End to ambiguity for a very private pop star

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GEORGE MICHAEL, the reclusive singer-songwriter, who once pushed shuttlecocks down the front of his shorts to tease 12-year-old girls, has always been guarded about his sexuality, writes Kate Watson-Smyth.

Rumour-mongers have made much of his refusal to deny stories of bisexuality, and last year he gave a rare interview about the death of Anselmo Feleppa, the great love of his life.

But he has never said whether he is gay or not. "If people look at me and they think I'm a gay man - fine. If they look at me and think I'm straight - that's fine, too. It makes no difference," he said in 1993.

He met Feleppa at the Rock In Rio Festival in 1991 when Feleppa, a dress designer and huge fan, went to watch him perform. Their friendship quickly developed, but tragically Feleppa died two years later at the age of 33.

"Anyone who knew me before I met Anselmo would tell you that he opened me up completely - just in allowing myself to trust my intuition," Michael has said. "I didn't really know how to enjoy myself before I met Anselmo. I learnt to travel more, to experience new things - and not only with him."

In 1994, Michael summed up his feelings in the song "Jesus To A Child" with the lyrics: "Heaven sent and heaven stole". It was part of the album Older, which Michael dedicated to his lost love. It was the first song he had written for three years following a highly publicised court case with Sony.

He had accused the corporation of using artists like computer software and being interested only in profit. In 1992, he took the company to court to try and free himself from a contract which he signed as a teenager and which would have bound him until 2003. He described their relationship as "this arranged marriage" and said "divorce" from his contract was the only solution.

He lost. But last year he was bought from Sony by a new media conglomerate called Dreamworks, founded by the film director, Steven Spielberg, and the music mogul David Geffen. They paid Sony $40m. Michael received another $10m and a much-improved royalty rate.

It is a far cry from Finchley, north London, where Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, the spotty, overweight son of a Greek Cypriot restaurant owner, was born in 1963. When Michael was 12 his parents moved out to Hertfordshire and he met Andrew Ridgeley. Soon they were bunking off school to busk in London. In 1979, they formed a ska band called The Executive but after a dozen tiny concerts they folded. In 1981, he and Ridgeley sent a demo tape to Innervision, a small subsidiary of CBS. They signed a contract allowing them tiny royalties and the following year had their first hit "Young Guns (Go For It)". A string of hits followed, but soon Michael was tiring of Wham! and the band split in 1986 when Michael was 23.

He wanted to be a "craftsman" and for as long as his idea of good songwriting coincided with Sony's commercial imperatives, all was well.

Then the arguments began and Michael stopped writing and retreated to his Hampstead home. With the death of Feleppa, whom he said "broke down my reserve", perhaps he is finally ready to let down his barriers and tell the world who he really is.

IT'S ALL GREEK TO GEORGE

In 1979 he changed his name to George Michael. "I have never felt any ethnic connection between the Greeks and me other than how hairy I am," he said.

THE FANS' FAVOURITE

In January 1996, "Careless Whisper" came top in a poll of listeners' favourite songs conducted by London's Capital Radio as it had done so for seven of the previous 10 years. Michael scribbled an early version of the song on a bus when he was working as a DJ in Bushey

HAPPIER TIMES

Twelve years after the end of Wham!, Michael looks back on his time with the band as the happiest years of his life. "When I listen to our records I hear two young men who are having the best time they would ever have. It's amazing - the joy in it, the spirit of it. "I listen to myself singing in Wham! and I think - who is that person? And I know who he is, and I know who those two boys are - two kids at the top of a dream."

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