Written for the The Times November 28th, 2010


It’s a long time since I managed George Michael — 24 years — and almost that long since I last spoke to him.

I’m not sure that the person I knew then is the same person we saw in court this week. Seems to me, nowadays he’s more relaxed, more amusing, more casual, more forgiving. And he’s prepared to show regret.

He once said to me: “I’ve never done anything I could regret later.”

He certainly wasn’t talking from the point of view of Je ne regrette rien. It was more the statement of a control freak — a “self-control freak” — but I didn’t really believe it. It sounded hopeful rather than true, though it’s certainly true that George is the most in-charge-of-his-own-life person I’ve ever met.

He’s also the most creatively complete person I ever managed; the only solo artist who can produce his own records alone better than with anyone else. There is virtually no other singer who can do that — not McCartney, nor Madonna, nor Bjork. George knows himself perfectly. And he safeguards himself perfectly. He never writes a song for anyone else because if he did, and it wasn’t a hit, it would look as if his songwriting was failing.

He is cautious, and thinks ahead in every instance with regard to his career. When Wham! were in China, reporters were there in their hundreds, inconsiderate and intrusive, giving George and Andrew [Ridgeley] no time to themselves. Every time they lifted a camera, George, who loathed them, smiled sweetly. But Andrew would pull a face. George told him: “You shouldn’t do that. When you get home you’ll hate every picture you see of yourself.” And he did. But George’s pictures were beautiful.

It was this ability always to think ahead that so impressed me about George, and he never gave any sign that one day he might lose it, which is what contrasts so hugely with his impulsive behaviour these days with regard to sex and drugs. But then, drugs and sex should be impulsive — that’s the fun of them. Just as jumping in your car and going somewhere should be.

For me, it’s impossible to condemn his desire to carry on doing all these things, except when it’s a hazard to other people. Crashing into Snappy Snaps was hilarious. Crashing into a baby in a pram outside might have been less so.

It’s difficult to think of George sitting in a prison cell without feeling sorry for him. And I’m sure he feels sorry for himself too. But I’m also certain he’ll come out smiling, saying he’s a better person for it, just as Boy George did last year, and Jonathan King the year before. Whether they really were or not is up to us to decide, but on their part it’s a reasonable defensive position to take — a safe stance — and career-wise, George will surely play safe.

But not too safe, please! He needs to think carefully before he rushes to change himself too much.

For a manager faced with an artist whose addictive behaviour is disruptive it’s important to remember that the causes of his addiction are probably the same as the causes of his creativity. Send your artist off to be cured of drug or drink or sex addiction and you may end up with an artist who is no longer creative.

As a manager, I always look back at what my original terms of engagement were. To parent the artist? To make him successful? To maximise his earnings? Well, definitely not to parent him. Most probably to create a successful career and earn the most from it. And normally, if drug addiction gets in the way, I’ve found it safer to live with it than to try and cure it. Only if it brings creativity to a full stop would I consider getting it cured.

But it’s a fine balance. Tiger Woods went off for addiction therapy because he was addicted to sex. He was also addicted to winning. Cured of one addictive behaviour, he may never again find the other.

My advice to George would be: if you enjoy the way you live, keep right on as you are — smoke all the cannabis you like, and have sex the way you like it too. But don’t drive. Galling as it may be to give up that freedom, get a tight-lipped chauffeur (or two, or three) and make sure there’s one on duty at all times. But other than that, don’t rush to change your life too much. If your addictive behaviour is the source of your creativity, adjustments are made at your own peril.

When I was managing Wham!, I was drinking a lot, and I still am. (I think it very important not to drink too little alcohol.) One night I went out with Andrew. After dinner and half a dozen clubs my brain was floating pleasantly in and out of focus and during an in-focus period I heard Andrew mention that his father came from Egypt.

“There’s an Egyptian nightclub in Queensway,” I told him. “Drinks and belly-dancers till 4am. Let’s go!”

Once there, we drank another bottle of champagne, our sixth of the evening, and ordered a seventh, but realising we’d now drunk enough Andrew picked up the bottle and poured it over our heads.

We were then confronted with the difficulty of getting home. Too drunk to wave for a cab, and probably too dishevelled to be accepted by one, I thought perhaps we should sleep in my Bentley, but as soon as we got in it, the engine somehow started and it moved off.

“You’re drunk,” Andrew told me. “You’d better drive on the pavement. It’ll be safer.”

It sounded logical; there would certainly be less traffic.

Surprisingly, it was only after we’d reached Marble Arch and I was negotiating a zebra crossing, trying to reach the pavement on the other side, that sirens wailed and blue lights appeared. Andrew opened the front passenger door and fled. I sank deep into the front seat.

At Paddington Police Station I was fingerprinted. “Sit down,” I was told. And when I did so, “Stand up!” I stood up and was pushed back down again.

“He’s causing trouble,” one policeman told the other. “We’ll have to keep him in overnight.”

When I got out I found a good lawyer and gave him the piece of paper the police had given me from the Breathalyser. By the time the case came to court he’d found a technicality: the paper should have been in duplicate. The machine was meant to print out three copies — one for the police and two for me. That was the law.

In court the police claimed all had been as it should have been and that I was given two copies. The magistrate questioned the policeman present as to why he’d kept me overnight “He threatened us,” the policeman said.

I told the magistrate: “I admit I was drunk and I admit I drove the car. It was grossly irresponsible of me and I apologise to the court. I’m prepared to accept whatever sentence you give me, but I can promise you I didn’t threaten anyone and I was only given one bit of paper from the Breathalyser.”

The magistrate stared at the piece of paper my lawyer handed him and dismissed the case.

I’d been blind drunk and I’d got off, so I asked my lawyer: “If I’d been found guilty what would the penalty have been?”

He told me 200 pounds and a two-year ban, so I went straight home, donated 200 pounds to Oxfam and vowed not to drive again for two years. I phoned a garage and told them to fetch the car from the police station and sell it.

A week later I had to fly with George and Andrew to Norway, where Wham! were doing a TV show. Late in the evening we found ourselves in the rooftop restaurant of Oslo’s top hotel, accompanied by the head of the record company and some of his staff. Andrew related the story of our night out and George asked what had happened in court.

When I explained how I’d got off he was scandalised. “It’s immoral!’

“What is?”

“That you got off.”

“But I didn’t lie. I admitted I did it.”

“But you used a lawyer who got you off. Why did you do that? You should have pleaded guilty and taken the punishment.”

George on a moral crusade was very unforgiving.

“Look, I paid 200 pounds to Oxfam and vowed not to drive for two years.”

“That’s not the point; you escaped punishment for doing something against the law. That’s wrong.”

“And what if it had been a silly law — like something to do with apartheid in South Africa, then would I have been wrong to break it?”

George sighed, agitated by the puerile nature of my argument. “Of course not. You must use your own judgment on these things. But you know perfectly well you shouldn’t drive when you’re drunk. It’s a public danger. You should have let yourself be found guilty and suffered for it.”

I turned to Andrew for support but he was already floating in too-many-cocktails-land and hadn’t heard a word we said.

I was on my own. And George, of course, was right. He could be very annoying like that.

So bearing that in mind, perhaps he’s pleased to be doing the right thing and spending four weeks in prison.


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