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Friday, 28 February, 2003, 13:36 GMT
George Michael's HARDtalk interview
Transcript of Tim Sebastian's interview with George Michael on Tuesday 25 February in London.

Please credit BBC World and HARDtalk with Tim Sebastian if you are publishing any of the content.



TIM SEBASTIAN: George Michael, a very warm welcome to the programme.

GEORGE MICHAEL: Thank you. Nice to meet you.

TS: Why Iraq? 'Cos it's fashionable?

GM: Oh God, no. I have absolutely no desire to be here today. I've got absolutely - I'm really reluctant to be here.

TS: Why?

GM: Simply because - in all honesty, I was kind of first out of the trenches in terms of entertainers that were going to get behind something which would divide - which at the time was so divisive that, if you're approaching a subject as divisive as Iraq was six or eight months ago, then you're taking a big risk as an entertainer; because you're going to alienate a lot of people, and I did very, very quickly. And I was completely pilloried really for having the audacity to be a pop star who's in the mainstream, as opposed to a rock star or, you know, some kind of protest singer.

TS: But there's no such thing as bad publicity, is there?

GM: There is -

TS: Particularly if your record sales are falling?

GM: Did you see my publicity? Did you see any of it? It was absolutely dire. And I'd like to add - I have absolutely no - my record sales are not falling. I released two singles six years after my last album. And my fans are now 35, on average, right? There was a piece on Channel 4 about thee or four months ago where an artist was challenging Woolworth's because they were not stocking their records, and so they had a representative of Woolworth's on, and this woman said, well we've done our market research for Woolworth's and we know that the singles market of 2002 is teenage girls between the ages of 12 and - no 11 and 12, that was as wide as it got - 11 and 12. The only reason I have to release singles, as someone with an audience of 35 plus, is that if you don't release them as a single in Britain, you can't get them on the radio. I don't want to compete with, you know, pop idol and the carious young people in the charts that are roughly half my age right now. I'd rather just release my albums -

TS: But you say you're happier to have a big debate than a hit single. Really?

GM: Absolutely.

TS: You must be the only one in the business then.

GM: I think I probably am. I think I probably am by now. I've had 20 years of this business. I'm never on the television - never. I never do TV, I'm phobic about cameras. I have no interest in promoting my music beyond making videos.

TS: But you never protested at the height of your fame, did you?

GM: Well, of I didn't. I was 19, 20, 21. What were you doing when you were - ?

TS: A lot of people at 19, 20 and 21 were on the streets marching, weren't they? Against Vietnam, for instance.

GM: Yes, I know, but I was too young for that. This is my time.

TS:There have been other wars since, haven't there?

GM: This is my time. I do understand what you're trying to say. But the fact is I really have no concern about being accused of needing publicity. I've been supposedly over four times now. I broke up Wham so it was over. And then I took on Sony and took two and a half years out of my career over principle, by the way, which was a useless principle because now nobody wants to pay artists, let alone the record companies. I then was over - and so I was over because of that because it was two, three years out of my career. Then I was over because I got arrested. And now apparently I'm over because I took on politics. And I'm not in any trouble. I've got -

TS: So you aren't looking for the publicity then. What are you scared of about the confrontation with Iraq?

GM: Well if I'm -

TS: What scares you so much?

GM: Well, I think before we move on to that, before we move on to that, as you did accuse me of using - I know it's part of this programme -

TS: I didn't accuse you, I asked you.

GM: Okay, you asked me. Okay, as you implied, we'll change the wording, as you implied that I needed publicity, I have to tell you why on earth would I be here today after what happened to me? I did release the single against the - the advice of the record company that was releasing the single - very reluctant; against the advice of my manager, my lawyers. Everyone told me radio will not play it. These days the control that the government has over radio and television is phenomenal. They won't play it. I didn't believe them.

TS: All right, so you took a risk -

GM: And I lost. And I lost, so why am I here? I lost -

TS: So tell me what you're so scared about in Iraq.

GM: I'm not scared about Iraq; I'm scared about Mr. Blair and his attitude to the future. I think we're at a watershed moment - I'm sorry, September 11th was the first part of this watershed moment, and this is the tail end of it. September 11th was so obviously directed at America to provoke a response, and the response was supposed to be revenge. We've spent something close to what is it now, something close to 18 months trying to prevent that knee-jerk reaction. And if all it's been is delay, then what was the point.

TS: But there wasn't a knee-jerk reaction, was there?

GM: No there wasn't, but you don't think this - ?

TS: There has been a properly considered reaction, consultation around the world, hasn't there?

GM: Has there?

TS: Hasn't there?

GM: I don't see any consultation.

TS: American politicians?

GM: I see a lot of bullying -

TS: Trekking around the world.

GM: Yes, but do you see them actually saying anything but terrorists - it's either the terrorists or us?

TS: Your complaint is that there hasn't been a debate, but the newspapers -

GM: No, no, no, no. My complaint was - it was about eight months ago that there was no debate.

TS: So you've had plenty of debate since then?

GM: Oh yeah, all of which is being ignored. That's my point. I'm here because I -

TS: Ignored by whom?

GM: By the Prime Minister.

TS: No, he's seen the need to go out and make the case for what he believes in.

GM: Yes, absolutely.

TS: And the response to it.

GM: Absolutely. And do you not think that his voters have told him they're not convinced by that?

TS: Some have.

GM: No, 91%. Yesterday. 91% said without the UN, they didn't want to go in. Do you think that's close to unanimous?

TS: You were so much aligned with Blair and Cool Britannia, weren't you?

GM: No, no, no, I wasn't. I never turned up at that bloody party. Excuse me. I was never going to be used that way. When I saw Tony Blair, I saw him in Islington before he got into Downing Street, right, when he needed people like me. I saw him personally. I went and had a meal with him, discussed it, because my lawyer is a member of the Labour Party.

TS: But you supported it, didn't you?

GM: When?

TS: Then. The Cool Britannia?

GM: I've never believed in Cool Britannia. No, you're not talking to Noel Gallagher or somebody from the Brit Pop age. You're talking to somebody who started 21 years ago. Cool Britannia is a load of bollocks to me. You know.

TS: You said, I'm still a believer in Tony Blair. I've found him to be a charming and decent man. At what point would you lose faith?

GM: Well, if I'm really honest, I've lost faith in the last five days.

TS: You said this three days ago.

GM: Mm. But I was trying to be - actually on Sunday I was trying to be - I was trying not to come across as too wound up, in all honesty. And what happened was I was quite polite and nobody reported anything, which is not what I'm here for. So today I'm kind of speaking my mind a little more than I did at 9.00 on Sunday morning.

TS: Why? What's changed in the last five days as far as you're concerned? I mean, you've said he's a decent man.

GM: Well, it was on Friday actually that I decided it was - I'll be honest, I've been very distressed by Mr. Blair's behaviour for several years in terms of the way I think he's removed the idealism from politics; by taking a left - a supposedly left of centre party and calling it Labour, or New Labour, and then basically saying there is - we have to be pragmatic. The left is really, in these overly consumerist times, the left is actually .....

TS: He also says you have to have an ethical foreign policy, didn't he?

GM: Absolutely. And absolutely. This is not ethical, is it? This is a Christian country with supposedly a Christian leader who somehow think that the answer to the future is pre-emptive action. Now to me pre-emptive action is every bit as dangerous a concept as the initial concept of creating the atomic bomb. And by the way, that was created for the same - for the same kind of deterrent purposes, by the same nation. And I do not believe that this is any more safe than that.

TS: So you've lost faith in him, have you?

GM: Well, because - until last -

TS: Is that a yes?

GM: - week, I thought it was bluff. I really did. I thought he's trying to keep the pressure up until the last moment. But he's damaging, he's making so many damaging statements, and he's -

TS: So you have lost faith? You have lost faith? Let me bully you a little. You have lost faith?

GM: I don't know. How can I say? you know, to lose belief you have to -

TS: Are you writing him off or are you saying - you still trust him?

GM: No, if I was writing him off, I wouldn't be here. If I thought that man was not listening to anybody, I wouldn't be here.

TS: You'd still vote for him?

GM: No. I wouldn't vote for him. I would never vote for him again. Never vote for him again. Because he's gone beyond the bluff; he's now bullying the UN on behalf of Mr. Bush.

TS: Bullying? Persuading, he would say.

GM: What, letting - well, I'd say bullying. You have to be - you cannot ignore statements like, the UN needs to prove its relevance. You cannot ignore the fact that America could sit there and say, you either agree with us or you're irrelevant.

TS: 15 members of the Security Council, unanimous, signed up to Resolution 1441.

GM: Yeah, and it's obvious why.

TS: Calling on Iraq to disarm.

GM: And it's for the same reason -

TS: Is that bullying?

GM: Listen, it's for the -

TS: Even Syria, against all expectations.

GM: It's the same reason, right, that if they pass this new resolution, which seems a lot more unlikely considering that France and Germany are completely saying there's no need for it. If they pass the new resolution, it will be for the same reason they passed the first one - because they're afraid of extinction. And to me that is bullying.

TS: What kind of prime minister do you want?

GM: I want one -

TS: If you don't want a man who leads on his convictions -

GM: I want somebody who leads on his convictions until the point that their public says -

TS: Until the point that you disagree with him?

GM: No - until the point that 90% of the public disagrees with him.

TS: That's the hard times. That's what he's paid for, isn't it? Take the tough decisions. Not to be a populist.

George Michael: No, you're not paid - you're not paid to put people's lives in danger and ignore their opinion on that very subject. No one is paid to do that.

TS: He says, failure to act would lead not to peace but to a bloodier conflict in the future. That's what he says.

GM: Well, I'll take the future compared to right now, because failure to act may mean - absolutely we know the dangers of Saddam Hussein; we know absolutely we can't afford to leave him alone. Why have we left him alone for 12 years, right, why did we leave him there ten years ago, and now - at the point when Sharon is bombing the West Bank - we're going to decide to take on Saddam?

TS: So they gave diplomacy a chance for 12 years? Even you have to admit 12 years -

GM: Absolutely - I'm not - I've no sympathy with Saddam Hussein. I have no sympathy with him. He should be gone; we need him gone in order to stabilise the region. But you cannot do this at the moment when the entire - fundamentalist terrorist network around the world is waiting for this to legitimise what they want to do.

TS: How do you think you've contributed to the debate over Iraq? I mean if you say shoot the dog, which make Blair and Bush out to be fools - being described as rather vicious -

George Michael: It's called satire. It's called satire actually. TS: described as rather a vicious attack by some people.

GM: Well, it's not, is it? It's satire. And by the way, it's satire from the same people that show exactly the same stuff with exactly the same animation, exactly the same character references, every Saturday on ITV at 10.30.

TS: But you wanted a serious debate. How does that kind of thing contribute?

GM: You do not - I'll tell you what - that's what I'm here for now. Eight, nine months ago no one wanted to - and believe me, we're talking about a generation which has so little - desire for politics in its music, that I knew that if I was going to be ahead of the game and try and get people to discuss this, I had to do it with some humour. And sure enough, even the humour at that stage in time, it was something people did not want to hear about. Now that they're deluged with it, it's okay. I can come out here and I'm relatively safe. At that point in time I wanted to write it, make the - the statements as - broadly and as funnily as I could in the video, to make sure that before people were too freaked out to talk, they laughed their way into thinking.

TS: But things like, So Cherie my dear, could you leave the way clear for sex tonight. Tony, Tony, Tony, I know that you're horny, but there's something about that Bush that ain't right. What does that contribute?

GM: Okay. Can I read my own lyrics for a second - I'll tell you what it contributes. The idea -

TS: Right at the top.

GM: The idea is not anything to do - now Americans turned this into that they were having a homosexual affair. Because of that's kind of a joke that was in the video. But actually what it means is - Tony, Tony, Tony - the idea is that she's saying she's going to withhold sex because there's something about that Bush ain't right. Do you get the little joke in there? Bush - American term for bush.

TS: What does it contribute to the debate?

GM: It was to bring it to people's attention. And do you not think, by any chance, by any - 'cos you're still not giving me any break here - do you not think - I don't know how closely you were watching popular culture at that time, but I think that I dragged that argument into the mainstream, out of the political chattering classes, or whatever you would all them - I dragged that out of the political classes into the mainstream two or three weeks before it was going to get there. And I would say, at this point in time, when we're supposedly in such a bloody rush, that those two, three weeks were actually - it was worth what I put up with, it was worth losing the record - no one playing the record, no one playing the video - it was worth it because when I was attacked for doing it, it came into the mainstream. And that's exactly why I'm here again today.

TS: People say it's an easy subject - anti-war protest.

GM: I don't think it's an easy subject. It's not an anti-war.

TS: Plenty of precedents for that. Anti-war, anti this war in particular.

GM: Sorry, what were the precedents for this? In entertainment?

TS: Plenty of people in the past -

GM: Who talked before me?

TS: About this particular - I'm not talking about this particular war - in previous wars -

GM: So - so what was the thing that I was contributing when I first talked about this?

TS: You tell me.

GM: I brought it into the mainstream because I'm a - I'm a pop singer and there's almost no way of bringing politics into the mainstream these days unless you're not a politician. So I'm absolutely convinced that I was one of the first people screaming that we needed to have this chat, and that brought it forward. I'm very convinced that the actual date that they wanted the debate to start was September 11th. I saw that - the speech that Bush made from Capitol Hill on the night of September 11th, when nothing had gone off, and everyone was thanking God that nothing had gone off. And I saw that speech, and it made me absolutely aware - I couldn't understand around the time of the World Cup and the Jubilee why no one was talking about this.

TS: You've taken a lot of criticism, as you say -

GM: Mm. And I'll take a lot more.

TS: Noel Gallagher says, George is now trying to make social comment. This is the guy who his who he actually was from the public for 20 years. Now all of a sudden he's going to say something about the world. I find it laughable. That's before you get to the song which is diabolical.

George Michael: Well, I think that's the laughable statement. What, the fact that I did not want to share my sexuality with the world, in this current media atmosphere, the fact that I didn't want to share my sexuality with the world means that I have no right to talk about politics. This is not an intelligent man. He's not someone you should throw quotes at me from really. If you're going to find criticism, find it from Mr. Murdoch, you know. Mr. Murdoch attacked me solidly on Sky News, in the New York Post, and in the Sun. And what he would do would be he would print these slurs in the New York Post in such a way that when they re-printed them in The Sun, its sister newspaper, I could only sue on the basis of it being re-printed from the American source. And the American source would have been much harder to sue. So I - there was a campaign -

TS: What worries you about the New York Post?

TS: What shouldn't worry me about the New York Post? It's a fascist newspaper.

TS: A washed up pervert.

GM: Well that was - why should I worry about that? Apart from the fact - I mean, really it's no - why would I worry about that? I don't worry about the Daily Star, I don't worry about the Daily - you know - the Sport. I don't worry about The Sun or The Mirror. Why would I worry about that? I do find it absolutely unbelievable they're able to call a homosexual man a pervert for having been caught cruising. I do find that quite - laughable that that is not sue-able.

TS: You feel a responsibility to speak out -

GM: Absolutely.

TS: But people are saying now that you're speaking on this issue, why not about others? Why not against drugs?

GM: Because my - family is .....

TS: That would sit up and make people take notice, wouldn't it?

GM: No, no, no. Well, why would it? Those are the kind of things -

Int: Because it would be unexpected?

GM: No it wouldn't. What it would be unexpected for me to do, Just say no. Excuse me?

TS: Have you done it?

GM: Of course not. Because I've taken drugs; I'm not a hypocrite. You know I'm not going to that kind of rubbish. I'm not going to that kind of thing. This is something that threatens the lives and the lifestyle of myself and the people I love. This is a lot more important than trying to discourage people from taking drugs or telling them that they really should pay for their CDs.

TS: Do you think so? On a long term basis?

George Michael: What this? This altercation? Well, I - I'm afraid I really do, and I think if you don't, then - I'm jealous because you must be sleeping a lot better than me.

TS: What do you want Saddam to do? What should be done with Saddam? If he doesn't - he's made it clear now he isn't going to disarm. He won't get rid of the missiles.

GM: I think I've already made that point.

TS: Just talk to him?

GM: No, not to Saddam. Saddam has to be dealt with in the way that Saddam has to be dealt with, but not now. Not until there's some effort shown in Palestine. Otherwise -

TS: Why are you linking the two together?

GM: Because - they're not linked, but every terrorist in the world who is an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist links those two things. Would you agree with that?

TS: A lot do.

GM: A lot!

TS: But that doesn't make it right, does it?

GM: Of course it doesn't. But this is not about right and wrong. This is what's dangerous about this situation. What this is about is the Pandora's box that was opened by the Americans, you know, in the fifties or sixties with the invention of the atomic bomb. That Pandora's box was opened then, and little bits from it are now internationally placed. Right?

TS: Make you feel better if the UN had a second resolution authorising force?

GM: Slightly, but I don't think that - I think that most people who have voted against Mr. Blair on this issue are not voting really on the issue of whether it's right for us to kill innocent people in Iraq, right. I don't really think they're voting on that. I think they're voting on that as normal, but this time they're saying, we do not want this war in our backyard. We did not do anything to deserve it. Our administration, as far as we know, did not really do anything to deserve it. I do not think Americans have the same point of view. I think that they have been attacked, they feel frightened, they understandably want a strong leader, they're not anywhere near as informed by their media as we are. And I honestly think that the majority of British people have no idea what we're doing here. On our own. With the Americans.

TS: Is George Michael disillusioned with the music industry? Had enough? something from your album, Older, star people counting your money until your soul turns green. Star people counting the cost of your desire to be seen. Can't help but hope there's a difference between you and me. Is that what you hope?

GM: Well, I don't hope it. As I said, I have barely promoted myself in - when was - since Faith, which was 1988, I have barely promoted myself. I've been on television maximum a couple of times a year, if that. Right? I stepped back from needing this a long time ago. I like to - it's still - the two most important things in my life are my family, including my partner, and my music. And I'm not complete with wither one of them being absent. I need -

TS: Fed up with the record industry, though? You ....

GM: Oh by - absolutely.

TS: ..... the bosses and the corporate guys who've done their best to relieve artists of their art.

GM: Oh, they have. Would you honestly say you hear much art on the radio? Which is why I think it's kind of, you know, I'm begging, I'm hoping that there will not be Band Aid 2 because the reality is very, very few people in the industry now that you're hearing on the radio make their money from their own hearts and minds. They make their money from singing the words of others. And so therefore the weight of something, you now, called Band Aid 2 or 3 or whatever, would be incredibly slight, because those people involved would be extremely young and extremely lacking in knowledge about any type of politics. It's not the same as making a record to try and send money to Ethiopia. This is different and I really hope the pop music, the industry, the current industry, the current generation stays away from it, because I really don't think it's - it would be a very genuine move.

TS: Too much violence in music? Rapping lyrics?

GM: Well, American music has been very nihilistic for a long time, and I find that - I actually, to be honest with you, even though our music industry is dying on its feet, I would much rather have no youth culture - which is basically what we're coming to. We had youth culture which is now almost - it's been assimilated and there's nothing left of it. I'd rather have no youth culture than a nihilistic youth culture, which is what America is having to deal with.

TS: What were the lessons for you from this protest? Is this a one-off as far as you're concerned?

GM: Oh, absolutely.

TS: That's it?

GM: The only other thing that I would ever put my neck on the line for -

TS: George Michael's going to stop caring and go back to the business?

GM: Well, no. I think the only thing that I can see myself putting myself this far out on a limb for again is probably Clause 28. I would go that far for Clause 28.

TS: On homosexuals - teaching?

GM: Mm. Well, it's not just the teaching, it's all kinds of things. But as it stands, I can still be arrested walking down the street holding my boyfriend's hand. As it stands. I mean, it would never happen. But it's one of the ridiculous things that's in there. And I think it's time for gay couples - I have no - I have no real view on marriage because it's never been something - I've no desire to ape heterosexual relationships. But I think it's absolutely time that people who live together their entire lives have the right of spouses, as opposed to the person - you know, the idea that if anything happened to myself or Kenny, that our families would be - would have all the rights and that we would have none - is just ridiculous.

TS: Okay, George Michael. It's good to have you on the programme. Thanks very much indeed.

GM: Thank you. Cheers.


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