Thursday, 05 August 2021

George Michael fans given freedom for village party

George Michael fans given freedom for village party

FANS of George Michael have been given the go-ahead to stage another celebration of his life in Goring.

The parish council has told the organisers that they can return to the village on a weekend in June to mark what would have been the pop singer’s 56th birthday.

It conducted a survey which found opinion among residents was divided but decided many of the objectors’ concerns about noise and crowding could be addressed by imposing conditions.

The festivities must now take place on Sheepcot recreation ground off Gatehampton Road, a short walk from Goring station, and not Rectory Gardens off High Street, where they were held on Sunday, June 24 last year.

The council, which manages both green spaces, says this is a better location as it is larger and further from the village centre, which should address residents’ concerns about noise.

Furthermore, Rectory Gardens was left to the community in trust for "exercise and recreation by the public" and there were concerns that the event might be against the spirit in which it was gifted.

The party may only be held every other year and may only last for eight to 10 hours with an early evening finish.

The council says noise levels must be monitored and the organisers must pay for insurance and liaise with authorities such as South Oxfordshire District Council and Thames Valley Police to ensure public safety. They must also guarantee that the site is left immaculate and pay for any extra clean-up or repairs needed. They must also pay a higher hire charge as they don’t have a local connection.

Terry Daniels, from Milton Keynes, who leads the organisers, has alerted fans through her Facebook group and says more details of this year’s event will be announced nearer the time.

Hundreds of people attended last year’s party, which raised more than £9,000 for ChildLine. A DJ played hits by Michael and Wham! and there were stalls selling memorabilia.

Several Goring businesses sold goods and refreshments, including the Chocolate Café and the Inspiration gift shop, before the party concluded at about 7pm.

When the organisers asked permission to repeat the event the council opted to conduct the survey because members had received conflicting feedback.

Some villagers said they had enjoyed the lively atmosphere and some businesses enjoyed increased footfall but others complained of noise, drunken behaviour and littering and fans using their toilets without buying anything.

The Catherine Wheel in Station Road complained that the event undermined its annual summer festival held on the same day. A total of 657 people responded to the survey of whom 440 were Goring residents.

Forty per cent of villagers supported another party while 41 per cent were against it and the rest had no strong view.

However, 53 per cent said they would support it if the proceeds were guaranteed to go to charity.

Rectory Garden and Bourdillon Field, behind Goring Primary School in Wallingford Road, were considered the least appropriate sites while Sheepcot and the Gardiner recreation ground, off High Street, were more popular.

The council initially proposed the latter as it had slightly more support but there were concerns that the party could damage the pitch used by the village cricket club.

In general, supporters said the party was good for the local economy, encouraged tourism and raised money for good causes. They said fans had behaved respectfully in previous years and the event was short so caused no real harm.

Many agreed it shouldn’t happen every year and should be properly organised and policed at no cost to the community.

Opponents said the music was too loud, the pavements became too busy and some fans were drunken and misbehaved.

They argued it was "distasteful" to keep organising large-scale tributes as more than three years had passed since the singer’s death.

Some said a shorter tribute concert would be more appropriate. Councillor Bryan Urbick, who organised the survey, said: "I think we’ve made the right decision.

"A lot of the fans didn’t know where Sheepcot recreation ground is but it’s much bigger and more flexible and doesn’t have a cricket pitch.

"This venue alleviates some of the concerns that were raised and we’ve already written to Terry and the fans to make our expectations clear.

"They haven’t confirmed anything to us yet but the offer is there and it’s a very reasonable compromise.

"They’ve come with a very respectful attitude in the past and I’ve only heard good things personally but I know some of my colleagues had less positive feedback and we want people to know that we’ve listened to that.

"I think they did a great job last time and hopefully this year’s will run even more smoothly.

"I’m told a few things didn’t go quite right last year but nothing’s perfect and they were very keen to prevent disruption."

Michael, whose birthday was on June 25, spent his time between Mill Cottage off High Street and another house in north London. He was often seen in the village pubs and cafés and was said to enjoy the fact that residents respected his privacy.

He died on Christmas Day 2016 and was found at the Goring property by his partner Fadi Fawaz. A coroner ruled he died of natural causes. Thousands of fans flocked to the village to pay their respects and it remains a magnet for admirers.

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