In December 2008, a couple of months after I first arrived in the UAE, George Michael performed in Abu Dhabi. These were the pre-du Arena days, a time when A-list performances were still something of a novelty. I begrudgingly, almost tearfully, missed the show – I had a work event and was still trying to impress my new employers. And so I didn't get to see him perform live. Now, of course, I never will.
I'm a fan, as you may have guessed. My first real introduction to music was listening to the Wham! cassettes that I "borrowed" from my older brother. I also stole his copy of Wham! The Video, which featured the mullet-ed duo performing five of their classics: the Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do), Club Tropicana (has there ever been a cooler place?), Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go (choose life, y'all), Careless Whisper and, of course, Last Christmas.
I grew up in Cyprus, remember, and we had few famous exports. Halloumi cheese, Peter Andre and George Michael. That's about it. It is true that Michael was raised in London and never expressed any great affinity for the island where his father was born. He often claimed in interviews that: "the only Greek thing about me is my hairy chest".
But Cypriots the world over claimed him nonetheless. They still do. There is currently an online petition to have a street named after him on the island. I’m going to sign it.
I may never have seen him perform live but, last Monday, I saw what is probably the next best thing. Fastlove, the West End George Michael tribute show, made a one-night stop at the Dubai Opera. It was a slightly jarring, nostalgia-infused evening, as a bunch of 35- to 50-year-olds found themselves dressed to the nines, dancing along to cheesy tunes from their childhoods, in a venue designed for more high-brow affairs.
It was an evening that highlighted two important points for me. Firstly, the strange workings of the human brain (how is it possible that I remember every word to every Michael song ever written, some of which I haven’t heard for the best part of a decade, but can barely remember what I had for breakfast this morning?). And secondly, the undeniably unifying influence of music.
As soon as I sat down, I apologised to the smartly dressed woman seated next to me. "I apologise in advance for the terrible singing; I don't think I'll be able to stop myself," I said. "Me neither," she replied with a wide smile.
And so we sat, side by side, two strangers belting out the same tunes, ooh-ing and aah-ing in harmony every time one of our favourites came on, intermittently exclaiming how excited we were to be there and, ultimately, standing up and dancing along. There's no more powerful a tool than music to transport you to a different place and time. And so there we were, two grown women, united in our willingness to behave like teenagers. Freedom '19. Thank you, George.