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Wham! singers Pepsi and Shirley reveal secrets from their friendship with George Michael


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The pair feature in a new autobiographical film called George Michael Freedom Uncut, which is heading to cinemas on 22 June

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Martin and Shirlie Kemp pay tribute to George Michael

Shirlie Kemp is recalling the moment she showed George Michael her son Roman’s early YouTube videos.

What should have been a simple proud mum moment was far more profound for George, who saw in his godson something he had always longed for – the ability to be unapologetically himself.

“Roman was just a teenager then and had started doing his own YouTube show,” says Shirlie.

“George said, ‘I’m so proud of him, he’s so confident.’ He was absolutely fascinated. Going back to George as a teenager, he didn’t have that confidence and what he saw through Roman he thought was incredible – there’s this boy who was just being himself.”

Shirlie, 60, is “hiding from the builders” at her new countryside home when we chat over Zoom. She shares the house with
her husband, Spandau Ballet bass player Martin Kemp, also 60. They have two children – Harley, 32, a singer-songwriter, and radio DJ and presenter Roman, 29.







Shirlie Kemp is recalling the moment she showed George Michael her son Roman’s early YouTube videos
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Joining us is fellow Wham! backing singer Pepsi DeMacque-Crockett. She’s 4,000 miles away in St Lucia, where she lives with her husband James Crockett. The 63-year-old, born Helen DeMacque, runs a sailing charter company and is also writing a novel.

Even via video link, the pair’s 40-year friendship is a joy to witness. The epitome of 1980s pop, Pepsi and Shirlie travelled
the world as backing singers and dancers for Wham! between 1982 and 1986. After the band split, they released their debut album All Right Now as a duo and have since recorded backing vocals for Geri Horner.

They feature in a new autobiographical film called George Michael Freedom Uncut, which is heading to cinemas on 22 June, three days before what would have been his 59th birthday. The singer was heavily involved in the making of the film before his death on Christmas Day 2016 and he narrates throughout, talking candidly about his struggles navigating between his private and public life.

Few people knew the real George – born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou – better than Pepsi and Shirlie, who refer to him by his nickname Yog (short for yoghurt, because it sounded similar to how his Greek-Cypriot family pronounced his name). They share memories with us that reveal the megastar to have been a compassionate, humble and family-oriented man who put his friends and family before fame and fortune.







Shirlie was in the year above George and Wham! co-founder Andrew Ridgeley at Bushey Meads School in Hertfordshire (pictured 1984)
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Pepsi first met Shirlie (then Holliman) in 1982 outside Finsbury Park tube station in London on her way to an audition to be a backing singer. Pepsi’s first impression of George was that he was “focused but funny – and was a great hugger!” For Shirlie, her friendship with the icon dates back further. She was in the year above George and Wham! co-founder Andrew Ridgeley at Bushey Meads School in Hertfordshire.

“I remember George so distinctly,” she recalls.

“He carried his violin case everywhere and wore glasses – he was really geeky. I didn’t really connect with him because I was fashionable and punky.”

Little did she know that the three of them would form one of the most successful pop acts of the 80s, selling more than 30 million records worldwide. Nor did she know that her friendship with George would grow so deep that she would be the first person he’d confide in about being gay.

“We were in Ibiza making Club Tropicana at Pikes hotel and we were walking along a road,” says Shirlie.

“He had his little white shorts on and a little T-shirt and he was going, ‘I really need to tell you something.’ I was so worried as he’d gone all serious and he said, ‘It’s about my sexuality – I’m gay. I think I prefer men.’ It didn’t bother me but it was such a big deal for him. I feel guilty sometimes that I didn’t take it more seriously.”






Pepsi first met Shirlie (then Holliman) in 1982 outside Finsbury Park tube station in London

“Oh darling, I knew right from the beginning,” says Pepsi. “Being on the dance floor with George, he can only be gay, dear. He danced like a dream.”

George was 27 before he had his first gay relationship with Anselmo Feleppa, a Brazilian fashion designer who he spotted in the crowd while on stage in 1991, who features heavily in the film. After only months together the couple discovered Anselmo had AIDS, leading to his death in 1993. George later dedicated the single Jesus To A Child to him.

Although George had a challenging love life over the years, he adored playing cupid for others – including Shirlie and Martin. George not only dialled the phone for Shirlie to speak to Martin for the first time after the Spandau Ballet star slipped her his number, he accompanied her on her first date with the bass player.

The pair, who have been married for 34 years, made George godfather of their children, a role he took so seriously he stopped them from relocating to America.







“I remember George so distinctly,” she recalls
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“We had such a big argument about it,” says Shirlie. “He said, ‘You can’t take them away from me, we’ve got the best schools.’
He really loved our family. He had a lot in common with Roman in particular – George really connected with him. They both loved having debates and were massive Simpsons fans. He bought Roman his first PlayStation – that really changed Roman’s life. He would come round and they’d play on the PlayStation together.”

The Kemps were due to spend Boxing Day with George before his sudden death on Christmas Day in 2016. He was found in bed in his Oxfordshire home by his boyfriend Fadi Fawaz after dying of natural causes.

“My world fell apart when I was told George had died,” says Shirlie. “I don’t know if I was sick but I just collapsed.
My kids were amazing. It was a shock to them but because I was so bad they knew they had to put their grief to one side and help Mum because I was so hurt.”







Little did she know they would form one of the most successful pop acts of the 80s (pictured 1985)
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Getty Images)

It was Shirlie’s daughter Harley who called her godmother Pepsi to break the news. “Harley was so brave in making that phone call to me,” says Pepsi.

“When I think of that call it just breaks my heart. She knew that Shirlie couldn’t make the call and wanted me to know.
I thought she was just calling to wish me a Merry Christmas. At first, it just didn’t compute – then all of a sudden the penny dropped. It was almost like a star went out and I just fell to my knees.”

Four years after losing his godfather, Capital FM DJ Roman was devastated when friend and colleague Joe Lyons took his own life aged 31, and admitted to having felt suicidal himself. Roman has become an ambassador for mental health, something Shirlie believes George conveyed through his music.

“The great thing about George was he was articulate,” says Shirlie. “He could have been an amazing ambassador for mental health because he had the most beautiful way of talking about it. But he expressed those emotions through songwriting – that’s what he’s left. That’s his talent. That’s his legacy.”

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