As Wham!’s career is revisited with 40th anniversary celebrations including an epic Netflix documentary and best-of collection, ‘Echoes From The Edge Of Heaven’, Pepsi & Shirlie have opened up about their time with the duo.
Shirlie Kemp née Holliman was side-by-side with George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley throughout their entire run, with Pepsi DeMacque coming onboard following the departure of Dee C Lee in 1983 – resulting in there being two iconic double-acts under the Wham! banner.
Speaking exclusively in RETROPOP’s August cover feature, Shirlie admits: “This is what made me believe in fate. They went to the same school as me – I’m a year older than them – and I didn’t connect with them at the time because they were younger boys. But my form room was the music room and I remember George used to queue up outside for his lessons. He was just a young kid – and then years later, there we were on stage at Wembley. It’s so crazy!”
Fronted by George with Shirlie as a backing dancer and singer during their live shows, Wham! launched on the London club scene before securing a record deal, landing a coveted spot on ‘Top Of The Pops’ and making it big.
But as they took their career international, it left less time for George, Andrew and Shirlie to hang out like they used to, with the addition of Pepsi offering a lifeline to her new singing partner. “George and Andrew were my best friends and suddenly I was sharing them with the record companies, the PRs, the fans – the world,” Shirlie remembers.
“That was daunting and I was emotionally trying to adjust to that, because the boys were being pulled left, right and centre, so thank God I had Pepsi, because that suddenly gave me a new place to be.”
Pepsi adds: “There were moments I could actually see Shirlie grieving that a little bit, because it was really hard for her. We never really spoke about it but I kind of knew it was happening, because it’s incredible when you see people living their dreams but you do wonder, ‘Who am I in all of this?’ So for Shirlie and I to get on and to travel the world together, it was great for both of us.”
By the time of ‘The Final’, the duo were ready for change and despite George and Andrew’s offer to continue working together when Pepsi & Shirlie revealed plans to collaborate on their own album, they instead opted to make a clean break.
“They were going to start a record company and offered to help Pepsi and I produce our records, but something inside me just thought, ‘No, they’re too talented’. They were too big and too good…,” she smiles. “It was like leaving home, almost, and I just wanted to go and try something different and fresh. So we were lucky, really, that we had Polydor Records waiting to sign us and we actually signed with them before ‘The Final’.”
Following Wham!’s split, George launched a hugely successful solo career while Pepsi & Shirlie released the album ‘All Right Now’ (1987), featuring the hits Heartache and Goodbye Stranger. Meanwhile, Andrew released one solo album, ‘Son of Albert’ (1990), before stepping out of the spotlight, with Pepsi sharing her hope that the new celebrations will bring about renewed appreciation for his contribution to the institution that was Wham!
“I believe that this is where Andrew gets his due, because for a very long time people would say, ‘So what does Andrew do?’,” she reflects. “In fact, Andrew created Wham! with George and the movie really allows you to see where Andrew fits into the whole Wham! dynamic.
“I think he needs to get his due for the creation of it, because George lacked quite a bit of confidence – I mean, look at the jumpers for goodness sake! But Andrew was part of that and the boys really had a vision and an idea. They were inspired by The Human League and when Dee left, it wasn’t a case of, ‘Do we get rid of Shirlie as well?’, because it was a visual thing and they were very clear about how they wanted it to look. They were both just brilliant!”
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.”
‘The Singles: Echoes From The Edge Of Heaven’ is out Friday, July 7.
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.