Legendary Music Manager Simon Napier-Bell shares memories of George Michael, Dusty Springfield, Sinead OConnor, and what it was like to be openly gay in an industry that made money from screwed up kids.

Simon Napier-Bell is a music industry legend. From managing the likes of Wham!, Sinead OConnor, and Boney M to writing Dusty Springfields You Dont Have To Say You Love Me, his remarkable career has seen him become a published author, exposing the inner workings of the music industry, to a documentary-maker reflecting on the lives of the famed 27 club, Frank Sinatra, and now his late client, in The Real George Michael.

Simon Napier-Bell.

Simon and business partner Jazz Summers became Wham!s management in 1982 after the band had a famed performance of Young Guns (Go For It)on Top of the Pops that introduced them as pop musics hot new stars.


They didn’t have a proper manager at the time because they met every manager in the country and didn’t like them,” explains Simon.

The first meal we had together, George fixed Jazz and I with a steely look and said, We want to be the biggest band in the world, and you’ve got one year to do it!’”

I just laughed,” he tells us. 

To be the biggest band in the world, you had to be the biggest band in America, because it was 60% of the worlds music market, and even The Beatles took three years to do it. But Jazz said, If we could make you the first Western band to ever play in China, that would be huge news. That would break you in America.”

For the next 13 months, Simon visited China 13 times thanks to contacts in Chinese immigration, taking different Chinese government ministers out to lunch and slowly pitching his interest in having a Western band perform there.

The Chinese officials were keen but had their sights on Freddy Mercurys charismatic band, Queen.

The next time, I turned up with two folios with me. One has a picture of Wham! on the cover, two very nice boys carrying an old ladys shopping,” he admits.

The other featured Freddy Mercury in drag, together with an Oxford Dictionary definition explaining that the word queen‘ equated to effeminate and homosexual.

Im glad Im gay,” Simon tells us with a jarring chuckle. 

I would have felt terrible doing that if I wasnt,” he says, confessing little guilt over the situation. That’s a manager’s job! Show them that my gay artist is nicer than your gay artist.”

While Simon was openly gay, Georges sexuality remained an open secret.

He knew, I knew,” Simon explains. Some of my friends had found out and said, You know, he’s gay, don’t you? I had him cottaging last week!’” 

Gay life is gossipy, and he was going to the gay bars and clubs, and even on the gay coach weekends down to Brighton.”

I said to him, George, if one day you think you or Andrew might be gay and you want to come out or you want to cover it up, I’d support you either way,’ Hed say, Well, it’s a good thing I’m not, isn’t it?’”

George decided to move on from Simons services as he evolved from Wham! to a solo artist. They had told me from the beginning, they didn’t want to be teenage stars when they were no longer teenagers,” Simon tells us. 

Wham!s years are captured in the recent self-titled Netflix documentary, but Simons The Real George Michael goes beyond the Wham! years and captures Georges full career as a solo star through live footage and interviews with both George and contemporaries like Stevie Wonder and Stephen Fry, who unanimously rave about his talent and kindness.

If there had been underlying criticism or nastiness, it would have been included,” Simon assures, but everyone said he’s lovely, even the few people who’d had big arguments and quarrels with him,” he tells us, pointing to music video directors that clashed with George, who was fiercely protective of his image.

Artists who make it in commercial music is a subject Simon has written about at length.

They’re fighting with the music business because they want to be artists. They’re fighting with themselves because they want success,” Simon explains.

This brings us to the recent death of one of Simons other famous clients, Sinead OConnor. People say the industry killed her. Fucking rubbish!” he tells us frankly. 

She used to say to me, This industry saved my life. I was 17 years old, petty shoplifting, and suicidal. Then I discovered I could sign a record deal and make music that released all those emotions!’” 

The industry is therapy for screwed-up kids, and it requires screwed-up kids to make its money,” he surmises.

Our interview cannot conclude without acknowledging Simons own songwriting skills. Having never written a successful song before, Simon teamed up with friend Vicki Wickham at the request of Dusty Springfield, who had wanted to record a romantic Italian song in English. So the two penned You Dont Have To Say You Love Me, which was later covered by Elvis.

We were very unromantic. Swinging London was not about love. It was about sex. The pill had come in. Every night you went out to get drunk or stoned and get someone to shag.”

I said to Vicki, It’s gotta be a love song. We’re gonna have to say I love you.She said, what about you dont have to say you love me?, which is a pulling line!” Simon explains, painting the picture, Its two in the morning, you were blind drunk, you’re sitting with somebody, saying, Let’s go home and have a shag. You don’t have to say you love me or anything like that.’”

Dustys classic will never sound the same!

The Real George Michael is available to stream on Prime Video and Apple TV.

Article | Oliver Hall.
Images | Courtesy of Anderson Group PR.