Rob Lamberti from Scunthorpe is about to tour singing the songs of George Michael
As he stepped out on the stage at the Cinebar in Harrow, Middlesex, one night in 1997 Rob Lamberti could see the usual crowd.
Wham! fans of all ages who had come to his midweek gig to hear him sing as his idol George Michael, the pop star he had been impersonating with uncanny accuracy since he came third on the television talent show, Stars In Their Eyes in 1994, aged 20.
But as Lamberti worked through his set including the classic hits Faith and Club Tropicana, two men at the back of the club caught his attention.
Wearing a cap and standing by a table near the door he could see the real George Michael along with his sidekick Andrew Ridgeley, the school friend with whom he had formed Wham! in 1981.
“I wasn’t sure how long they had been there but of course as his lookalike I knew for sure it was him,” recalls Lamberti. “The adrenalin took me to another level and gave my performance an ultra-energetic feel. I was thrilled to know that the man I’d been making my career was actually watching what I did.
“When we finished the set I was struggling to tell my friend Simon, who was appearing with me as Andrew Ridgeley. But he hadn’t seen them and he wasn’t sure he believed me.”
It wasn’t until Lamberti met Michael’s manager Andy Stephens ten years later that he confirmed that George Michael had indeed been at the gig that night.
“He told me that George had been at a meeting in Harrow to discuss a new album cover when he saw the poster advertising my tribute concert and pulled in to watch it,” he says.
“He also told me that George had watched lots of my performances on YouTube. He also watched live footage of me in Austria when one of his friend’s sons got married and I was invited to perform at the wedding.”
Rob Lamberti at a gig as George Michael
The idea of a superstar of George Michael’s stature taking even a single moment out of his schedule to watch a lookalike sing his carefully crafted material, much of it so close to his heart, reveals his curiosity over his own image.
And it was a fascination that spilled into a reply that George gave to an interviewer who was teasing him about his new look – at the time rather reminiscent of Ringo Starr.
Asked when was the last time he had been mistaken for someone else, the real George Michael replied: “People are always mistaking me for Robert Lamberti. He’s a George Michael lookalike.”
This spring Lamberti – a former builder’s labourer from Scunthorpe – will close the circle when he appears as George with two members of the late artist’s own band and accompanied by the National Philharmonic Concert Orchestra on the official national tribute tour, George.
With Lamberti on stage will be session musician Carlos Hercules who was George Michael’s drummer from 2006 for six years, and David Baptiste, the saxophonist who toured with George and Wham! in the mid-1980s.
“To think, I will be performing this year with the actual members of George Michael’s band,” says Lamberti. “It’s the biggest thing – a dream come true.”
His tribute act career began in 1993 aged 19 when he joined workmates at a karaoke.
A drink was in the offing for any lad taking the microphone.
Lamberti took to his feet to sing an Eighties Wet Wet Wet hit.
Tonight Matthew I’m going to be… can you guess who?
When he finished, the man operating the karaoke took him to one side.
“You can actually sing, but you sound more like George Michael than Marti Pellow,” he said.
His words changed Lamberti’s life.
Within a year he had come third on Stars In Their Eyes.
In fact, he bears such a resemblance to George that the make-up team on the TV show disguised him before he revealed who he would be impersonating.
His performance won an army of fans and three years later he was working full-time as Britain’s top George Michael tribute artist.
George Michael died unexpectedly at the age of 53
In fact he bears such an uncanny resemblance that in 2007 the record label Sony hired him to do promotional work for one of George’s albums.
With the music legend out of the country and unavailable Lamberti was paid to tour record shops and radio stations, even signing CDs as the music legend.
“Sony contacted me to say they were looking for a lookalike tribute as George was on tour, they were releasing his album 25, and needed to get it to No 1,” says Rob.
“Sony didn’t care what anyone believed. All they were concerned with was sales. I was given a car, security and taken to Leicester Square. The crowd went mental because they thought I was the real George Michael and by lunchtime I’d sold 100,000 copies.”
After the event Lamberti received a letter from Mikey Ellis in Sony’s marketing department saying: “Your performance as George was brilliant and the whole look and sound was fantastic. Your involvement around the London area helped push it to the No1 spot.”
Lamberti said: “From then on, I was invited to his shows and even met George backstage.”
George Michael performed as a solo artist and as part of Wham!
It was during one of these encounters that he was told by the star’s manager about the night George had stopped in Harrow to watch him perform.
Rob was devastated when George died suddenly of natural causes at his home at the age of just 53.
And he was so touched by George’s philanthropic side that he has decided to donate half of his own tour fee to two charities.
“Appearing in concert with George’s former band members is the icing on the cake of my career as George Michael,” he says. “I’ve fulfilled the dream. And he’s inspired me to give away the money. I’ve had a life with no money and a life with a bit of money, so if I can help that’s what I’ll do.”
• George: Celebrating The Songs And Music Of George Michael tours nationwide from April 24. Tickets at flyingmusic.com