George Michael: Goring-on-Thames villagers mourn famous resident
- 26 December 2016
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
Singer George Michael, who has died aged 53, was music royalty but valued his privacy. Few fans may be familiar with the quiet village where he died on Christmas Day, but a number of residents have paid their respects.
Goring-on-Thames in Oxfordshire, which is also my home village, has attracted more than its fair share of celebrities over the years, no doubt drawn by its beautiful countryside and proximity to London, as well as the relative anonymity it provides.
But the ripple of excitement more than a decade ago when George Michael moved into his riverside home - where he passed away "peacefully" on Christmas Day- was something different.
At the time, he was said to have wanted to throw a party for all the residents of the village as a way of integrating himself into the community. Though this never happened, it was the talk of the village for days.
While his presence in the village was mostly low-key, he was often seen in the restaurants and pubs - even as recently as last month, as one of his neighbours told me this morning.
He also apparently once got behind the bar at the Miller of Mansfield pub to pull pints, much to the amusement of the regulars.
His detached house, in the centre of the village, became a hive of activity as news of his death spread, with members of the media descending on the property.
Many of the joggers and dog walkers going past on Boxing Day morning had not initially been aware of the singer's death and were shocked to learn what had happened.
He was a man who mostly kept himself to himself, they said. His visits to Goring, which was not his only home, were certainly not treated with any kind of fanfare - and this must have suited George.
Often the only clue he would be present at Christmas was the arrival of the spectacular lights in his garden that could be seen from the river footpath.
He had been at midnight mass at nearby St Thomas of Canterbury church last Christmas, church warden David Beddall said, and his absence this year was noted.
Some had wondered if George was at his Goring home at all, explained Mr Beddall as he went to open up the church early in case anyone wanted to pay respects to the singer.
"I'd occasionally see him," said Mr Beddall. "I think the last time was a few months ago - he had a camera round his neck, and was heading down towards the river to take pictures."
As the morning went on, fans and residents came to leave flowers on the doorstep of George's home, paying tribute to the man and the music.
There was a heart-shaped wreath and candles, along with a pot of flowers bearing the message "rest in peace with the angels" - all underneath the ornate Christmas wreath hung on George's front door.
One woman leaving a bouquet - a Goring resident of 30 years who wanted to be identified only as Victoria - said: "He was the soundtrack to my youth - I'm the same age as him.
"His songs have been there when I got married, and when I had my kids.
"He was an amazing talent and it's just so sad. Because he was here when he died, we felt we had to come down to lay some flowers."
Alex Rowe-Jones, 21, said the only member of his family to have seen George in the village was his grandmother - who did not even realise who the former Wham! singer was.
"I know he'd be seen out and about, and would go into the pubs. Everyone knew him but just let him get on with his life," he said. "It's tragic he's died so young."
Neighbour Michael Mortimer said: "I was absolutely shocked to hear what happened. I'd never met him, though I've been here for 10 years myself. I'd seen flashing lights in the afternoon on Christmas Day, but never connected it with anything."
And a jogger going past remarked: "I'd seen him out with his dogs - he always seemed a nice enough chap. He's just been an ordinary person when he's been here in the village."
Pub's musical tribute
The Catherine Wheel pub in Goring, which George Michael used to visit when staying in the village, was playing his music back-to-back.
One member of staff, herself a fan, said: "In the later years, he was much more private than when he first got here. He used to socialise in the village more then.
"His manager still used to pop in here to pick up takeaways for him though.
"The last time I saw him was about two months ago in the Miller (of Mansfield pub), having dinner.
"We closed about 2pm on Christmas Day. I saw a paramedic and a police car outside his house... never thinking he was dead.
"There were a few people down there last night, to light a candle.
"I think regulars in the village really loved the fact he lived here. But no-one ever took any notice of him. It's Goring - people know not to do that.
"They were proud to have George Michael in Goring. I think people will really miss him."
It was being treated as an ordinary person that no doubt made George embrace his life here, and the way he behaved like any other villager - with no airs and graces, no flashy showbiz parties - that meant he was in turn taken to Goring's heart.
By the end of the day, a mini-shrine had built up outside the front door of George's home, with candles, bouquets of flowers, pictures, teddy bears and cards left as marks of respect.
One of the floral tributes, from one Goring resident to another, read: "We will miss you."