Andrew Ridgeley — the other half of Wham! — is my new hero.
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I was never a Wham! fan — too old for their audience, not the right gender or sexuality, and not naturally inclined towards boy-band pop. I liked George Michael’s solo records and watched his slow-motion self-destruction with some regret, but neither members of the original duo made much of an impression.
But lately, on the 40th anniversary of the pair’s first record deal, both have been back in the news with a new Netflix documentary and an interview with Andrew Ridgeley in the London Times made me sit up and take notice.
Andrew Ridgeley is my new hero.
For those who never followed this story, Andrew Ridgeley was the half of Wham! (love that crucial exclamation point!) that wasn’t the late George Michael.
Best friends from the ages of 11 and 12, they quickly captured a devoted audience of mostly young girls to their infectious bubblegum soul with songs like “Wham Rap” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” They co-wrote their initial hits, but soon Michael insisted on taking over the songwriting duties and the direction of the band.
In three years they sold more than 30 million records, breaking through to America and helping define the pop sound of the mid-’80s. It was Michael’s decision to retire as a duo at the height of their success.
So, after a farewell concert to 70,000 screaming fans at London’s Wembley Stadium in 1986, they disbanded, and as the article puts it, “Michael went on to become a platinum-selling solo world superstar; Ridgeley went off to Cornwall to take up paddleboarding.” (To translate that into American terms, that’s like going off to Cape Cod to, well, take up paddleboarding.)
To walk away from instant recognition, to forgo the parting of the velvet rope, the proffered sex, the easy-money endorsement deals, is a big ask. The breakup itself was without rancor — surely the first, good-natured disbandment recorded in Billboard history.
Now a handsome, thin, white-haired man who admirably looks his 60 years, Ridgeley is bemused about the adulation Wham! inspired.
“I don’t understand what compels and drives people to that extreme. It’s not within me, and therefore I don’t think I’ll ever understand it. It’s derailing. Deranging.”
Fame has variously been called a drug, a curse. David Bowie, who felt sometimes singed by it, sang that fame “puts you there where things are hollow.”
But few of those who have been seized by it have easily walked away. Greta Garbo famously quit the movies at the age of 36 and led as much of a reclusive life as one could in the middle of New York City.
Neil Armstrong, after being the first person to walk on the moon, returned to earth and shut out the world.
Those are the exceptions to the rule. Add Ridgeley. Having tasted global success and widespread breathless adoration (albeit from a particular demographic), he settled down to a quiet, well-appointed private life.
He could teach Harry and Meghan a thing or two; they have no idea how to disappear, probably because they don’t want to, playing hide-and-seek with the media, asking for privacy after publishing a deeply personal, confessional memoir.
The writer Tom Wolfe was rarely seen in anything but his yes-it’s-me-Tom-Wolfe white suit. Celebrities going back to dandified Oscar Wilde have insisted on being recognized in public.
Princess Diana used to phone certain tabloid photographers she knew to capture her in a supposed private moment, such as appearing on the deck of a private yacht in a comely swimming suit.
Donald Trump may have said that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it, but Jerry Lewis once offered that if he were ever to walk down Fifth Avenue and no one recognized him, he’d shoot himself.
Talk about the derangement of fame.
Musicians who early in their lives tasted the sweet elixir of celebrity are loath to give it up, and often insist on performing long past their sell-by date. Bands are constantly reforming to tour years — even decades — after their heydays, but it never occurred to Ridgeley to attempt a Wham! reunion, even when George Michael was alive. The project was a “representation of us as youngsters. Of youth. So it was inconceivable that Wham! could mature into adulthood, whatever that might be. Wham! was never going to be middle-aged.”
Kudos to that.
Asked if he ever felt the need to correct the media’s misapprehension of his role in Wham!’s success, he says: “No, I never felt an urge to correct any misconceptions. That’s other people’s problems, not mine.”
Listening, Prince Harry?
Ridgeley conceded that his contentment with a quiet life as opposed to a busy career of creative industry could probably be traced to a single characteristic: indolence.
Let us acknowledge that in certain circumstances, lethargy can be a beautiful thing.
J.B. Miller is an American writer living in England, and is the author of My Life in Action Painting and The Satanic Nurses and Other Literary Parodies.