In scandal, George Michael turned out to be completely, revealingly human

Superstar assignations or heroin with an entourage were not George Michaels style instead it was cruising Hampstead Heath, smoking weed, and a career that faced his personal life honestly

No matter how diligently George Michael tried at times to sink his career, his career just wouldnt go away. If anything as he told Kirsty Young when he was a Desert Island Discs castaway in 2007 it kept bobbing buoyantly, untarnished by scandal. With Michael, there was no such thing as reputational damage; even incidents that were the stuff of publicists nightmares, such as the 1998 arrest in a mens toilet, did little material harm. The impression until yesterday was that he could have picked up his career again at any time there were rumours of a new album and documentary in 2017 and been as successful as ever. He probably wouldnt have sold as many records as in the days when Faith and Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1 sold 33m copies between them, but nobody does that now. Yet any tour with his name on it would have been an instant sellout, and a major music event.

For that, he could thank the elan he displayed in response to his scrapes, and the humanising effect of owning up to them. Michael was self-admittedly extraordinarily wealthy, and more private than almost any other pop star in his league. He could seem remote and chippy; playing Wembley Stadium in 2007, he had a special greeting for the press box: Kiss my hairy Greek ass! (His rancorous relationship with the media had become increasingly poor after the toilet incident, and that wasnt his only outburst at the Wembley show.) But when trouble came, he met it with truthfulness and humour, and was rewarded with not just the support of fans but an absence of the tawdriness that usually clings to stars whove been caught doing seedy things.


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Video: George Michaels 1998 single Outside

Far from being filed away as quickly as possible, the toilet arrest inspired a song, Outside, with Michael dressed as a police officer in the video. He later remarked that the worst part of being arrested was that I was photographed with my shirt off and I was fat. Can you imagine two worse things than being fat and gay? Picked up for cruising on Londons Hampstead Heath in 2006, he said after dropping plans to sue the tabloid that printed the story he simply enjoyed occasional anonymous sex. Later, he said in an email to the Guardians Simon Hattenstone that part of his dismay at the story was the implication that he fancied portly pensioners. He signed the Hattenstone email the singing Greek.

In the face of such potential career-crushers, celebrities rarely evince that level of honesty. Michael did, and kept doing so when he was hit by controversies he couldnt laugh off, such as four arrests for driving under the influence of drugs. It was my own stupid fault, he said after the first; after crashing into a Snappy Snaps shopfront several years later, he said: Its a hugely shameful thing to have done repeatedly. So, karmically, I felt like I had a bill to pay. I went to prison, I paid my bill. There was no self-pity or attempt to deflect blame. It was, as the native north Londoner might have put it, a fair cop. He served his time, and tried to do better afterward. He became markedly physically ill in the last decade, to the point where Elton John wanted to intervene (an offer received with much hilarity), but by 2012 was boasting he was clean as a whistle.

As the nature of his scandals showed, Michael was a man of the people. What we knew about his sex life was that he picked up ordinary blokes in public places, rather than fellow celebrities in nightclubs; his drug use was largely smoking weed then sometimes being an idiot, rather than taking high-grade heroin with an entourage. If we knew about his proclivities, it was only because he was famous: the things he did were no different, really, to what scores of other people do without them ending up on the <a href=”” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>front page of the Sun. Even in scandal, he seemed very much the boy from Bushey looking for a way to kill spare time, rather than superstar behaving like one. What he did in private has never been reported, but his public habits showed someone who, at heart, was still the singing Greek.

He enjoyed his wealth, but was never quite as sure about the fame part of the equation. Early in his career, he was much taken by a photo of <a href=”” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>David Cassidy in his pomp, in which the 70s star was standing on the roof of London Weekend Television, looking hundreds of feet down at knots of frantic fans. That was Michaels idea of perfect fame: the lifestyle was fine, as long as it was kept at a distance. It wasnt glamorous; it was what the suburban kid Georgios Panayiotou would have done.

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