George Michael to rock new Wembley

LONDON (Billboard) - When George Michael becomes the first artist to headline at rebuilt Wembley Stadium on Saturday (June 9), he’ll be in new surroundings yet on familiar turf.

British singer George Michael performs during a concert in Bucharest May 31, 2007 as a part of the pop singer's '25 Live' tour, celebrating 25 years of career and promoting his latest album 'Twenty Five'. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel

Michael, born in nearby north London district East Finchley, appeared several times at the “old” Wembley as a solo artist or in pop duo Wham.

“To reopen the stadium,” said Jim Frayling, head of music and new events at venue operator Wembley National Stadium, “we were keen to work with an act who was (emotionally) close to (it). (Michael) has a special history and affinity with the stadium.”

“It was a dream about a year ago and now it’s actually going to happen,” Michael said. “I’m totally in the moment because my London fans are so amazing. They just lift everything because it’s also my hometown.”

The iconic “old” Wembley sports stadium, opened in 1923, was demolished shortly after an August 2000 Bon Jovi show. It staged its first concert in 1972, becoming an increasingly regular stop for major acts during the 1980s and famously hosting Live Aid in 1985.

Bon Jovi was to be the first act at the new Wembley in July 2006, but delays in building postponed the venue’s opening by a year. That show and Robbie Williams concerts relocated to the Milton Keynes Bowl, 50 miles north of London, while two Rolling Stones shows switched to southwest London’s Twickenham Stadium.

Construction delays drove the stadium’s cost to 798 million pounds, but Frayling said that “it’s really hard to put figures” on the cost of the 2006 shows’ relocation. “It cost us,” he suggested, “in terms of money we didn’t make -- it was more lost opportunity than direct losses.”

As recently as April, roofing leaks and seat replacement briefly threatened further postponements, but Frayling declared such hiccups fixed.

The capacity for Michael’s sold-out shows (June 9-10) is 70,000; tickets are 50 pounds, 75 pounds and 100 pounds.

The new stadium -- which offers fans clear sightlines and anti-echo acoustic panelling -- can host 37 nonsporting events annually with capacity of 50,000-80,000, depending on staging. For soccer games, capacity is 90,000.

The 55,000-capacity Twickenham, operated by sporting body the Rugby Football Union, is Wembley’s main London stadium rival. It began hosting concerts in 2003 but is licensed for only five annually. Its 2007 schedule includes Rod Stewart (June 30), Genesis (July 8) and the Police (September 8-9).

RFU stadium director Richard Knight said Genesis and one Police show have already sold out. “This year has shown that Twickenham is very much a viable alternative to Wembley,” he said.

Other confirmed shows this summer at the new Wembley are Muse (June 16-17), the Princess Diana tribute concert (July 1), the U.K. Live Earth concert (July 7) and Metallica (July 8).