Eamonn Holmes has led tributes in Northern Ireland to George Michael, revealing that the pop superstar used to call up his phone-in shows as an ordinary viewer.
Tributes have been pouring in from celebrities and fans across the world following the former Wham! star’s death on Christmas Day. The 53-year-old’s death from suspected heart failure is being treated by police as “unexplained but not suspicious”.
Michael sold more than 100m albums during a career spanning almost four decades, with a back catalogue of timeless hits including Club Tropicana, Faith and Last Christmas.
But away from the stage persona there was evidence of an ordinary man living an extraordinary life.
Holmes said: “George Michael’s music was the soundtrack to my young adulthood, and now he has gone it feels like there is a part of us has also gone. His music has been with me, and people of my age, throughout our lives. So his death is very sad.”
The This Morning host remembered Michael contacting his show during a live call-in.
“George called up This Morning one day to voice his opinion on whatever it was we were talking about,” the said. “He also contacted the Open Air show during the mid-1980s.
“I am not sure why he felt the need to call up the show. He would just say: ‘Hi, it’s George Michael here.’ And then we would have a chat.
“It showed me great ordinariness from someone who was a real superstar. He was extra ordinary, in many respects, for someone who was extraordinary.
“George just came on and talked like any other person would. I don’t recall the topic of discussion being anything controversial, it was just something he had a view on.”
Eamonn said Michael’s interest in breakfast TV generated a “massive buzz” around those working on both programmes.
“The production crew just thought that this was amazing, that a genuine music icon watched our programme. It was a real shot in the arm for everyone on Open Air and This Morning,” he added.
“What did it tell us about George Michael at that time? I am not sure. I think it just shows you how genuine and ordinary he was. I always hear people saying how nice George Michael was, and it seems he was a wonderful person.”
Holmes said he got to appreciate the popularity of Wham! when he was asked to appear as a DJ at a number of nightclubs around Northern Ireland during the Eighties.
“I could have been in Moira, Omagh, Ballymena or wherever else. I didn’t know how to DJ, but I was booked to appear at these discos,” he recalled. “I just remember that the soundtrack back then included a lot of songs from Wham! and George Michael. You think of songs like Club Tropicana and Last Christmas, and they always got people dancing. And then you had ballads like Careless Whisper, and that’s when everyone got on the dance floor for a slow dance and a wee cuddle.
“When you see the reaction of people when they hear George Michael’s music, then you realise just what a special talent he had. He had a positive impact on so many people’s lives.
“I was fortunate enough to see George Michael at Wembley Stadium about five years ago and he was brilliant.
“He was one of those artists who you had to see. Sometimes you go to a concert and you end up not liking a few of the songs. But with this concert every song was a hit or classic.”
Music writer and The Late Show presenter Stuart Bailie also remembers the emergence of Wham! back in the early Eighties. “I was part of the punk generation when George Michael was an energetic popstar, so in many ways he was the ‘enemy’ for someone like me back then,” Stuart said.
“But it was only later on when you heard about his support of the miners’ strike that your opinion changed, and you realised that his record collection was probably much cooler than you ever appreciated. He very quietly gave money to some very important causes, and I think a lot of that generosity went unnoticed.
“The Wham! period was fun and a bit silly, but George Michael carried a lot of gravitas into his young adult life.
“He was simply a great artist. I was listening this morning to the duet he did with Aretha Franklin I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me), which is simply gorgeous.
“George Michael was part of the Eighties pop culture, but underneath it he was soaked in soul music. He could do the pop stuff with ease, but he had soul.
“The longevity of his career proves that he could move with the times. He was always an icon, but he didn’t command the attention, and he was tortured by the tabloid newspapers. He had an awful time.”
Radio Ulster presenter Ralph McLean said: “I remember when Wham! first appeared on the scene as an interesting soul duo. Their first couple of singles were very good.
“They were politically-minded, and supported issues such as the miners’ strike. So they engaged with some important issues of that time.
“George Michael was a fantastic songwriter. He was much more than just a teeny popstar of the Eighties.
“Yes, he could write great pop singles, but he crafted a lot of soul songs, too. You could even tell in his pop songs that he was well versed in soul and gospel music. His duet with Aretha Franklin is fantastic.
“He also showed great humility, and he didn’t take himself too seriously, like a lot of popstars do.
“I think George Michael’s music will live forever, and that’s what any musician really wants. He has a back catalogue of music hits that people will be listening to right now.”
Harry Hamilton, better known as Flash Harry, fronts a Queen tribute act. He said: “I remember seeing George Michael for the first time on Top Of The Pops back in 1982 or 1983,” he said. “He was a wonderful singer and vocalist.
“As a singer myself I would always look out for the way people sing, and their phrasing and tone etc.
“George was a very talented singer, and also a wonderful songwriter. And not only the pop classics he penned back in the Eighties, but songs like Faith and some other ones in the album Listen Without Prejudice.
“Back in our early days we didn’t just focus on Queen songs, and Faith was a cover we always performed.
“I remember George singing Somebody To Love at the Queen tribute concert back in 1992, and he stole the show.”
Harry, who is playing at the Waterfront Hall tonight, said the band may pay tribute to both Michael and Status Quo guitarist Rick Parfitt, who passed away on Christmas Eve at the age of 68.
“We might plan something for George Michael and Rick Parfitt. I have to speak to the band and see if we can learn a couple of new songs,” he added.
Former Radio Ulster presenter and DJ Alan Simpson said news of Michael’s death had compounded what has been a devastating year for the music industry.
“David Bowie was my hero, and when he died earlier this year I was devastated. But I think George Michael’s death has really sent shockwaves throughout the music world,” he said.
“George just wrote great songs.
“He was a fantastic songwriter who touched the lives of so many people.”
Simpson recalled the time Michael crashed his car into the front of his sister Ann’s shop in north London in 2010.
The singer was caught on CCTV mounting the kerb in his Range Rover and slamming into the Snappy Snaps branch in Hampstead. He received an eight-week prison sentence.
“My sister was home for Christmas and it brought back memories of that incident,” he said. “It got a lot of headlines when it happened. I think George came in afterwards with some cakes as an apology.”
Radio DJ Maurice Jay, who is also a musician in Eighties tribute band Pleasuredome, said George Michael’s songs used to fill dance floors across Northern Ireland.
“I vividly remember when Careless Whisper came out it was the opening ballad of choice for me and every DJ at the time when it came to the slow section of the night,” he said.
“To this day we still perform Careless Whisper and Wake Me Up at our Pleasuredome Eighties nights.”
Tributes were left outside Michael’s home yesterday following news of his death.
Richard Osman, who, prior to moving front of camera on Pointless, served as executive producer on several Channel 4 shows including Deal or No Deal, 8 out of 10 Cats and 10 O’Clock Live, has revealed a heartwarming anecdote about George Michael the morning after his death