Netflix’s new feature-length documentary, Wham!, recounts the story of the chart-topping duo’s global success in their own words – an idea that, for many, would seem impossible.
From 1982 to 1986, George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley released two hit albums and scored a phenomenal run of hit singles, including Club Tropicana, Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go and Freedom!, before parting company at the height of their success with a massive gig – dubbed ‘The Final’ – at London’s Wembley Stadium.
It was in 2018 that Andrew sought to create a mini-documentary about his and his late friend’s pop heyday to coincide with the release of his memoir, but when he approached producer Simon Halfon, the project took on a life of its own.
“George was a very dear friend and Andrew came to me right about the time his book was coming out, about five years ago now, because he wanted to do a little documentary to promote that,” explains Simon in RETROPOP’s August cover feature.
“I’d had a similar experience where Noel Gallagher had said that he wanted to do a little film to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Oasis at Knebworth and I said the same thing, which is: ‘This is a bigger story; this is a phenomenon and it deserves to be told and have a bigger platform’.”
With the musician on board, Simon set to work, calling producer John Battsek and Netflix Vice President, Original Feature Documentaries, Kate Townsend, and secured meetings with both that same week. They later recruited director Chris Smith to oversee the project and began a hunt for archival content to illustrate the film.
“More so than any film I’ve ever done, the archive search started on day one and literally continued for the best part of two years,” admits John. “The edit started on day 50 and continued for a year and a half, and over that time we found more and more bits that strengthened our hand.”
Their digging soon proved fruitful and it wasn’t long before they stumbled upon treasure troves of classic imagery, audio and video footage that would enable George and Andrew to tell their story first-hand. “We chanced upon this fantastic collection of George’s audio from post-Wham! interviews and there was one occasion where I got a bit misty listening to it, because it felt like I was having lunch with him again, hearing all of his fabulous stories in his fascinating and self-deprecating way,” smiles Simon.
“It was literally as if we presented him with a list of questions that needed answering; about his childhood, about meeting Andrew at school, about signing his first record deal and going on the road. It was amazing! Then we were able to go back to Andrew and get him to respond to things and tell his story, then intertwine the two.”
It wasn’t just a third-party search that brought the past flooding back, as Andrew’s mum, Jennifer, had kept her own records of her son and his best friend’s success in the form of scrapbooks, which also feature heavily in the documentary. “Andrew’s mother kept hold of a lot of stuff and the George Michael estate kept a hold of a lot of stuff as well, so we were able to access a lot of those,” says John.
“George’s sister very kindly gave us access to a whole bunch of his personal stuff like his own home movies, so from the beginning we loved the idea of trying to make this film just in George and Andrew’s voices and allowing them to tell their own story. That is a really exciting prospect, particularly when one of the characters has passed away, to have enough material for them to lead the storytelling.”
Clocking in at just over 90 minutes, ‘Wham!’ is nothing short of a delight, bursting with nostalgia and perfectly capturing the essence of the pop legends at the top of their game. “At the same time, there’s an element of the struggles that George was dealing with, which of course underpin everything to do with George and are an important part of the story,” reflects John. “But it was also really nice to be able to make a film that’s a celebration of such a happy story.
“The thing about George particularly was how profoundly talented he was. Therefore, the idea of being able to dive into the details of that was exciting and the fact that both of those boys were writing songs at the age of 17 and 18 that became iconic is remarkable.”
‘Wham!’ is streaming now on Netflix.
Read the full interview in the August 2023 edition of RETROPOP, out now. Order yours or subscribe via our Online Store, use our Store Finder to locate your nearest stockist, or get Digital Copies delivered direct to your devices.