HOW WE MET: PEPSI AND SHIRLIE

Shirlie Kemp grew up in London and went to Bushey Meads Comprehensive School, Watford, with George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley; at 20, she became a backing singer for their group, Wham!. She now works part-time for George Michael's record label, Aegean, and lives with her husband - the former Spandau Ballet star Martin Kemp - and their two children. Pepsi Lawrie Demacque (far right) joined Wham! as a backing singer after the release of their first hit single in 1982. By 1986, Pepsi and Shirlie had formed their own eponymously named group, scoring two Top 10 hits. When Shirlie quit three years later, Pepsi went on to work in musicals (including starring as Josephine Baker), and is currently singing with Forthright, a group of producers and mixers. Both Pepsi and Shirlie are in their mid-30s and live in north London

SHIRLIE: I'd been friends with George and Andrew since school - I was the year above them. George used to make up all these dance routines which we'd do in nightclubs; we were either great or so bad that everybody cleared the floor. Wham! started out as an extension of the dance routines. George was the organiser, Andrew had all the charisma - I went out with Andrew for two years. My mum adored both of them.

It must have been 1982 when I first met Pepsi, because I remember Wham!'s first single, "Bad Boys", had come out earlier that year. We had been looking for a backing singer to replace another girl, called DC Lee; Simon Napier-Bell, Wham!'s then manager, gave the job to Pepsi. I was told to go and pick her up from the train station. In the car, she put on her tape and I was impressed by her voice. It reminded me of Shirley Bassey (when I was growing up, Shirley Bassey and Barbra Streisand were my passion).

It would have been embarrassing if none of us liked her. But I really did, because although she looked quite tomboyish, she had this strong feminine streak: she's very warm and there's quite a vulnerable side to her. We were very compatible, but she didn't try to push her friendship. She wouldn't come out to nightclubs with the three of us for a long time, and she never asked where we were going. She almost made us go to her and say: "Why don't you come out?"

Pepsi was always great, very relaxed, with a straightforward "Let's get on with the job" attitude. She took everything in her stride, even though she had walked in from nothing to all these screaming fans, wanting to get in with George and Andrew and thinking we were the way to do it. They wanted to give us messages for George and Andrew with their telephone numbers and underwear. It didn't work.

When I heard Wham!'s new compilation album, I laughed. I was singing and remembering all the dance routines and costumes. For "Wake Me Up", Pepsi and I had these huge, Sixties-style bright-pink silk skirts with black felt spots. I just looked so horrendous. But it was such happy music, toothpaste happiness. They were classic pop tunes.

In 1986, when Wham! split up, Pepsi and I felt we should carry on. We did the single "Heartache" in January 1987, which was expected to go to No 1, but then George released "I Knew You Were Waiting" with Aretha Franklin. I thought: "Thank you, George!" But worldwide, our single did brilliantly. Then "Goodbye Stranger" made it into the Top Five in April/May the same year.

But a year later, I got married. I was 26; I'd met Martin when I was 20 and just knew I would be with him. Then we had our first baby, Harley Moon, in 1989, and that changed me. It was like: "Can I do all this with a child?" I'd flown with Harley to America to record an album and it sounded great - but mentally, I just knew I couldn't cope. I wanted to be 100 per cent her mother. It all kind of stopped for me about then.

Pepsi was amazing about it. We'd gone somewhere, maybe it was a party with George and Andrew, and I went to the toilets and just broke down in tears and said: "I can't do this any longer." She just said: "It's all right, I know you love your family so much." I felt so guilty, but I just wanted to stay at home. And we had a lot of problems with management and things, too. It was as if something was saying, "It's over," and I wasn't going to fight it. Now - well, who knows whether Pepsi and I would get back together. If there was an offer there and we had the right songs I might be tempted, but I'd take it a lot slower.

These days I see Pepsi once a month, or a couple of times a week. She'll come and see the kids, or maybe we'll go to the cinema. I'm sure she would ring me if she was in trouble and I could ring her - I'm not very good at calling, but if anyone needed me I'd be there.

What's really bizarre with us two is, if we haven't seen each other in a while, Pepsi will turn up wearing clothes very similar to what I'm wearing. We'll be reading the same books. We seem to be going on the same spiritual journey - I suppose because we grew up together, travelled the world with each other. I really believe you're bonded to some people, there's a connection you can't put into words. She's a friend for life.

PEPSI: It was really strange. I had friends who knew Wham!'s manager and they had mentioned me because I sang. I got a call to come in and meet Napier-Bell, because they were looking for an addition to the group.

I remember being picked up at the station by Shirlie. She had this white Cortina and I thought she was a little jetsetter. I had this strong feeling that it was really up to her whether I joined the group. I got in the car and we clicked straightaway. We started talking about singers we liked and we both liked Shirley Bassey. Then she took me to George's house, where I met George and Andrew.

People assume that we became good friends instantly. But they had all known each for a long time and I respect things like that. They had in- jokes and the way they were with each other was something I had to learn. But once we started touring, Shirlie and I became really close, because it was just us and the boys out there.

For a very long time, if you saw me, you saw Shirlie. She had this habit where she never liked staying in her room and she would always come to mine because she can't stand the dark. We'd get to reception at the hotel and she'd say: "Can we have an adjoining room, or a double?" And there were lots of moments when I'd had a drink too many and she would sober me up, or when she'd be down and I would pick her up.

I used to be able to drink spirits and not get too drunk. She liked her wine, but every so often she would experiment. Once in Scotland, I was sipping whisky and she decided to as well; the next thing we know she can't stand up. George and I were trying to get her back to her room and she slid down the wall.

For ages we had been told we should go off on our own; so when Wham! split we had already got ourselves together to be Pepsi and Shirlie. But I think Shirlie suffered a lot when we started on our own, because she didn't have much time with Martin. My heart went out to her - she really wanted to be with him. It was the mundane things that were quite hard - the photo sessions and so on. Shirlie and I used to have roast dinners as our comfort food. People from the record company would be absolutely gobsmacked that someone as little as her could put away these roast dinners.

We had an arrangement that we'd know when it was finished, and we wouldn't hit our heads against a brick wall. So when Shirlie became pregnant with Harley I cried my eyes out, because I knew that's what she really wanted. It was one of the best moments. She wanted to be a good mother and and a good wife - and she was.

But I did find it very difficult for a long time after we split. I thought, now what do I do? I did the musical Hair, and it was incredible to me that there was something else that I could do. But Shirlie was always supportive: she said she always knew I could. At the moment I'd really like to get back into the music industry and I want to do some more theatre work. I don't think Shirlie and I will get back together.

I miss her a lot - she's part of my life, really. I see her as much as I can, though she's a busy lady, running around. The focus becomes different with children around, but there would be the same kind of contact even if she went to Australia or something.

We've never really argued but we disagree about things. Shirlie sees things more in black and white than I do - though she's becoming more understanding. She has more of a strong idea of what she wants and where she's heading than I have.

When we speak we've always got lots to say, there's definitely a deep understanding - but a lot of my relationship with her is not words, it's sense, feeling, understanding. She doesn't like the word, but it's very spiritual. And I like her for the fact that she still cuddles me!

! 'If You Were There ... The Best of Wham!' (Epic) is released tomorrow.

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