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At school in Hertfordshire, Andrew was the vivacious one and George was the speccy shy one. They mucked around with a band called The Executive but in 1981 the two Bushey-boys became Wham and quickly went about becoming pop music’s teeny-kings.
Surprisingly to most of us, Wham Rap wasn’t the commercial success we all thought it was but their next single, Young Guns (Go For It!) went to #3 (thanks in part to a great performance on Top of the Pops) and George and Andrew suddenly became every teenage girl’s crush of choice.
For the teenage boys, their adoration was placated by the inclusion of Pepsi & Shirlie as backing singers and for the next four years, the boys churned out pure, uncontroversial pop hits including Club Tropicana, Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, Freedom and The Edge of Heaven. They promoted themselves as carefree young men and their early singles, described as ‘part-parody, part social comment’ fit their niche perfectly.
Everything was going smoothly. They were the first band from the ‘decadent west’ to tour China, they set fashion trends (remember the espadrilles, rolled up jeans and rumours of shuttlecocks down their shorts?) and they appeared to be the perfect ‘pretty boy/performer’ combo.
They couldn’t rest on their laurels because at the time they were rivalling Duran Duran and Culture Club as Britain’s top band and their first album Fantastic spent two weeks at number one.
As their success soared, there were background legal battles between the duo and record company Innervision (the result of which rendered Innervision bankrupt) and they eventually switched labels and updated their image – a shift from perceived spokesmen for an embittered generation into wild and hedonistic party animals.
Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go topped the charts around the world but it was their next single where the cracks started to appear. Careless Whisper was George’s bid to release himself from a teen heart-throb and reinvent himself as a serious musician and it worked. While Andrew co-wrote the song, he was effectively shunted off the track and the release weakened Ridgeley’s relevance to what George wanted to do musically.
Wham released I’m Your Man in 1985 but George countered with A Different Corner and that was effectively that.
After their emotional farewell at Wembley in the boiling hot summer of 1986, Wham split. George became a wildly successful solo artist beset it seemed by (mostly) self-inflicted controversy and Andrew almost disappeared from public life, although he did marry the gorgeous Keren Woodward out of Bananarama!
George and Andrew were what they were. They didn’t pretend to be anything else. They entertained us with their often cheesy brand of upbeat pop, they gyrated, they oozed sex appeal and they did for Britain’s teenage girls for a few years in the mid-80s what Elvis did when he burst onto the scene in the late 50s.
After Wham, Andrew Ridgeley tried his hand at Formula Three motor racing. It didn’t work out well. He crashed a few cars and found it hard to attract sponsors.
Wham was the first western band to tour the People’s Republic of China.
72,000 people were at their last concert at Wembley Stadium on 28th June 1986 and they ended with an emotional embrace. Ah, sweet.
Before Wham, George and Andrew formed a ska-inspired band called The Executive.
George’s full name is Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou.
Original Wham backing singer Dee C. Lee went on to marry ‘Mod God’ Paul Weller.
George’s dad changed his name from Kyriacos Panayiotou to Jack Michael and opened a restaurant in Edgware, northwest London called Mr. Jack’s.
Wham – Where Are They Now?
A stunningly successful solo career followed his Wham days (Faith, Listen Without Prejudice, Older) but sadly, his personal life is of more interest to the public these days. His first boyfriend, Anselmo Feleppa died of an AIDS-related brain haemorrhage and his relationship with American Kenny Goss ended after 13 years. Since then he has fallen from grace somewhat with arrests in public toilets and for possession of drugs.
Wham’s pretty boy had a stab at a solo career and didn’t make a dent in the charts but he has remained active as a songwriter using a number of different pseudonyms. In 2006, Andrew and George had planned to reunite for Live 8 but Ridgeley pulled out at the last minute. He lives in Cornwall with his wife Keren Woodward of Bananarama fame.