As David Campbell begins explaining what George Michael meant to him as a kid growing up, a striking similarity between the two singers quickly emerges.
“What I liked most about George was he started out being seen as one thing, and then had the courage to go through various stages of maturity, always prepared to explore new areas and give it a go,” Campbell says. “There’s no doubt that, artistically speaking, he was a leader in my life.”
“From the bubble gum pop of Wham to the brilliance of albums like Faith and Listen Like Prejudice, and later works like Patience, George changed tack but kept taking us with him. Basically, he was a genius.”
As a man who himself started out as a cabaret singer, later went into musical theatre before taking turns into pop and rock, then becoming a TV stalwart on Today Extra, it’s immediately obvious why the late British music legend was such an inspiration for Campbell.
George Michael was a true pop icon, touring from the '80s all the way up until the late 2000s
It also explains why he was one of the first people to sign on for the George Michael tribute concert, Praying for Time, at the Sydney Opera House in July.
Campbell, 43, is one of the headline stars, along with Diesel, Sam Sparro, Jade MacRae and Brendan Maclean, in the concert, which will be performed with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
George Michael was found dead on Christmas Day at his UK home. An inquest into his death confirmed just weeks ago that the singer died of natural causes. He was 53.
Now that the funeral has taken place, Sydney-based Campbell says it’s time to pay tribute and celebrate the legacy of George Michael and the impact he had on popular music. The singer/songwriter sold over 100 million albums with a catalogue spanning pop, soul and dance.
“This is so important to me as George was someone who seemed to be one of those untouchable gods, just like Bowie and Prince – and then one day they’re gone and far too young,” he says.
“So, we want this concert to be like a flicking through the photos of your mind, with songs that sparks memories of the times of our lives – a particular time, someone you kissed, a mullet you wore!”
While Campbell will not reveal any of the songs he will perform in the concert, he does recall that he performed the song ‘Kissing A Fool’ in his first audition when just out of high school.
“So, who knows – maybe this concert will now point me in a new direction by adding some of George’s songs to my own concert reportoire.”
In the meantime, Campbell has enough commitments – in a variety of directions – to keep him busy. He has been married 11 years to theatre producer Lisa Hewitt, and the couple has three young children.
Campbell’s move from singer and theatre performer to TV presenter on Today Extra five years ago proved a seamless effort, revealing him as a credible anchor and interviewer.
“My wife and I have always been real news heads – we love CNN, SKY and ABC News 24 – observing all the different views and opinions. Today Extra has deeply affected me, as I believe in what we are doing so passionately in looking at and discussing different issues.
“Listen, I’ve been around and seen a lot of things. But my moral compass tells me I need to leave a good legacy behind so my kids in the future can Google my name and not be ashamed by what they find.”
'Faith' is quintessential George Michael – upbeat and unabashed
Having originally risen through the ranks in theatre, also taking care of that legacy is also at the forefront. David and Lisa are on the board of Sydney’s Hayes Theatre, which produces seasons of musicals like the recent sellout hits Cabaret and Calamity Jane.
“We wanted to set up a place where all our creative friends, when between big shows, could work for us on projects we thought would be interesting and would find an audience – and I’m so thrilled that is what’s happened,” he says.
“We’re now at a point where we say, ‘so what else can we do here?’. The second half of this year is looking even better.”
George Michael: Praying For Time Tribute Concert is showing at the Sydney Opera House July 6-8. For bookings visit sydneysymphony.com.
What’s your favourite George Michael song?
Photography: (feature) Kurt Sneddon; (in-text) Slavko Sereda / Shutterstock