This was no surprise to The Big Issue. He had supported our work for a long time, showing us that kindness, that generosity with both his time and his words.
In 1996, after recording Older – the album considered by the singer and many fans and critics to be his finest work – he talked to the press for the first time in six years. He gave the exclusive interview to The Big Issue.
Michael knew EVERYONE would want to read his first print interview in years. By giving this exclusive to a magazine whose vendors make a living on the streets, he used his fame to help people facing poverty.
In the 1996 interview, Michael talked about his charitable giving with refreshing clarity. “I can give away large amounts of money without it having any effect on my life. So you can do a lot of good at arm’s length… which I’m sure people will criticise me for,” he said.
And he continued to help us, and countless others, both publicly and privately for the rest of his life.
In the days after Michael’s death, the stories were everywhere. Novelist and former Pointless co-host Richard Osman tweeted: “A woman on Deal Or No Deal told us she needed £15k for IVF treatment. George Michael secretly phoned the next day and gave her the £15k.”
Michael was revealed to have been a regular volunteer at a homeless shelter, swearing his co-workers to secrecy. And we heard about how, after overhearing a woman in a cafe having a fraught conversation about her debt levels, Michael left a £25,000 cheque with the waitress – on the condition that it was handed over after he’d left. A student nurse had a similar tale of receiving a £5,000 tip from Michael at the bar she worked at, to help pay off her student debts.
Then there were the vast royalties George Michael gave away. The earnings from his 1991 duet with Elton John, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, went to the Terrence Higgins Trust and their vital work around HIV, Aids hospice London Lighthouse, and the Rainbow Trust children’s charity. All of his royalties from his 1996 international number one single Jesus to a Child went to Childline, a charity he donated millions to over many years, helping keep them afloat.
Not content with singing on Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?, the 1984 single that kept Last Christmas off the top spot, Wham! donated the royalties from their festive hit to Ethiopian famine relief. And every Easter, DJ Mick Brown wrote, Michael would call Capital Radio to donate £100,000 to Help A London Child, the station’s charity dedicated to helping disadvantaged children and young people.
All this came on top of the generosity we already knew about. From the free concert for NHS workers who had cared for his mother (long before clapping for them on doorsteps became a regular national pastime) to publicly supporting Project Angel Food, which would distribute food to people in LA living with Aids.
George Michael was a once-in-a-lifetime talent, but as these stories show, his legacy extends way beyond his music.
Read more about George Michael – including the touching memories of his friends and bandmate Andrew Ridgeley – in this week’s Big Issue, on the streets until 2 July.
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