The George I loved and lost: Kenny Goss was the superstar’s partner for 13 years but was branded a gold-digger when he sued his estate. Now in an exclusive interview with BARBARA MCMAHON he sets the record straight and shares some painful home truths
- After George Michael died, Kenny Goss went to pay his respects to his father
- Former Wham! frontman had died unexpectedly at age of 53 on Christmas Day
- George had had a complicated relationship with his father, Kyriacos Panayiotou
Several weeks after George Michael died, plunging millions of his fans around the world into shock and mourning, his former lover and close friend Kenny Goss went to pay his respects to George’s grieving father at his home in Hertfordshire.
The former Wham! frontman and global superstar, with the notoriously turbulent private life, had died unexpectedly at the age of 53 on Christmas Day 2016, and his body was still in the custody of the coroner.
Kenny, whose romantic relationship with the star lasted for 13 years, might have reasonably wondered what reception he would get when he arrived on the doorstep.
After all, by many accounts, George had had a complicated relationship with his father, Greek Cypriot restaurateur Kyriacos Panayiotou, known as Jack, who, it was claimed, had never accepted his son’s homosexuality.
But what Kenny encountered that day warmed him to his heart. ‘When he opened the door, Jack was bawling. He was very, very emotional and kept saying over and over that he’d lost his son. He said: “He’d be alive if he was still with you,” ’ remembers Kenny.
‘He pulled me into his arms and, at one point, George’s sister Melanie tried to lighten the atmosphere, saying, “OK, you can let go now, you guys”. Families are complicated but there’s no doubt in my mind that George’s father loved him deeply and came to accept George for who he was.’
Interest in the much-loved singer-songwriter, who sold 130 million records globally, has been rekindled recently following the release of a new book and two films about his extraordinary life and career.
Several weeks after George Michael died, plunging millions of his fans around the world into shock and mourning, his former lover and close friend Kenny Goss went to pay his respects to George’s grieving father at his home in Hertfordshire
There’s the biography George Michael: A Life by music writer James Gavin and the documentary George Michael: Portrait of an Artist by former Wham! manager Simon Napier-Bell, plus the authorised film Freedom Uncut, which was released at the end of June, compiled by his childhood friend David Austin, and contains hours of unseen home footage and interviews with famous friends such as Elton John and Kate Moss.
But Kenny, now 63, was with the superstar longer than anyone else and arguably knew him better than anyone.
In his first wide-ranging interview, he gives new insight into the star’s life and shares photographs of him that have never been seen before — showing George at his happiest and most relaxed.
We meet at Kenny’s 3,000 sq ft penthouse apartment on the 18th floor of a high-rise tower in the upmarket neighbourhood of Highland Park in Dallas, Texas, which is testament to the other great love of his life — contemporary art.
Many fans were shocked when Kenny launched a legal action to secure a settlement from George’s estimated £97 million estate, according to documents released last year at the High Court in London.
Kenny had sued the estate, it was claimed, under the Inheritance (Provisions for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, which allows those who were previously financially dependent on someone to claim from their estate if they are left out of the will.
Kenny, whose romantic relationship with the star lasted for 13 years, might have reasonably wondered what reception he would get when he arrived on the doorstep
Claims of bitter in-fighting with George’s family and that Kenny was demanding $15,000 a month are untrue, he says.
‘I went from being long-suffering Kenny who put up with George’s infidelities to being called a money-hungry gigolo who was trying to take money from George’s family,’ he says. ‘It was hurtful and false.
‘I haven’t done anything wrong. I gave up my career at George’s request and, at 63, I’m not likely to get a full-time job again. George wanted me to be settled financially.’
One of Kenny’s legal team said: ‘Any issues Mr Goss had with respect to the estate were resolved amicably and satisfactorily.’
The luxurious flat in Dallas would suggest Kenny emerged from the case financially secure.
The apartment is full of art. In the gleaming white kitchen, there are three limited- edition Tracey Emin ‘foundlings and fledglings’ teapots sitting on the marble counter, alongside a picture of a tree signed by Paul McCartney’s photographer daughter Mary.
There’s also a copy of Nigella Lawson’s 2007 book Nigella Express, which she had signed for George even though neither of them cooked, points out Kenny.
At the same time, the love the two once shared, is still very much in evidence within these walls, in the few, poignant reminders of George — a stylish black-and-white photograph of the singer playing guitar taken by Chris Cuffaro and a large-scale and endearing picture of the singer aged six or seven in a cowboy costume.
In Kenny’s walk-in wardrobe, there are photographs of George kissing Meg, a Labrador puppy that he bought Kenny as a gift for his birthday in 2001 — along with a Range Rover.
‘I keep these pictures in here where its private, because I don’t want the house to be a George Michael brag-a-thon,’ says Kenny.
The pair met in LA in May 1996 but the story that George spread — that that’d started a conversation as they waited in line for seats at a restaurant — was made up, according to Kenny. They’d actually met at a day spa called the Beverly Hot Springs, and the story about the restaurant queue ‘was George’s idea because he was worried that people would think he was cruising,’ says Kenny.
Interest in the much-loved singer-songwriter, who sold 130 million records globally, has been rekindled recently following the release of a new book and two films about his extraordinary life and career
George, at that point, was 33 but still hadn’t come out publicly. The pair were soon madly — and secretly — in love and, within two weeks, George had presented Kenny with matching rings, with Love Conquers All inscribed in Latin.
One of the reasons Kenny thinks the singer chose him is because George knew that his mother Lesley, whom he adored and who died of cancer the following year, would think him suitable.
‘I had good manners, I had a job and George wanted his mother to see him in a stable relationship so that she didn’t have to worry about Aids,’ says Kenny. ‘I met his mother only three or four times before she died but she was lovely to me. I called her “Ma’am” and I called his dad “Sir”, which George said he loved.
As the partner of one of the world’s biggest pop stars, Kenny had a front-row seat to George’s rollercoaster showbiz life. There were trips around the world and to George’s homes including Chez Nobby, the house he bought in St Tropez.
For the first seven years of their 13-year relationship, Kenny juggled his position as George’s partner with his job in the U.S. as head of a team of 200 sales reps for a cheerleading supplies company.
One day, he says, George had had enough of him shuttling between time zones. ‘He said: “Look, you don’t need to work, we have plenty of money.” He wanted me to be around all the time, to be at home when he came back late from the studio, and to look after the dogs. So, I quit.
But Kenny, now 63, was with the superstar longer than anyone else and arguably knew him better than anyone (George pictured with Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley)
‘Looking back, it was the wrong thing to do. I ate a lot of nice meals, drank a lot of martinis at Claridge’s and became a bit of a party boy.
‘George was always in the studio, so I’d pass the time going to the gym, tidying the house and walking the dogs. But I didn’t want to be Mrs George Michael — it wasn’t my personality.’ Six months later, on a break at the luxurious Aman hotel in Morocco, George finally lost his temper with Kenny.
‘It was a real dressing down,’ he recalls. ‘In that very direct and brutally honest way of his, he asked me what I was doing with my life. He said: “You have to do something and give back.”
‘It brought me to my senses and motivated me to show him what I could do.’
After successfully raising funds for the Terrence Higgins Trust, Kenny had the idea of blending his love of art with philanthropy. Within six months, the Goss-Michael Foundation was established in Dallas, Kenny’s hometown, which the couple launched with a splashy party. ‘George was proud of what I’d done and bragged about it all the time,’ says Kenny. ‘He loved coming to Dallas because he could be relatively anonymous here. He even started saying “y’all”.’
Both men had addiction problems — Kenny with alcohol and George with drugs. Towards the end of the pop star’s life, it was claimed the singer was using crack cocaine, ecstasy and smoking as many as 25 joints a day. Kenny says he flushed George’s drugs down the toilet when he found them.
George’s promiscuity was a constant source of worry, too. It was no secret the pair had an open relationship, ‘but it was also no secret that he was much more open than me,’ says Kenny.
The pair met in LA in May 1996 but the story that George spread — that that’d started a conversation as they waited in line for seats at a restaurant — was made up, according to Kenny
In fact, George was forced to finally go public with his sexuality in 1998 when he was arrested for lewd behaviour after propositioning an undercover policeman in a Beverly Hills public toilet.
‘He came out so late, and he was proud of being gay, so he jumped into it with full force,’ says Kenny. ‘I worried to death about him and I know he hated hurting me.
‘A group of us tried to stage an intervention but he told us to f*** off, saying: “I’m living my life”. It was a scary time, but I didn’t judge him. I just wanted him to be OK.
‘When he got arrested in Beverly Hills, he said to me: “Thank God my mother’s not here to see this.”’
There were good moments, too, which Kenny treasures. Although he was adored for his good looks by both men and women, the singer was self-conscious about his appearance, according to Kenny.
‘He felt he could never get his hair right because it was so luxuriant. I can’t tell you how many hairdryers were thrown across rooms around the world,’ Kenny laughs.
By 2009, their relationship had petered out. ‘There was no big falling out — we never shouted at each other or anything like that — but he’d met Fadi Fawaz (the Australian former hairdresser who discovered George’s body) and I guess he decided it was time to say that it was over.
‘Our romantic life was over, but the love was still there. He gave me full title to our houses in Dallas and LA — he took care of me. George never quibbled about money.’
There were rumours that George might have taken his own life the day before Christmas, on the anniversary of his beloved mother Lesley’s birthday, but Kenny discounts this. ‘I think his body was just worn out,’ he comments.
For the first seven years of their 13-year relationship, Kenny juggled his position as George’s partner with his job in the U.S. as head of a team of 200 sales reps for a cheerleading supplies company
George’s funeral, which eventually took place three months after a coroner ruled that the singer died of heart and liver disease, was a small and private affair, as requested by his family.
‘It was a Greek Orthodox ceremony with a priest and incense and chanting . . . it was very beautiful,’ says Kenny. ‘George’s eldest sister Yioda brought me up to the front at the cemetery, which was a lovely and thoughtful thing to do.
Fadi, he remembers, almost didn’t make the ceremony. ‘I know he was late enough that they were about to lock the church doors and he didn’t come to the wake afterwards,’ he shrugs.
There were only about 40 people at the funeral, meaning many friends of George’s such as Elton John could not say their goodbyes.
‘It was low key and private, which was what the family wanted. I remember thinking that George was at peace now,’ adds Kenny.
And now he is devoting his time to that side of his life that had made George proud.
The non-profit Goss-Michael Foundation — which provides a forum for British and American contemporary art and has partnered with organisations such as MTV to raise millions of dollars for causes such as domestic violence, food poverty and LGBTQ issues — has been in hibernation during Covid. Now Kenny is ready to get back to business.
‘Covid’s given us a chance to step back and re-boot, so we can continue the work George wanted us to do by doing more projects online and partnering with other galleries to educate, raise money and inspire people.’
Kenny says he still thinks about George every day and it’s mostly happy memories. His last conversation with George was on the phone about a month before he died.
‘He had just got his driving licence back and he was on good form. I had no sense that this would be the last time I talked to him.
‘I always closed our conversations with words to the effect that he should remember that many people, including me, loved him and he said: “I know, darling”.’
They are words he will treasure for ever.
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