"I smoked 25 cannabis joints a day as I grieved for man I loved"

George Michael has spoken for the first time about his deep love for another man. In an extraordinary interview with his friend, Mirror columnist Tony Parsons, the pop star reveals how his feelings for Brazilian Anselmo Feleppa changed his life.

But it was a love that was to end in tragedy - with Anselmo's untimely death in 1993. George buried his grief by smoking up to 25 cannabis joints a day and immersing himself in his music. The resulting album, Older, was movingly attributed to Anselmo and the song Jesus To A Child was written for him.

As time has passed George has come to believe he was lucky to have known Anselmo at all. He says "Anselmo taught me to say to myself: 'Life isn't going to hurt you.'" In front of a roaring fire in his north London home, George Michael curls up on a sofa and talks for the first time about the love that changed his life. "He broke down my reserve," he says of Anselmo Feleppa, a good- looking Brazilian man whom George met in Rio de Janeiro in 1991 but who died tragically young in March, 1993 when he was just 33. "My reserve was partly there because of the way I was brought up and it was partly there because I was a celebrity. And it still is, to some degree. But anyone who knew me before I met Anselmo would tell you that he opened me up completely - just in allowing myself to trust my intuition. To say to myself, this isn't going to hurt. Life is not going to hurt you if you just open up to it a little bit more. And I am so grateful for that."

They met at Rio's popular Rock in Rio festival when Anselmo, a dress designer and huge fan of George, went to watch him perform. A friendship developed quickly. There has always been a certain mystery about George's sexuality. As night falls outside the luxurious, open-plan house that he has lived in alone for the last eight years, he is finally ready to shed some light on the mystery.

Wearing an Adidas tracksuit and sipping from a mug of tea, he concedes that he had his fair share of women during his days with Wham! - a period he now refers to as his "lad's last outing".

Grinning, he says that sometimes he even had Andrew Ridgeley's share of the girls. But there is no doubt that the great love of his life was Anselmo Feleppa. "I really believe that he changed the way I look at my life," says George. "And I think he changed it because he was such an incredibly positive person."

"He had a love of life that we just can't grasp in this country. I think he took away that slightly puritanical, Victorian aspect of my upbringing.I didn't really know how to enjoy myself before I met Anselmo. I learned to travel more, to experience new things - and not only with him.I went scuba diving, hang-gliding - I jumped off Sugar Loaf Mountain a couple of years ago. He made me realise how English I was. After I met him, I became much more tactile with people.He was somebody who was there to show me that you don't have to be the way you are."

All this is delivere d with a kind of controlled emotion. The wounds have healed but he will carry the scars for a lifetime. There is hurt in those large brown eyes, but pride too. And gratitude. As the shock and bitterness about Anselmo's tragic death recedes, George says he feels fortunate to have known a love that he summed up in the song Jesus To A Child as: "Heaven sent and heaven stole."

"Going through a lot of pain, personal pain, makes you realise a lot of things," he says quietly. "I see now that everyone has their destiny. I can see the balance in everything. I can look at these things as lessons. I really believe people have their time. I hate the fact that I lost Anselmo but I am still incredibly lucky to have had him in my life."

As a rule, George does not talk to the Press. But through his songs he talks to the public - his work is probably the most autobiographical of any major star. And his last record, Older, was full of references to loving and losing Anselmo. "I made it so clear on that album that I was not going to run away from all the Press reports about Anselmo," he says. George even dedicated Older to the young Brazilian. "Not to put a dedication to him would be ludicrous because so much of it was about him. Bereavement tinges the whole album. It had to be in everything I wrote at the time because I write directly about what has just happened to me. But that period is over."

George's mother, Lesley, died of cancer nine months ago. As he had with Anselmo, George responded to his grief by writing a song, Waltz Away Dreaming. But you sense that he is weary of writing songs about his loved ones who had died. "What am I going to do?" he asks. "Write an album about losing my mum?"

"I can't pretend that I am going to go out and make Wake Me Up Before You Go Go again, but my next album is not going to be a down album. I want to make some great pop music before I get too old. And for it not to be about the pain in my life." At 34, George is getting ready to move fromt he house where he has spent the Nineties. Furniture has been moved out. The big black coffee table that dominated the living-room, groaning under the weight of all his music awards, has already gone. George Michael is also ready to move on from his long years of mourning and get on with the rest of his life. But he says that without the transformation he went through after loving Anselmo Feleppa, he would probably be incapable of moving on. "Without that change, I would have been even more hurt by losing the relationship with him and my mum. If I had been the person I was seven years ago, I think it would have finished me off. I don't even know if I would still be here, to tell the truth. If I had lost him and lost my mother and still been as inward-looking as I was, I don't know how I would have survived. I am not suggesting that I would have slit my wrists. I just think I would have come out of the end of it being incredibly damaged."

To get to George's home you have to walk down a long and winding private road. But when you get to the end, you find he lives in a modern house largely made of glass. To me, someone who has known him for over 12 years, this seems typical of George - he is a very private man yet he lives in a glass house. He desperately wants his own space yet there is also something that compels him to bare his soul to the world. As we roast in front of the fire, Hippy his golden labrador sprawled on her back between us, George casually mentions that Older was written during a period when he was smoking huge quantities of cannabis. "It was around 25 joints a day. Older was pretty much recorded on cannabis. Who knows what you would have got out of me if you had come round then? I wasn't drinking at the time - basically because I was too stoned." George is on longer smoking dope and even his cigarette intake is down. He says he is going to be making a lot of music in 1998 and he wants to start getting strong. Six long years passed between Older and the previous George Michael record. And there have been times in the Nineties when I wondered how important making music still was to George. But now it feels like his music is what is keeping him alive. This image of George Michael as Victor Meldrew with designer stubble is a misconception he is keen to correct. "I know some people think I am a miserable old git," he laughs. "I want to show people that though I have had a hard time, I am not a miserable git. I am tired of transmitting pain."

I ask George if he feels that he will ever again find the love that he found with Anselmo. He tells me that he doesn't think in those terms. "I don't think that you lose love when someone dies," he says. "If you have loved, then the love you felt never goes away. It is with you forever."

 

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