Hundreds of devoted fans gathered at a party in central London on Friday night to pay tribute to George Michael, after the double Grammy-award winning singer died on Christmas Day.
With a live band playing the ex-Wham! singer’s hits in the backdrop, fans young and old thronged the dancefloor of Soho’s Tropicana Beach Club, its name inspired by the 1983 Wham! single “Club Tropicana.”
“We had originally planned the event for Thursday with about 50 to 100 people,” said club manager Anthony Knight
“However we had thousands of messages and calls from fans begging us to change it to the weekend so they had time to travel in,” he said, adding that people had travelled in from Greece, Italy, Vienna, Germany and the United States to attend.
As barmen in straw hats poured drinks for the partygoers in booths with thatched roofing, a cohort of muscular men wearing nothing but shiny red boxers and George Michael masks made their way through the crowd, posing for the occasional selfie.
“I’d much rather be here saying ‘I can’t believe George just won an Oscar’ or ‘George just did this’,” said the event’s compere Julian Bennett, who was a friend of the late singer.
“I think we go through life thinking people are indestructible, but unfortunately they’re not and 2016 is proof of that.”
In one dedicated corner of the club, fans stuck sticky notes of tribute to the “Careless Whisper” singer on a wall.
“Childhood soundtrack, foundation of friendships, lonely days, joyful dances, cheesy sing alongs – all scream George. Lovely, genuine, funny man of ours. Lots of love,” one note read.
Amrit Sagoo, 40, dressed in the uniform of a policeman was among the early entrants to the club.
“As a gay man growing up around a lot of straight men, listening to George Michael gave me a sense of release,” he said.
“In my deepest, loneliest of times, his music was a source of comfort to me.”
While entry to the party was free for guests, donations were collected in aid of three charities the 53-year-old singer supported – Childline, the Terrence Higgins Trust, and Macmillan Cancer Support.
“He was a philantropist at the end of the day,” said Bennett.
“What we have to be careful about is that all the bad stuff is going to come out as well, but I think that’s just part and parcel of being in the public eye.”
The cause of Michael’s death is still unclear after an initial autopsy and more tests are needed, British police have said.
In the mid-1980s, Wham! were one of the most successful pop duos with singles such as ”Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”, ”Last Christmas”, and “The Edge of Heaven” before Michael embarked on a solo career.
(Reporting by Helena Williams, additional reporting and writing by Ritvik Carvalho; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)