Andreas Georgiou looks as if he should be famous. The shock of bleached hair and six-foot frame command attention when he enters a room. Though not a household name himself, his cousin (or second cousin, to be exact) is George Michael, one of Britain's most celebrated singer/songwriters. And wherever George goes, Andreas is never far behind. For the past two years, since he was employed by George to help set up and run Aegean Records and Aegean Net Ltd., he has become a permanent fixture in George Michael's life.
He was the first person George called when he was arrested for lewd conduct in a Los Angeles park last spring and was the driving force behind George's frank and honest chat with his fans on the Internet soon after. Andreas' own production company, Hardback, is responsible for the Three Degrees' forthcoming cover version of Wham!'s hit Last Christmas, which Andreas promises will be the festive number one. What's more, he has just launched a new girl band, Fierce, who have already been given the thumbs up by the maestro of the family.
George's home in Britain is only streets away from where Andreas and his family live in north London, and George is a regular visitor. He was his best man at Andreas' wedding to Jackie, the Brooklyn-born former Elite model. In fact, it was through George that the couple met, after he noticed her at a London nightclub. And the singer is now godfather to their two boys, James, six, and Harry, four.
But their connections go back even further than that. Their Greek Cypriot fathers were first cousins and George and Andreas spent their first holiday together in Cyprus when they were four and five respectively.
Since then they have travelled the world through their work and their continuing friendship. Andreas was there when George, for the first time in his life, found true love with Brazilian Anselmo Feleppa, who was also Jackie's best friend. He was also the one to break the news to George two years later that his soulmate had died from a brain haemorrhage in 1993.
In February 1997 Andreas sat with his cousin in a hospital corridor as George's beloved mother Lesley lay dying of cancer. And, a few months later, his heart went out to George yet again when the singer lost another woman who he had admired - Diana, Princess of Wales.
George Michael has rarely granted personal interviews. It was only very recently that he admitted publicly that he was gay, when speaking to CNN following his arrest in the spring. But his courage in confronting the matter and apologising for the incident in the park appears to have heralded a new confidence and honesty in the former Wham! star.
For this reason, his closest and most enduring confidant has agreed to speak to HELLO! and offer an insight into the world of George Michael. Photographed here with his family at their North London home, Andreas charts a friendship that dates back to childhood and shares with us the secret of a close working relationship that goes back years.
How far back do you and George go?
"Our fathers are cousins and both came to Britain to avoid doing national service in Cyprus. They were waiters when they first arrived in England, but my father became a tailor while George's father went on to become very successful with his own restaurant.
Our fathers didn't go back for 18 years. When they did, George and I went too. I was five and he must have been four. The village came out to welcome us - it was like the return of the prodigal sons. In their terms, our fathers had done well. After that, we went on holiday to Cyprus practically every year."
Who was the bossy one of the two?
"George was always the artistic, sensitive one. We had a tradition where our families would get together every Boxing Day. And our fathers, who were quite macho, would give us boxing gloves. George wasn't really interested, he would be happy with his nose in a book or listening to music, while I would be continually thumping him around the head.
He probably got away with more than me because he was very tall. He was six foot when he was 14 and I was five foot six and regularly bullied at school. I went to bad schools in south London and wanted to leave as soon as possible, whereas George went to a good school in north London. He did well at his O and A-levels - and got a diploma in the violin.
I remember going to a disco with him in Edgware when we were 14 and we asked these two girls who we fancied to come outside with us. Unfortunately, they were followed by five skinheads who, it turned out, were with them. They took one look at George, then decided to thump me. We legged it."
Did George get you into the music business?
"George introduced me to the club scene, but I knew even before he formed Wham! that I wanted to work in the music industry. I had studied graphic design and wanted to design album covers.
We both wanted to be DJs when we were young. I got a mobile disco and got a job in a club in Croydon just as he started to become known with Wham! and George would help me DJ. My 21st birthday party was legendary in Croydon, it was even on television, and we had Spandau Ballet and Wham! there, among others.
One Boxing Day, when the owner of the club didn't want to open, I offered to take over for the night. I walked away with a lot of money. I had been paid £15 a night until then, but I was never paid £15 a night again! I branched out and did other clubs and George would come and DJ with me. This was before he was really big.
Years ago, Kate Moss' auntie, who lived opposite my mum, told my mum that her niece wanted to be a model and asked whether I could get her on one of George's videos. My mum said she didn't think so. Bad decision!"
Did you ever try to get in on Wham!?
"I would have loved to have been in Wham!, but it wasn't to be. I tried playing bass, then guitar, but I didn't have the talent. I relegated myself to the business side of things.
After I quit being a DJ, I went to work in promotions for Polydor. But when they put me in charge of the heavy metal department and I found myself knee-high in mud watching Meatloaf at Knebworth, I walked. My next job was as head of promotions for a dance label, Street Sounds."
Did you still see a lot of George?
"Whenever I could. This was now the time of his album Make It Big and George was playing to 100,000-strong audiences. Nobody at Street Sounds knew I was George's cousin and I preferred it that way.
When George invited me out to the States for the weekend for some gigs he was doing with the Bee Gees, I had to pretend I was going to Radio One with a bag of records. We went to Miami, Philadelphia and New York and I still got back to London in time for a business lunch with Tony Blackburn on the Monday. Six months later I started my production company, Hardback, which is now launching Fierce with their debut single Right Here, Right Now at the end of November."
How did you come to work for George?
"Two years ago, George and I set up Aegean Records and Aegean Net Ltd. He employed me and Hardback to run them. We have acts signed up to Aegean Records, but because of the recent problems in George's personal life they have been put on hold."
What's the situation with Hardback?
"I've now had Hardback for more than ten years. In the early Nineties, George and I got together on a project that is due for completion in the near future. It's an album that George is writing and producing called Trojan Souls, which will feature world superstars including Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Elton John.
Hardback produced four records on the Street Sounds label, but the label went bankrupt and I was left with a lot of money owing to me. I even had to sign on the dole I was so broke. So I spoke to George and said, 'I need to make a hit and it's got to be a cover version.' He immediately suggested the Bee Gees' Jive Talkin', which I produced with Boogie Box High, and it went through the roof. It was bizarre because there I was standing in the dole queue one day and suddenly I heard on the radio that our record had got to number seven. I ripped up my registration form, walked out of the dole office and into my accountants. By that afternoon I had a black Mercedes convertible."
How did you and Jackie meet?
"George had seen Jackie at the Café de Paris and told me how beautiful she was, how she was just my type. The first period of time we really spent together was at George's 'pop star' house in the Santa Barbara mountains. It was the height of his fame in 1990 and George was told that he had so much money that he had to spend some of it, so he bought this property. It wasn't George's style at all. It was ship-shaped, perched on the top of a mountain and you felt you could almost touch the sky."
When did you and Jackie get married?
"We got married in Vegas on September 1, 1991. I didn't want to have the big Greek affair, although we had a religious blessing later at the same time as my son James' christening.
There were only five of us in Vegas - Jackie, myself, George and Anselmo and another friend, Simon. We were staying in Frank Sinatra's suite at Caesar's Palace and George said he would give us ten grand each to gamble at the casinos. But he had left his wallet back in Los Angeles. He wanted to sign something saying he was George Michael, but nobody would believe him - so my gold card took a battering!"
George was best man at the subsequent blessing in London and godfather to your son James. Tell us about that.
"He is godfather to both James and Harry and, as far as being my best man, there was only George. We are one hundred per cent brothers and there is no one in this world, apart from my wife and children, who I care about more. I understand him and we have been through a lot together.
Jackie and I decided to have a blessing at the same time that James was christened. It was in the same Greek Orthodox church in Bayswater where George and I were christened and where our parents married. It turned into a bit of a circus - the whole Greek community seemed to be there, about 1,000 people all with video cameras. Afterwards, we had a massive party at George's parents' stud farm."
Is money as important to George as it is to you?
"Money is freedom and I'm still hungry, but I think George is uncomfortable with the amount of money he has. He has never led an extravagant lifestyle.
Having said that, George never made serious money until Wham! split. He is a songwriter and that is why he has earned so much. He is one of the world's best songwriters. He's less comfortable with being a singer, with being the front person.
He could have been a multi-millionaire simply from his writing alone. That is why he made such a stand with Sony. All that matters in the music industry is that you bring in the money. There is no consideration for artistic integrity. George is 35 years old. He signed with Sony when he was 18. Seventeen years later, we are still having to do business with Sony this Christmas. And then he will be free."
How will you be different with Fierce?
"Fierce are also 18 and they have the best record deal this business has ever given. Why? Because I know what George went through. They are all going to be multi-millionaires, we are all going to make so much money that it is going to be fair. They have a three-album deal with me and if, after that, they are uncomfortable with the way I have handled their career, they can walk away."
Where did you find Fierce?
"Jackie found them through a mother at our boys' school. They write their own songs and have a captivating presence. George thinks they are amazing. They had a heart attack when he turned up at a meeting - they were speechless, because they're big fans of his."
Will Fierce take precedence over your working relationship with George?
"No, George is my number one priority. I will never be far from his side. I play him everything first and he decides whether he wants it for Aegean or whether I can have it for Hardback.
George did two album deals after his break from Sony, one with Virgin for Europe and Britain and one with DreamWorks for North America and Canada. We have done one album, Older, and we are one album away from delivery. That will probably be released in 2001 and then he will be truly free."
What is the future for George?
"George has invested a lot of money in the Internet and we see the Internet as the way forward, because it cuts out the middle men. We are the first record company in the world to distribute music via the Internet, but within five years it will take ten per cent of the world's record sales.
All I want is for George to be happy. If that means being a songwriter and recording in the studio then that is what he will do. A tour is not on the cards - maybe it never will be again. George has had a tragic five years and there is a lot of healing to be done. That's the priority.
Whatever the future holds, I know I will be there with him because I am the only one who really knows and understands him. At the end of the Faith tour, George said to me, 'I am killing George Michael. I'm not doing any tours, any videos, any press, any photographs.' He had spent the whole year in a bubble going from car to stadium, stadium to hotel. He hates that way of life. We had a fight for four hours over it, but when he explained his fears, what he had been through and how he couldn't go on only being himself for two hours a day, I finally understood."
Does he look to you for advice?
"We don't do anything without consulting each other. I was the only person who went ballistic at him over the arrest in the spring. I was so furious with him that he didn't know how to handle it. I can do that with him. Everyone else is scared. Our relationship has to be based on truth and honesty. I have created a world that George can come in and out of."
What was your response to the arrest?
"I was annoyed that George had put himself into a situation like that. George's career has always been very sexually oriented, due to the legions of female fans from the Wham! days. George has been openly gay to everyone around him for about 12 years. I do feel that his sexuality and what he does in private are his business. However, we were talking about a public place and that did make me very angry. Although I knew he was gay, I wasn't aware that he had done this before. It was a mistake.
But George handled it amazingly. He called me to tell me he would be on CNN 20 minutes before he went on-air that Friday. I had been informed that a Sunday newspaper was going to publish compromising photographs of George that weekend and we decided to go on-air to steal their thunder. He was upfront and honest about the situation, he admitted that he was embarrassed by what had happened and that he'd made a mistake. That took guts.
My fears were centred on what could have happened had he not confronted the issue, I worried about him becoming a recluse and not leaving the house. As soon as I watched the broadcast, I got on a plane and spent ten days with him in LA. We went out every night and he didn't mind who came up to him, he was very buoyed up by the support he received. I had thought it was going to be the end, but he turned the situation around. I was very proud of him."
Do you think George is glad that it is all in the open now?
"Although he realises what a mistake it was, the result is that he is happier than he was before. He feels very comfortable now. He will openly hold hands with Kenny [George's current partner] in public, something he didn't do before. The issue has been forced and as a result he probably feels more comfortable with himself. It hasn't affected his popularity. His new single Outside is already a hit. But that has always been the way - his personal life has been littered with tragedies, but he can't do any wrong as far as his career is concerned."
Did he ever doubt that that support would be forthcoming?
"Perhaps at first, but as soon as he had been on CNN and seen how that was received, he knew he had done the right thing by confronting the issue. He took a hiding and he deserved it, but then he said he was sorry."
Why hadn't he admitted he was gay?
"Because it was none of anyone's business. George was openly gay to those around him and most of his fans knew he was gay. Everything George wants to say about himself is there in his lyrics."
Did he confide in you about his sexual confusion when he was growing up?
"Not really, he just told me outright he was bisexual, then that he was gay."
So his earlier relationships with women were genuine?
"Absolutely, and George still finds women sexually attractive."
The most important woman in his life was his mother. What was she like?
"Lesley was his closest friend, she knew about his sexuality from a very early age and had no problem with it. She was his number one fan and travelled with him on all the tours. On the Faith tour I remember dancing with her in the front row. She was a riot. If there were ever stories about him, she would defend him to the hilt.
She died from cancer and it was the most painful experience of George's life. He sat with her as she died. He had only just begun to deal with the loss of Anselmo and then came the loss of his mother. I remember him saying to me, 'What have I done to deserve this? How is my life so extreme in that my professional life has been so successful and yet my personal life so tragic?'"
What role did Anselmo play in George's life?
"He brought out the best in George. It was the first time George had really fallen in love and Anselmo gave George a confidence in their relationship and a sense of acceptance to be more at ease with himself and his sexuality. He had found the ultimate relationship. George was a better person after Anselmo."
How did George respond to his death?
"It was a very sudden thing and he was in shock to begin with. I was the one who told him. We had spent Christmas together in LA and Anselmo had had to go back to Rio, where he was involved in the fashion industry. He died there and I remember feeling very numb when I got the call from Rio, knowing I would have to tell George the heartbreaking news. For the next two years George didn't work. He was so engulfed by depression.
Anselmo's impact was so great that he will never be far from the minds of any of us. There are often times in our house that George and our family will light candles to his memory next to his picture."
Do you think Kenny Goss ever feels overshadowed by Anselmo's memory?
"No, because Kenny brings different things to the relationship. If anything, Kenny should be grateful to Anselmo because it is due to Anselmo that Kenny can have what he has now with George."
Soon after his mother's death, George lost another woman he admired, Princess Diana. Was that a big blow?
"It was a very sad time for him because it brought back all the memories of his mother's death. He told me he was in tears at the funeral, especially when Elton sang Candle In The Wind, and was relieved the cameras were not on him.
Diana was obviously a great fan of his and possibly at one point had a little crush on him. George can be quite shy and I think he was embarrassed by her admiration for him.
I remember the first time George met Diana. There was just George and myself playing pool in the green room at Wembley. It wasn't George's show, I think it was Whitney Houston's. Anyway, some bodyguards came in, followed by Diana and Fergie. They were at one end of the room and we were at the other, then the promoter Harvey Goldsmith walked in and introduced everyone.
On another occasion, we went for dinner at Elton John's Windsor mansion. I was dying to meet the Princess and insisted that George introduce me. But he forgets and, lo and behold, as soon as he started talking to her he turned his back on me. Later on I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned round to find Diana. 'Hi, I'm Diana,' she said. When I told her my name, she said, 'You must be George's cousin.' He hadn't forgotten after all. She was so nice and relaxed and cool. I was sitting on the sofa and she was sitting on the floor chatting to me.
I think he would have liked to know her better, but he never pushes himself on people he admires. He was the same with Barbra Streisand and even with Elton John to some extent, who is a friend of his.
Queen and Elton John were our favourite bands when we were younger. We went to see Queen at Earl's Court when we were 11 and 12, with our mums waiting outside to take us home.
The second concert we ever went to was Elton John's, so you can imagine how we felt being invited to dinner at his house years later and then invited to sit in the back of the Corniche and listen to his new track. It's a thrill even for George."
Are there many stories like that?
"Dozens, but I'm saving them for my book! Once, when we were invited to Elton's place in Holland Park, I sat on the sofa and the table behind started to shake as if it were about to topple. On it were dozens of silver framed photographs of Elton with members of the royal family. Elton's eyes were fixed in horror on the table and I think I would have been persona non grata had it toppled over.
On another occasion, when Madonna presented George with the MTV Video Vanguard Award in 1989, we went for dinner with her afterwards. She insisted on calling me 'Andrex' all night and I was seated at the other end of the table to her and George, which I thought had been reserved for bodyguards. Quite unbeknown to me the guy on my right was Warren Beatty, but I hadn't realised. He was wearing a white suit and I managed to spill a glass of rosé champagne all over him. As soon as he jumped up I realised in horror who it was. But he was very good-humoured about it and insisted on holding up a napkin to protect his clothes from any further damage when he noticed I had ordered the soufflé! He was an excellent guy."
Is George's life a round of celebrity parties?
"His life is rarely like that these days. When he's in Britain he spends most of his time in the studio and we'll go for lunch. He is often over here visiting his godsons or watching Friends. One time, a couple of days after Titanic came out, we all went to see it in the afternoon to avoid being noticed. We got George through without anyone noticing and then he decides he needs to go to the toilet, but he goes through the wrong door, out the fire exit and he's locked out. Then Kenny does exactly the same thing. I've got the tickets, so they have to queue up and pay again to get in and by this time everyone has recognised them, so when we come out two hours later there are 1,000 people outside.
George doesn't have a huge entourage. He has a very normal life with Kenny, who also has his work - he is high up in a sports clothing company. And then there's a small group of friends who he has known for years.
He wants to live his life as a normal person. He is himself when he is here with us. If I go out for the night, I like to arrange a nice car, but George is quite happy with a black cab. And if his dog, Hippy, makes a mess in the garden, George will be out there with a shovel clearing it up."
How did the Internet chat come about?
"I actually decided we should do it before the arrest. When he was arrested I put it on hold, but when I came back from LA I rescheduled it because it was the best medium to talk to the fans on a one to one basis. We were sitting at Aegean Records behind a computer terminal going out to millions of people around the world.
I had hired two typists from Microsoft to type his answers, but he wanted to type it himself so that the fans got it as he said it. He was there for three hours finger-typing. We didn't refuse any questions, but what was really amazing was that 95 per cent of the questions were about his musical career.
We will be doing a lot of other things related to the Internet. Things will be very different in the music market by the time George is free of his recording obligations. We're looking at a very different picture for how music is packaged and marketed. Not that I'm saying George thinks he can rule the world, because in five years' time he will be 40."
Is he scared of getting older?
"No, he's always been older - George was born 35."