Who wants to live forever? Seal talks Freddie Mercury, David Bowie and George Michael

Madonna. Sting. Adele. Beyoncé. Seal. Sealhenry Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel is one in a rarified class of musicians who managed to become a household name minus a surname. 

Seal was not always such a mythical, mononym’d creature. More than 30 years ago, the London-born African parented foster kid was milling around his hometown, singing in local clubs and bars. The breakthrough came in 1990, after Killer, a chance collaboration with house DJ Adamski shot to No. 1.

After signing with Trevor Horn’s ZTT label, the pair promptly re-recorded the song as a Seal record, which peaked at No. 8 on 24 November 1991 — in other words, the day Freddie Mercury died.

Featuring Annie Lennox, Elizabeth Taylor, Elton John and Liza Minnelli, Queen’s Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert For AIDS Awareness at Wembley Stadium in April 1992 was the first of two charity shows I saw Seal guest at (the other being the Produced By Trevor Horn at the neighbouring Arena in 2004). Recently, Seal spoke to Stereogum’s Rachel Brodsky about that era-defining gig, and his love for both Freddie and contemporary George Michael. 

What were your impressions of performing with Queen after Freddie Mercury’s passing? What did that mean to you?

SEAL: [It was] one of the highlights of my career. So many good memories from that. Brian [May] asked me to do it. He said he was a fan and he asked me to do it. I’d been a huge fan of Queen’s. I said, “Yeah, I’d love to do it, Brian. And I’m honoured that you’re asking me. Can I pick a song?” And he said, “Yeah, anything.” I said, “Can I sing Who Wants To Live Forever?” He said, “I couldn’t think of [a more] perfect song.” And so I loved that song. I loved the movie [Highlander], but I loved that song. It just touched me unlike anything I’d heard before.

Here’s a funny story in keeping with the tone of this interview. It was sort of funny and sort of funny-sad at the same time. A few years ago, I was watching a video online of the late George Michael. It was just after he had died. We were watching the video of him singing Somebody To Love, the Queen song. And I went, “Hang on a second. This was familiar to me.” And then sure enough, as the video went on, I see these two figures in the background watching this rehearsal performance of George Michael. These two figures smoking a cigarette, watching, and nodding their heads, talking to each other about how great this performance was — it’s Bowie and I, in the background, just smoking a fag, looking at George do his thing. Singing the pants off that song.

I remember showing it to someone and they said, “Well, two out of three recognisable people in this video are no longer with us. That’s Bowie and George Michael. Maybe don’t get on a plane or do anything like that for the next few weeks.”

So it was kind of a bittersweet memory. I also idolised George, who I had a tremendous amount of respect for, especially when he covered Killer. I thought that was a real courageous thing to do.

Rachel Brodsky

Edited by Steve Pafford

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