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George Michael’s generosity came from guilt over ‘too much money’, says manager

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Six years on from his death, a new flurry of documentaries and remembrance films have arrived about beloved Wham! frontman George Michael – and one of George’s closest friends has paid tribute to his memory

Simon Napier-Bell and George Michael worked together from 1983-1985. Now Simon has directed a new documentary about him
Simon Napier-Bell and George Michael worked together from 1983-1985. Now Simon has directed a new documentary about him

George Michael is being celebrated everywhere you look at the moment, as two new films release about the legendary singer’s life – Freedom Uncut, and George Michael: Portrait of an Artist.

The latter features the likes of Stevie Wonder and Stephen Fry as they discuss George as a person and as a creator of music.

The documentary’s director, Simon Napier-Bell, was the manager of Wham! between 1983 and 1986. He was the driving force behind the band’s famous Beijing concert and was working with them when they released their legendary hit, Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, which stormed to number one in both the UK and the US.

Speaking to the Mirror, he discussed what it was like to work, travel, laugh and debate with the legendary singer.

“In 30 to 40 years of being an artist manager you sort of question ‘what the hell am I doing’, maybe I should be a politician or a doctor or a lawyer, and suddenly an artist comes along and makes you feel like what you’re doing is worthwhile, that you haven’t wasted your life, and that’s really what George did,” he said.







George Michael was self-sufficient, making life easy for management and fans alike
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“He made me feel like all I’d learned being a manager could be put to good use in a way to help someone express themselves.”

He added that George “really was as good… as anyone I’ve ever met,” at balancing his own creativity with understanding the money-hungry music industry.

But he didn’t just make life easy for the people he worked with. “There are a huge number of fans who have found something in his music that made them feel better about themselves.

“A lot of them said that his songs were like therapy.

“That’s why managing George felt better than anyone else I’ve ever managed.”

Napier-Bell recalls a self-sufficient artist, one that could create moments of anticipation, brilliance and joy. “As a manager, he took an awful lot of the worry about creativity away and I was happy and confident with what he came up with.”

But that didn’t mean the pressure didn’t rise.

After a period of not putting out any music as they parted ways with label Innervision, Wham! was in the process of rebirth with new label CBS.

“That new record had to be a number one. It just had to be. We’d spent so much money and George had been out of the public eye for eight months,” he went on.







Simon Napier-Bell gathered footage from people who knew and worked with George for his new documentary, Portrait of an Artist
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“I was worried because if it wasn’t quite as good as it should be it would be a disaster.

“He came round the house and put it on. And the first two words you got were ‘jitter bug’ and [they] were so perfect that I took [the record] off. I thought this is going to be so good that I can’t stand here and listen to it so I put it on again – I got myself posed on a chair to listen and put the volume up.

“And that was Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.

“It was just the most extraordinary bit of modern pop-rock meeting old-fashioned swing. Extraordinary.”

Simon’s relationship with Michael ran deeper than just manager and client; they spent time together on the road and talked together how you would “with friends”.

“We argued, but in the way you argue with friends. We didn’t always see eye to eye. He called me cynical. I said I was a realist… I thought he was quite cynical,” said Simon.

“I remember a plane journey where we spent six hours arguing about who was cynical and who was realistic. I think that’s getting on well.







Napier-Bell managed Wham! until 1985
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George was “good to talk to” and their relationship wasn’t about “going out and getting drunk,” but rather good conversations.

“George was very direct and when he had an opinion he never considered he might be wrong.

“He used to say if I’m telling you something and you don’t agree it’s because you’re not listening properly.

“He really believed in everything he said.

Something about George that continues to come up today are his famed acts of generosity, but Simon pointed out that this was also part of a pain he carried.

“He was very thoughtful. Some thought he was impulsive, maybe he was.

“He was cleverly generous – I didn’t ever see him give money to charity in a wasteful way,” he said.

“I think he felt he had more money than one should have and he lived very well. He helped a lot of people. He did extremely well and why should anyone have more money than they need. And I think that played on his mind quite a lot – a sort of guilt.

“He was keen to help anyone he came into contact with who needed immediate help. That’s why when he would watch television he’d see someone who needed new glasses or a set of teeth, he’d be on the phone like a flash.

“But he knew he couldn’t help everybody.

“He knew that when he did those things they were tokens and I think that’s what upset him – because even when we are generous it’s still only token generosity because it’s only going to help one or two people and not the whole world – and he had to live with that.”







George Michael is still remembered today for his remarkable generosity
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Making the film, Simon recalls Stevie Wonder saying: “You can hear the pain in his voice. You can hear the cry.”

In Simon’s eyes though, George was also playful, teasing and kind.

The two were travelling together to America to record Careless Whisper. “I’d said I’d be there first and I was a bit late and he had to defend himself against onlookers and was a bit tetchy.

“When your’e George Michael you shouldn’t have to be at the airport alone, but he didn’t want security and so it was just us to go together,” he said.

“Two girls came up and asked for his autograph and I pushed them away. George said, ‘don’t push them away, they can come to have my autograph’.

“Then, five minutes later a woman came up and said, ‘can I have your autograph?’ so I let her in with George and he said” ‘I don’t want this why aren’t you keeping people away?’

“Then we got on the plane and they kept bringing us glasses of champagne. George said he didn’t want his and I said give his one anyway.

“So I drank his too and he said ‘I don’t want to travel with a drunk – you’re meant to be my manager and my protection today’.

“But when the hostess came around a second time with fresh glasses, this time George said he would have one.

“So they gave him one and I took mine and then when I’d finished mine he said, ‘I took it for you’.

“That was [him] being nice, that was typical George playing a game. I had some very nice moments with George.”

George Michael: Portrait of an Artist is available on Apple TV and to purchase via Amazon Prime Video.

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