‘I Would Stop What I’m Doing If We Could Just Have Him Back’: Interview With George Michael Tribute Pete Valentine
Pete Valentine has spent the last ten years working as a George Michael impersonator, performing to audiences around the globe. We caught up with him to find out how his life has changed since the untimely death of the legendary pop star.
Business has been good for Pete since George Michael’s death on Christmas day last year (he’s playing four sold-out shows at Maggie Maes Brighton), but George’s death has hit him hard: “I’d stop what i’m doing now and call it a day if we could just have him back , because that’s what he means to my life. I would much rather hear more music. It devastates me to think that we’re not going to hear anything else. I can only be thankful to George for everything he’s given me, it’s an honour to work as him. It’s sad that i’m getting mega busy now off the back of his death. It’s just sad. I almost don’t want to do it because it doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel right making money off somebody’s death but people do want to hear his music.
“I lost my dad 20 years ago on boxing day and I lost my mum last year on 27th December. Christmas for me this year was George on the 25th, Dad on the 26th and Mum on the 27th. It knocked my sideways, it was like losing my brother. To not only be into his music since I was 13 – and i’m now 48 – but then to spend the last ten years of my life totally eating and breathing what he does 24 hours a day. – it’s mentally hit me. I was in tears for about three days, I just couldn’t take it in. His funeral will crush me but, like he said, the show goes on.”
Pete says that George Michael’s well documented battle with drugs and ill health drove him to continue his work as a tribute act: “When he was going through a bad time I was more adamant to keep performing so that, when he did come back , his music had been kept alive. To be honest with you, he did me a massive favour. He has given me a job that I feel very privileged to do. Without his music I would probably still be working for Dixons. So, when he was not in the right frame of mind to perform, keeping the music going was an honour and a pleasure.
Despite performing for over a decade, Pete is still in love with his job: “I really want the fans to enjoy it as much as I do. There’s never a point where I get bored. If I sang Careless Whisper three million times it still wouldn’t be boring to me. I love his music that much. I once heard another tribute say: ‘I’m absolutely bored of doing this job’. How can you be bored of doing a job like this? I just don’t get it. I won’t tell you who it was because that would be unkind but the guy wasn’t into the music he was singing or the artist he was singing as. The difference for me is that i’m a true fan, right from the age of 13. I grew up with this music. This music means so much to me and I hope that when I sing the songs it comes from the heart.
“I have favourite George songs to listen to but I also have favourites to perform. My favourite to perform is Careless Whisper because if you can do a two hour show and then perform Careless Whisper perfectly you know you are doing your job properly. To listen to at home I really love a lot of the upbeat songs he wrote like Amazing that he wrote for [his partner] Kenny. The words are so lovely. I enjoy things like ‘I’m Your Man’ and all the Wham! stuff as well. Different corner is one of my favourites as well and its one of the first ones I learnt to sing properly. The lyrics are just beautiful. Where I Hope You Are is a song George did on the Symphonica tour. It’s a breakup song about him and Kenny. When he describes the song he says it’s probably the best thing he’s written since ‘Careless Whisper’ and I agree with him. It is the most beautiful song. The lyrics are so incredible. One of the lines in this song is: ‘sometimes, babe, drunken angels stumble home’. A lyric like that, how do you think of that?”
Pete’s hopes that his attention to detail makes his shows a valuable experience for George’s fans: “It’s the little things. For instance, when George performed his 25 Live tour I spotted what belt he was wearing. It’s a Giorgio Armani belt with Giorgio Armani wings that fold, and it’s an £150 belt. I tried to get this belt from Armani themselves but couldn’t get it for love nor money. Later, I was in a charity shop in Wilmslow, I looked up from the CDs I was flicking through, and there it was – the belt! My size for five pounds. Things happen for a reason. It is just bizarre. I’ve not seen anyone else ever wear that belt apart from George Michael.”
Pete has nothing but love for the George Michael fans who come to his shows: “The people we meet on the road – proper George fans – are just so so lovely. You cannot put it into words. They are just the loveliest people. I have so much time for George’s fans because they are the nicest people you could ever wish to meet which is a testament to George, a testament to the music, and a testament to what he has given people. These are tunes that you can relate to through your life no matter what you are feeling. When you are feeling down it is like his music just picks you up. Even if it is a sad song.”
Pete’s only regret is that he never got the chance to sit down with the man himself: “I have so much respect for his songwriting and his vocal ability. For me, there’s nobody better. There’s nobody better at all. I just wish I could have met him, to actually speak to him and tell him what an honour it is to cover his music.”