Andrew Ridgeley, now aged 56, gives few interviews. Over the three decades since Wham broke up, the media has not treated him kindly. But he has now written a memoir, "Wham! George & Me" (published by Michael Joseph) that is winning widespread praise, and he has agreed to appear at a few literary festivals and even to speak to some journalists.

As one half of Wham!, the pop duo he created with George Michael, Ridgeley sold over 30 million records. He played stadiums all over the world, worked on stage with Bono and Freddie Mercury at Live Aid and was one of the first western rock performers to play in China. Ridgeley's hero Jimmy Page even attended one of Wham's gigs to please his young daughter, Scarlet (now herself a famed rock photographer). So Ridgeley has certainly been a hugely successful man.

After Wham! broke up in 1986 George Michael went on to become one of the most famous solo artists anywhere in the world. Ridgeley enjoyed his own past success, dated a string of supermodels, dallied briefly with motor racing, released a disastrous single and then had a "pretty contented" 22-year relationship with Keren Woodward from Bananarama. By the end of his twenties Ridgeley had effectively retired on all the money from Wham - including the rights from several of their popular songs that he had written. He enjoyed being out of the public eye and simply spent his days enjoying cycling, surfing, cooking and walking in the English countryside. It was a wonderful life - yet the tabloid press considered Ridgeley a byword for failure.

"Well, there was always a lot of stuff about me being a party animal", Ridgeley says. "'Spitting Image' parodied me as a pair of dancing buttocks which was very funny. And they used to say sesame seeds on a McDonald's hamburger were the Andrew Ridgeley of garnishes - a burger looks wrong without them, but nobody knows what they do. I guess that barrage of mockery was a big reason I just withdrew from public life. I didn't need the aggro! It was a constant kind of gnawing away at me. It didn't actually undermine my confidence or day-to-day happiness but it was a constant theme and for years I just never ever read the press".

Ridgeley's book is more than the usual superficial glossy pop tale and it will have wider appeal than just to former Wham fanatics. It is a touching account of male friendship and how two boys with immigrant fathers (George's dad was Greek Cypriot, and Andrew's had Arab/Italian roots) who met on their first day at a North London secondary school, would attend Genesis gigs together, pursue girls together, hit Soho nightspots together and then go on to create a world-class rock-pop duo. Interestingly, it also details how George Michael had to battle a huge lack of confidence in his appearance before becoming a pin-up figure. In the early days it was Ridgeley who had all the self-assurance and rather more of the formal musical ability too.

"It is sad, really", Ridgeley reflects. "George was always sure of his mind, of what he wanted to achieve but he did so lack confidence in his looks - though he was always a good-looking bloke. It came from a childhood perspective and it is hard to shift that self-image thing. In the early days George failed auditions, too - as a drummer and as a singer. That didn't help".

But with Ridgeley's early musical flair and confidence the two kept progressing and with the creation of Wham, success soon followed. "Many assume that I simply followed where George led", Ridgeley says. "But in the early, formative days it wasn't like that at all. Later, as George developed, his true gifts came to light and I'm the first to admit that, after that, I struggled creatively in comparison. I was never as focussed on fame, fortune, success or money. I liked the life we had at every stage of the game and lacked George's ambition. But in those early days it was me who had confidence and George was kind enough to say in later years that without me pushing us along in the early days, there might never have been the George Michael solo star".

Does Ridgeley think Wham's success would have been affected if George Michael had come out as gay in their early days? "Well, that was a different time. But it was never something I worried about. I thought we could cope with it and I knew it was the music people really loved".

Did Ridgeley see signs of George's drug abuse in the Wham! days? "No, never. Drugs were absolutely not part of our lives then. I think George's problems came from progressive overuse of prescription drugs - and it went from there. He did smoke a lot of marijuana later on which I never really got - and I don't think he gained much from it, really. George knew drugs weren't really my thing.

"In more recent times when we met we would play Scrabble. We met for a 'revenge' game a week or so before he died - he'd beaten me a few days before. We'd have dinner and do Scrabble! We'd meet in London or down at his country home in Oxfordshire [where he died on Christmas Day in 2016]. On the day he died I'd just texted him to say 'Happy Christmas and look forward to catching you in the New Year - where will you be?', and then, soon after, George's sister Melanie came on the phone with the catastrophic news that he was dead. I felt crushed by the sadness of it, really shaken. I stayed at my home in Cornwall for a while and of course all the press descended on me there. I am still very sad George has gone and some days I can still hardly believe it".

Subsequently some, including Elton John, have suggested George had tired of life and had wanted to opt out. "I don't accept that", Ridgeley says. "George had come through a difficult time and had been very ill. But he was optimistic and happy about coming out the other side. A new album was out, there was talk of the 'Last Christmas' film with Emma Thompson, and he was looking forward to recording new material. We may simply never know what really happened".

Was Ridgeley depressed after the end of Wham?

"I really wasn't, not at all", he says cheerily. "The intensity I'd once felt about music had waned. I didn't enjoy working as a solo artist. The press intrusion was a pain, too. I liked being out of the limelight and having enough money to be comfortable. We could live nicely and I did things I liked to do. There were some charity things - but only in a low profile way - and I loved being in the countryside, in Cornwall. My book has led me out of my cocoon for a while - but only for a while!

"I am more comfortable having a public profile now than I was 30 years ago, but the quiet life does really suit me. Following the box office success of the recent film, one day there might be a Wham musical - but we will see. Certainly I'd never appear in it! They were after me to appear on 'Strictly Come Dancing' a while ago and a little bit of me was tempted. But I think that would be a step too far, you know? I am actually pretty content with my life as it is. I hope that doesn't sound too smug?"















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