As the world’s reaction to news of George Michael’s death at 53 spread on social media, his UAE fans paused to fondly remember the pop legend.
Taher Afridi, 36, a Pakistani who was born and raised in UAE, still recalled dancing to his favourite Michael song, Fast Love, when the pop-star played at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City stadium in December 2008.
“There are many reasons why that concert was a memorable one for me,” he says. “Back in 2008 there were not a lot of things happening in terms of big names coming to play here. George Michael was one of the first and we were waiting for him. The weather was perfect, the crowd was great and we got a big group of friends together and had a lot of fun.”
Afridi, who works in information security, says Michael was a significant part of his childhood. “I grew up with his songs,” he says. “In the 80s and 90s, the radio was our best source of music entertainment and George Michael was a big part of that. His death is a loss for the industry.”
Farida Parekh, public relations manager for the Arabian Radio Network, described the 2008 concert as a highlight of her expat experience.
“He sang all his own hits with Wham and some of the new ones. We had fireworks and everything, and to be honest with you, that was the start of bringing concerts to the UAE,” she says. “It just felt nice to be see concerts here in the UAE instead of flying off to see concerts from your favourite artists.”
Priscilla Shun, 45, a mother of one from Mauritius who called Abu Dhabi for 10 years, was also at the concert, which was Michael’s Middle Eastern debut.
She woke up this morning and was shocked by the news of his death. “It is so sad that he died on Christmas Day and he was so young,” she says. “I am a pretty big fan and have been since I was a teenager when he was in Wham.”
Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go is still one of her favourite songs, as is Michael’s classic Careless Whisper.
“First Bowie, Prince and now George Michael,” Shun continues. “2016 is taking all our memories.”
The fact that this year has been a dismal year for celebrity deaths is a recurring theme on social media since the news of the star’s death broke on Monday morning.
“2016, you just couldn’t let it lie. Another legend taken from us,” writes Alexia Hogland, 31, from the UK on her Facebook page. Hogland was visiting her sister in Abu Dhabi in December 2008 when the pair went to his concert.
“They were saying it was going to be the last concert of his career so I pushed my sister to go,” she recalls. “I don’t remember the specifics of which song he played first but I know we danced all the way through. It was amazing to be in the outdoors and seeing one of my favourite pop stars in a live concert.”
Haytham Imam was also visiting the UAE when Michael performed here.
The 37-year-old now lives in Jordan and was in Dubai at the time visiting friends. When he heard about the gig, he coordinated his visit to the UAE so he could attend. “It was completely worth it,” says Imam. “He put on an amazing show, he even performed some of his songs as remixes, which I loved. I’m Your Man was done over a hip-hop beat at first before he switched back to the original. I loved that; it just showed his talent. He also sang Nina Simone’s Feeling Good at one point — it was brilliant and proved he is the star we all knew him to be. I can’t believe he’s gone.”