A MAN with strong West Clare links has spoken of his enduring admiration and close working relationship with the late George Michael.
Toby Bourke, who lived in Labasheeda with his wife Alicia and still owns a holiday cottage there, has told The Clare Champion of his admiration for the pop superstar, who died on Christmas Day.
Toby sang with the world-renowned artist on the 1997 single Waltz Away Dreaming, which was the first release by the Aegean record label established by George Michael after he left Sony.
“We first met in 1994, when he was mooting the idea of setting up his own record label. That finally happened in 1996,” Toby explained.
“From about 1996 onwards, I was his direct employee as an artist on his record label. We had that in common but ironically my father-in-law then, from my first marriage, had prostate cancer and was in the room next to Lesley, George’s mum, at Charing Cross Hospital in London. We would be in a recording studio and then at the hospital. After Lesley died, when George left the hospital, Waltz Away Dreaming was on his CD in his car. At that point, he said that was going to be the song that launched his record label. He added a verse to it and that’s how the whole thing happened,” Toby recounted.
Now largely living and working in Dublin and the UK, Toby clearly recalls some of the issues that surrounded George Michael at the height of his fame.
“He was recording the record with me and organising two funerals, the real funeral for his mum and a decoy funeral. That was a difficult thing to do. There were reporters dressed up as doctors, trying to get into the hospital room. That’s what he grew up with,” he reflected.
His links with West Clare are primarily through his wife’s family.
“My wife’s family are the Glynns from Kilrush. We’ve been going to Labasheeda for years and years. We used to live there full-time,” Toby said.
He was stunned when he learned that George Michael had passed away on December 25, aged 53.
“I knew he was struggling but it was a still a massive bolt when I heard it. He was a working-class Cypriot boy from North London. He had the trappings of fame and success but he was never comfortable with it at all. His song Praying for Time is all about that.
“He was a massive talent. I sat in the studio with him and he could play every instrument. He had this prodigious talent but crippling doubt. He wouldn’t do his vocals in a studio with anybody there,” Toby said of his late friend.
By Peter O’Connell