An Oxbridge boffin has conducted some detailed research to establish that 2016 was indeed a significant year for high profile deaths. It really didn't require his statistical analysis to confirm that, but the study sparked more debate about how affected many people have been by the passing of idols and icons over the past twelve months. For some of these deaths I was working on a newsdesk and reading bulletins. Breaking the news of Prince's passing on Virgin Radio I didn't have to manage my emotions, despite being a fan of much of his music. I felt the same when Michael Jackson died in 2009 and I was working at Sky. Only when I got in the car after my shift and started listening to other coverage did I begin to feel sad. Sad though, not overly emotional or upset.
This is how I have felt for almost every high profile death in my adult life. I remember being touched when Labour leader John Smith died and I was shocked at the death of the Princess of Wales (it would have been hard not to be). But I didn't join the subsequent 'outpouring of grief' as we like to call it in news. A year ago when David Bowie died, I was just inspired to download some more of his music and remember what a genius he had been. Other people, either on social media or in person, that seemed grief stricken struck me as over reacting. When George Martin died I criticised those who said it was sad. It would be sad, I argued, if George Martin had died and never come across the Beatles. The fact that he played such a big part in their journey to greatness, should be celebrated. He was 90 years old after all.
In fact, when I heard of people, with no family or close connection to someone, getting tearful by their passing I would be scornful and dismissive. Giles Coren wrote last week about "the sort of (weak-minded, infantilised) person who falls to pieces when a pop star dies". That just sounds nasty and I certainly would not have viewed people mourning the death of Bowie, or any of the other high profile people that died last year, in that way. But I did find it strange. What would make someone feel the need to lay flowers at a famous person's house after their death I wondered.
But Christmas Day 2016 has changed my view. When my wife told me there was breaking news about George Michael, I turned on the BBC News Channel straight away. For 10 minutes I watched, almost in shock as archive pictures rolled and repeated and a phone interview was conducted with a music journalist. Then, suddenly, I burst into tears. Completely unexpected and totally heartfelt. Listening to his music during Boxing Day made me mournfully reflective and when I heard Jesus Like A Child, I was in tears again.
It had me wondering why I was so touched by this particular death. It doesn't take a Freudian knowledge of my psyche to work it out really. I was thirteen when Wham! had their first hit and I bought all their early singles. I loved them. A love that is unique to teenage music fans. That time is formative, a bond you make then often sticks with you for life. That's why for many of us our favourite music year is when we were 13 or 14.
I remained a fan as his career developed, admiring George Michael's soulful voice and I place his solo records Listen Without Prejudice and Older as two of the finest albums of the 1990s. When I met my future wife, we had a shared love of his music (Fast Love was a hit when we first met). His cover of As featured at our wedding party. When we finally got to see him live on his 25 tour, it was a magical night, something I'd been waiting for for years. My first thought when the singer walked onto the Earls Court stage was for my mum, who'd died just weeks before. She was a huge fan and would loved to have been there too. So the personal attachment I felt didn't come from having met him.
These 'connections' to the singer and his music, will have been replicated by thousands of others in similar ways. Effectively he had been part of our lives for 30 years or more. I didn't need to 'know' him to like him and respect him and to feel connected. The likes of Giles Coren argue, that the outpouring of 'love' for these performers is fake sentimentality, in a world when we think it is necessary to display our feelings; share a Twitter thought or a Facebook post for example.
But those that ridicule people genuinely touched by a high profile death miss the point. It's a personal thing. You cannot tell others how they should react. I am not claiming to have been more upset than anyone else; but George Michael's sudden death affected me because he played a part in my life in a way that David Bowie, Prince or George Martin did not. So the next time the Grim Reaper comes calling for a celebrity, I will have sympathy for those that surprise me with their emotions rather than snigger and sneer.