After a slowish start to the year due to daughter problems I’ve been back at the brush a lot lately. My latest efforts, even though nobody out there is remotely interested:
A thing I wrote for Boxing News about the legendary British boxer Kirkland Laing. Was very honoured when this was reprinted in the Boxing News annual.
Nobody’s at all interested but here’s some new watercolours.
A tweet this from Melanie Lloyd about the lovely ex-boxer Derek Williams gives me the opportunity to provide a Xmas excerpt from my book Dangerous.
It concerns an apology I made to Derek, fully 25 years after doing him wrong.
I take the tube to Farringdon and my thoughts are consumed by death: the idea that at any moment something might happen, that a gentle prod in the back might hurl me into the path of an oncoming train and in the blink of an eye it will all be over. I’ve been thinking about death a lot recently. Maybe it was talking about the late Jonathan Rendall the other week, rereading his book. Night after night I lie in bed until the early hours thinking of nothing else. Yesterday morning I toyed with the idea of taking anti-depressants again; the packet is still where I left it on the bookshelf in the bedroom.
I drag myself through the catacombs of the London Underground like an old man. The gash on my purple and yellow leg is slowly healing and the stitches will soon come out. But it still hurts like hell. People rush past me: a blur of arms and legs and faces that take on a comedic quality, moving at twice, three times’ my speed like characters in a silent movie; speedboats leaving me in their frothy wake. I’m deeply troubled by something that I don’t quite understand. I wonder if writing about boxing again after all this time is at the root of my preoccupation with death, the idea that if I was to stop somehow everything would be done. There’d be no reason to go on. The circle would be complete. Or perhaps it’s guilt. Guilt and the hope that what I’m about to do this afternoon might have the remotest chance of righting a wrong that I committed a very long time ago.
More than a quarter of a century ago I did a terrible thing to another person. Something that still fills me with shame: shame at my own weakness and shame at the fact that I deceived another human being for nothing other than money. It still leaves a sour taste in my mouth. That person’s name was Derek Williams, a heavyweight boxer who went by the nickname ‘Sweet D’. I want to make things right today. I need to make things right. (Is it any coincidence that I seem to be revisiting my boxers in alphabetical order: last time I met with Sweet C, today it’s Sweet D. Next time will I be meeting Sweet E? The time after that Sweet F? I laugh out loud at the notion and the pretty young girl sitting beside me on the train nervously edges away from me.)
I exit the tube and hobble up and down the Farringdon Road until I finally locate the gym where Derek Williams works. It is strapped to the side of an anonymous tower-block, presumably in an effort to attract office workers and their attendant beer guts. As I enter, a booming bass hits me like a blast of hot air.
A stilted conversation at the reception desk: these days always a stilted conversation with a young woman of Eastern European origin. I shout to get myself heard above the din and she motions for me to sit down. The music pounds my brain like a claw hammer as I fidget beside the lift waiting for Derek Williams. He arrives about five minutes later: a giant, megalithic behemoth of a black man, on a totally different scale to all around him. I find myself wondering what it must be like to live in a world where everybody else is a midget; everybody, that is, except the people who hit you back.
When I knew him years ago Derek was a strikingly good looking man with a princely bearing. He hasn’t changed much. Aside from a little extra weight and a slight thickening of the features the intervening years have mostly kept their distance. ‘How are you Ian?’ he says in a voice as deep as he is tall. ‘You’re looking good.’
We both know that this isn’t true but I’m already learning to tolerate this particular variety of white lie. I shake Derek’s mammoth fist, fingers like sausages, and ask if there’s somewhere we can go that is more quiet. We head for a nearby Costa and I immediately feel eyes upon us in the street. The older Derek Williams remains such a striking, imposing figure that one cannot help but stare at him. People also turn to look at us as we enter the café: the fat balding middle-aged white guy with the limp and the black colossus.
Derek has three phones, which he lays out on our table. I tell him I don’t remember meeting anybody else who has three phones. That it suggests to me that he can’t be doing too badly for himself. ‘This is for the work with Jim Watt’s people,’ he cheerfully explains. ‘This is for the work I do with all the gangs. And this is personal.’
‘Like the Bat Phone,’ I say.
‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, man,’ he replies.
I pull out an iPad Mini from my bag and find the audio recording app that I intend to use. I ask Derek if he’ll say something so I can check that it’s working.
‘Hi!’ he says in a cavernous voice that instantly has customers swivelling their heads in our direction. ‘This is the former heavyweight champion ‘Sweet D’ Williams. Still tall, dark and handsome. I’m sitting here with Ian now and looking forward to how I can give any information about the fight game…’
We begin. With little prompting Derek launches into a detailed description of what he’s doing with his life. Derek seems to primed to do this, as if it’s essential that everyone should accept him as more than just an ex-boxer.
‘My day job is running the boxing in Gym Box,’ he tells me on autopilot. ‘What I do is supervise their boxing team. I also work with challenging kids. I keep myself busy by giving things back to the community. I also train my son, Kered Williams. He had his first amateur fight two years ago and he won in the second round.
‘I used to be part of the Kids Company that just closed. They did things for children from broken homes and gangs. My whole thing was to try to empower them to turn around. So I was the director of programming.
Derek talks so fast that it’s difficult to keep up. I ask him if the company in question is the one set up and run by Camila Batmanghelidjh, recently controversially placed into liquidation.
‘That’s right,’ he replies. ‘I used to go in there two, three times a week. Camilla was a force of nature. She was amazing. But now it’s a case of understanding how to move forward.’
Derek stops talking suddenly and looks at me for a few moments. He asks me my age. ‘Guess,’ I say, instantly regretting my rashness.
‘About the same age as me,’ he says, too generously.
‘You’re being polite,’ I say. ‘I look knackered and you look good.’
And then it’s back to boxing because, after all, Derek is an ex-boxer and I’m an ex-boxing writer. This was our only point of connection whenever we met all those years ago so why break the habit? Derek might be only the third boxer that I’ve interviewed in a quarter of a century but I’m suddenly beginning to understand something that I overlooked before: they all like talking about boxing. Even when they’re no longer doing it, you can’t stop them talking about boxing.
‘Muhammad Ali was a great influence on me.’ says Derek with no prompting. ‘Now, looking back on it, some of the things that Ali said and done was quite offensive to people. Some of the things he said to Joe Frazier was really hurtful…’
Boxers like talking about boxing. How could I never have realised this? And there was me thinking how lucky I was, how fortunate I was in life, to have met with and had the chance to extract a few words, a few phrases from these unique individuals. In reality is seems that they were just as anxious to offload their stories as I was to listen.
‘I had ten amateur fights. I never had an outstanding amateur career whereby I won titles. With me there was no plans.’ Derek continues the chronology of his life. ‘I fought on a lot of Frank Bruno’s undercards. I was getting fair money. I was like getting five grand… Ten grand… It was good money for the time. And I was studying to become a draftsman.’
I tell Derek that we have something in common: my first job when I left school was as a trainee draftsman.
‘One time I was fighting on an undercard and I was getting thirty grand. And I think the main fighter was fighting for a world title fight and they was getting 25 grand. So I thought I’m glad I’m not a small weight.’
I’ve heard all this before, of course: we all have. And not just from Derek. In his case it’s the story of a physically advantaged young man who excels at boxing to such a degree that he takes it up professionally. A run of wins, a couple of losses, a few titles and then a long run of defeats followed by retirement. In Derek’s case, however, those particular titles comprised the British, European and Commonwealth heavyweight titles. When you consider that most professional boxers plying their trade in this country can only dream of owning silverware of this nature, these are no minor achievements.
Derek, however, is more interested in telling me what happened when he flew over to the US in the late 1980s to be heavyweight champion Mike Tyson’s sparring partner. I have clear recollections of him telling me exactly the same stories twenty-five years ago.
‘Sparring with Mike Tyson really made me,’ he remembers. ‘He had good sparring partners: Greg Page… Oliver McCall… Outstanding fighters. I was about 21 at the time and I was annoyed because everyone thought I wouldn’t last long in the ring with him.
‘I said: “What you trying to say? Are you trying to say that Mike is going to knock me out?” I done three good rounds with Mike and afterwards people were clapping. Don King came up to me and said: “Hey! You’re a good fighter!” He wanted to manage me.
‘Over the weeks me and Mike was sparring and people started to take note of my name. It was a chess match. People was loving it. Mike said to me: “How come I’ve never heard about you? You’re a good fighter.”‘
‘That was the funny thing. I was handling this guy who was supposed to be the bee’s knees. In my head I knew I got the better of him. One day I was feeling sore. So I went into a sauna and Mike was in there. We started talking and he was nice. In my head I was thinking: “I’m there now”.’
Derek reveals that he’s writing a book about his life at the moment: ‘It’s basically looking into the mind of a champion.’ he says. ‘How champions see things. I boxed at a high level. I was number one in Great Britain for eight years.’
I tell him that if he does that the opening chapter has got to about Tyson. But Derek disagrees. He’s more interesting in letting people know about the time he feels he was drugged before a fight. This allegedly happened in 1990 when he defended his European title against Jean-Maurice Chanet in France.
‘Somebody came up and said: “You have water?”, he recalls. ‘And then soon after I started to feel really hot. I was sweating before the fight started. As I walked towards the ring I felt drained. I was depleted of energy by the second round. All I wanted to do was go home and sleep.
‘We don’t know what it was but the funny thing was when Chanet later came to England to fight Lennox Lewis he had something on his body. The BBBofC made him wash himself off. And then he went back to France and got banned from boxing.’
I ask Derek if he can recall the moment that he suddenly decided that he would no longer box:
‘When I was boxing I used to run all the time.’ he says. ‘From a young age I set my alarm for five o’clock in the morning to be out the door by five-thirty. I used to run five days a week in all weathers. I was running one morning and reached a hill and I was tired and I said to myself: “You don’t need to do this” and so I ran on the flat instead. I realised then that my mindset had changed and that something inside of me had changed. Once you don’t have that drive inside of you no more it’s time to move on…’
‘Were you ever tempted to make a comeback?’ I ask.
‘No. You have to respect yourself.’ he replies. ‘I didn’t want to be no stepping stone for people. But one time a guy from New York called me and said: “Hey Derek, I hear that you’ve retired. We want you to fight this young heavyweight. He’s just turned pro. He’s green.” I said: “Who’s this guy?”. And he said his name’s Klitschko, Vitali Klitschko.”
‘I said: “No. I ain’t interested, man.” If you’re fighting just for the money it’s not an incentive. Your focus must be on being the best.
‘He said: “Derek, he’s slow and clumsy – you’ll kick his ass.” Later he called me back again and offered me $50,000. I said: “When’s the fight?” He said: “In two week’s time.”
‘But didn’t you miss the buzz?’ I ask. ‘That feeling of walking into the ring with thousands cheering? There must be nothing else like it in life.’
‘Yeah, the whole thing is a buzz. You like the crowd. You like the thrill of the opponent throwing punches and you throwing them back at him. All that is like a dance. I miss fighting. Not because I want to go back but because of the excitement. We have our time in the sun but we move on.
‘If you could go back and do it all again what would you do differently?’ I ask
‘I would have moved to the right instead of the left when Lennox Lewis hit me,’ says Derek. We both laugh.
‘When he knocked me out I was so surprised that I was knocked down. I thought: “Wow! what’s happening!?” It was the first time I’d ever been down but it didn’t hurt. You don’t feel any pain because of the adrenaline. A good shot don’t hurt you. The shot that hits you on your jaw detaches you from your senses.’
Derek continues to talk. Another machine gun monologue is on its way. It’s no wonder that he’s occasionally employed as an after dinner speaker. Some twenty minutes have gone by since I last managed to ask a question and he’s barely stopped for breath. However, the sudden seriousness of what I tell him next stops him in his tracks.
‘Can I say something to you?’ I interrupt.
‘Yeah…’ The dryness of my tone produces a frown.
‘One of the reasons I wanted to see you is that I wanted to apologise.’
‘Yeah?’ he repeats, obviously confused.
‘I wanted to apologise for 25 years ago… Doing that article. Do you remember it?’
Derek shakes his head. ‘I can’t remember it,’ he says.
He may not remember but this is the real reason I’m here. The real reason that I wanted to see Derek ‘Sweet D’ Williams and try to set the record straight. Back in the late-1980s I somehow managed to find myself in the position of boxing reporter for the one of the worst newspapers of that era. When I tell people about it these days they laugh. They think it’s hilarious that I would ever have done such a thing. But at the time it was certainly no joke. I was young, desperate for money and apparently willing to set aside any principles I thought I had by working for one of the red top equivalent of Viz comic. A quarter of a century later and I still can’t really defend it.
In life we all do things that we don’t really want to do, particularly when we’re younger. We all jump through hoops on the promise of better things to come. However, on the morning of my first day on the job I did something that I’ve always been ashamed of.
‘So what happened was, I was 24,’ I murmur guilty. ‘It was my first job ever in journalism. The Sunday Sport. Remember the Sunday Sport?’
‘I was on the phone to you…’
‘I think I remember. Did you do the story about the ladies and stuff?
‘Yes. it was my first morning on the job.’
I cover this pretty shameful episode in great detail in my other book on boxing Rope Burns. But the nub of the story is that under pressure from the newspaper’s unscrupulous sports editor I was persuaded to telephone Derek Williams a number of times and get him to admit that his fans regularly performed fellatio on him. I’m not proud of succumbing to this pressure and I’m frankly still surprised that I was able to go through with it, but at the time there was the very real threat that I might lose my job and so I took the coward’s way out. When the newspaper duly appeared on Sunday morning my story came with the headline; ‘My Gals Call Me Sweet Dick’. (Derek’s nickname, remember, was ‘Sweet D’ – geddit?) It’s probably true that some people may have found the story amusing but I certainly didn’t and nor, unless I’m completely missing the point, did the man standing in front of me.
‘I felt really bad about it,’ I say.
‘Yeah?’ says Derek, apparently untroubled.
‘You didn’t want to beat me up or anything like that?’
‘No. I don’t do that kind of thing. With me, Ian, my whole mindset is to teach people about channelling their aggression and anger into positivity. People do things in life for whatever reasons they do them, right? The important thing is to have control.’
‘Were you not angry?
‘Did you not feel exploited?’
‘No. This is amazing, I said to myself at the time, this is amazing. I said: don’t get mad. Don’t get mad. Leave it. I didn’t say nothing like it to this dude but this is the way life is. I let it go.’
‘That makes me feel even worse,’ I say. ‘I can’t tell you over the years how much it’s haunted me. I was young back then but that’s no excuse… So the least I can do is say sorry.’
Derek scrutinises me for several moments before speaking: ‘I accept your apology, man,’ he says. ‘I accept it.’
And just like that it’s over. I understand that we all perceive things in different ways, of course we do; that one man’s malefaction is another’s petty crime. But I never expected it to be so easy. For 25 years I’ve been dreading coming face to face with Derek Williams, not for fear of any physical retribution – in many ways that would have been too easy – but because I just didn’t think I’d ever be able to look him in the eye. And now that I’ve finally done so he’s proven himself to be the bigger man, both physically and morally. As I look at Derek Williams he grows a further couple of inches in stature – as if he needed to be any taller – and I shrink by the same amount
The following is an excerpt from my most recent book ‘Dangerous’ https://goo.gl/iIB7Bb.
It’s been out for over a year and I thought, in this current climate of sexual abuse revelations, it might be appropriate to provide a male perspective on this issue.
So I do what I have to do. I do what spending all that time with a sick Herol Graham in that hospital and listening to Mark Prince and Leon McKenzie pour out their hearts to me has inevitably compelled me to do. What arguing with Tyson Fury’s dad in that press conference was always destined to culminate in. What meeting one of my boyhood heroes Alan Minter and his son was somehow always going to lead me towards even if I didn’t know it: I go and see my mother.
I’ve seen her only once since my father’s funeral almost two years ago. On that occasion I travelled to Weston-Super-Mare to attend a barbecue that was being held in my honour. It was my birthday. The first time that my birthday had been celebrated by my family since I was in my teens. Naturally, it very nearly ended in tears. The bickering began almost straight away as the secrets clawed away at us all, desperate to be released into the wild.
I turn up unannounced on a warm Saturday morning which obviously shocks her. It’s not the sort of thing I usually do. Well actually I’ve never done this before. There is no sign of a friendly greeting coming from me when our eyes lock like strangers meeting for the first time. My gaze is icy cold. I’m spoiling for a fight. ‘What are you doing here?’ she asks in her still heavy northern accent, not aggressively. It’s clear that she understands I have something important to say.
I lower myself into an easy chair close to the one in which he used to sit. Light streams in from the window behind me. On the window ledge is an emerald glass ashtray that casts a translucent green shadow. I remember it from the old house in Bristol. It’s the one in which he used to stub out his Players No. 6. When I was a youngster I used to fish out those stubs and relight them when he wasn’t around. Like all little boys, I so much wanted to be like my father. Like Leon and Ross and Tyson and Conor and Chris Jr. and Eddie Hearn I wanted to do the things that he did. I run my fingers over it one more time, letting the memories soak into me.
I ask for silence. I demand it. I tell her to lock her dogs away in the kitchen, two tiny yapping terriers of indeterminate description that he used to treat like babies, almost as if he was trying to make up for treating his own babies like dogs. And then I blurt it out: the whole sorry story. For the first time ever I tell my mother everything.
I’m not going to go into detail here. Even though damaged people are eventually supposed to tell everybody there are still those around who would be hurt by specifics. Suffice to say he was a monster. A monster when I was child, who ruled by fear: psychological and physical. And still more of a monster when I became a teenager, who did things to me when we were alone that a father should never do to a son. A demon who stole my childhood from me in a manner that I’ve never really been able to get over.
And yet in spite of all this I still wanted him to be proud of me, to love me no less. It’s absurd the lengths to which one will go to earn a father’s approval. Even one who brutalised you. In retrospect it’s certainly no accident that I ended up jettisoning the career in the arts that I’d always coveted and became a sportswriter, more specifically a boxing writer. You don’t need to visit a Chinese therapist to work out why I might have done this. Even though I could never admit it to myself it’s clear that I did it for him. I did it because a part of me wanted him to be impressed by something that I had achieved. And I was prepared to mould my entire life around this silly little objective. Pathetic really, because he was never that impressed; or at least he didn’t appear to be. And now that he’s gone here I am doing it one more time: I’m a boxing writer again. Sort of. Except this time it’s for me.
I spill out all the lurid details and her face remains expressionless as she listens. I explain that it’s a secret that’s been withheld from her for over forty years because the worry was that the truth would be too much for her to take. But things are seldom as straightforward as they might appear: in the months since he died she has slowly turned from grieving widow to somebody who has difficulty hiding her resentment towards the man she was with for over half a century. What I have to tell her only adds to her loathing of him.
She calls him a bastard. She says that she hates him. She says it like he’s still alive. She asks me why I never told her it was happening. I tell her that I tried to, at least I think I tried to. The memory plays tricks on you over the years so that you can never be completely sure of anything. ‘Well you should have tried harder,’ she says, too coldly, too callously. I remind her I was only 12-years-old when it was happening, a year younger than Sofia is now. What did she expect me to do? Put in a formal complaint to HR?
On the journey down I had been telling myself that whatever happened this morning it was not going to be what I expected. Although, in truth I had no idea what to expect. Even so, I’m shocked and angry when she spots a neighbour walking past the window and cheerfully exclaims: Oh, look there’s Peter, or whatever his name is, he’s a really nice man.
It’s an astonishing thing to say. Further exacerbated by her suggestion that we go for a walk on the pier, have a spot of lunch. Try to make the best of a bad day.
My voice is shaking. ‘I’m not buying it,’ I tell her. ‘I just don’t believe that you didn’t know!’
Of course, later, when I think about it I will understand that I was being unfair. Here was a woman who had just been told a secret that no mother should ever have to hear. Frankly, no rule book has been written to outline the appropriate reaction in a situation such as this. You do what you can do. And clearly my mother is a woman in denial. Perhaps she always has been.
I get up and walk out. I don’t say goodbye. I go back to London. Back to my real family. Back to Sofia, thankfully on the mend again after her recent relapse. Back from the past and into the present.
Why do I miss George Michael so much? This in various forms is a question that I’ve been asking myself for most of 2017. I never met him in person (although his house in Highgate is a 15-minute walk from my own and over the years my wife and I have often walked by and taken a sneaky peek), I never saw him perform live, I owned most of his albums but not all. And I never bought a single record by his former band Wham!. Yet still I miss him. Deeply. Painfully. Mournfully. And since his death I’ve been to the modest shrine erected in a small park outside his house – which mourners have still not completely abandoned – and planted the odd flower or two.
Moreover, of all the many people – ‘stars’ if you will – who died during the cruel, relentlessly unforgiving days of 2016, the Bowies and Princes of this world to name but two of so very many, more than anybody else it is the music of George Michael that has been on my turntable most of the year. By turntable, of course, I mean the music that I have asked Alexa to play for me.
In many ways I’ve found myself missing George Michael more than I’ve missed real, flesh and blood people whom I’ve known that have died; some of whom, I’ve been present at funerals dedicated to.
It’s not even as if I can claim that George Michael was even loosely linked in any way to my own life in the way that someone like David Bowie was. Bowie, who I again never met personally, I could claim formed some sort of backdrop to my own personal journey through life. Bowie was ever-present during my youth; his music provided some sort of soundtrack as I shed my teenage pimples, began going to clubs, discovered girls and hair gel, dallied with punk and New Wave, became a ‘serious’ muso, drawn in by the music of Kraftwerk, Eno and other so-called ‘intellectual’ musical artists. Bowie was in the foreground when I went to art college and put on make-up to try and look a little like him.
Yes, George was there while all this was happening but I bore no allegiance to him. I liked his music but wasn’t mad about it. I recognised that he was a good looking boy but never felt any desire to dress like him or rearrange my dwindling barnet to resemble his own. He was just there. It was quite obvious to me that he had talent, that his vocal chords were clearly impressive, that his songs were pretty good, some very good. But he wasn’t part of me in the way that plenty of bands and performers were.
A little background: it was probably in a club in Bristol in the early-1980s that I would first of heard George Michael during his Wham! incarnation. I can’t, of course, remember my precise reaction to what must have been something like ‘Bad Boys’ or ‘Wham! Rap’, but I can tell you that I definitely wasn’t impressed. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that at one point I totally despised it. I despised it so much that wouldn’t even have spoken about his music to my own friends. It was as relevant to me as the Bay City Rollers or The Wurzels.
This opinion changed slightly, albeit grudgingly, when I first heard ‘Everything She Wants’ by Wham!. This, I immediately recognised, was something different, a mature piece of work that had style and even gravitas. I wouldn’t have admitted this to anyone at the time but I found myself sort of liking what could only have been a freak aberration. This seed change was, however, further exacerbated when I heard ‘Careless Whisper’. Again. It wasn’t really my ‘kind’ of music but no one could argue that it was a particularly brilliant piece of pure pop music; it had an instant hook that reflected the work of a mature artist. Not some good looking blonde idiot in a suit with rolled up sleeves.
By the time that I had heard ‘A Different Corner’, however, there was no denying that I had become an admirer of George Michael. Here was another special song, mournful, yearning and beautiful, sung in a voice that sent a shiver down the spine.
But there was a little respite: when I heard ‘Faith’ the first single from George Michael’s upcoming solo album my admiration began to dissipate somewhat. I saw the song as a pretty weak copy of something throwaway such as ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ by Queen; derivative in a bad way, a sure sign that the George Michael bubble had burst.
Not so, of course, because its entirety the album ‘Faith’ was/is close to perfection. Songs such as ‘Father Figure’ ‘Kissing A Fool’, ‘One More Try’ and ‘Last Request’ were/are simply sublime; strong enough to project George Michael to a level of superstardom that rivalled and even surpassed contemporaries such Michael Jackson and Madonna. The kid from the kebab shop sure had talent.
By the time that ‘Listen Without Prejudice’ came out in 1990 I was by then doing a bit of music writing for cash and was actually commission by one mag to review the album. With very few reservations I enjoyed it immensely, giving it four out of five and advising George to quit looking for respect and just stick to making great dance tunes.
Evidently this was advice that George chose to ignore because it was a whole five years before the appearance of ‘Older’. Yes he’d filled in a little time with singles with Elton John and that appearance at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert (in which he proved to be the only performer capable of matching Freddie’s range – I, for one, will never forget the ‘will-he-won’t-he’ moment that preceded him not only hitting but totally obliterating that positively inhuman high Ab5 at the end of the song) but he’d kept well away from dance songs.
George was the first to admit that ‘Older’ – his next album five years later – was his best work and it’s difficult to argue with him. I could wax lyrical, or try to, for a long time regarding the qualities of this incredible album; suffice to say that it’s brilliant from start to finish. The jewel in the crown in most people’s opinion being the sublime ‘Jesus To A Child’, surely one of the most powerful songs about loss that has ever been written or performed.
After this there was the court case, the disappointing cover album and the underwhelming Patience, which came out in 2004, comprising already released singles and a disparate collection of new material (or so I thought at the time, however, recent plays have compelled me to change my opinion.)
Back to my original question: why, then, am I missing him so much?
It has, I suppose, to be down to a combination of factors: first of all it’s the inherent vulnerability of the man and his music that seems to strike such a chord. Like many of us, George was a flawed human being: despite clearly being handsome he was unhappy with his appearance (indeed, having gained weight in his middle years he refused to be seen in public during the last few months of his life); he was unbelievably successful and had far too many friends to count yet still considered himself alone. And his music came without embellishment – always stylish and produced to perfection. Some might say overproduced but I tend to disagree.
My feelings may also have something to do with his relatively close geographical location to my own. For a while I lived in South End Green and can remember laughing with my wife whenever we walked past the public toilets that he once got caught doing something in. Likewise, we were often on Hampstead High Street and were able to witness first hands the marks that were left when he crashed his Range Rover into Snappy Snaps.
More than anything, of course, it’s the music: the songs and the voice that leaves the world a sadder place. Over the past year I’ve played all of his solo albums almost relentlessly; to a degree in which I’ve come to believe that I almost know him personally. A big part of me wishes that he was still alive so there would be a chance I might bump into him in Highgate Village and I could throw my arms around him and give him a hug, tell him that he was someone special. One suspects that despite the worldwide acclaim that surrounded him for most of his life, there is a fair chance that he didn’t know this.
I miss George Michael. If you’d have told me thirty years ago that I’d be writing this down in public I’d most certainly have laughed in your face. But I’m not laughing now. I miss him.