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George Michael: Why I had to keep my homosexuality secret

In a revealing interview, the singer says he stayed in the closet to protect his mother from worrying about Aids

Andrew Johnson
Sunday 30 September 2007 00:00 BST
George Michael went from Wham! to a solo career seamlessley with hits including ‘Father Figure’ (PA)
George Michael went from Wham! to a solo career seamlessley with hits including ‘Father Figure’ (PA) (PA)

The pop singer George Michael reveals today how years of hiding his homosexuality from the public took a deep psychological toll – but he did it so his mother wouldn't have to worry about Aids.

Speaking on Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, the songwriter, who has sold more than 100 million records and is the most played artist on British radio, gives an unusually candid interview, during which he discusses drug-taking, his sexuality, the price of fame and the death of his first lover.

Michael, the son of Cypriot immigrants, who has always had a difficult relationship with the press and has been guarded about his personal life, admits to presenter Kirsty Young that he is "ridiculously ready to say these things now".

Georgie Michael dies aged 53

He adds that hiding his sexuality made him feel "fraudulent", and his eventual outing, when he was arrested for soliciting sex in a public toilet in Los Angeles in 1998, was a subconsciously deliberate act.

"What people have to acknowledge... is that there's a level of honesty that's natural to me [and] that I'm uncomfortable with anything else," he says. "So firstly, understand how much I love my family and that Aids was the predominant feature of being gay in the 1980s and early 90s as far as any parent was concerned... My mother was still alive and every single day would have been a nightmare for her thinking what I might have been subjected to.

"I'd been out to a lot of people since 19. I wish to God it had happened then. I don't think I would have the same career – my ego might not have been satisfied in some areas – but I think I would have been a happier man."

He adds that he came out to some people, including one of his two sisters, when he was 19, but friends advised him not to tell his parents.

"Then Aids changed everything. I was too immature to know I was sacrificing as much as I was," he says.

He also talks about his community service following his recent conviction for driving while under the influence of sleeping pills, which has seen him work with mentally ill and homeless people. And he discusses the deep depression he suffered when his lover, Anselmo Feleppa, and his mother died within a few years of each other, his partner from an Aids-related illness.

His mother, Lesley, died in 1997 and his lover in 1993.

Michael also talks about his early career, claiming that a bang on the head when he was eight led to an obsession with music. He adds that he "resents" the success of his career which "never seems to suffer".

"I never had any feeling that my talent was going to let me down. [My career] never seems to suffer. I suffer around it – bereavement, public humiliations – but my career just seems to right itself like a duck in the bath."

Michael explains that when he had his first hit with Andrew Ridgeley as Wham! at the age of 18, it was wonderful for a time, but the experience of fame quickly soured.

"For a while it was just magical," he says. "With your best mate, playing out your fantasies. It was just a dream. I was supremely confident I was writing pop classics but I was also supremely aware that if I left the imagery a little bit more to Andrew, kids loved it. Then we were massively successful and I went from being Andrew's shadow as a sexually confident being to being the centre of attention. At that level I lost all my confidence. I suddenly felt like a fake, so the whole thing turned me into somebody who felt the camera was my enemy."

Among his musical selections are Amy Winehouse, Nirvana and Rufus Wainwright. Of Wainwright's "Going to a Town", he says: "It really lays into the Bush administration, talking about America soaking the body of Jesus Christ in blood. Fantastic lyrics."

No holding back: George speaks out...

... on Wham!

I had no physical confidence whatsoever. And I looked up to Andrew [Ridgeley] because he oozed confidence from every pore

... on his mother

I struggled with huge depression after my mother died. Losing your mother and your lover in the space of three years is a tough one

... on Amy Winehouse

The best female vocalist I've heard in my entire career. And one of the best writers. She's a fantastic talent

... on his career

In a strange way I've spent the last 10 or 15 years trying to derail my own career because it never seems to suffer. It always seems to right itself

... on Nirvana

'Smells Like Teen Spirit' is the best-produced record in the history of rock. It changed everything in America overnight

Further listening: 'Desert Island Discs' is on Radio 4 at 11.15am today and repeated at 9am on Friday

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