Netflix’s Wham!: 7 revelations from new documentary charting George Michael’s rise to the top

Photos of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley from band Wham!

Wham!, the long-awaited Netflix documentary tracking the astronomical rise of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley’s ‘80s pop band, has finally landed.

Through interviews and archival footage, the 90-minute film explores how the Wham! pair initially got together and the stories behind some of their biggest hits. It also examines George’s soaring journey into solo stardom.

In addition, George discloses his journey with his sexuality, and how he had to navigate being gay in a music industry that was still very much an unwelcoming place for the queer community.

Wham!’s impact on the entertainment world cannot be overstated. Here are just seven of the key takeaways from Netflix’s new documentary.

The story behind how Wham! got their name

There’s so much in a band’s name. Some artists opt for something with precious, significant meaning. Others pick a clever name or one dashed with humour. 

Not George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, though. Their band name simply originated from a wild night out in Soho, in one of George’s favourite haunts: Le Beat Root.

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“We were doing this formation dance and having a laugh and Andy started shouting something about ‘wham, bam’, George explains during the opening minutes of the film – “and we thought that would be a good name for a group”.

That’s all there is to it. As Andrew himself puts it: “Wham! And it stuck.”

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Wham! perform in London in 1983.
Wham! perform in London in 1983. (Pete Still)

Two of their biggest hits were originally rejected by label bosses

There is, without doubt, at least one former record label boss still regretting this decision, but according to Wham!, both “Careless Whisper” and “Club Tropicana” were initially rejected.

George reveals in the documentary that he and Andrew would work on the songs at Andrew’s house and on the bus, pulling the records together “slowly, day by day”.

Then, as 18 years old, the pair door-stepped record companies with their demos. “How cocky is that?” George says. “We’d just stand there and insist that we were booked an appointment.”

Despite their confidence, success didn’t come easily, with Andrew revealing the two singles brought a “very disappointing response” from record label bosses.

“The guy chucked the tape back over the table,” George recalls, “and said: ‘you know, nice voice, but go away and write some hit songs‘.”

“They all sent ‘Careless Whisper’ away. They all sent ‘Club Tropicana’ away. I remember my stomach turning over, and I the sinking feeling,” he adds. “I was absolutely devastated.”

The tracks would go on to become number one and number four UK hits respectively. “Careless Whisper” has been voted the UK’s most popular song for five consecutive years.

George Michael reveals the one Wham! single he absolutely hated

Above all of his many other talents, George was a stunning songwriter. That’s why, when Wham! released their third single, “Bad Boys”, in 1983, George “absolutely hated” it.

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According to Andrew, the duo felt pressured to “write to a certain formula”, with lyrics about “youth kicking against adulthood”, as the press at the time felt the band’s music was all about teenage ennui.

In the documentary, he claims that “neither of [them] were happy with ‘Bad Boys,’ while George adds: “[it] was simply formula. I just didn’t know what to do, and I just wrote to formula. I absolutely hated that single.”

While the lads despised it, the public clearly didn’t: it reached number two in the UK charts.

Wham! in Australia in 1985.
Wham! in Australia in 1985. (Getty/Michael Putland)

Andrew Ridgeley on how George Michael came out to him

George told his Wham! partner that he was “gay, if not gay, bisexual” while they were in Ibiza filming the music video for “Club Tropicana” in 1983. 

While Andrew says the song marked the “point where [they] became pure Wham!,” it also saw the start of George’s long battle with the press who fought to out him as gay.

Discussing the very moment George revealed his sexuality, Andrew says: “We stayed on a couple days after the shoot. One morning, the phone rang in my room and Yog [George’s nickname] said to me, ‘Can you come over and have a chat’. Nothing out of the ordinary as far as that goes.”

Andrew went to George’s hotel room, where he was with Andrew’s ex-girlfriend and Wham! backing singer Shirlie Holliman. “Yog was in bed. He gave Shirlie a quick glance,” Andrew continues. “He said to me: ‘I [don’t] know how to tell you this but I’m gay. If not gay, bisexual.”

Hilarious tale behind how Wham!’s biggest hit “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” came to be

Wham! finally scored their first UK and US number one hit with their 1984 single “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”, but if it wasn’t for one minor mishap, the song would never have existed.

One night, George stayed over at Andrew’s house. “I’d pinned a note on my bedroom door and I’d made a mistake and written ‘wake me up up before you go’,” Andrew recalls. “So, I just amended the ‘go’ to ‘go-go’.”

Ever the creative genius, George sniffed a hit. “It struck me that it was a somehow wonderful title for a song,” he reveals. “Next thing you know, ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’.”

George Michael’s father was dead set against Wham! ever happening

Wham! might never have existed, if George’s father Kyriacos “Jack” Panayiotou had got his way. 

Jack saw Andrew as “cocky” and a “leader”, someone who was distracting his son from the things that mattered – good grades – for something futile such as starting a band.

“By the age of about 14, I’d completely lost any interest in education such as it was,” Andrew explains during the documentary. “All I could think about was being in a band with George… he felt the pressure from his mum and dad far more acutely than I did from mine.”

Reflecting on his upbringing, George says he felt he came from a “very oppressive household”.

George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley of British pop group Wham! before they set off for their tour in China. Pictured with their parents.
George with his father, Kyriacos “Jack” Panayiotou (next to Andrew) and other family members. (Mirrorpix)

He explains: “My father’s idea was obviously for me to have an academic career.

“My father banned me from using the stereo and banned me from buying records. He was obviously going to make me stop wasting my time on dreams of the music business.”

In archive footage, Jack admitted that he wasn’t impressed with the idea of Wham! at first.

“I wanted him to become a doctor or an accountant, behave like how I expect you to behave,” he said, admitting that he told George: “You can’t even sing to save your life, anyway”.

Thankfully, George said that Andrew’s influence was too strong to withstand, and Wham! went ahead.

George reflects on the moment he realised he was gay, and why he initially decided not to come out

The most poignant moments of the Netflix documentary come when George discusses his sexuality, and how he weighed up coming out against the pressures of fame. 

While George didn’t come out as gay publically until 1998, following his arrest for engaging in a “lewd act” in a Beverly Hills toilet, and the subsequent media hounding, he had known about his sexuality for approximately 15 years before then. 

Reflecting on the moment he realised he wasn’t straight, George reveals that had stayed over at a man’s house six months before going to Ibiza to film “Club Tropicana”.

George Michael walks past a press photographer in LA.
George Michael was hounded by the press after his arrest in Beverly Hills. (Getty/John Chapple)

“I’d actually had something go on that made my attraction to men fairly clear,” he says. “I had stayed over at this guy’s house and he’d tried to have sex with me and I’d been too scared. But I realised that I wanted to stay in the bed for the night, to be close to this guy, which had never happened before.

“And I wrote the song about that, that’s what that song was about,” he says of “Club Tropicana”.

After he came out to Andrew, George “really wanted to come out” to everyone else, but had to contend with how it might affect his career, and the relationship with his father.

“I said I was going to talk to my mum and dad and was persuaded, in no uncertain terms, that it wasn’t the best idea,” he says. “I don’t think they were trying to protect my career or their careers, they were just thinking of my dad. When you’re 19, you look at your parents [and think]: ‘Oh don’t tell your dad, your dad will hit the roof’.

“At that point, I really wanted to come out, then I lost my nerve completely,” he adds.

He had to deal with feeling insecure and uncomfortable in his sexuality, while being paraded around as a sex symbol for young women.

“I was still kidding myself that I was bisexual, [hanging] on to the little part of myself that was attracted to women. At that point, if your goal is to become the biggest selling artist of that year, you’re not going to make life difficult for yourself, are you?

“I was too young and too immature to know that I was sacrificing as much as I was.”

Wham! Is available on Netflix now.

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