Last week I catapulted back to 1984 to the land of perms, highlights and a day in Brixton taking part in the filming of Wake Me Up Before You Go Go which NME described as one of the worst pop videos of all time courtesy of the new Netflix Wham! documentary.
Back then I was 17 years old and filled with youthful optimism when I answered the call for extras from a small ad in the London Evening Standard. The brief was simple; turn up at Brixton Academy wearing all white to take part in the recording of a promotional video the latest Wham! single. There was little time to prepare as we had just a days notice. My best friend couldn't make it and says now it is one her biggest regrets that she didn't have the requisite all white outfit. I dragged a mate from the YTS scheme I was working on at the time.
As we waltzed up to at Brixton Academy to the side entrance I remember feeling a bit self conscious. Dressing from head to toe in white was a long way from my usual style. Back then, as now, I am always at my happiest dressed in black. I soon felt better though as we quickly managed to lose ourselves amongst the sea of white cotton clad hopefuls waiting patiently in line to be granted entry into Wham Land. It occurred to me that we may not be accepted as the long queue was possibly a sign of a selection process. Steve Strange was no where in sight that day and so I need not have worried. Absolutely no one was a turned away.
I don't know what I was expecting to find once I was inside but certainly it wasn't what I had imagined a pop video shoot to look like. This was no Club Tropicana, but the drinks were all free. The look was that of an old school hall which was ready for the talent competition to start but with much better lighting and bigger speakers .
I remember hanging around whilst we checked out everyones outfits and hair before we were briefed on what was expected of us as the crowd. In between takes plenty of hairspray was sprayed and lipgloss applied in the tight squeeze of the bathroom.
Thankfully there was no script or screaming required, which made the room was pretty quiet most of the day.
We positioned ourselves at the back as the most eager and sharp elbowed thronged the T shaped stage.
Without announcement or fanfare the band quietly assembled on stage decked in monochrome with those now iconic Katherine Hamnet Choose Life t- shirts.
There was zero acknowledgement of us or our lipgloss as they to performed the new single. We dutifully danced and were frantically instructed from the sidelines to clap and wave our hands. It felt pretty tame and, dare I say, a bit dull. The band seemed detached from what was going on around them, deftly performing their signature moves but without much enthusiasm or emotion. I don't think it was too long before they left the stage.
This was the signal for lunch and a much needed fag break. We were treated to an impressive buffet to fuel us for further dancing and waving.
After lunch the atom bomb hit the hall ....
The band burst on to the stage in full day glow attire. George came complete with fingerless gloves, teeny shorts and freshly plumped hair ready to steal the show as purple smoke was pumped in to every corner of the room.
I jumped out of my skin as the music suddenly boomed and the spotlights switched up a million megawatts. This was the start of part 2 bringing with it a complete change of mood to full on high energy disco. The outfits were as mad as the atmosphere incredible (had they invited "Charlie" for lunch?). The band nonchalantly bobbed around as George and Andrew ran around the stage and crowd on a wild high.
Ridgeley, who turned 60 in January, remembers making it as great fun.
“It was our first video with an audience,” he said during a recent video interview from his home in London. “The atmosphere was really quite excitable and exciting.” nytimes
At one point the lights changed to reveal the glow in the dark dance scenes that felt faintly comedic. As I awkwardly joined in with the dancing I was glad to be at the back of the room. I began to secretly hope I wasn't captured on camera as it was starting to feel really naff. Don't get me wrong it was fun, but a long way from what all the cool kids of '84 would be owning up to doing .
I don't remember many takes and it seemed that no sooner than Wham arrived, they were gone. No longer required we left feeling a bit bewildered. It was like going to a frantic, booming concert of just one song and then being thrown out straight afterwards into a silent world. To be truthful I think we were disappointed we didn't get to meet George and Andrew. Naively we had expected them to meet fans and maybe sign a few autographs, after show stage door sort of stuff , but this was not a concert or show. Now I've watched the documentary I now understand just how young they were too and that maybe they probably felt as awkward as we did.
But I did get to 'brush shoulders with the star'. Just after the release of the next single "Careless Whisper", on a balmy summers eve as I walking towards Hyde Park Corner to catch the bus home I spotted a solitary figure walking towards me. It was George Michael, looking very smart and carrying two huge suit carrier type shopping bags. He seemed to be lost in thought with his head to one side. I watched as he got closer wondering if I should say something. I was thinking how much I would love to talk to him, but also why ? What did I have to say ? "Hello, I was in your video the other week ? Of course I didn't say a word, I just passed him by and stored the moment in my mind to a memory.
I have to confess now that I've never brought a Wham record, but their music has a place in my heart as it was part of the soundtrack of being a teenager in Britain in the 1980's.
After "Wake me up before you go, go " left the charts I forgot all about being in the video until it popped up on TV and I casually mentioned it to my Daughter after George Michael had passed away. She said to me years later when it was on TV again "It's so cool you were in that Mum. I tell my friends you're in it ". I think now that perhaps I should have sharpened my elbows more and maybe she would actually be able to find me in it.
Wham ! Wake Me Up Before You Go Go was ranked number 28 on VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of the '80s .
The Wham! documentary was released in the UK on Netflix 5th July 2023 - watch the trailer here
Wham! Wake Me Up Before You Go Go has currently 438M views here on You Tube https://youtu.be/pIgZ7gMze7A
Careless Whisper now has 1B views on YouTube
Watch asAndrew Ridgeley looks back at Wham!'s best ever music videos in Smooth's Video Rewind series
Katherine Hamnet Choose Life T-Shirt link
Shirley Kemp reminiscing with items from her Wham ! Wardrobe https://www.you.co.uk/shirlie-kemp-wham-outfits/
Wake Me Up Before You Go Go reached No1 for 2 weeks on 2 & 9th June 1984
1984 No 1 songs in the UK Top 40 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1984_in_British_music
Wham ! Image credits - screenshots from the video - no12 - Billboard.