Andrew Ridgeley used to be the world’s most famous second banana, as the “why’s he up there, again?” member of Wham! These days, though, he’s utterly content to be a non-banana.
As Ridgeley turns 50 this weekend, the one thing former Wham! fans can be assured of is that any celebration will be private. Any insecurity that may have built up as pop fans joked about his lesser role in Wham! didn’t translate into any lasting need to prove himself artistically or even continue to be any sort of public figure. Ridgeley’s been retired, if not an all-out recluse, since his sole solo album came out 23 years ago. And despite persistent rumors of a one-time Wham! reunion, nothing looks to roust him from his cozy nest in the English countryside.
If Ridgeley has a theme song nowadays, it might be something like “Wake me up before you go-go… into town for a pint of milk.”
Paparazzi in search of “where are they now?” photos occasionally venture to the the North Cornwall coast, where Ridgeley retired to a 15th century farmhouse in the mid-‘90s with his girlfriend, Bananarama member Keren Woodward, and her son. Even more occasionally, photographers return from the village of Wadebridge with a big score: fresh photos of Ridgeley looking tanned and buff but bespectacled and bald, looking for all the world like a very well-kept-up 60-year-old surgeon.
But aside from the fact that Ridgeley has aged much more dramatically than eternally boyish George Michael, there’s not much basis for anyone who felt jealous of his elevated status in the 1980s to enjoy any downfall, as he seems to enjoy a life of spotlight-avoidant leisure as well as an uninterrupted run of domesticity. “'He enjoys the anonymity that he has,” Woodward told the Daily Mail in 2009. “No, he’s not bored at all. He surfs, he plays golf. Our life in Cornwall is really quiet... We go to the pub and no one bothers us. Even when George comes to visit, he isn’t hassled. You can be normal if you choose to be.”
Last year, UK newspapers breathlessly speculated that a Wham! reunion show was in the works. The rumors were edged along by a statement Michael released to announce his “White Light” single, in which he said, “On June 29, it will be 30 years to the day that ‘Wham Rap,’ my first single, written with Andrew Ridgeley (on an afternoon we should have been at school!), entered the charts. To celebrate, I’m releasing my most recent song on the exact anniversary…” But said anniversary went uncommemorated by Ridgeley, unless it was by a quiet round of golf.
Previously, in 2006, there had been apparently better-founded rumors that Ridgeley would join Michael on stage at his Wembley gig to sing on “Careless Whispers”; newspaper ads did, after all, trumpet the appearance of a “Very Special Guest,” and the duo had done their farewell gig at that same stadium in 1986. But Ridgeley reportedly had a “case of nerves” at the last minute that kept him from going on. Now it’s been 27 years since he last appeared on a stage.
After the Wham! split, Ridgeley moved to Monaco and briefly abandoned pop for Formula 3 racing, but gave it up after just a couple of disappointing years.
Michael, certainly, was aware of Ridgeley's then-urge to prove himself. "He was tired of being taken pot shots at as the lucky guy who's kind of coasted along with George Michael," he said in a retrospective Wham! documentary, addressing the rarely avoided elephant in the room.
But Ridgeley's post-racing return to music, 1990’s Son of Albert, curiously found the British moptop sounding like he'd been listening to a lot of American hair-metal. The album was a flop, failing to even chart in the top 75 in his native Britain, as was the single, "Shake." Ridgeley was dropped by Sony, but rather than pursue a new deal, in one of the few examples of learning from failure in the history of popular music, Ridgeley decided to leave well enough alone.
By then, he had met Woodward, with whom he was set up by Michael, who had gone out on a date with the Banarama singer in the mid-‘80s that had (surprise) not resulted in any particular romantic chemistry. As a surfer, he was reportedly first drawn to Cornwall by the nearby waves, but the beauty and seclusion of the sheep-filled countryside soon proved a lure for Ridgeley and his fellow pop-star inamorata.
The one thing that has put Ridgeley even remotely in any kind of spotlight since 1990 is his involvement with an environmentalist organization called Surfers Against Sewage, which he joined after contracting a serious illness from surfing amid polluted waters on the English coast.
This extreme settled-ness is quite a contrast to Ridgeley’s behavior at the height of his fame. In a 1985 profile, People magazine wrote, “It's an understatement to say that Ridgeley's reputation as a hellion precedes him at most of London's night spots. ‘Animal Andy,’ as the British tabloids have dubbed him, regularly makes the papers for displays of drunken excess, perhaps to compensate for all the attention Michael receives. He was asked to leave the post-Live Aid party for being too wild, and days later was seen outside the Hippodrome being sick on the sidewalk.”
As reason for that possible overcompensation, the magazine noted: “The partnership is definitely lopsided—never has been equal, never will be. Michael writes nearly all the material, arranges and sings lead on all the songs and produces all the albums... It's Michael who calls all the shots, takes the raves and gets the girls.”
Obviously, it was eventually Ridgeley who got all the girls… or, after a certain point, the girl. And, when it comes to a peaceful personal life, maybe the last laugh, not just on his pal Michael but a lot of schadenfreude-driven scoffers, too.