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Wham!’s Pepsi and Shirlie dish on wild times with George Michael in new book

As backing singers with Wham!, Pepsi and Shirlie joined George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley on their meteoric rise to fame, touring the world performing some of the biggest hits of the 1980s.

Wham! would sell more than 30 million records, with chart toppers such as Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go in 1984 and I’m Your Man in 1985.

But in the early days their success took Pepsi Demacque-Crockett and Shirlie Holliman’s families by surprise.

Pepsi, 62, says: “It took a while for the penny to drop. My mother was oblivious. I’d say to my brother, ‘Get mum to watch Top of the Pops tonight’.”



Helen ‘Pepsi’ Demacque, George Michael, Andrew Ridgeley and Shirlie Holliman on stage in 1985
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Pepsi, real name Helen, now lives in Saint Lucia with her husband James Crockett, but is back in the UK to promote the memoir she and Shirlie have written about their years with Wham!.

She joined in 1983, replacing Dee C, Lee, and Shirlie remembers picking Pepsi up in her Ford Cortina to meet the band.

She says: “Pepsi had this tomboy energy I liked. She didn’t try too hard, she was really laid back, very cool, unimpressed by us.”

Pepsi chips in: “I was actually impressed by them, really impressed. I thought Shirlie was the coolest and I was conscious of the fact she really wanted me to be comfortable.

“Meeting George and Andrew, they were doing exactly the same thing.



Pepsi and Shirlie have written a book together
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They looked back on their wild times in Wham!




“This was the Wham! way. I couldn’t help falling into this ball of fun and energy and feeling part of something different and historic.”

By the end of 1983, after hits with Bad Boys and Club Tropicana, Wham! were pop sensations, living the dream, but Pepsi and Shirlie managed to keep their feet on the ground.

Shirlie says: “I lived on a council estate and a limousine would come up our road. All the kids would run to the car, I would get out and my mum would be beaming and waving at everyone.

“You’d go on tour and tour managers would ask what you’d like in your room to eat and drink. We were so sweet, we were like, ‘Crisps, Coca-Cola’.

“It was a very innocent time of experiencing fame. I just felt so lucky to be touring England and then the world. It was like a free holiday constantly.”

But it was hard work and they often turned down invites to fancy bashes after gigs.



Pepsi and Shirlie with her husband Martin Kemp




Pepsi says: “It’s really hard work, coming off stage you’re all sweaty. It seems very glamorous on the outside, cameras going, waving to the fans but Shirlie would be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got to have a shower, put make-up on, what are we going to wear?’

“We’d look at each other and go, ‘No, I think we’ll go back to the room’.”

Wham! fans were so desperate to get a message to George or Andrew on stage that Pepsi jokingly called herself and Shirlie a “pop postal service”.

She says: “I can’t even describe to you the decibel of screaming. We’re talking about hysteria to the point of concern.

“The fans were always so adorable and are still our fans now.” Some admirers were pretty well known themselves, including Liza Minnelli, who paid a visit to their dressing room before the start of a concert in Miami. Shirlie says: “I love Liza Minnelli, she’s an icon and she was exactly how you would imagine.



The girls in 1985
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“She was going, ‘Oh girls, are you gonna warm up?’ The next minute she’s kicking her legs up high.

“At one point I was thinking, ‘Is she going to put my jacket on, lock me in the cupboard and go on stage?’.”

Wham! performed a farewell concert at Wembley Stadium in June 1986. Pepsi and Shirlie then became a pop duo, with hits including Heartache, and George became a solo mega-star.

Shirlie had gone to school with George and Andrew and was close to George, who helped her get together with her husband, Spandau Ballet idol Martin Kemp. When Martin was diagnosed with two brain tumours in 1995, George found a brain surgeon who could save him.

George visited Shirlie weeks before his death on Christmas Day, 2016. In the book, she tells how she asked him if he had enjoyed his life and liked being famous and he said “yes”.

Shirlie, who has a daughter Harley, 32, and son Roman, 28, with Martin, says: “I knew George as a friend way before Wham!, way before fame.



Shirlie and George chatting with a pal
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“He was adorable and his sense of humour, he could laugh at himself. It was his empathy and his wit.

“To be that compassionate but that hilarious was a beautiful combination.”

Pepsi, who now runs a sailing charter company, teamed up with Shirlie and Andrew to pay tribute to George at the Brit Awards in 2017. Pepsi says she has a sense George is “wishing them well” as they promote their book.

She says: “I’m quite emotional actually. I’ve been walking into the hotel foyer and every time one of George’s songs comes on. I think he’s got his fairy dust on our book, wishing us well.”

Shirlie adds: “When you meet Wham! or Pepsi and Shirlie fans, you think, ‘Wow, I was actually part of that.”

Pepsi says: “I feel really proud of the fact I can look back on so many fond memories. It’s tainted with sadness, but that’s life.”

* Pepsi & Shirlie: It’s All in Black and White by Pepsi Demacque-Crockett and Shirlie Kemp, published by Welbeck, £20.


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