how george michael’s 'freedom! ‘90' video happened

Premier Model Management founder Carole White gives us the scoop on how George Michael's iconic, supermodel-filled 'Freedom! '90' video came to life.

by James Anderson
07 April 2017, 3:36pm

A fashion industry legend, Carole White is the blonde powerhouse who founded Premier Model Management back in 1981. She would later became synonymous with the discovery, nurturing, and celebrification of the supermodel set — including Christy Turlington, Claudia Schiffer, Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, and, of course, Naomi Campbell, who used to call her mom. Carole's friendly yet no-nonsense approach has earned her the affectionate nickname of Aunty Carole from those around her, while her long-established campaigning against racism in the industry commands much respect. In 2011, she became a TV must-watch via Channel 4's documentary series, The Agency, which captured the daily antics at Premier's Covent Garden HQ. Her 2014 autobiography Have I Said Too Much became a best-seller in 2014.

In 1990, when the late George Michael wanted the most famous supermodels of all to appear in his post-Wham! solo career video for the single, "Freedom! '90," directed by David Fincher, he turned to Carole to make it all happen. No doubt she puffed her way through many of her fave menthol Consulate ciggies, as she arranged for the internationally in-demand likes of Naomi, Christy, Cindy, Linda, and Tatjana Patitz — plus hunky male models Mario Sorrenti and John Pearson — to all be in the same place at the same time and star in one of the most memorable pop videos ever. (YouTube currently indicates it's been watched over 40 million times). 

Styling came courtesy of Camilla Nickerson, while the girls' hair was teased into place by Guido Palau, and makeup applied by Carol Brown. Camera-shy George deigned to appear in his own video, preferring the bevy of beauties to lip-synch the lyrics.

Here, Carole tells i-D how she helped to make this fabulously pouting-strutting collision of pop and fashion all magically come together.

Read: Supermodel karaoke — a look back at when the fiercest faces tried to be popstars.

"Kay Beckenham was a top model at Premier and she was BFFs with George. She went everywhere with him. When we were based in Bond Street, George came to the agency many times and always attended my parties. He would come with Boy George, Bryan Adams, Holly from Frankie Goes To Hollywood — such a fantastically indulgent time back then. I got the impression that George was quite shy. It didn't help that everyone was so in awe of him. Nonetheless, he was really kind and we had a great working relationship.

One of my bookers at the time, Becky Peach, was going out with one of George's friends, David Austin, and she mentioned that George wanted to feature the Big Five [supermodels], who were on the Peter Lindbergh Vogue cover, in his next video. Becky invited my brother, Chris, round to hers to meet with George.

I was representing Christy Turlington, Mario Sorrenti, and John Pearson at the time. I didn't represent the others, so I had to talk the agents into letting me book them. This was an amazing project and I put all my energy into getting the girls the gig. I called the agencies every night until they agreed to let me book them. This was before mobile phones, and I had two phone lines at home! Quite archaic, now that I think about it. The agents were more of a hard sell as it was a big deal to book models that I didn't represent, but I pulled it off. The girls were so excited to be part of such a cool project. We didn't manage to get Claudia — her agent was immovable and wanted a higher fee. Claudia called, really angry and upset about missing out on something so iconic, but we told her that her agent had said no! In the end Linda, Tatjana, Naomi, and Cindy all came over to Premier.

The girls were all on a favored nations deal. In other words: they all got paid the same fee for appearing in the video. For once, it was really easy to get everyone to set on time. They were young, it was a fun job, and they really wanted to do it!

I sent my head booker to the set. I was far too busy at the agency, although in hindsight I wish I had gone. I'm sure it was a huge party on set! Of course, George was there — if it was my music video, I'd be on set too! He was so passionate about the project and the video. Clearly his video is all about freedom and the pressures of having to be 'on' all the time.

In the 80s and 90s, it was all about the directors. David Fincher was the king of the music video. Madonna, Gypsy Kings, Aerosmith — his work was everywhere. I knew that we were all working towards something amazing and the reaction was incredible. 'Freedom! '90' was completely new and fresh. The video was so fantastic. Whenever I watch it, I'm so impressed that it hasn't dated one bit. It's visually sublime. I just love that bit of John Pearson swinging upside down! It's clear that 'Freedom! '90' then paved the way for other projects to come to fruition. Like Tarsem Singh's Corsa Car TV commercial with Tatjana Patitz, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Kate Moss, that I produced in 1992. As well as Naomi in Michael Jackson's 'In the Closet,' directed by Herb Ritts.

The models still talk about the 'Freedom! '90' video to this day. It really was a revolutionary moment in fashion and music. It felt very special to be one of the few people in the industry that was part of it. I'm sure the others who weren't part of it were quite jealous! The whole industry was blown away with that video."


Text James Anderson
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