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On This Day In Music… February 28, 1986: George Michael Announces Wham! Split

'Wham! is the story of our friendship because Wham! was an expression of our friendship, made into music.'

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Wham! brought a fresh exuberance and optimism to the charts.

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On February 28, 1986, George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley dropped a bombshell. After four wildly successful years, Wham!, the biggest pop act of the decade, were to split.

Speaking to No. 1 magazine Michael said: “From about a year and a half back we were saying, ‘Right, we want to become as big as we can, and then we’re going to split.’ Part of the whole plan was to do something that no one ever does – which is to go out when you really are on top.”

Between 1982, when first single “Wham Rap” was released, and 1986, when their swansong, “The Edge of Heaven” became their fourth U.K. No. 1 and their seventh U.S. Top 10 hit, the partnership of Michael and Ridgeley sold more than 35 million records worldwide, and saw both their studio albums (Fantastic and Make It Big) top the British charts – with the latter also making No. 1 in the Billboard 200 and producing three U.S. chart-topping singles.

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George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley had been friends since they were 12 years old.

Their unapologetically poppy, joyful songs – forged from a friendship that had begun as 12-year-old schoolfriends – had brought a new energy and optimism to British music, and if it was dismissed as lightweight, then George Michael, as principal songwriter, was absolutely fine with that.

“All we ever wanted to do was be a ‘pop band’,” he told No. 1 magazine in their final interview. “And we’re the only people I can remember in the last five or six years that haven’t really turned around and tried to be taken desperately seriously by changing our music. I mean ‘Edge Of Heaven’ is as Wham! as ‘Go Go’ was and that’s two years later. We’ve come through all that flak and the public like us more than ever, because they appreciate honesty.

“I mean there’s obviously loads of people who still can’t stand us but there’ll be a Greatest Hits album later in the year, and anybody who can listen to that album and honestly say that they don’t like any of the tracks on it has got to be totally non-musical!”

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Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about Wham! was that at the time of their split, George Michael was still only 22 years old – but such was the strength of his developing talent as a songwriter that he was already yearning for more depth in his music. The 19-year-old boy who had burst onto Top of the Pops in rolled-up jeans and espadrilles had grown up fast.

“An awful lot of pressure has been put on us,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve aged as much as some people would do, but there’s no way that we’re your average 22- or 23-year-olds. It’s very difficult to try and stay that way, and I don’t know if I want to. There’s no point in fighting something which is just a natural process.

“When you leave school you have no idea what’s in the future, so you’re totally excited by all the opportunities that come up. Most of the opportunities that would excite people have been presented to us within four years. So the thrill of the chase is not really there anymore.”

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There were a rumored 1 million ticket applications for Wham!'s farewell concert.

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Although the announcement was made in February, the band did not officially retire until June 28, 1986, with a final concert put on at Wembley Stadium for 72,000 fans. There were a rumored one million applications for tickets.

After Wham!, Andrew Ridgeley had short stints as a Formula 3 racing driver, as well as trying his hand at acting, but withdrew from public life soon after. George Michael, of course, went on to become one of the greatest British artists of his generation, selling a further 100 million records worldwide before his death on Christmas Day 2016 aged just 53.

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George Michael would go on to become one of the world's great singer-songwriters.

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Speaking to the show This Morning in 2020, Ridgeley described the decision to split when Wham! were at the peak of their success.

“It was a decision informed by the fact that Wham! [was] a representation of our youth and our friendship as young men,” he said, “and all about the exuberance and vitality of being young – [that] was never going to last into adulthood proper. So it had a finite lifespan.

“Wham! is the story of our friendship because Wham! was an expression of our friendship, made into music. And I think that was one of the attractive things about us, was that people saw that genuine friendship.”


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