Sound of the season: Fionnuala Ward on George Michael and Last Christmas

Sleigh bells, upbeat tune and catchy chorus

The other day, I was walking with a child along one of the corridors of my primary school. This child always has a song on the go and can burst into a spirited rendition at the drop of a hat. Better still, her songs are generally from the 1980s, which is my era entirely.

Out of the blue, she launched into, “My god, I thought you were someone to rely on. Me? I guess I was a shoulder to cry on” and I’m pretty sure I gasped.

Last Christmas is my unironic, unapologetic all-time favourite song. And so I joined in on the spot and the two of us happily sang our hearts out as we wandered down to the yard. It was lunchtime, not lunchtime for everyone, as we have staggered breaks, but definitely lunchtime for some parts of the school so I like to think that our impromptu tribute to George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley – although, let’s be honest here, Wham was all about George Michael – didn’t disturb too many classes. Maybe just that couple at the end.

Last Christmas has it all. I heard somewhere that George Michael actually sat down and figured out what was needed in a Christmas song – sleigh bells, upbeat tune, catchy chorus, that sort of thing. It’s cheesy in the best sense of the word, in a light, squishy, yummy camembert kind of way. And it’s memorable and hummable without wriggling its way into the very core of your being and driving you crazy. And then there’s the video.


The 1980s was when videos for pop songs took off and at the time they were considered modern and edgy and even a little bit dangerous. For the most part they consisted of people in black looking very cross or very tortured. My whole generation sat down in front of the TV every Sunday afternoon to watch Vincent Hanley on MTV USA introduce video after video, while standing in front of the Rockefeller Centre or the Brooklyn Bridge or a stretch of water with the Statue of Liberty shimmering in the distance. It was the simplest of formulas and boy did it work.

Here was this person from RTÉ and also Clonmel, (which I knew because we had relations there), presenting a programme from New York!

And it had videos from Michael Jackson and Bananarama and ZZ Top and yes indeed Wham. And so MTV USA has to have been where I first saw the video to Last Christmas.

The video was, of course, the antithesis to everything else that was out there at the time. In no way saccharine or cloying – after all the whole song is imbued with a sense of loss and betrayal – but encompassing snow and mountains and cable cars and an enormous chalet all the same.

And, most importantly, it also has a bunch of gorgeous people centre-stage. There they are throwing snowballs at each other and decorating a tree together and sitting around a dinner table, laughing and chatting and exchanging meaningful looks.

A few years ago, a gang of us headed over to a ski resort to mark a friend’s 50th. She’d booked a chalet which we all shared and the whole scenario bore such a similarity to the narrative of the video that it was genuinely uncanny. After all, we were all from that Last Christmas generation.

And we definitely got part of the way there, even if the chalet was right smack in the centre of town and not nestled between mountains and those ski lifts-cum-cable cars proved to be a distinctly disconcerting form of transport for those of us not particularly attuned to heights. Still, the essence was there. I’m not sure how George himself felt about the song. At one stage, I went with a friend on an early December evening to see him live in concert. He sang with a full orchestra and I remember thinking that his voice was like velvet, rich and nuanced.

For one of the encores, he announced that he was going do a Wham song and my heart fairly leapt. It was December after all! But he didn’t oblige. Another Wham song got an outing, instead. Fun and frothy but no Last Christmas.

I hope he was proud of the song. It’s a source of great pleasure at this time of the year.

At any time of the year, come to think of it. I’ve put it on in the height of summer and sung along.

And right now, I will continue to sing out those lyrics as I wander along corridors with my crooning buddy, both of us vowing that when it comes to giving our hearts away, this year to save us from tears we’ll give them to someone special (special).