When Wham! performed live for the very last time at Wembley Stadium on June 28 1986, they achieved the impossible. Not because they could have sold the 72,000 tickets several times over following the unprecedented demand, not even because the Wham! documentary screened before the concert set a record for the largest audience at a film premiere. Far more extraordinary was the fact that band members George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley didn’t already hate each other by the time they took the stage.
“It’s very rare to see a band – I think Wham! might be the only case – that split up at their peak and could give each other a hug with no acrimony,” says Simon Halfon, the duo’s friend and producer of Wham!, a new Netflix documentary that charts the band’s rapid rise from school to stadium in just four years.
Told through Wham!’s personal archive, never-before-seen footage and previously unheard interviews, the tender, gloriously upbeat film includes scenes of them backstage on that fateful final day, grinning and play-fighting. Unlike almost all other bands who are eventually driven apart by money, fame or jealousy – even if they pretend otherwise in public – Wham! ended their extraordinary career as it had started, as best friends and equals.
“It’s incredible to see a band understand that it had a lifespan and that it had to end at a certain point and be OK with that,” says the film’s director Chris Smith, whose previous work includes Fyre and American Movie. “I don’t know of many other stories like that. So often it will go until it can’t go any more. And in this case, it was the exact opposite.”
The uncomplicated, almost child-like nature of the duo’s friendship shines through the film, contradicting the long-held presumption that Ridgeley was a bit-part player on Michael’s journey to eventual superstardom. The two are seen pulling faces in teenage snapshots, cycling erratically side by side and laughing together in the back of a car over the state of Michael’s handwriting. As Michael himself admits at one point, “At the time everyone was like, how could these two idiots become so massive?” They even joked with Paula Yates before the final Wembley show that they should be introduced as ‘the legend that is George Michael and his partner” rather than Wham!