Wham! star Andrew Ridgeley recalls George Michael’s struggles after delaying decision to come out

Wham! duo George Michael and Andrew Ridgely

Andrew Ridgeley has recalled how George Michael’s decision to delay his public coming out took a heavy toll on his Wham! singing partner’s mental health.

Michael’s career, arrest, coming out and death have been covered extensively but now, with the release of Netflix’s highly anticipated new documentary WHAM!, which charts the rise and success of the ground-breaking pop duo, even more information is coming to light.

During a 35-year career, Michael won more than 50 music accolades, including two Grammys and five Brit Awards. He scored seven UK number-one singles and sold more than 100 million records globally – but beyond his stratospheric success in the public eye, the artist hid a multitude of issues in his personal life.

Although he’s posthumously hailed as an out and proud gay icon, that wasn’t always the case. Michael only came out to the world in 1998, following his highly publicised arrest for “engaging in a lewd act” in a Beverly Hills public toilet.

While Michael lived the rest of his career as unapologetically queer trailblazer, Ridgeley has told People that his decision to delay revealing his sexuality to the public came at a serious cost.

When the “Careless Whisper” singer revealed his sexuality to Ridgeley at the age of 19, in 1982, the news wasn’t exactly a shock.

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Ridgeley said: “When he told me it was like, ‘Oh, well, yeah. That explains a few things’, but it was unremarkable, unsensational.”

Telling the rest of the world, though, was far more complicated. Michael came out on live TV in 1998, during an interview with CNN’s Jim Moret.

Although Wham! split up in 1986, and Michael went on to pursue a solo career, Ridgeley said that the delay between the private and public revelation caused personal turmoil.

“George was thinking ‘Yeah, I’ll just come out and say it’, and I thought: ‘Well, how’s this gonna change anything for us? The music’s still great and once the initial hullabaloo is over, then it’ll probably be just that’,” Ridgeley recalled. 

“But that was not the case, and George [said] that for him, that was the wrong decision. [The] decision to wait [was] because we were fearful of how his father would react, along with the press and the label.

“He was all ifs and buts, but the fact is the decision was taken not to make his sexuality public, and that personally cost him.”

Ridgeley was an “ally before we even had the term”, he told People.

“He originally came out as bisexual to [me], then later, of course, acknowledged that he was, in fact, gay. You were that allyship. You were fully baked in from the beginning, and you watched him struggle with all of that.”

Tragically, Michael’s issues surrounding his sexuality weren’t resolved before his death on Christmas Day in 2016.

“I think it is fairly unarguable. He made the point that it had a personal cost, which I don’t think he ever quite reconciled,” Ridgeley revealed.

“This is as good of a time as any,” George Michael told CNN in 1998, during his coming out interview.

“I want to say that I have no problem with people knowing that I’m in a relationship with a man right now. I have not been in a relationship with a woman for almost 10 years.”

Another recent documentary on Channel 4 (George Michael: Outed), fully explored the homophobic treatment he singer face at the hands of fans and the media.

The two-part documentary, directed by Michael Ogden, shared the negative headlines pedalled by British tabloids throughout the 1980s and 1990s, aimed at the gay community, through the singing superstar – often set against the backdrop of the Aids crisis.

Ogden told PinkNews: “It was really fascinating, because the language is really horrible and the way it’s written is really horrible, and it’s really judgmental. And it’s all because George got his d**k out in a toilet. I thought that was ridiculous.”

Michael was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, maybe rather late given that he’s one of the best-selling musicians of all time.

The singer was also honoured by Elton John at the latter’s recent farewell gig at Glastonbury.

While introducing his penultimate track, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me,” Elton took at moment to remember his “friend” and “inspiration”.

As a picture of Michael was beamed on to the stage, Elton said: “Today would have been his 60th birthday, so I want to dedicate this song to his memory. All of the music he left us with, which is so gorgeous. This is for you, George.”

 WHAM! is available to stream on Netflix now.

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