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Last Updated: Friday, 22 September 2006, 10:29 GMT 11:29 UK
Keeping the faith in George Michael
George Michael on stage at Live 8
The Live 8 show last year marked George's return to the stage
George Michael kicks off his first tour for 15 years in Barcelona on Saturday - and the first performing his own material for 18 years. John Hand, who is going to the show, explains why fans have always kept Patience with the star.

Like most people, I will always remember my first time.

It was a summery day at the start of my teens and there were 70,000 other people there - mainly screaming girls but also "boys in leather kissing girls in pearls", to quote the Wham Rap.

Yes, I was a teenage Wham! fan and the first concert I ever attended was the Wembley Stadium show in June 1986 that officially marked the chart-topping duo's split.

George Michael - the introspective one who sang and wrote the songs - went on to sell millions more records on both sides of the Atlantic and keep himself in the headlines for a variety of reasons.

LIVE 25: BRITISH TOUR DATES
17/18/21 November: MEN Arena, Manchester
22 November: SECC, Glasgow
25/26/28/29 November: Earls Court, London
2/3/4 December: NEC, Birmingham
11/12/14/15 December: Wembley Arena, London

Andrew Ridgeley, whose role in the band seemed to be to look cool and goof around on guitar, recorded one poorly-received solo album, married a Bananarama singer and has since enjoyed racing cars and surfing in Cornwall, with barely a thought for his former music career.

Slim pickings

It's hard to explain why George fell out of love with the live music experience. His extensive Faith tour in 1988, in support of his multi-million selling debut solo album and its six hit singles, established him as an accomplished, energetic yet mature live performer.

Three years later, he followed that up with a classy show made up of his reinterpretations of other people's songs - the Cover to Cover tour - but since then has never ventured out on the road.

His success as a recording artist continued - seven number ones among his 42 hits - but there have been slim pickings for fans who want to see him live.

I have managed to see every show that George has done in Britain as a solo artist but, other than those two tours, it amounts to a handful of short performances at charity events.

George Michael at Net Aid
George's set at Net Aid in 1999 saw him return to Wembley Stadium

I was there when George bounded on stage towards the end of a long day at Live 8 and scarpered off again after a blink-and-you'd-miss-it performance that seemed to add weight to the rumours that it was stage fright that had been keeping him away from the live arena.

It certainly came as a surprise when he announced earlier this year that he would hit the road for the Live 25 tour to mark a quarter of a century in the business.

Whether it has been stage fright or inertia that has kept him away from the stage for so long, George could have been forgiven for just dipping his toe in the water. But after the dates sold out within hours, more were announced - leaving him with a daunting schedule of 44 concerts in 12 weeks.

Bianca Cavalini
It'll be amazing to see him sing more than a couple of songs. That's a new experience for many of us
Bianca Cavalini
Planet George website

And I'm not the only British fan who is making the trip to the opening night show at Barcelona's Palau Saint Jordi venue.

Neelam Vithlani, a 29-year-old IT consultant from Windsor, has been a devoted fan since she went to see the Faith tour at the age of 11.

She said: "I just knew I had to be in Barcelona for the opening night. I'll be at the London shows as well but - after all these years - I didn't want to wait any longer to see him again.

"I really had given up hope that he would tour again, given what he has said about it in the past.

"It's clear that he's not doing this tour for the money and I don't think he expects to get any pleasure from it. I truly believe he's doing it to please his fans and say 'thank you'. I think that, in recent years, he has become much more aware of the number of supportive people he has out there."

'Worth the trip'

The length of George's absence from the stage is underlined by the fact that the administrator of the Planet George fansite, London-based Bianca Cavalini, has never seen one of his concerts.

George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley
The way we were: Wham! pictured during one of their tours

But Bianca, 37, is making up for it by going to 13 shows on this tour.

She said: "Up to now, I've only seen his performances at charity shows. I even travelled to Italy for the Pavarotti and Friends concert when George appeared. He was only on stage for one-and-a-half songs but it was worth the trip.

"It'll be amazing to see him sing more than a couple of songs. That's a new experience for many of us."

She and Neelam both said they have "absolutely no doubts" that George will live up to their expectations.

Neelam said: "I think he's going to be surprised at the reaction he'll get when he walks out on stage. Every fan is going to go mad. I just hope that it leads to him doing a little more live stuff in the future."




SEE ALSO
Star to sue over 'cruising' claim
28 Jul 06 |  Entertainment
No charges over Michael collision
04 May 06 |  Entertainment
Michael's tour close to sell-out
24 Apr 06 |  Entertainment
The ups and downs of George Michael
27 Feb 06 |  Entertainment

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