Oh, you didn't know George Michael was gay. Yes, you'd heard the careless whispers. Still, you weren't 100 per cent sure. Not even after that other George's - the drag queen formerly known as Boy - bitchy comments about GM's female companions being fag hags. Not even after that media flap a couple of years back over the release of "Jesus to a Child" as the comeback single. Well, what if it was dedicated to a "close male friend" who had died of Aids? The lyrics and accompanying video were sufficiently ambiguous to allow a window of doubt, even in the plain face of Michael's evident grief. "I was smoking 25 joints a day" he admitted, and all the press did was write about drug abuse.
Ambiguous. That was the word George Michael used about his sexuality in a recent Big Issue interview: not the Wham, screaming teenage girl pin-up George, but the Older, serious, market-repositioned George, an idol with a less fickle audience and a lot less to lose.
Still, it's curious that the statement should have passed with quite so little comment. Or maybe not so curious; George Michael is a better artist these days and consequently not as big as he once was. Perhaps lack of interest also accounts for the silence that greeted his attendance at Princess Diana's funeral with Elton John and his partner David Furnish. Or perhaps pop culture has a wise way of turning a blind eye to those performers it holds in affection. Especially if they are willing to keep their end of the unspoken bargain gay artists have traditionally struck with their public. Don't ask, don't tell as they say in the US army. Noel Coward cloaked his sexuality unto the very grave and this week reaps a three-part Arena special, two photo exhibitions and a CD of rock covers in aid of Aids.
Of course, being caught in the middle of the risky business of cruising is one way of coming out. And doubtless cod-psychologists will soon be asserting George Michael couldn't come out, so he subconsciously decided to be found out instead. Who knows? This might contain a trace element of truth. In America, the famous order room service. They do not venture out - a lesson also lost on neophyte star Hugh Grant.
That leaves the addictive, nay, compulsive, thrill that cruising affords both predator and prey. Or how, in this instance, the pulsing, erotic, anonymous, deep in the dark routine might have confirmed everything secretive in George Michael's nature. Yes, he may have felt driven to it, but not merely from recreational lust but because he foolishly thought it was safer than a club, a bar, a rent boy.
So, who does it hurt? George Michael would be the obvious answer. Fortunately, it's not so obvious. Identical circumstances didn't hurt Jimmy Somerville. Yes, he was out and considerably smaller fry, but the vital point is the public was tickled rather than revolted.
Still, right this besieged second, George Michael may be regretting not coming out in The Face years ago as planned. Cold feet and tender feelings intervened then; he worried how the backlash would affect his beloved, though strait-laced Greek parents. His mother died earlier this year, his secret love is no secret anymore and there's no going back.
Which is fine. For there's absolutely nothing to stop George Michael from moving forward. Older and Wiser.