For many of us 2016 is a year we will not be sorry to see the back of. I woke up on New Year’s Day 2016 and told my family that I had a feeling it would be an annus horribilis. I wasn’t wrong. Personally I lost my best friend in February who at the age of forty-three left behind four young children. Since performing her funeral I have attended five more.
From the get-go wave after wave of talented people in the public eye have also left us. Most recently George Michael, aged only fifty-three, passed away on Christmas Day of suspected heart failure. As this goes to press, news is breaking that Carrie Fisher, a.k.a. Princess Leia in Star Wars has also died. Is there no end to this madness?
The outpouring of grief at George’s homes, and even at the gates of the school he attended with Andrew Ridgeley all those years ago (see above), brings to mind those mournful days back in 1997 in the aftermath of the devastating accident that took the life of Diana, Princess of Wales.
But why does the death of a celebrity that many of us have never met (he drove past me in his open-top Rolls once) hit us so deeply? Where does this insatiable need come from?
I believe that there exists inside each of us a deep longing to connect, to be part of something much bigger than ourselves, to belong. The more we build gates around our homes, move away from the nucleus of our families, and disconnect from community gatherings such as churches, synagogues and mosques, the more lonely we become. It is out of this deep abyss that we cry when someone like George Michael dies.
Not only this, these charismatic, talented, and creative geniuses become the soundtracks to our lives, whether they take the form of pictures on our walls, music in our ears, or characters on our screens. We identify with them. We feel their pain, share their joys, feed on their creativity; for what they produce becomes food for our souls. Because of them we are excited to be alive.
We don’t expect them to die. Our imaginations cannot take it in. Our brains hurt trying to compute the news. The doors to our past are firmly closed and bolted. I will never again be the ten yer old girl I once was, full of hope, full of expectancy, listening to Mrs Ridgeley tell us that her son Andrew was in a band and they were going to be on Top of the Pops. I will never again get to see her joy, pride, and excitement as she played us each record before it came out.
Then there was the moment I got the whole school to write to Wham! inviting them to our school Christmas party, the morning their letter of reply was pinned to the classroom notice-board, having Andrew and Shirley sitting next to me on my table. It was the stuff of dreams. Gone. Gone. Gone.
I loved those days. Mrs Ridgeley, who passed away in 2009, was the best teacher I ever had. She was a mother, tutor, confidant and friend to me at a very difficult time in my life and beyond. She enthused in me a love of learning. She helped me to look at life in a whole new way. She encouraged me at every turn. When I cry for George Michael I also cry for her, for days long gone, for the woman she helped me to become, and the woman she will never see me be.
As a teenager I worked in the local newsagents. Who hasn’t once dreamed they would one day work in a sweet shop? That summer was fantastic. I walked down Little Bushey Lane with my friend in our short summer dresses, a sway of the hips, a spring in our steps, and way too much hair spray in our hair, as George Michael drove down the road, probably on his way to see Andrew. Seeing us, he ran his hand through his own hair and clipped the curb as he did so. We giggled. It was all so much fun. Those were the days of our lives.
So I raise a glass to George, to Jenny, to Kate, to Malcolm, to Helen, and all the others who have gone before us. And no, it’s not George’s “Last Christmas” because in heaven Christmas comes every day.
See you on the other side.