Tuesday 22 January 2019

'A lot of fans can't bring themselves to see the show because it's too raw' - meet the George Michael tribute act playing arenas as the star

Andrew Browning is bringing Fast Love - A Tribute to George Michael to the 3Arena on December 29

Andrew Browning
Andrew Browning
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

It has been less than two years since George Michael passed away suddenly in the early hours of Christmas morning, at the age of just 53.

Fans were devastated by the news, not least Andrew Browning, a fan since the Wham! days, who has forged a successful career as a George Michael tribute act, and who had been invited by the man himself to appear in his video for his 1998 hit As, with Mary J Blige.

Speaking about the day he heard the tragic news, Andrew tells Independent.ie, “I had just lost my mum in the October and I couldn’t face Christmas at home in the UK so I went with my partner to Madeira, where he’s from.

“We were sat in the hotel lobby and suddenly we heard someone yell out, ‘Oh my God, George Michael died!’  I thought, this can’t be true. There’s so much fake news on Facebook I thought it was going to be one of those hoaxes, and then we found out it was true.  It was a double whammy for me.  Everyone was sending me messages asking me, ‘Are you alright?’.”

Andrew Browning as George Michael in the Fast Love tribute show
Andrew Browning as George Michael in the Fast Love tribute show

Andrew had been a fan of the English star since the 80s when he used to listen to Wham! in his bedroom with the window closed, because it “wasn’t very hip to listen to Wham! when everyone else was listening to Blondie and Motorhead!", and he remained loyal to the star when he went solo and throughout his phenomenal career. 

A karaoke fan, Andrew always finished up his turn with a George Michael song, and realised he sounded quite like him.  In 1996, his sister suggested he perform as Michael on ITV's Stars in Your Eyes, the talent show presented by Matthew Kelly (at that time), in which members of the public impersonated their favourite act. 

That performance, "the most nerve wracking experience" of his life also changed the course of his life.

He went from working for the Ministry of Defence to building an audience as a George Michael tribute act.  Demand for the most recent incarnation of his show, Fast Love - A Tribute to George Michael, has exploded since the singer’s death. 

Singer George Michael was found dead at his home on Christmas Day 2016 (Neil Munns/PA)
Singer George Michael was found dead at his home on Christmas Day 2016 (Neil Munns/PA)

“We’ve been shocked by the response,” he says, “But I’m not surprised in one sense because George Michael was massive.  Everyone loved George Michael and we all feel a bit cheated he’s no longer with us.   There was so much more music to come from him I’m sure. There’s been a real outpouring of love and that’s why we’re playing arenas now.  The audiences have been amazing.  They want to relive those songs.”

As a genuine fan, however, he found it tough to go back on stage after George Michael’s death and says he had to “turn myself off emotionally” in order to get through the performance.  “I always give a shout out to George during the show – ‘George we love you and we miss you’ -  and I get goosebumps every time, even saying it to you know.”

George Michael (Chris Radburn/PA)
George Michael (Chris Radburn/PA)

A lot of fans, he says, can’t bring themselves to see the show yet, because it’s still too raw.  “I understand that,” he says.  “You see all types of emotions at the show. You see people crying in the front row.” 

Andrew feels grateful that he had the opportunity to meet his idol.  He was one of two lookalikes George invited to appear in the video for As, which features multiples of George Michael and Mary J Blige singing in a bar.

It took several days to shoot and Andrew reveals that the singer was very open and chatty with everyone on set.  “He was very, very funny.  And then when it came to the video he was very hands on.  My God, his attention to detail.  It was just amazing watching him work.  He knew everything. He’d be like, ‘That light filter is wrong, change it to this.’  He knew exactly what he wanted.”

Andrew never asked the star if he had seen him perform as him on stage.  “I don’t know to this day.  Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. I wanted to ask him about Aretha Franklin.  I had so many questions but I kind of dropped the fan thing very quickly – I found myself just chatting to him as a normal guy.  He was a lovely, amicable guy.”

In the past two years Andrew has been asked to play George Michael in two TV shows; The Double Life of George Michael for Channel 5, and Autopsy.

Of the former, he says, “I did struggle with whether to do it or not.  But I thought someone is going to do it and I thought well if anyone is going to do it I’m going to do it.”  He says he wanted to be sure that George would be painted in a “good light”. 

His feelings on Autopsy are a little more regretful, “Some people say it’s a horrible ting to do.  I don’t know.  I’ve done it now and I can’t go back.”

While there may be those who feel tribute acts like Andrew cash in after the death of a star, and there is no doubt that business is booming, there is also the argument that he has been paying tribute to George Michael for two decades.   Who better to help carry on his musical legacy for fans than a man who appreciates that music and the man as a genuine fan?

“I wish George Michael was still here.  I wish I was going to see him in concert,” he says.

“I went to 25 of his live shows and I remember going with one of my friends who had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer.  He was going through treatment and he found the whole show so emotional.  It reduced him to tears listening to George Michael sing ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’.  Oh my God, what a voice.”

Fast Love – A Tribute to George Michael takes place at the 3Arena on December 29th, 2018.  Tickets from €35.50 including booking fee and €1 facility fee from Ticketmaster.

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