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Celebrating the Life and Legacy of George Michael

“I’ve achieved what every artist wants, which is that some of their work will outlive them.”

George Michael


One of the bestselling musicians of all time, George Michael was a truly groundbreaking singer, songwriter, producer and performer. As a solo artist and as part of the pop group WHAM!, he has sold more than 155 million records worldwide, and from 1984 until 2004, he was also the most-played musician on British radio.
Yet, despite his extraordinary talent and superstar status, George Michael is also remembered for his humility and generosity as the star donated millions of pounds to charity and campaigned for many worthwhile causes throughout his career.
His sudden passing on Christmas Day in 2016 caused an outpouring of grief from his millions of fans across the world. Decades after their initial release, many of his hits are often voted amongst the nation’s favourite songs.
As one of the most recognisable and respected musicians in the world, we are delighted that George Michael appears on a UK coin for the first time as part of our Music Legends collection.

The Birth of a Music Legend

Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou was born on 25 June 1963 to his English mother Lesley Angold Harrison and his Greek-Cypriot father Kyriacos Panayiotou. He and his two sisters were brought up in north London before the family moved to the commuter town of Radlett, on the outskirts of the capital.

It was at his first day at Bushey Meads School that he met and became friends with Andrew Ridgeley, bonding over their love of music and dreams of superstardom. In 1981, they formed the pop duo WHAM! and began writing and recording songs together.
The pair recorded a demo tape and in early 1982 they ran into an acquaintance called Mark Dean at their local pub, The Three Crowns. Mark Dean was a music executive who was in the process of establishing his own record company, Innervision Records. After some persuasion, he listened to WHAM!’s demo tape and decided to offer them a record deal.
In June 1982, WHAM!’s debut single release ‘Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do?)’ failed to chart within the top 100 of the United Kingdom’s singles chart. However, the pair got their big break when they were asked to perform on BBC’s Top of the Pops when another act dropped out at the last minute.
Their charismatic and energetic performance of their second single ‘Young Guns (Go for It!)’ with backing singers Dee C. Lee and Shirlie Holliman was a huge success and gave the boys the exposure they were looking for. The song reached number three in the official UK singles chart and was soon followed by a reissue of ‘Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do?)’, which peaked at number eight in the UK singles chart upon its rerelease.

Rise to Stardom

Released in 1983, WHAM!’s first album, Fantastic, reached number one in the UK’s Official Albums Chart and included the top ten singles ‘Bad Boys’ and ‘Club Tropicana’. Their second album, Make It Big, reached number one in both the United States and UK album charts and included singles such as ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’, which was their first UK and US number one single, and ‘Everything She Wants’.
Make It Big also included George Michael’s first solo single, ‘Careless Whisper’, which topped the charts in 25 countries. George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley first co-wrote ‘Careless Whisper’ when they were just 17 years old, and the hit is considered one of the greatest pop songs of all time. In 2023, the single was voted the UK’s favourite song in Smooth Radio’s All Time Top 500 for the fifth year in a row.
WHAM! achieved five UK number one singles, and their success spread across the world, including being the first Western pop group to perform in China. In December 1984, they released the single ‘Last Christmas’, which remains a popular Christmas song and even reached number one in the UK Singles Chart in 2021, 37 years after its initial release. In 2023, the song finally earned a Christmas number one after being beaten to the festive top spot in 1984 by Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’.
Before embarking on the production of his first solo album and following the release of his first solo number one single with ‘Careless Whisper’, George Michael went on to release a further two number one singles, ‘A Different Corner’ and ‘I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)’, a duet with Aretha Franklin. In 1985, at the age of just 21, he won his first of six Ivor Novello Awards and remains the only individual songwriter to win their prestigious ‘Songwriter of The Year Award’ three times.

Described by George Michael as ‘the most amicable split in pop history’, WHAM! announced their break-up in 1986. In 1987, George Michael released his debut solo album, Faith, and wrote, performed and produced all the tracks himself. Faith topped the UK Albums Chart and stayed at number one on the US Billboard 200 for 12 weeks. Today, it has sold over 26 million copies worldwide.

By 1988, George Michael had cemented his superstar status by becoming one of the bestselling musicians in the world. His second album, Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, was released in 1990 and included the global anthem ‘Freedom! ’90’.

At London’s Wembley Arena in 1991, he brought out Elton John as a surprise guest for the final show of his ‘Cover to Cover’ tour and they sang ‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me’, which they first performed together at the iconic Live Aid concert in 1985. Released as a single in 1991, it went to number one in the UK, US, France, Netherlands and Switzerland.

A Lasting Legacy

George Michael publicly came out as gay in 1998. A LGBTQ+ pioneer and activist, he campaigned for gay rights and helped pave the way for future LGBTQ+ artists. He also supported and donated a huge amount of money to HIV and AIDS charities, and formed a friendship with fellow AIDS ambassador Diana, Princess of Wales.

George Michael suddenly passed away on Christmas Day in 2016 at the age of 53. In the days after his death was announced, Spotify streams for George Michael’s songs increased by more than 3,000 per cent. Since then, stories that show the extent of his compassion and generosity have come to light, including working at a homeless shelter, donating large sums of money to strangers in need, and the performance of a free concert for NHS nurses.

In November 2023, George Michael was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. During the induction ceremony, a video of George Michael was played in which he was heard saying: ‘Most of us want to leave something, want to have something that will be remembered. I want to leave songs. I believe I can leave songs that will mean something to other generations.’ George Michael’s remarkable legacy as one of the most admired and respected icons of British music lives on.




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® Under license from George Michael Entertainment.

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