Issue in 1996
George Michael on the Big Issue cover in 1996.

Michael was revealed to have been a regular volunteer at a homeless shelter, swearing his co-workers to secrecy. And we heard about how, after overhearing a woman in a cafe having a fraught conversation about her debt levels, Michael left a £25,000 cheque with the waitress – on the condition that it was handed over after he’d left. A student nurse had a similar tale of receiving a £5,000 tip from Michael at the bar she worked at, to help pay off her student debts.  

Then there were the vast royalties George Michael gave away. The earnings from his 1991 duet with Elton John, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, went to the Terrence Higgins Trust and their vital work around HIV, Aids hospice London Lighthouse, and the Rainbow Trust children’s charity. All of his royalties from his 1996 international number one single Jesus to a Child went to Childline, a charity he donated millions to over many years, helping keep them afloat.

Not content with singing on Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?, the 1984 single that kept Last Christmas off the top spot, Wham! donated the royalties from their festive hit to Ethiopian famine relief. And every Easter, DJ Mick Brown wrote, Michael would call Capital Radio to donate £100,000 to Help A London Child, the station’s charity dedicated to helping disadvantaged children and young people.

All this came on top of the generosity we already knew about. From the free concert for NHS workers who had cared for his mother (long before clapping for them on doorsteps became a regular national pastime) to publicly supporting Project Angel Food, which would distribute food to people in LA living with Aids.  

George Michael was a once-in-a-lifetime talent, but as these stories show, his legacy extends way beyond his music.  

Big Issue Cover featureing Wham! - George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley

Read more about George Michael – including the touching memories of his friends and bandmate Andrew Ridgeley – in this week’s Big Issue, on the streets until 2 July.

The Big Issue magazine exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work, buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today. Or give a gift subscription. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available from the App Store or Google Play

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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