George Michael's Freedom: Supermodels recall intimate moments and 'naughty' antics from video shoot
30 October 2020, 09:48
The five biggest supermodels of the 1990's were persuaded by George Michael to appear in his music video for the song 'Freedom! '90'.
The music video for George Michael's 'Freedom! '90' is now renowned as one of the most iconic of its time, and the song celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2020.
Amid his dizzying height of fame and ongoing issues with his record company, George Michael decided he didn't want to be in the video for his new single.
Instead, inspired by a portrait of Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington, and Cindy Crawford on the cover of British Vogue in January 1990, he instead asked the supermodels take his place, with male supermodel John Pearson and photographer Mario Sorrenti stepping in as the lead male roles.
As the 30th anniversary of the iconic video approaches in October, Linda Evangelista remembers taking some persuading before agreeing to appear in it, and it was George himself who ultimately convinced her.
"[George] thought it would make us into a big deal, that it would be good for us. I was like, 'Please, we're here. We've already arrived!'" she says at the time, referring to the the dizzying heights of fame the girls had reached in the early '90s.
But after speaking with the singer, Linda changed her mind and rearranged her schedule, telling Vanity Fair in 2015: "Little did I know that to this day, when someone meets me for the first time, they bring up that video. That's what they remember. So yeah, George was right."
"I think this video struck a chord for so many reasons," Cindy Crawford tells fellow model John Pearson in an article for Mr Feelgood.
"First and foremost was the song itself and the message and declaration of “freedom” for George himself. At the time, I’m not sure I realized the longevity and impact of this video, but obviously, it’s still a favorite."
Shot in an assuming building in Merton, London, the supermodels all arrived to shoot their scenes on different days on the "huge, dark and smoky set", flying in from different parts of the world to take part.
"I came to the set on the first day they were shooting," Naomi Campbell told Harper's Bazaar. "Oh my god, it was crazy! It was during the fashion collections, so I came straight from Paris, and I'd done four or five shows the day before and we finished at 2 o'clock in the morning."
"They didn't have the Eurostar then, so I took the 6 o'clock train to London and then went to the airport. I didn't sleep—I went from the plane to the shower to the set.
"All the models and I knew George Michael—I think I had done a photo shoot with him at some point before." Tatjana Patitz remembers about arriving on set to shoot the video.
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"When I shot my segment it was just me on the sound stage in London...I was up against the wall in this leopard robe.
"The hairdresser did my hair really curly—I was like, are you trying to make me look like I put my fingers in a socket? And then [Director David Fincher] also had me lie on that chaise-lounge and smoke."
"Someone explained to me that my first shot would be in a bathtub," recalls Cindy Crawford.
"They oiled me up and put me in an empty tub with a smoke machine to look like steam. I had to sit on an apple crate because you couldn't see me over the edge of the tub."
"My second shot was sitting on a chair with a towel on my head, and I kept thinking my part wasn't going to be that sexy," says Cindy: "I watched the video recently...and my kids were like, 'Hey, we know that song!' I think it stands the test of time and still looks amazing today."
Christy Turlington remembers the anticipation of arriving to shoot the video in London.
"It was a whirlwind," she said. "I flew in from LA and drove straight to the set, so I was pretty delirious."
"I didn't get the cassette for the song until I arrived. I listened to the track repeatedly the entire drive to the studio. I barely had the lyrics down when we filmed.
“I remember [George] being kind of shy,” she tells Rolling Stone. “He was a person who was certainly in control; his aura. He came in with a baseball hat. He didn’t have an entourage or anything like that. The whole production seemed pretty pared down, in retrospect.”
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"George was there the whole time and very involved. My first shot which was me crawling behind a paper board with a slit cut in it so it only revealed a part of my face. Every time I couldn't remember the words, I ducked down so only my eyes were visible.
"I remember George being incredibly focused and in control of everything, but also fun in the moments when we got to just hang out," Christy said. "By the end of the shoot, I couldn't not hear the song in my head!"
"One of my favorite memories of shooting the video was George explaining to me that I needed to 'lip sync' and not sing along to the track," says Linda Evangelista."I wasn’t quite sure what the difference was! He was such a sweetheart."
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Linda does remember her and George getting up to all sorts of high jinks as darkness fell: "We were a bit naughty off set though as the day went on into late night.."
"For most of the 16-plus hour day, Christy was with us - but better behaved than me and George," she tells V Magazine.
"There was plenty of red wine, lots of laughter, and when the production locked up the wine, George and I managed to break into the locked production office and steal some back for the purpose of 'finishing the shoot,' with George repeating, 'I paid for this! I paid for this!' We became close friends from then on out and would see one another wherever we could."
All the models look back on the video in hindsight and just what an impact it still has on their careers three decades later.
"For me, the effect of appearing in the video was that I was suddenly known outside of the fashion world and in other media that didn’t pertain to fashion. That was incredible," says Linda Evangelista, adding: "Years later, this video—and not my magazine covers—is what people mention the most when they approach me on the street. It's pretty incredible."
Christy Turlington agrees: "The song was an instant classic," she says: "Whenever it gets played in a room I am in, I feel eyes turn on me."
"I remember going through the song with George in his trailer before the shoot and him forgetting some of the words which had us laughing," recalls male supermodel John Pearson in Mr Feelgood. "I think we’d all had a little wine by then!"
John recalls how the video helped make him the most famous male model of his time, saying: "It was probably the most spoken about job of my career. I remember being in a bar in Miami doing a shoot when the premiere came on MTV. I was excited to see the final cut, and wondering if I’d been edited out.
"But then it came on and I was 'singing' the first line ... all the crew around me went crazy. Since then I have never heard a negative thing about it — [the song] seems universally loved."
Reflecting on 'Freedom!' thirty years later, Linda Evangelista says: "Over the years, we stayed in touch and would send one another birthday wishes (mine in May, his in June). I can easily recall all of the craziness we enjoyed together.
"One of my favorite times with Georgie was seeing Prince in concert in London—from the sound booth—and dancing the entire time! Georgie was a dazzling and compassionate soul who I will always remember as he was on the day when we met: with a precocious smile and sense of adventure. Thank you for the love, Georgie."