Legendary pop duo Wham became one of the most successful bands of the 1980s. They dominated the charts in the UK and abroad for six years, winning a host of platinum, gold and silver discs, while bagging a multitude of number one hits.
When George Michael met Andrew Ridgley, little did they know they were going to explode on to the music scene and rocket to international super-stardom in such a short time! They sold more than 30 million records before they split up in 1986 and became the first Western group to tour China.
With a massive following of teenage girls, reminiscent of the heyday of pop stars such as the Bay City Rollers and the Osmonds in the 1970s, they were described as leading the “British invasion” of the United States, with their singles Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, Careless Whisper and Everything She Wants all topping the US Billboard Hot 100.
Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou was born in June 1963 in East Finchley, London. His father, Kyriacos Panayiotou, was a Greek Cypriot restaurateur who had lived in the UK since the 1950s. His mother, Lesley, was an English dancer.
The family moved to Radlett in Hertfordshire and George attended Bushey Meads School, a secondary school in Bushey, near Watford. He met future bandmate, Andrew Ridgley, at the school.
Andrew was born in January 1963 in Windlesham, Surrey, to Alberto Mario Zacharia – who was of Egyptian and Italian heritage – and his wife Jennifer, who was Scottish. His mother was a primary school teacher.
Andrew was already a pupil at Bushey Meads when George arrived. He took George under his wing as the new boy at school. They shared a love of music and at the age of 16, they started a ska band, The Executive, with their school friends Andrew Leaver, David Austin and Andrew’s brother, Paul.
After two years, The Executive split up, without having had any commercial success. George and Andrew continued song-writing together and formed Wham in 1980. They won a record deal with Innervision Records in 1982. This was the start of their hugely successful career, although their first single, Wham Rap, wasn’t a big chart hit.
Their second song released in 1982, Young Guns Go For It, propelled them to number three in the UK singles chart and established them as an international pop act when it charted all over Europe.
They broke the American market with Bad Boys in 1983, but it was their 1984 chart-topper, Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, that saw them reach number one in the UK, the US and across much of Europe. It went double platinum, selling more than two million copies.
A series of number one hits followed, including their second and third releases of 1984, Careless Whisper and Freedom, which topped the charts in the UK and United States and achieved platinum and gold status respectively.
The festive classic, Last Christmas, has charted many times since December 1984, most recently reaching number three at Christmas 2018.
Wham embarked on a lengthy world tour in 1985 and became the first Western pop band to go to China. The tour was devised by their manager, Simon Napier-Bell, attracting huge media publicity worldwide as thousands of excited fans turned out to enjoy the live show.
They also appeared at the fundraising event, Live Aid, in 1985, although they performed separately. George sang Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me with Elton John and Andrew appeared as a backing singer for Kiki Dee.
In the spring of 1986, to the dismay of thousands of young fans across the world, Wham announced they were splitting up. George was keen to become a solo artist and wished to target his music to a more mature audience, instead of the teenage fan-base who followed Wham.
Wham released a farewell single, The Edge of Heaven, followed by their final concert at Wembley Stadium on 28th June 1986. The concert featured many support acts and lasted for eight hours. An audience of 72,000 fans said their goodbyes to the band.
Life after Wham
After Wham split, Andrew opted for a life away from the music industry. He later said in interviews that George had been the main songwriter and was the “more talented” member of the group. He had no regrets about their mutual decision to disband and said there had never been any thoughts of re-forming Wham.
Andrew began pursuing his interest in motor racing and although he had little interest in music after Wham, he released one solo album in May 1990, called Son Of Albert, which wasn’t a massive commercial hit. He now lives in Cornwall, away from the public eye, in a restored 15th-century farm.
George went on to have massive solo success after Wham. He also took part in charity concerts and released fundraising records in support of charities such as the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity. He became a patron of both charities.
Sadly, the star died on 25th December 2016 at his home in Goring-on-Thames, at the age of 53, of heart problems. Elton John was among the stars who paid tribute to George, calling him not only a world-class singer and songwriter, but also a “kind and sweet” human being.
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