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The most misunderstood people in pop #3: Andrew Ridgeley

Updated: Mar 26, 2019

Andrew Ridgeley, the pretty boy who had the good fortune to hang out with George Michael and ride his coat tails to fame. Didn’t write most of the songs, didn’t even play guitar on many of them, so before too long the inevitable happened and George went solo. Apart from a few racing car appearances, which he always lost, he vanished from sight. So really, what exactly was the point of Andrew Ridgeley?

Well quite simply that without him, there would be no George Michael, megastar musician and one of the most famous people of the last 40 years. For the pleasure of having George Michael in our cultural lives, we owe almost all of that to Andrew Ridgeley. That is the point of Andrew Ridgeley.

Please don’t misunderstand me. The pretty boy who had the good fortune to hang out with the vastly more talented George Michael, that’s all completely true. George Michael was the sort of musical talent that very very rarely comes along and all of George’s many accomplishments, and many acts of kindness, are all a credit to his vision and his astonishing creativity and heart.

Leaving aside the point that ‘not being as talented as George Michael’ is hardly a stinging criticism when the same applies to basically all the rest of us, to understand how critical Andrew Ridgeley was in the George Michael story you have to go back to when they met.

The pair met at secondary school in England when George, then still going by his actual name of Georgios Panayiotou, was the new boy. Andrew Ridgeley volunteered to look after him which right away tells you one very crucial thing about the Ridge - he’s genuinely really nice. Some other things about him are that he was then already very very confident and, not unconnected with that fact, was one of the coolest kids in school.

Apart from also being very genuinely nice, George Michael was not like Andrew Ridgeley. Whenever George talked about his childhood he would always mention how cripplingly shy he was, how he completely lacked self-confidence. He also had a very domineering father who was unimpressed with his son’s devotion to music.

An immigrant from Cyprus, Panayiotou senior owned and ran a restaurant which he spent most of his waking hours working in to make successful. He was clear in his mind that his son could only be successful in life in the same way that he had been - through very hard and constant work. Not something he associated with music and he wasn’t shy about letting his son know that.

However having the most popular kid around taking him under his wing helped George slowly build his confidence. There was still a mountain for him to climb, but they genuinely got on, made each other laugh and hung out together a lot. Ridgeley also wanted to very famous. He wasn’t too fussed about the detail, but as he came to understand George’s musical talent, he really pushed for them to be in a band together.

George agreed - he only wanted to make music after all - but kept delaying, wanting to keep his parents happy by getting his exams. Finally, when they were 17, Ridgeley insisted on waiting no more and first The Executive but more importantly soon after Wham! was formed and the duo were off. In less than two years the band were at number one and they were both superstars.

It’s pretty much impossible to become famous without having confidence. Pushing forward in the face of all the inevitable setbacks takes herculean self-belief. George Michael never ever had that, but, fortunately for everyone concerned, Andrew Ridgeley had more than enough for two.

And he happily shared it with his best friend. The two became famous, very famous. Even when George had struck out on his own, the two never fell out. Andrew never tried to cash in on his more famous other professional half, going on tour as ‘Andrew Ridgeley from Wham!’ or anything like that.

Not least as one of the last hits of the Wham! days, Careless Whisper, has Andrew Ridgeley credited as an equal 50% songwriter with George. Though George denied at the time that he was on the cusp of a solo career, everyone was kind of expecting it, not least when the single was released in the US as ‘Wham! Featuring George Michael’. And as far as I can tell everyone is kind of clear the lyrics are very much from George’s imagination and Andrew Ridgeley only gets songwriting credit on one other hit, Wham! Rap.

I mean this not to diminish Andrew Ridgeley’s very real contribution to the song, which was written before they were famous, but it was unusual for him to have 50% of the songwriting credit and money, so I think George made sure it happened that way to ensure his friend, the friend who gave him the confidence to follow his dream in the first place, would be taken care of once the gargantuan Wham! pay checks stopped coming, as was about to happen.

George Michael knew how much he owed Andrew Ridgeley. It’s about time everyone else realised as well.

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