'In the '80s, all the pop stars looked gay, but only I was the real deal'
Declan Cashin talks to George Michael before his Dublin dates
It's hard to believe that less than a year ago the same man was in a jail cell serving time for drug-driving. Sitting in a plush London hotel suite last week, fresh off the Eurostar from a morning jaunt to Paris, George Michael looked happy, tanned and relaxed as he chatted about his upcoming tour, Symphonica.
The 48-year-old singer is playing a second date in Dublin's O2 Arena on November 3 (his November 1 gig is already sold out), and he isn't afraid to gush in gratitude.
"Dublin was one of the highpoints of the last tour [in 2007], no question, mainly because Irish people know how to have a good time," he said.
Michael knows his audience too: straight women and gay men, more or less split 50:50. "The difference is that women will get up early to queue for tickets," he laughed.
"My female fans, especially, are amazing. They didn't desert me when I came out, and they've stuck with me since. Maybe it's because of that terrible curse women have of loving the unavailable?"
This new tour will see Michael play a selection of his own songs, as well as covers of some other favourites, like the rarely-performed 'Cowboys and Angels', all re-worked and re-arranged for an orchestral backing.
He's also working on a dance album that he says will reflect his experiences as a gay man, but that he hopes will still be universal. "I've tended to write about my relationships, but they're really not that different from everyone else's," he said. "Falling in love is falling in love, being heartbroken is being heartbroken, regardless of your sexuality."
In fact, Michael talked at length about his opinions on gay culture and about "being gay" as opposed to just "looking gay", which, he had to concede, is the only conclusion you can come to when looking back on those Wham! outfits and videos.
"Everyone looked gay," he added with a laugh. "Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet looked as gay as Wham!. It was only me who was the real thing. I camped it up so much for Wham!. I always thought that the last thing pubescent girls wanted from me was testosterone. They would be horrified if I turned up on 'Top of the Pops' sporting three days' worth of stubble!"
All of this light-hearted talk about gayness is a far cry from the days when he tried to dodge persistent tabloid queries about his love life -- with disastrous consequences.
As a result, it's fair to say that he has a complicated relationship with the press. For instance, he caused a bit of bother last week by celebrating the close of the News of the World newspaper on his Twitter page, detailing instances of when he believes the paper illegally obtained personal information about him.
Indeed, he has since disclosed on the social-networking site that he is to be interviewed by police about information he might have on phone hacking.
His suspicion of the press doesn't seem to have abated much either. He brought his friend Caroline with him to film last week's round of interviews on a smartphone. "In case we have to name and shame any of you on Twitter," he explained with a smile.
As Michael spoke about his long career, he revealed a man that isn't afraid to laugh at himself and his past image. "When I think back on it, if I'd got rid of my hairdryer I'd probably have had a very different career," he said.
"I will be singing Wham! songs on the tour but I've been careful that they don't become too cheesy. Some of my songs are borderline schmaltz as it is. 'Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go' is considered by some to be cheesy agony, but I always knew people would be dancing to it at weddings 20 years later. I was right."
He's still working on the final set-list for the tour, but he knows for sure that he wants to interact with the audience. Be warned, once he starts yapping there's no shutting him up.
"I might make one of the encores a sing-a-long for everyone who wants to take part, maybe just me with a couple of guitars," he said.
"I won't verge into stand-up comedy, but I'd like to explain to people a bit what the songs are really about. Some of the actual reasons for the songs are much more interesting and funnier than you can imagine."
Tickets for George Michael's show on November 3 in The O2, Dublin, are on sale now from Ticketmaster