CHRISTMAS is a bittersweet occasion for many.

Regardless of what adverts for retail outlets soundtracked by twee piano covers of pop songs tell us, various factors mean the reality is often far from the picture-perfect ideal we’re sold.

That blend of joy and melancholy means Stay Another Day, Fairytale of New York and The Power of Love will endure long after the lyrics to the latest novelty song about sausages have faded from memory.

Five years ago, Christmas Day ended on a sad note with the confirmation of George Michael’s death.

I’ve got a confession to make. As a moody teenager, I wasted precious years of my youth convincing myself I disliked George Michael’s music.

The 80s smiles and tight shorts era was too cheesy, and the 90s weed and facial hair period a bit Radio 2.

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No, I was all about Real Music, made by Proper Bands. You know, like the Libertines.

These were guys sticking it to The Man, mainly by singing about people called Johnny Flophouse or Scuzzman Jack over out-of-tune guitars while dressing like Topman Beefeaters.

I bought the whole thing hook, line and sinker (without, thankfully, ever actually buying the jacket). Having been born years after the Ramones and Sex Pistols era, this was my punk.

Except it wasn’t punk. Not really.

An infinitely more edgy gesture came a few years earlier, courtesy of George Michael.

In 2021, homophobia is still such a significant presence in British society that not a single professional footballer has felt comfortable enough to come out.

Imagine, then, what the landscape must have been like in 1998. That was the year when he was arrested for “engaging in a lewd act” with an undercover police officer in a Californian public bathroom. The British media’s reaction veered between cruel jokes and hateful scolding.

Instead of retreating into his shell, or in some way submitting to the shame that many believed he should have felt, Michael’s response was defiant and triumphant.

From lyrics hymning the virtues of outdoor shagging to an in-your-face video in which he twirled a baton under disco lights in a public bathroom while dressed as an LAPD officer, everything about his 1998 single Outside was a two-fingered response to those who ridiculed or condemned him.

As Ben Kingsley’s character Don Logan put it in Sexy Beast: “It’s the sheer f***offness of it all.”

Glasgow Times:

Over lush, buoyant disco, Michael wholeheartedly embraced his enjoyment of cruising in a song that received frequent, uncensored airplay.

Maybe radio commissioners genuinely believed the line “I’d service the community, but I already have you see” was about the community service he’d recently carried out.

The song, and its accompanying video, also served a more serious purpose.

Speaking to Attitude magazine in 2004, Michael said: “I know for a fact that when I was 16 or 17, when I started cruising, that watching the ‘Outside’ video would have taken some of the weight off my shoulders.”

It told the people who might shame him that their attempts are futile, and let those who might have felt ashamed know that they had no reason to be.

And, aside from anything else, it remains an absolute banger 23 years on.

Glasgow Times:

It’s one of many in his catalogue, including uber-hits like Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go and underrated gems such as Everything She Wants.

Impossibly handsome and blessed with a voice like the expensive honey from Holland and Barrett, he could easily have coasted while some Stock Aitken Waterman types churned out three-minute hits.

Instead, he became one of Britain’s finest songwriters.

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Put the 10 best George Michael songs up against those of almost any Very Important Guitar Band and he’ll come out on top.

When I was 17, I worked a summer job for a well-known Scottish home improvements company lying to people over the phone about them winning a fully fitted kitchen. When George Michael was 17, he wrote the line “guilty feet have got no rhythm” and one of the most iconic sax solos of all time.

If you’re still not sold on the idea of George Michael as a national treasure, consider the countless acts of generosity that he performed while actively avoiding public recognition.

Long after becoming one of Britain’s most high-profile musicians, he worked in a homeless shelter, made huge annual donations to various charities, phoned Deal or No Deal in secret to pay the £15,000 that a contestant said she needed for IVF treatment and, after overhearing a woman in a cafe crying about debt, wrote a cheque for £25,000 and asked the waitress to hand it over after he’d left.

All life-changing contributions, and all carried out anonymously.

And then there’s Last Christmas. Landing in that same sweet spot of joy and melancholy as those classics from East 17, The Pogues and Frankie Goes To Hollywood, it ensures George Michael will forever be associated with Christmas for happy reasons as well as sad.

George Michael recognised as a genuine national treasure?

Well, I guess it would be nice.

Rest In Power, George.