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Used to work for AVIVA offshoring IT to India.  Now retired through ill health, writing my life story as a series of blogs chronologically from birth to current time.  At www.jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Is that George I see before me? Part Two.

As Christmas 1988 approached I met two women at Ricks Place who were trying to start up a Model Agency.  They had assembled a handful of wannabe models and their agency had been commissioned to produce a Ski Wear show at a club just outside of Norwich, where my brother Richard had met his wife Tracey many moons ago.  Fifteen or so "models" paraded across the dance floor wearing various padded ski suits and jackets, gloves and hats and the evening went down well, but more importantly two of the models were also dancers!  We agreed to meet up after I had told them about my plan to put on a gig launching myself as a George Michael look-a-like.  

I needed a couple of dancers to join me on stage and deliver as professional a show as possible and after an initial meeting we put together a rehearsal plan to develop and then tighten up a routine to go with the songs.  I then approached the manageress of Ricks Place and her assistant manager Mark Brennan to ask whether I could use the club one night for the launch party.  As Tuesday evenings were quiet they agreed I could hold the launch on that night in the run up to Christmas, they’d get the bar takings but there would be no charge on the door, it was then that I started my ultra sneaky marketing campaign.

Firstly, I contacted the local press and asked whether it was true that George Michael was appearing at Ricks Place in December?  "No, we've heard nothing; probably a hoax" was their response.  I then went on a Fly Poster campaign, putting up A4 posters around Norwich with the Sony Music record Label on the bottom with “You need Faith? Who is coming to Ricks Place in Norwich?” written above.  I then contacted all the major National Newspapers, focusing on the Music & Entertainment desks such as the "Bizarre" column at ‘The Sun’ and asked the journalists whether they had heard that George was to appear in a clandestine gig in Norwich to promote his new single?  "Nope, not heard anything" they said but they would look into it.  Then back to the local press to say that I had called the nightclub and they were being very non-committal about forthcoming events at the club, especially the Tuesday in question.  I told them that I had seen posters around town referring to an event at Ricks Place, (they admitted to having seen these as well) and that I had called the National Papers to ask what they knew and that they were being very cagey.  This involved not just myself but also the manageress of the club, Mark Brennan and my dancers so was coming at them daily and from different people.  Sure enough within days the phones at Ricks Place started to ring with Local and National papers asking what was happening, to which the stock answer was, “Sorry, we cannot comment on any events other than those already advertised”. 

This continued in the lead up to the gig, rehearsals were completed with a couple of dress rehearsals at the club during the day's before and we were pretty sure we had a great show, albeit for only three songs, "Faith, I'm Your Man and Father Figure"  On the Tuesday morning, the day of the gig, we called both the local and National press and said that a very large truck was unloading speakers, lights, instruments etc. at Ricks Place, and did they know who was playing there tonight?  Every single one of them said that they had heard through the grapevine that George Michael might be appearing and that they had received calls asking whether George was playing in Norwich.  I said in reply that “Well if he is, I’m going and would they be coming as well?”  The answer was a little non-committal; such as saying they’d send a local journalist if they were free. 

I had organised for my friends, all over six foot and well built, to act as my bodyguards and a pal who had a very nice Mercedes, was to be my chauffeur.  My costume for the night was unfortunately still based around the Faith Album look; Levi 501’s, my cowboy boots, which helped raise me up from my 5’9” inches closer to 6 feet tall, a white singlet and a very nice Tassel Sleeved Leather Motorbike Jacket, with Rock and Roll Classic embossed across the back and of course, the obligatory RayBan Aviator Sunglasses.  The Dancers wore black leggings and tight t-shirts with red sashes around their waists and I applied the usual make-up to my face to complete the look.  My beard being more red than black, I’d brush in black mascara to deep the colour and cover over patches where the beard stubbornly failed to grow.  It actually worked well and I don’t think my Mum ever noticed I was using her make-up!

I got ready at the Hole in The Wall and at 10pm, there were five of us crammed into the Mercedes and heading for Ricks Place.  I say crammed, as it was a squeeze with my bodyguard’s slotted either side of me in the back of the car.  The dancers got into a second car and followed us down.  From the car to the door of the club it was thirty metres, as the club was just inside a shopping precinct.  Mark Brennan walked over to the car and opened the rear door letting out the first minder and then he sat in the car and said, “That’s fucking unbelievable, you’re him mate, that’s fantastic”.  I thanked him and he said, “You need to know that the club is absolutely packed full of press, I mean all the press, the major tabloids from London and the local guys as well.  The plan definitely worked, they have been driving us mad trying to get a lead on the story, asking us all sorts of questions, they really think George Michael is coming here tonight!”  I was really happy and all I needed now was to get inside the club and make it to the dressing room, that was to the right of the stage, which in fact was a little storage room/office. 

We agreed on a plan whereby I would walk in surrounded by people so as not to give a clear view of me to anyone.  I had to keep the illusion going until I walked on stage.  Mark stood back from the car and I climbed out.  A few people were queuing at the door, they turned around and couple of girls started shouting my (George’s) name, followed by the men shouting out my name as well with the odd “wanker” thrown in for good measure!  We walked passed the people queuing outside and went in through the doors and started up the stairs to the club that was on the first floor.  As soon as we were inside the club the cameras started going off; their flash’s illuminating the open plan stairs.  There was a turn a third of the way up, so my back was away from the journalists overlooking the stairs as I climbed the first flight but as I turned and walked directly toward the cameras I was greeted by non-stop camera flash’s.  My friends surrounding me included Nigel Bradley, Paul Waterfield (I think) and Ian Pearce were really playing their part, moving people aside as we finally entered the nightclub itself.  Cries of “George, George, over here mate, George, smile George, Hey George” came from the cameramen and reporters.  

Inside all this frantic activity I was in a bubble; the cacophony of noise, shouts and screams, pushing and shoving, swearing reporters and clubbers alike was amazing.  I looked across towards the bar and saw groups of people standing with drinks in their hands straining their necks to get a look at who was inside this throng of bodies, moving like a swarm of bees, across the dance floor heading for the stage.  Looking ahead, past the backs of my friends and Mark Brennan I could see the door to the dressing room getting closer, my feet barely touching the ground as we surged over the wooden dance floor, across the carpet edging and into the room, the door slamming closed behind us.  “Fucking hell” came as a chorus!  Voices as one as we took in what we had just been through.  A knock at the door and the manageress appeared with a bottle of champagne in a bucket and we shared a glass as we all cracked up over the scam we’d just pulled on the National Press.  The gig had yet to start but I thought I had them. Wrong!!!

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