They sang with Wham! and launched a successful career on their own, but where are Pepsi and Shirlie now…is it giving you a heartache?
by Christopher Smith
Two friends – Helen ‘Pepsi’ DeMacque (born 1958) and Shirlie Holliman (born 1962) – together they were the biggest selling backing vocalists of the 1980’s. Shirlie’s original partner Dee C. Lee (born 1961) left the partnership to join The Style Council and would eventaully marry lead singer Paul Weller. They met Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou and Andrew Ridgley in late 1981 and formed the group Wham! The girls provided backing vocals on their first single “Young Guns (Go For It)” in October 1982, reaching No.3 in the UK.
They continued their ‘partnership’ with the boys on the single “Club Tropicana” the following July, which reached No.4 in the UK and “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” in May 1984 which topped the UK chart as well as in eleven other countries worldwide.
More success came with “Freedom” in August 1984 (UK No.1, US No.3) and “Last Christmas” in December 1984, the biggest selling No.2 record in British chart history.
By 1985 Panayiotou (George Michael) was recording material for himself and it seemed the group was coming to an end, despite more continued success as a duo with global hits from “I’m Your Man” to “The Edge Of Heaven”.
1986 would see the group finish and Michael begin recording for his debut album “Faith” (1987) . But what of Pepsi and Shirlie? On 5th January 1987 they released their debut single as an independent duo, “Heartache”. The song became a huge hit across the world reaching the top ten in more than a dozen countries including the UK where it made No.2. It also charted in the US where it made No.2 on the dance chart and No.78 on the singles chart.
This was followed by “Goodbye Stranger” which followed “Heartache” into the UK top ten as well as in Ireland, Switzerland and Belgium. Their debut album “All Right Now” was released in the Summer of 1987 and made No.69 in the UK and No.133 in the US.
The hits dried up after that, with subsequent releases “Can’t Give Me Love” and the title track of the album failing to reach the top 40 in the UK. They returned in 1989 with new singles “What’s Going On Inside Your Head?” and “Who’s Gonna Catch You (When You Fall)?” which charted in the lower depths of the singles chart across Europe and beyond. In 1991 George Michael produced the lead single from their second studio album “Change”, “Someday” which stalled at No.46 in the UK.
‘Pepsi’ married and has lived in such glamourous locations as St. Lucia, New Zealand and Norwich(!) Her nephew Cesar Sampson represented Austria in the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest. Shirlie married Spandau Ballet guitarist and singer Martin Kemp. They have two children, with Mum and daughter Harley appearing in the video for The Spice Girls hit single “Mama”.
Pepsi and Shirlie reunited in 2000 to provide backing vocals on Spice Girl Geri Halliwell’s No.1 hit “Bag It Up”. They also toured the UK in 2011 as part of the hugely successful Here And Now annual summer gigs bringing back many of the most successful and best loved acts from the 1980’s.
They took to the stage once more in February 2017, along with Andrew Ridgley, at the Brit Awards to pay an emotional tribute to George Michael, who had been found dead on Christmas day 2016.
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