Six surprising facts about Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’ you probably didn’t know

George Michael in the music video for Wham! Christmas song Last Christmas.

At this point, George Michael and Wham!’s pop hit “Last Christmas” is as essential to the festive season as tinsel and turkey.

Nearly forty years on from the track’s release in December 1984 and it remains regarded as one of the very best Christmas songs of all time.

In the 2023 Netflix documentary film Wham!, vintage audio clips from the late, great George Michael and his Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley revealed more about how the iconic tune came to be, and how it has continued to soundtrack the holiday season for nearly four decades.

As Christmas nears and the song hits the radio rotation in countries across the globe once again, here are six surprising facts about “Last Christmas” you may not have known.

George Michael wrote Wham!’s “Last Christmas” in his childhood bedroom

The song that would become one of the most recognisable Christmas hits of all time was actually written in George Michael’s childhood bedroom.

According to Ridgeley, “Last Christmas” was written on a Sunday in 1984 when he and Michael were chilling at Michael’s parents’ house, watching football. His parents were out, and it was just the two of them – before Michael announced that he had an idea, and had to run upstairs for an hour.

“I wrote it on one of those little four track portastudios,” Michael revealed in Netflix’s Wham!.

“I went downstairs and I said to Andrew: ‘I’ve done it’. I said, ‘We’re gonna have four number ones this year and we’re gonna have a Christmas number one and I’ve just written it’. I played it to him and he went, ‘f**k yeah’.”

At the time, the band had just had three Number One singles with “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”, “Careless Whisper” and “Freedom”.

The song was then recorded in August 1984, in a studio that Michael had filled with Christmas decorations.

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

George Michael – and everyone else – was drunk while filming the music video

The “Last Christmas” music video was filmed in Switzerland’s ski resort Saas-Fee and features George Michael, Andrew Ridgeley, Wham! back-up signers Pepsie and Shirlie, model Kathy Hill, and Spandau Ballet star Martin Kemp, along with a group of Michael’s friends.

However, the group got so drunk on set that Ridgeley has since said he was surprised the music video was able to be completed.

“Spirits were really high as you can imagine,” Ridgeley shared in Wham!

“The assistant director in his wisdom had filled each glass to the brim [with real alcohol]. It went downhill from there,” he added, with Michael saying that the group got “gradually more drunk”.

“It was mayhem,” Ridgeley revealed. “It was a remarkable video shoot – that it ever got made, actually, to be honest with you.”

Fun fact: the “Last Christmas” music video was also the last time George Michael was filmed without his beard.

George Michael was devastated that “Last Christmas” didn’t go to Number One

Both Michael and Ridgeley were adamant that they’d created a sure-fire Christmas Number One single with “Last Christmas”, but it wasn’t meant to be – not immediately, anyway.

Shortly after filming the “Last Christmas” video, Michael was invited to take part in the Band Aid charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas” alongside several other ‘80s stars, in aid of the Ethiopian famine appeal. 

At the time, Michael told reporters that the charity single was a “major threat” to securing Wham!’s fourth Number One, and though he was proud to be part of Band Aid, his “ego” wanted “Last Christmas” to hit the top spot.

“That’s what was so ironic about the Band Aid “Do They Know it’s Christmas” [song]. Everyone else was just thinking how fantastic it is [saying] it’s gonna be great, it’s gonna be Number One,” Michael said.

“I had all those same feelings about it, but I just had this little b*stard ego thing that I just had to keep squashing that was going, ‘s*it sh*t sh*t sh*t’. Because this little ego inside me had this master plan for four Number One singles this year and it had all worked, everything was ready.”

“Do They Know It’s Christmas” ultimately went to Number One, and “Last Christmas” went to number two – though Wham! donated all the royalties from their song to the Ethiopian famine fund.

“It was still a strange feeling to drive home,” Michael added after the fact.

“With the best will in the world, trying to be the greatest altruist in the world and having given every penny that ‘Last Christmas’ has ever made to African relief funds, and that b*stard insecure little thing that wanted his four Number Ones that year… it’s irrational, and it comes from a place of fear.”

George Michael was sued over the song – but the case was dismissed

Over the years, “Last Christmas” has drawn comparison to several other songs due to its simplistic melody, most notably “Can’t Smile Without You”, recorded by stars including The Carpenters and Barry Manilow

After the song was released, publishers Dick James Music sued Michael for plagiarism on behalf of the “Can’t Smile Without You” songwriters, claiming that “Last Christmas” sounded too much like their song.

However, the case was dismissed after it was proved that dozens of songs also had a similar melody to “Can’t Smile Without You”.

George Michael (1963-2016) pictured during the Japanese/Australasian leg of his Faith World Tour.
George Michael. (Michael Putland/Getty)

“Last Christmas” finally went to Number One in 2021, 36 years after it was first released

George Michael might have been disappointed that “Last Christmas” didn’t go to Number One upon its release in 1984, but it did finally reach the chart summit – 36 years later.

Michael’s fans had initially campaigned to get the song to Number One for Christmas in 2017, one year after his death on Christmas Day 2016, but it once again reached number two.

In 2021, five years after his death, the song hit Number One on New Years’ Day. 

British singer-songwriter George Michael, of Wham!, in a Sydney hotel room during the pop duo's 1985 world tour.
British singer-songwriter George Michael, of Wham!, in a Sydney hotel room during the pop duo’s 1985 world tour. (Michael Putland/Getty)

Wham!’s “Last Christmas” has been covered more than a dozen times

The impact of Wham!’s “Last Christmas” continues to live on, nearly four decades after its release. That can be seen primarily in how it remains one of the most successful Christmas songs of all time, but also in how many artists – from across the music world – have covered it.

“Last Christmas” has been covered by huge pop stars including Taylor Swift, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Ariana Grande, as well as by Noughties music royalty like Cascada, Joe McElderry, Hilary Duff, Billie Piper, Ashley Tisdale, Jimmy Eats World, and the Backstreet Boys.

There’s even a version by Crazy Frog, and one by the Glee cast. That’s versatility.

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