Sixteen years ago today, Michael Kelland John Hutchence died from what was judged to have been suicide. In a year dominated by the death of Princess Diana, Michael Hutchence’s passing seemed to be an incidental occurence to most. Britain was engulfed in a tidal wave of bereavement for “The People’s Princess” but not me, not until the 22nd of November that year, anyway. This was the passing of the man I wanted to be. Even as I arrive at the age he was when he died, he's the man I'd still love to be. He was the first man I ever looked at that I could actually term "beautiful".
I’ve never been consistent with my heroes, by the the time I was twelve years old, Kermit the frog, Bruce Grobblaar, Michael Laudrup and Michael Hutchence had become the four men I’d tried to model myself on. But there was a distinct difference between the INXS frontman and the rest. Kermit was funny, inimitably charming and most importantly of all, cute and adorable to all women. Even at a young age I could recognise importance of that. I mean, who on earth didn't like Kermit? Bruce Grobbelaar was the clown prince of goalkeepers who to this day remains the most decorated goalkeeper in British football and in my eyes one of the greatest keepers to have graced the English game. And Laudrup was different to other players because he was a footballing Michaelangelo compared to the Neil Buchanans we had playing in 1980’s England. Hutchence wasn’t like any of them though, he was a breed apart. Part man, part rock star, part animal.
I was mesmerized by him. His softly spoken tones when being interviewed clashed with his aggressive, arrogant but smouldering on stage presence. His and INXS’s music has recently been resurrected, if only weakly, through Professor Green’s sampling and Paloma Faith’s cover of “Never Tear Us Apart” and as talented a singer as Faith is, it’s testament to Hutchence that it gets nowhere near the the full resonance of the original. That was his talent as a frontman, bringing his personality to performances and making it literally drip with sexual charisma. He might have moved like Jagger but his voice was far, far superior and just as unique so you always knew it was him singing. Look at INXS attempt at replacing Michael with J.D.Fortune. He certainly sounded like him but there was no way he was ever going to be replicate the same aura that Hutchence exuded.
Please excuse the unfortunate pun here but I never got hung up on the circumstances surrounding his death. Whether he meant to kill himself in room 524 of the Sydney Ritz-Carlton or not is immaterial to me but it's the subsequent death of the mother of his child, Paula Yates, and therein the orphaning of his daughter Heavenly Hiraani Tiger-Lilly is where the real tragedy lies. His death had a domino effect of devastation.
I loved listening to Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry when I was a kid (my Dad’s nickname was Roxy, therefore I was Young Roxy) but it wasn’t until INXS came along that I felt I’d found my own music. “Kick” was the first album I ever bought and it’s probably still my favourite album now. From the moment I first heard Kirk Pengilly break into that riff on “Need You Tonight” and later, watching Hutchence writhing his way shirtless towards camera, I became someone else. I was no longer the kid who worried that I didn’t have the same trainers as most of my friends, I became obsessed with wanting curly shoulder length hair instead. The fact that I was the owner of a regulation short, back and sides didn’t stop me from going into “Redz” my local hairdressers with my mam, armed with a picture of Michael Hutchence and demanding my hair cut like his. I walked out of there with an unnoticeably shorter version of my original cut but with gel scrunched in to make it curly. In short, nothing like Hutchence. I was unaware at the time it would take months of patience and painstaking growth, which I wasn’t prepared for. When I did eventually grow it to a decent length when I was fourteen, I looked more like Screech from ‘Saved By The Bell” than the rock god look I was after.
My quest to look like him continued a few years later when I saw a photograph of Hutchence on holiday in St Tropez looking achingly cool in a black linen shirt and trousers, black sandals and black nail varnish washed across his toes. I thought if he was cool enough to carry that off, so was I, so I went home that night and got my girlfriend to paint my toenails black, to see how it looked and I was chuffed with the results. So happy with the job she’d done, I went to sleep that night confident I could pull it off the next time I was in Gran Canaria or Tenerife. At that moment however, I was in Sunderland not St Tropez. And I wasn’t a rock star but a nineteen year old footballer who forgot to take the toe nail polish off. I proceeded to get changed in front of all my teammates oblivious to why my mate next to me was creased up laughing. “Preecy” he said, “I’ll give you five seconds to put your socks back on and I'll pretend I never saw that or I’m going to tell everyone you’ve got your girlfriend's nail varnish on.”. Acute embarrassment ensued and I put my socks on in under three seconds. I wouldn’t be bothered what anyone said now to be honest but at the time the piss-taking would’ve been nuclear. I saved myself by keeping my socks on in the shower and telling everyone I had a verruca.
Michael Hutchence’s influence on me went beyond music and fashion. Kylie Minogue and Helena Christensen were my teenage crushes so it seemed logical in my mind when he went on to date both of them. Some people might think that I’ve taken my obsession with him too far and perhaps they’re right but in my defence, that fact I have a daughter with a short-haired blonde woman called Paula is pure coincidence. It’s not like I put an ad in the paper looking specifically for a Yates-a-like and I did resist to urge to call her Heavenly Hiraani which I could’ve quite easily have done. Although, when touring round Australia a few years back, I did sit and have a drink at the bar in the hotel where Michael Hutchence died, just to say my own goodbye to the man I wished I was.