On the second anniversary of his death, it is important to remember that George Michael wasn’t just a talented singer who spent the majority of his life in the public eye.
He was a celebrity, yes, but he was so much more than that. He was a son, a brother, a partner; he was compassionate, kind, caring. He was all of this and more to those closest to him, and many times to those who weren’t.
Because although George kept himself relatively out of the public eye, in private he was a source of comfort and of reassurance to many, using his time and money to help those in need.
Before we explore his generosity in more depth though, it is necessary to go back and look at George’s rise to fame and subsequent introduction to the celebrity world – if only to understand his reasoning behind remaining so private in his later life.
The pop icon formed Wham! with his childhood friend Andrew Ridgeley in 1981, when he was just 18. From a very young age, he became a heartthrob and an idol to many; teenage girls would scream his name and his face would be plastered on bedroom walls.
But George, from very early on, was worried that his ambition and success was likely to make him ‘very unhappy,’ a Telegraph reporter recalls him saying in a Smash Hits interview.
Although he had become a household name overnight, he hated being trapped in a room all day and waiting around, and was seriously debating – at the age of just 21 – whether it was all worth it.
His career went from strength to strength though, and even though Wham! split up in 1986, George continued to succeed in his solo career. Just one year later, he released his debut solo album, Faith, which peaked at number one in both the UK and US charts.
Despite this, he was still understandably finding it difficult to come to terms with his new-found fame and preferred to keep certain elements of his life – such as his sexuality – private.
Speaking on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2007, the songwriter gave a candid interview about his difficult relationship with the press and the reasons why he was so guarded about his personal life.
He told presenter Kirsty Young:
I went from being Andrew’s shadow as a sexually confident being to being the centre of attention. At that level I lost all my confidence. I suddenly felt like a fake, so the whole thing turned me into somebody who felt the camera was my enemy.
And while George’s private life was all too often pondered over and offered up for public consumption by the press, one part of his life remained just that – private. His philanthropy, while reaching far and wide, remained a well kept secret.
That is, until his death two years ago on Christmas Day at the age of just 53 – after which, many stories emerged that hadn’t previously, which shone a light on George’s generous, kind, and charitable nature.
So on the two year anniversary of his death, it’s important to share some of these stories in the hope that they show you how George Michael wanted to make the world a better place without any of the credit.
Firstly, it’s important to note that while what I touch upon in this article focuses mainly on his dedicated charity work throughout the years, this doesn’t even begin to cover everything he did. George also made it his mission to secretly help strangers in need, whom he encountered in day-to-day life.
You can see some examples below:
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.
— Richard Osman (@richardosman) December 26, 2016
George Michael apparently gave a stranger in a cafe £25k when he overheard her crying over debt. Left a cheque behind before heading out.
— Shehab Khan (@ShehabKhan) December 26, 2016
he gave a stranger in a cafe £25k as she was crying over debt. Told the waitress to give her the cheque after he left.
— VectorVictoria (@V3ct0rv1ct0r) December 26, 2016
Aside from these spontaneous acts of kindness though, George regularly donated his time and money to various charities. UNILAD spoke to Oonagh Goodman, Director of Fundraising and Marketing at the Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity, which supports families who have a child with a life threatening or terminal illness.
She spoke openly about George’s support for the charity from 1991, and his subsequent role as patron from 1995 to 2005. Not only this, but he shared the proceeds of his hit song Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me between Rainbow Trust and AIDS hospice London Lighthouse, which raised over £35,000 for the former charity.
Speaking about his reasoning behind becoming a patron for Rainbow Trust in 1997, George said:
I can only imagine the immense loss of a child, and the value of an organisation which can help those left behind to come to terms with their loss cannot be measured. I am truly proud to be a patron and Rainbow Trust can count on my continued support.
Oonagh spoke fondly about the songwriter’s generosity, and recalled many times when George would launch fundraising appeals and attend galas to help raise money for Rainbow Trust.
She said of his generosity:
The single alone raised £35,000 which was directly attributed to his generosity. I think certainly because of those royalty contributions, his association with Rainbow Trust attracted a lot of corporate and individual supporters that would never have heard of us otherwise. And that of course is down to his generosity too.
Explaining her reasoning behind speaking out about George’s charity work, Oonagh acknowledged the importance of celebrating him for everything he did, when perhaps it was not possible to do so previously.
It’s a celebration of his life and acknowledging all of the amazing things he did and what a generous individual he was. He was an extremely generous man that has left that legacy, supporting the work that we do with families of a very seriously ill child. It’s just amazing.
And Rainbow Trust wasn’t the only charity George positively impacted; he directly funded many organisations through the Platinum Trust.
Tara Flood, Chief Executive Officer for the Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), spoke with UNILAD about George’s influence within the charity, which is an organisation run by disabled people and which campaigns for inclusive education as a human and civil right for disabled children and young people.
George funded ALLFIE through the Platinum Trust for approximately 20 years – donating between £25,000 and £35,000 a year for 20 years – and Tara puts their success largely down to George’s generosity, saying the charity would not have survived without his funding.
There is no doubt that I place funders like the Platinum Trust at the heart of our success, because without their belief in ALLFIE as an organisation, and a belief in what we did, we wouldn’t have survived as long as we have done.
We absolutely wouldn’t. And that’s down to George of course, it absolutely is, and his belief in change. But also him not wanting to take the credit for it.
I’m not sure there are many people who have made the level of change possible that he did in the most extraordinarily quiet way. I mean, that to me is always the amazing thing about George Michael really.
Tara also spoke about the charity’s respect for the songwriter, saying none of her colleagues who received funding from the Platinum Trust ever spoke about the fact they all knew it was George who was behind it.
I think we all respected his desire to do this quietly, and so none of the colleagues I worked with that received funding from the Platinum Trust, ever talked about the fact that we all knew that it was George Michael that was behind it.
And I think that, I felt in many respects that we were not only protecting his privacy, but respecting I suppose the value that he placed in us.
The singer’s generosity wasn’t limited to the Platinum Trust though, and he would often donate to other charities in spontaneous ways – showing that his charitable nature was intrinsic to him.
Mick Brown, breakfast DJ on Delite Radio and drive-time presenter on London’s Radio Jackie, recalls speaking to George on many occasions when he worked on Capital Radio. Every year, the station would hold a charity fundraising weekend called Help A London Child, which he would host alongside Chris Tarrant.
The DJ told UNILAD:
Every year, just before the show ended, the Capital phone would ring and George would come on and donate £100,000… he would just say he would like to help the kids.
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To honor George Michael’s love of life and celebrate the reissue of Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, we’re excited to share this limited edition “Choose Love” shirt. Each and every tee will support (RED)'s fight to end AIDS. Join us, choose love and get yours via our bio link or atomaze.com/chooselove
Mick went on to say that he had interviewed George ‘many times’ before, both when he was with Wham! and during his solo career, and described him as ‘very articulate and fun’.
The DJ also nodded towards George’s generosity with regards to AIDS fundraising and helping those living with the disease. While I previously mentioned the singer gave the proceeds of his song Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me to AIDS hospice London Lighthouse, he also attended events to raise money for the disease.
I hosted the first ever AIDS Day concert at Wembley Arena attended by Princess Diana and again he was amazing throughout the whole gig!
George was a fantastic bloke and his music will live on – I truly believe he got such pleasure at helping people with his charity donations.
So while George was intrinsically charitable and spent years of his life doing his utmost to improve others, we were none the wiser.
In a time when the news is made up of more and more chaos and tragedy, it’s heartwarming to know that a high profile celebrity such as George was determined to make a difference to the world without taking any credit for it.
It just goes to show the type of man he was that his philanthropy only came to light after his death, when people felt it necessary to share with the world their stories of his kindness, generosity, and all-round decency.
Rest in peace, George.
If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677.