Sunday, 23 July 2017

Thousands make pilgrimage to Goring to celebrate George Michael's life

THOUSANDS of George Michael fans made a pilgrimage to Goring on Sunday to mark what would have been the singer’s 54th birthday.

Events took place in the village across the weekend as people from around the world arrived to pay tribute to the former Wham! star, who was found dead at his home off High Street on Christmas Day.

Personal mementoes were piled up outside the cottage, including flowers, cuddly toys, cards, drawings, pictures, balloons, candles, tea lights, handwritten messages, love hearts and national flags.

Fans stopped to admire the mass tribute, taking photographs and reading the messages.

Many of the visitors wore “Choose Life” T-shirts, made famous by Michael wearing it in the band’s Wake Me Up Before You Go- Go music video.

The George Michael Tribute Band played two sell-out concerts featuring all the singer’s hits at the village hall.

The band were joined on stage by Eighties singer Owen Paul for a rendition of Michael’s 1986 single A Different Corner.

Paul, who is best known for his hit My Favourite Waste of Time in the same year, said: “On this weekend 31 years ago I was on Top of the Pops with George.

“It was the first time I had met him and we became friends. We were both on Sony Records and three months prior to me meeting George I was called in to see record producer Muff Winwood.

“He was not sure about this single for George Michael. I didn’t let it run more than 40 seconds before I stopped it and said to him, ‘you’re not sure about that?’ I said it was completely perfect and it was going to be gigantic.

“That song was A Different Corner.

“I’ve incorporated the song into my own show for the last two or three years.

“Goring seems like a fantastic place and I understand why George would have loved living here. The people seem lovely and friendly.”

On Saturday and Sunday evenings scores of fans gathered outside Michael’s home for a candlelit vigil and sang Happy Birthday and some of Michael’s songs.

About 1,000 tea lights had been donated by fans in Holland.

These were organised by fans Rosalyn John, from Aylesbury, and Dutch woman Mara van Steen, who run an George Michael memorial page with 13,000 followers.

Ms John said: “Everyone wanted to come here to pay tribute and their respects on his birthday.

“I got in touch with the parish council and members of the community to see if they wanted to be involved.

“I had come to Goring four or five times before to pay tribute after he died. It’s a beautiful place to pay tribute to him.”

Ms John also helped organise a George Michael memorabilia charity auction in aid of the Terrence Higgins Trust, which campaigns for equality for people who are living with HIV and was supported by the singer. The auction took place at the annual two-day beer festival at the Catherine Wheel pub in Station Road.  The event used to be called Goring Pride but was renamed Spinning The Wheel after the singer’s 1996 hit.

There were performances by George Michael tribute act James Birmingham and local bands 4th Era, Blue Chips, Rush Keeper, Sultanas of Swing and Swinging in Heels.

Businesses in the village opened specially on Sunday to serve the crowds. Mary Galer, who runs the Miller of Mansfield with her husband Nick, said: “The weekend was really well put together and the people who came to visit were very respectful of the village.

“Everyone enjoyed themselves and it was a celebration of George’s life as well as a time for sadness. I think Goring and the people who came here did him proud.

“George was a patron of ours and I think he would have been very impressed. It’s just a shame he wasn’t here to enjoy it with us.

“People went to great lengths in terms of distance travelled and money spent to get here. I’ve already been taking calls about next year and we have only three or four rooms left for then.”

Stephanie Kingsland, who owns Pierreponts café in High Street with her husband Phil, said: “The weekend was great fun. It was busy, although not as much as we had anticipated, which was a good thing. There was a good atmosphere. We had the music up loud and everyone was dancing and singing along.

“A friend lent me their cardboard cutout of George so people were having their picture taken with that.”

Shops in The Arcade set up stalls outside. Jo Heard, who works at the Chocolate Café in High Street, said: “We were playing George Michael tunes all day so people could eat and sing along. Everyone was really jolly.

“We were busy and there was a lovely atmosphere with the fans from New Zealand and California all chatting to each other.”

Villagers Ron Bridle and Rosie Mortimer helped guide visitors around the village.

Mr Bridle, of Cleeve Road, said: “We had a lot of interest with well over 100 enquiries from visitors wanting to know information, which we were happy to supply. 

“The feedback was very positive. I have already had one letter of thanks for our hospitality, understanding and always being welcoming.

“I spoke with one of the organisers and he said he was delighted. The visitors seemed to have a wonderful time and may want to come back next year.

“It was all very good-humoured and there were no issues with too many people gathering in the wrong places. I hope everybody enjoyed it.”

The organisers of the Goring and Streatley Food and Drink Festival held a hog roast in Rectory Garden, off High Street.

St Thomas’s Church held a music for reflection session on Sunday. This involved choir and organ music and offered people tachance to reflect and pray.

Many of the visitors congregated outside Michael’s home at 1pm on Sunday for the release of hundreds of white balloons.

They had marched there from the Catherine Wheel while singing some of his songs.

They stood outside the cottage in a circle and sang Happy Birthday and shouted three cheers before releasing the balloons to more cheers and applause.

Fans came from America, Australia, Croatia, Italy, Holland and Denmark and some fixed their national flags with personal messages written on them to the wall outside the singer’s home.

Silvana Mullins, from Sydney, arrived with a huge floral tribute that read “GM54” which she laid on a bank near the house.

Mrs Mullins said: “I came across the world for this. I feel like I can feel George’s presence here.  Everytime I speak to someone they talk about the fantastic memories they have of him.”

Annette McHale, from Aylesbury, said she had visited Goring every Wednesday since Christmas.

“I come to speak to my idol and lay fresh flowers,” she said.

“It has been a good weekend. It gave everyone a chance to celebrate George and his music and do their bit by giving some money to charity.”

Jean Parker, from Glasgow, said she had wanted to visit the village since Michael’s death.

She said: “I am sorry that I left it such a long time before coming here and wish I had come sooner.”

Other visitors included George Michael tribute act Pete Valentine, from Macclesfield, who arrived on Sunday after performing in Bracknell the previous evening.

Mr Valentine, who posed for pictures with fans, said: “I’ve been singing George Michael songs for the last 11 years. I wanted to come over because I knew it was his birthday.”

Amanda Ludlum, who travelled from Yorkshire with her daughters Lucy and Holly Donoghue, erected a giant banner.

She said: “It’s lovely to see all the fans supporting him and not being upset but celebrating on his birthday. It’s nice for so many people to come together.”

Linda Scruton, from South Yorkshire, said: “I love him and his music and couldn’t believe what had happened when I found out.

“It’s an emotional time for his fans and people have come from everywhere to pay tribute to him.”

In March, after an initial post-mortem examination proved inconclusive, it was confirmed that Michael had died of natural causes.

Goring Parish Council is considering creating a permanent memorial to the singer.

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