Like everything else in the world England is too…
Last Christmas – A trip to George Michael’s Cottage
My generation… erm… so those who still remember the 80s, probably can recall that the first foreign channels appearing in Hungary were the German SAT1, PRO7, RTL and the British Sky and Super channels. (Music Television Europe appeared a few years later.) Wow, how exciting they were! Films, adverts, music and cartoons from the West which we had had no idea about before, suddenly became available. Although my command of English was very basic at that time, I enjoyed watching music programs, especially the one starting at 5pm whereby people called the TV presenter on the phone and could ask for a music video and have a little chat. I will never forget that winter afternoon when I first saw the (what maybe considered today) annoying and boring, but certainly evergreen music video by Wham!: Last Christmas. Whether I saw it on Sky or Super channel, I cannot recall, but it does not really matter. Whether you like the song or not, one thing is for sure: it IS a Christmas classic.
I must admit, not only the lovely tune put a spell on me back in time, but the video as well. Mountains, snowfall, pine forests, cablecars, a hütte in the Alps, multicoloured Christmas baubles on the Christmas tree and well-dressed young people… These were all new to us having grown up behind the Iron Curtain and for me this music video meant the Christmas of the West for years. I adored every second of the video and it carried me away and made me dream… I was dreaming of spending Christmas under similar circumstances, getting to places where the video was shot. But never in my wildest dreams have I ever thought of living 35km away from George Michael’s countryside Cottage, where he spent His Last Christmas. In December I visited the village where he lived:
This trip was not only interesting because I visited George Michael’s Cottage, but because this was my first ever drive in the English countryside on my own. I wanted to leave early to avoid traffic and to secure a parking space in the village car park. (Well, yes parking IS still an issue for me and makes me feel stressed.) It was cloudy in the morning and I did not expect anything else, as the weather forecast said it would rain. I was all excited driving through our town and of course I had questions coming up in my head like “what if this or that happens…?” but I said to myself: worst case scenario I can turn back.
Needless to say, by the time I left our town, it did start to rain. “OMG, Bill said if it is raining heavily, then don’t bother going”, I reminded myself being in a full panic mode. “Ah, never mind, just get onwith it and do it!”, I encouraged myself and kept on driving. The only problemwas that I could not change the route in the GPS and it wanted to lead me onto the motorway all the time which I wanted to avoid. So I stubbornly followed my own way until the GPS realised what I was up to. It all went well until I got to a T-junction. Although I did have a look at the Google Maps before I left, I could not remember whether I had to turn left or right and I decided to turn left, towards the North.
The landscape was beautiful: hills, woods, crooked roads… It all felt like being in a fairy tale. This is the English countryside that I love so much. “Hm… Georgie probably did not take these roads when he drove from his London house to Goring”, I thought. “No. He probably took the motorway and drove quite fast, I would guess. That is more like him”, I pondered. The rain stopped and suddenly I thought I got lost as the drive seemed to be endless. No panic, the GPS always takes you where you want to go. Erm… Almost always. After a few minutes I saw the sign: Welcome to Goring. Yaay – I managed! I am here! (As it turned out later, I should have turned to the right, hence the small detour…)
My last challenge was parking, but when I saw how many spaces there were, I was relieved. No parking fees on Sunday and there were (clean!) public toilets available in the car park, which was a nice surprise. I got out of the car and made my way to the village to explore it.
The car park is behind the Cathrine Wheel pub which George visited a few times. Apparently, the gay pub’s owner’s husband once put a letter in George’s post box saying “You are not the only gay in Goring, George” and explained to him, his husband would be over the moon if George popped in. A few days later, George made this wish come true and went to the pub. One could love or hate George Michael, but one thing is for sure: he was a good man and did an awful lot of charity, but did not advertise it. The 17th century pub looked neat and cosy and had a Christmas tree sales on the patio.
I carried on towards George’s house through the village which I was keen to see, so that I could feel in what sort of environment he lived in. The road led into the churchyard, which looked inviting due to the lighbulbs that were lit between the trees and the 17th century lych gate and an old gas lamp. The Sunday morning service must have ended as people were leaving the church, or there must have been some kind of Christmas fair. As I left the chucrhyard, I got into a narrow little lane which looked familiar… I was so deep in my thoughts that I could not hear a lady who was pushing a pram when she started to talk to me. She said there was a book in the church about George and I can go and have a look if I was a George Michael fan. I could not believe how naturally locals handle the whole George Michael story. I did not go to the church by the way because like I said, I was more interested in the place rather than in “fan-stuff”.
So there I was, standing in front of George Michael’s backdoor.
The tremendous flowers and bits and bobs have been removed and there was only a bunch of flowers at the door and a few photos in frames in a window, CCTV on the walls. A padlock was hanging on the door which looked rather sad and depressing… It all felt sad and empty. To be honest, it all felt like a grave – His grave where you go on a pilgrimage.
I then walked up to the main street and passed by the old mill where the river was flowing very fast. Then I turned to the left and crossed a little wooden bridge, from there I had the perfect view of George Michael’s Cottage. It looked lovely but deserted. The garden was more visible from the bridge over the Thames and I was looking to spot the sundial and a pool that I remembered to have seen in an article in which George showed his home to Oprah, but I could not find either.
As I was looking at the house standing on the bridge, I had two thoughts:
The Thames seems to flow here very fast and although there is a lock and a weir to control the water levels, I would not be surprised at all if the Thames would flood here – and indeed the last time there was a flood in Goring was in 2014. No matter how attractive itis to live by the river, the possibility of a flood would make me so stressed all the time.
George’s house overlooked the Thames, no houses opposite to it. To the right is the mill (now offices) and to the left is the churchyard. So all in all, quite relaxing and I can see him finding his little piece of heaven here, that was close enough to London if he needed to be there.
There is a small post office close to George’s Cottage with a sundial on its facade. I tried to investigate what this building originally was, but no idea. There is a K2 phone box next to it and the Cafe Pierrepont, which looked rather good, but was unfortunately closed on Sunday. From there I walked to the village centre, where I saw a few lovely buildings including another pub, The Miller of Mansfield, which George often visited, but nothing else, I must admit. The village does have some sort of ambiance, however I would not say it has a very typically English village ambiance. It seems to be a quiet, sleepy place, but nothing special. It made me think, however I am only guessing here, that George did not chose the village, but he chose the Cottage. Interestingly, I did not find anything in the village that would have remarked George lived in Goring. OK I did not expect a statue like the one in Montreaux in Switzerland about Freddie Mercury, but perhaps a little plaque…
As I was there, I decided to go over to the village on theother side of the Thames, Streatly. We were guessing with Bill whether it is pronounced as “Streetley” or as “Stretley” and we thought it is probably “Stretley”. Needless to say, my friend Kathrine explained the following day that his son used to live in “Streetley”. She must know it right, she is a Berkshire girl! :) Anyway, Streatley is a lovely village, again a few interesting and charming houses but nothing special.
It would have been much better to visit Goring and see George’s cottage when he was alive, but His Last Christmas was in this house 2 years ago, unfortunately. Although I did like Goring and his cottage, when it comes to George Michael and a house, if you don’t mind, I prefer to think of that one in the Alps where he shot the music video that made him and Wham! even more famous.
A few interesting facts about the song Last Christmas:
- Last Christmas was released in 1984 and although it was a huge success, it only made to the Nr 1 in two countries.
- Wham! donated all of their royalties to the Ethiopian famine.
- The lyrics and the song was written by George and he played all instruments during the recording.
- The cable car in the video is in Saas-Fee in Switzerland and the house is in Schliechte, called Schliechten Chalet. If you are interested, this video takes you there.
- This was the last time George appeared without a beard. After the video he started to wear a beard which he kept until his death.
- The bass guitarist of the band Spandau Ballet is in the video as well and it was directed by an Italian director.
- Barry Manilow sued George in the ’80s for palgiarism claiming Last Christmas stole its melody from the song “Can’t Smile Without You”. Well, I don’t know… I listened to this song and I let you decide yourself. The case was dismissed btw.
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