Sad news last month, as reported here on the BBC website: Melanie Panayiotou, George Michael’s older sister, died at Christmas, three years after her rather more famous brother. That BBC News article quotes a statement released through the family’s lawyer John Reid, “We would simply ask that the family’s privacy be respected at this very sad time”. I hope that their wishes have been respected. It’s quite possible that various news outlets have ignored the request, but I have not followed up the story or speculated any further about the circumstances of her death. Instead, I have been reflecting on the one time that I met her.
It was the spring of 1986. A friend from university was working for a company that made pop videos (or “pop promos” as those in the business called them at the time). The company was producing the video for the final Wham! single, “Edge of Heaven”, or rather both videos for a double A-sided release. “Edge of Heaven” is played from time to time on national radio but it’s a long time since I heard the other side. Do you remember it? It was called “Where Did Your Heart Go?”
My old university friend, his girlfriend, and I met up on a Friday evening and went to a movie at the Electric Cinema on Portobello Road. My friend was one of only a handful of college friends who had a car back then. I had never taken a driving lesson at that point, and would pass my test the following year. My friend’s car was essential for his work, which would, before too long, see him producing pop promos himself, although he wasn’t directly involved in the Wham! shoot. After the film we discussed where to go and eat, but it turned out that first he had to pop by Twickenham Studios briefly. The shoot for the Wham! video had run over time and over budget. It was supposed to have been wrapped up long before Friday evening, but they hadn’t filmed anything to accompany “Where Did Your Heart Go?” yet. The entire quarter of a million pound budget, and more, had been eaten up by “Edge of Heaven”. This included hundreds of extras being booked for at least one more day of filming. The director had scaled back his plans for the video for the other song.
We arrived at Twickenham to find just two people in the surprisingly small studio: the director and George Michael himself. No Andrew Ridgely, no band, no extras. They had used a much larger room for the previous days’ filming. We caught a glimpse of the two of them before the studio door closed, the music started up and the camera rolled, George lip-synching to the track. We stood outside, beside a very sporty looking Mercedes. Whispered comments from passing studio staff revealed that it had cost over £21,000, and that George’s insurance for the year was over £7,000. The latter figure was about the same as the total amount my mother had spent on cars in the previous 15 years, including the cost of the second-hand Renault 5 that I would use for my driving test the following year.
I was standing near a woman who looked about my age and seemed to be involved with Wham! or the studio. Why else would she be there on a Friday after 10pm? She said something along the lines of, “Admiring the car? Nice, isn’t it?”
I said, “Very nice” or something similar, and explained that I didn’t know much about cars – I’d never even had a driving lesson. She said that George had only just passed his test, and this was his first car. (That explained why the insurance was so expensive.) She said something about the chaos of the previous few days, what with everything running over, you know. The studio door opened again, she looked over, said that she had to go and see to George’s hair, and was gone.
My friend came over, looking rather more worried than he needed to.
“You know who that was, don’t you? What did you say to her?”
“No, I don’t. Uh, something about the car?”
“That’s George’s sister.”
I reviewed our brief conversation, failed to find anything that could have offended her, and vaguely recalled something about her being a hairdresser.
“I think we’re going to be okay,” I told my friend. “I’ve spoken to people before, you know.”
Maybe he was concerned that I had said something uncomplimentary about the band, or George himself, but that was never going to happen. I have always regarded “Wham Rap” as one of the great singles from the 1980s. It’s one of the few post-1981 7” records in my collection, along with “Wake me up before you go-go” (which I had been given as a present). There was an unkind joke going around at the time about Andrew Ridgely’s contribution to the duo, but I would never have repeated it in those surroundings.
We stayed a few minutes longer, didn’t see George or his sister again, and ended up back at my childhood home. My mum had gone to bed but my dad was still up, watching a late-night movie. I put some frozen pizzas in the oven and we ate sometime after midnight.
I wrote the above words without looking back over my pocket diary from the time, so everything there is from memory. The brief entry from my diary shows that this all happened on Friday 13 June, and the film that we went to at the Electric was called “Static”. I can’t remember a thing about it.