Andrew Ridgeley has spoken to NME about the upcoming Netflix documentary Wham! – as well as the pop icons’ enduring legacy.
The new documentary tells the story of the ‘80s pop duo Ridgeley formed with his late best friend George Michael, as well as the singles boxset that will commemorate the 40th anniversary of their debut album ‘Fantastic’.
From 1982 to their final gig at Wembley stadium in 1986, Wham! scored five UK Number One singles – ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’, ‘Careless Whisper’, ‘Freedom’, ‘I’m Your Man’ and ‘The Edge of Heaven’, later celebrating a sixth when ‘Last Christmas’ topped the charts in 2020, 36 years after it was first released. They’re all among those featured in the forthcoming ‘Wham! The Singles: Echoes From The Edge Of Heaven’ collection. The multi-format release includes a special edition 7” vinyl singles carry case containing all the hits and additional content.
“I’ve really enjoyed the process of reviewing our career from this point of time and getting a sense of how much fun it was,” Ridgeley told NME. “The speed and scale of it was quite surprising. The nice thing about Wham! is that it was almost exclusively a joyful and positive period in both our lives. It had a beginning, middle, and an end – so it makes a great story.”
Using the narrative framing device of scrapbooks of press cuttings that Ridgeley’s mother compiled, the documentary Wham! traces how Ridgeley met Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou (who later adopted the stage name George Michael) at Bushey Meads comprehensive school in Hertfordshire, England, when he was assigned by a teacher to be his mentor, and they bonded over a mutual love of Queen, Joy Division and Monty Python sketches.
At 18, they formed Wham!, and the duo’s effervescent pop provided escapism from record unemployment levels in England. The pair’s career saw them release two albums, become the first western band to play China in 1985, and sell more than 30million records worldwide, before bowing out with a final concert in 1986.
Wham!’s Andrew Ridgeley and George Michael CREDIT: Tony McGee
Having largely shunned the public eye since Wham!’s amicable break-up, it was the outpouring of affection in the wake of the death of Michael, who passed away in the early hours of Christmas Day 2016 aged 53, that sparked Ridgeley’s interest in revisiting Wham!.
“With George’s death, I became far more aware of how strong the affection for Wham! is, the place it holds in people’s imagination, and fondness towards the band,” he said. “Therefore, it seemed natural to address the Wham! legacy. The documentary sets our success in the context of our friendship and how that defined Wham!. It’s our authentic friendship that marked us out as unique. George is fondly remembered by everyone who knew him, and I’m pretty sure he would have liked and approved of the choices we’ve made. The good thing is it’s narrated purely in George’s voice, using archive interviews, and my own, which makes it feel intimate.”
The 60-year-old musician went on to explain that among his most cherished memories of Michael, whom he nicknamed Yog (derived from the Greek pronunciation of Georgious), were their teenage pre-fame escapades, such as being kicked out of a Triple-X cinema in London’s Soho.
“We’d gone to a strip club when we were 16-17 and asked for the drinks bill and it was absolutely extortionate so we said, ‘We’re not paying that!’, until the doorman was fetched and it became clear we weren’t going anywhere until we did,” Ridgeley recalled. “They demanded every single penny we had – which was £20 – and then we were asked to leave.”
He continued” “Like all good chums, we got into all sorts of silly situations. There was one occasion when we’d gone to a party as 14-year-olds after George had bought some new trousers, and he’d had far too much to drink, and was in a baleful state, sobbing because nobody had remarked upon his new trousers!”
When asked if the documentary provided an opportunity to show Wham!’s legacy – a band that has sometimes been overshadowed by the success of Michael’s solo career – beyond the clichés of ‘CHOOSE LIFE’ tops and shuttlecocks down shorts, Ridgeley told NME: “I think, naturally, when Yog was pursuing his George Michael solo career, he wanted the focus to be kept on that, although there’s always been a hint of Wham!’s legacy because there couldn’t not be. But I’d say the Wham! legacy has remained strong.
“The music’s always been played. If you consider that the first Deadpool movie [in 2016] featured Wham!’s ‘Careless Whisper’ quite heavily, I think it seems to be as strong a part of the popular culture as it’s ever been. The music stands the test of time and has a vibrancy and energy which appeals to Gen Z.”
From their formation, Ridgeley and Michael agreed that Wham! would be a ‘firefly’ band that wouldn’t outlive the hedonism of youth – with no middle-aged reunions. What emerges from the documentary is how Ridgeley acted as a catalyst for Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou to become the armour-plated George Michael ‘pop star’. It was Ridgeley’s idea to form Wham!, and the awkward Michael – concerned about his puppy fat, mushroom cloud hair, and oversized glasses – initially modelled himself on his far more confident friend.
“Yog was less sure of himself as a youngster and hadn’t really identified who he was and was fast-tracked in some ways to his ultimate destination as a person in becoming the artist George Michael, which was hastened by our ascent to success as Wham!,” said Ridgeley. “Had we not had a very successful career as Wham!, he may not have arrived at his destination as quickly. He needed the right circumstances to allow him to fulfil his destiny – fortunately, they were.”
Ridgeley co-wrote ‘Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)’, ‘Club Tropicana’ and ‘Careless Whisper’, yet before their debut album ‘Fantastic’, he ceded creative control to Michael – whom he recognised as a superior songwriter – and Michael’s subsequent commercial juggernaut solo career, meant that he was mocked by the tabloids for years. Despite this, Ridgeley insisted that Wham! were purely celebratory and not meant to correct any misapprehensions of him merely being ‘The Other One’ in the band.
“That’s never been something that I’ve dwelt upon or has been a factor in my perspective of Wham!, to be honest, so it’s largely an irrelevance to the way I’ve lived my life once we brought Wham! to a close,” he said. “None of this has been done to redress grievances or misconceptions.”
Wham!’s George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley CREDIT: Chris Craymer
Earlier this year, it was reported that a George Michael biopic was in the works, with The White Lotus actor Theo James reportedly in the frame to take the role of the singer. Denying knowing anything about the project, Ridgeley informed NME that he would nevertheless love to see a Wham! biopic. “I love Bohemian Rhapsody and Wham! is a feelgood, positive story from start to finish, so I think a biopic would be a marvellous thing. Add in the Wham! soundtrack and I don’t think you could go wrong.”
The Wham! 40th anniversary celebrations coincide with the year that George Michael is set to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Reflecting on the honour, Ridgeley commented: “When he received the Ivor Novello Award for Best Songwriter in 1984, it meant a lot to him that his canon had been recognised. I think he would have been absolutely thrilled to pieces at being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – that’s a high accolade and would have meant a lot to him.”
Wham! is slated for release on Netflix globally on July 5. ‘Wham! The Singles: Echoes From The Heaven’ is available on July 7 in multiple formats.
You can check out Andrew Ridgeley’s performance when he took our longstanding quiz feature Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?’ – where he reflected on tributes from Lewis Capaldi, Conversative MP Michael Gove performing ‘Wham Rap!’ and the enduring seasonal success of ‘Last Christmas’ – here.