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My brother George Michael and The Big Issue by Melanie Panayiotou

In an article published a month before her tragic death, Melanie Panayiotou remembers how a chance meeting more than 20 years ago led to a beautiful friendship between her pop star brother and The Big Issue

Once upon a time, many moons ago, at a lunch table far, far away, a short conversation took place about which of the many competing glamorous magazines should benefit from a front cover interview with our beloved Yog, who was at the time promoting his 1996 album ‘Older’, and gave rise to a quick, easily taken decision.

During said lunch, I suggested that a way out of his and his much loved PR’s predicament was to offer The Big Issue the interview, his first for many years, which I thought would, as well as solving the dilemma, save offending any editors, avoiding problems in the future. Consequently, a new positive precedent was set.

To explain… Months previously, in a long since lost and missed Crouch End café named ‘Wisteria’, I had spotted John Bird, who I’d recognised from a photo and interview he had done recently about the magazine and its core objectives. At that point they hadn’t, I believe, had any ‘faces’ on the cover.

After some initial hesitation, I approached John, as ultimately, I decided it was a positive and encouraging thing to show support, and felt he may appreciate the vote of confidence in his mission, even if he may not have appreciated the interruption of his snack.

Yog was the first artist of many to grace the cover of The Big Issue

I relayed to him a conversation my brother and I had recently had, not naming him until the very end of our chat, but saying what a great idea we thought The Big Issue was, and wishing John well for what would hopefully be its continued growth and success. It was only at the lunch many months later that I saw the possible fit and the benefit in suggesting a joint venture.

Yog was the first artist of many to grace the cover of The Big Issue, with an accompanying exclusive interview, and happily he was followed through twenty plus years by so many other great artists, writers and performers wanting to support the UK’s homeless community.

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Homeless people were supporting themselves and others in a vibrant magazine; showcasing their own creative talents, talking about current issues in their community and carrying ads from supportive companies, in turn allowing and promoting more good works.

These were positive stories, showing those of us lucky enough to never have experienced homelessness a clear way to support the progress of those who have – and provide some financial security. Win/win.

All these years later, with the release of Emma [Thompson] and Greg [Wise]’s funny, sweet and fabulous Last Christmas movie all around the globe (employing many talented members of London’s homeless community in their cast) I was reminded that it all started all those years ago with a chat, in a tea room, and then a happy coincidence, over lunch.

My family and I hope you all enjoy the film, and Yog’s music, old and new, woven beautifully into this fun easy tale of love and self-love. As many of you know, Yog adored Christmas and he loved the idea of this film. I am sure he will be enjoying seeing Emilia’s amazing light bulb smile, something they share, across the celestial miles!

And, most importantly, we all, together with our dear departed Yog (my ‘very proud to be gay’ brother – contrary to what you may have read recently!) wish a very Merry, Merry Christmas to Big Issue sellers and readers alike.

Melanie x

This article was originally published in The Big Issue on November 11 2019

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