Rob Lamberti, a successful George Michael tribute artist, chats with Kevin Cooper about performing in tight fitting 1980’s Fila shorts, meeting George Michael, singing Wham songs on the rooftop of a Leicester Square building, and his forthcoming George Tour of the UK.

Rob Lamberti has forged a very successful singing career impersonating pop star the late George Michael. Growing up in Scunthorpe with two elder sisters and an elder brother, he was influenced by all genres of music.

Whilst working in Northumberland in 1991 he began singing karaoke; initially singing Simply Red songs. In 1994 he appeared on the television programme, Stars In Their Eyes when he won the show with his impersonation of George Michael.

Having been impersonating George Michael for around twenty seven years, he did think about a career change in 2000 because Michael had lost some of his favour. However, in 2003 Michael released his album, Patience, and he also started touring. This gave Lamberti the impetus to continue.

It was confirmed by Michael’s manager that Michael and Andrew Ridgely attended one of Lamberti’s shows and they were so impressed by his vocals and likeness that in 2007 he was asked to stand in for Michael, who was away touring, to help promote his album 25. Michael was once quoted as saying “People are always mistaking me for Rob Lamberti”.

On his forthcoming tour of the UK Lamberti will be joined by the world renowned National Philharmonic Concert Orchestra as well as original members of the George Michael Band.

Whilst busy rehearsing he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Rob, how are you?

I’m very well Kevin, thanks for asking. How are you today?

I must be totally honest with you and say that I’m great thanks and before we move on let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Not at all, thank you for taking the time to speak to me. It’s the good people like you who are helping me to talk about the show and George (Michael) so no, thank you.

You are very welcome, and I must ask you, just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

As I am getting older, I am finding myself becoming more serious about it (laughter). Let’s just say that I am no longer sleeping in the back of my van (laughter). I really love what I do, and I still can’t believe that I am now twenty-seven years into it, and it still feels great. I enjoy what I do; I have a loving family, I get a hell of a lot of offers of work, but I seriously try not to do too much. If I can do one show in the week and then one or two at the weekend, then that is fine for me. I don’t want to be living this all the time which is the main thing that you have to be careful of. Being one of the legends like George or Freddie (Mercury) you do get a lot of offers of work and I think that you could very easily be swamped by it.

That has actually happened to me a few times, but then you wake up and think ‘I have missed out on this’ or ‘I have missed out on that’ so you really do have to be careful that it doesn’t take over your life. If you look after what you have got, then I feel that you can do it for longer. That is the mentality that I am now adopting. The secret is not to burn out. When George sadly passed away in 2016, the following year I could have been out working every night. However, looking back now, luckily for me, I turned away from the whole scene and turned down a hell of a lot of work. I think that for me that was the right thing to do. I don’t want to be doing this all the time.

Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do but you need to take a step back and then step back in again. In order to find that energy you really do need to step in and out of it. You have to remember that it is an act; you can’t live it. In fact if you were out there doing it all of the time then I honestly believe that you would go crazy.

At the minute you are enjoying what you do but if you continue doing it without a break then it simply becomes a job.

That’s right and for me that is not what it is supposed to be. If it is your job, then it will come across as a job to the audience and they will soon work out that you are not putting your heart and soul into the show. That is never what I do. Once I am out on that stage I am completely in the zone. I am George Michael for that one or two hours. That is what I am trying to put across; George’s looks and sounds, movements, and what he would he do between a song. It’s all of these sorts of things; his movements, putting his glasses back up his nose, you have to do all of that. If you are not into it, or you are tired out, then they are the things that go.

How has the tour gone down?

Well, what can I say; the tour went down really well the first time around. The first time around there were so many tribute acts to George doing the rounds with a small band and maybe a few dancers and things like that but funnily enough I had never ever known George to perform with any dancers (laughter). Whenever I walk out on stage with my show, I have got a large orchestra to my right, a massive band to my left, a total of four backing singers together with some of the band who were actually in George’s band. I sometimes have to pinch myself and ask ‘just how did it get to this’ (laughter).

It has been an amazing transition from me working with backing tracks to then being on a massive stage with a huge audience in front of me, all of them waiting for me to deliver George Michael. The very first show in Cardiff this year, I have to be totally honest with you and tell you that I was terrified. I was more nervous in Cardiff than I was performing on the TV (laughter). It really was crazy. Because I had not done it before at that level, with that number of musicians on the stage. There were thirty musicians up there on stage with me. Just who gets the opportunity to do that? It’s not that far from being George Michael to be fair; it’s crazy. It really is amazing, and it is all going really well.

The Cardiff show went so well that I really do wish that we had carried on with more dates; perhaps one or two a week but the promoter just wanted to try it out saying “if it goes well then we will do it again and carry on” and so that is why we are doing it all over again this year, but this time we will be playing even more shows. I am already getting really excited about it.

Are you happy with the reaction of the audience to the show?

Oh my god, I don’t think that I could ever have asked for anything better. I still have people coming along to my solo shows saying “we came to see you in Birmingham, we have never seen anything like it, in fact you made my wife cry. You were completely amazing”. So people have really gone for it and have bought into the show. I personally feel that when we take the show on the road in May, it will be much more successful and even busier. Last time out, some of the venues weren’t completely sold out. Belfast for example, because they had already had two or three George Michael tribute acts performing there not that long before us; in fact the whole circuit was almost saturated.

However, I now feel that the people who have come along to see our show can see that we have taken it to another level and I think that is what people are now going to notice and hopefully they will be saying “yes, this is the one that we want to see”.

On Tuesday 5th May 2020 you will be performing here in Nottingham at the Royal Concert Hall. What can you tell me about the format of the show?

The format is me performing two one-hour sets. I will be performing what we feel are the best of George’s songs, although having said that, we are going to slightly change things this time around compared to the last time. It goes through all of Georges hits, plus it goes right back to his Wham days, and the show includes hits such as I’m Your Man, Club Tropicana, Fast Love, Faith, and Careless Whisper; I could never not do Careless Whisper. Plus there are a couple of covers in there which George did, like Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me. I could never leave that out, and when we were putting this all together, even across two hours I am thinking ‘we can’t leave that out’.

How could we ever leave A Different Corner out of the set. The simple answer is you can’t, you have got to have that in but then you start thinking ‘we don’t want to make the show too slow;’ the set has to flow. That is why we have made a few changes. The previous tour was going along the lines of ballad, up-tempo, ballad, up-tempo and I personally didn’t feel that it was flowing as well as it could be. So, after a couple of shows we tweaked it and I have to say that it did flow really well. We even cover Outside and George’s trouble with the police when I get to wear my handcuffs and leather gloves which I have to say is a bit of fun (laughter).

So, we do try to do a general mixture of all of George’s songs but there are some that we can’t do, simply because there isn’t enough time. George recorded so much brilliant material, songs such as Older, You Have Been Loved, Jesus To A Child are all fantastic songs but as I have mentioned earlier, if we do too many ballads then there is a danger that the show could become slightly boring and the last thing that I want is for the show to be boring for the audience whilst paying our respects to George the performer, as well as his song writing.

It sounds to me as though you have got all bases covered?

I hope so, I really do. I think that this show will be far better than the last one because I will be much more confident and a bit closer to what it is that I want. I have got so many more ideas for this show which weren’t in the last one. Even though some of the band members were George Michaels musicians, they really respect what I do a lot more now. The team are brilliant and at this moment everything is good. There is not one bad egg amongst them; they are all brilliant musicians, and everybody gets on well together. I have to say that at this moment in time we really are a happy team.

You have mentioned being out there performing in front of an orchestra. How does that make you feel?

That really is something which I never thought that I would do. In my wildest dreams I could never have dreamt that something like this would ever happen. When I have seen the George Michael Symphonica, he did it with a massive orchestra, even bigger than what we are doing. But for me to stand on that stage at the start of the show performing Father Figure, and then looking down to the right and seeing all of the musicians with me together with the orchestra playing along, and they are all looking at me, I’m looking at them, and sometimes one of them will give me a cheeky little smile (laughter). For me it is simply amazing; what a feeling. I really can’t explain it to you if I am honest. Then, when I look forward, I can see the entire audience singing along; it really is a great feeling. I want to do a lot more of that. That is where I am heading for.

You have mentioned the fact that David (Baptiste) and Carlos (Hercules) are on board. Does having them there with you on stage put any extra pressure on you?

I must be honest with you and say that when I first met them I did feel a little nervous, in fact I would go so far as to say that I was absolutely terrified at the thought of meeting them (laughter). However, we had a day in London together with a few other musicians where I recorded six songs and both David and Carlos were absolutely amazing with me. They both said to me “we never thought that we would ever get to perform these songs again with somebody other than George. You really are amazing, well done” and I have to say that just blew me away.

Now please don’t take this the wrong way but looking at you, it was never going to be a tribute to Mick Jagger was it (laughter).

(Laughter) I know where you are coming from; it might have been a tribute to Marti Pellow don’t you think (laughter). I know what you mean; there are definitely some similarities there between George and myself. When I was trying to learn how to sing like George and do the show properly, my singing teacher said that I sounded similar to George because genetically we both looked alike. My dad is Italian, and my mum was English/Irish whilst George’s dad was Greek, and his mum was English/Irish. He went onto say that the mixture of Mediterranean and English/Irish together with the fact that George and I were built similarly that was the reason why we had the similar sort of sounds and vocal tones.

But look wise, yes; I have to agree with you. Back in the early days, when I was a lot younger, I wished that I could grow my stubble a lot stronger because George really was a very hairy guy (laughter). What with the stubble and his lovely thick hair he really did look like a bear (laughter).

Just take a minute to put me at ease and please tell me that we don’t see you in any tight fighting 1980s Fila shorts? (laughter).

(Laughter) not these days but if you had seen me back in 1996, well that was a regular occurrence for me. After I had been on the TV and had taken part in Stars In Their Eyes I was in a group called Wham Duran where we would do six Duran Duran songs and six Wham songs and in that show, I would come running out onto the stage wearing my Fila shorts and my Choose Life t-shirt on, with a shuttle cock down my pants (laughter). I’ve done all that and let me tell you, it was lovely, and I really enjoyed it. However, I couldn’t do it now; I don’t think that it would fit now. George became a little more sophisticated after he left Wham.

Going back to your voice, how on earth did you start out performing as Simply Red?

Whenever I went out and saw a Karaoke machine in the local pub, the catalogue of songs back then was very slim. It was mainly The Beatles and Elvis (Presley) a bit of Elton John, Simply Red’s Holding Back The Years was in there. If you were lucky Faith was in there. I overlooked Faith because in my mind I really thought that I could do Holding Back The Years. And so that is what I used to do. After a while, the guy who was running the Karaoke said to me “in my opinion you sound far more like George Michael than you do Mick Hucknall”. At that time, I was trying my hardest to be like Marti Pellow with a bit of Simply Red thrown in for good measure (laughter).

Looking back, I have often thought ‘why didn’t I try just to be me’. If I could go back now to when I was twenty years of age of course I would say “yes, do this as its great fun but why not try to work with a local band too”. I think that would have been far more interesting and I really do wish that”. Not that I am not appreciative of what I have done and where I am today, but if I could go back, I think that I would go for a bit of originality. The thing is that shows like The X Factor weren’t around then. Still to this day I am not a musician; my voice is my instrument. I have never wanted to be a musician; I have never wanted to be in the business. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being ungrateful, I just sometimes think ‘I wonder if I could have done that’.

You actually got to meet George in person. Just how did that come about?

That’s right, I did. At that time, back in 2006, I was doing a promotional thing for both Sony and George and because of that they gave me tickets to see George at the NEC in Birmingham and when he opened the new Wembley Stadium. When they gave me tickets for the show at the NEC I actually turned up at the NEC dressed like George and I have to tell you that I got completely mobbed and security had to get me out of there (laughter). George’s management were not happy at all, and people were asking “why is George using the toilets out front” (laughter). I can assure them that he wasn’t looking for a policeman (laughter).

After that, when I went to see him at Wembley I just went dressed as me. After the incident at the NEC I thought that it would be best if I dressed down. It was there where I went backstage and met George and his whole entourage. It really was amazing.

Did George ever give you his seal of approval?

Yes, he did, he really did. There was an interview with George in Q Magazine back in 2014 and if you remember at that time, he had that goatee beard that went right down the side of his face. That really was his last look before he passed away. I’ve since been told by someone on the inside that the interviewer kept on ribbing George telling him that he looked like Ringo Starr. During the interview the subject moved onto George and his PR photographs, and the interviewer asked him “do you ever get mistakenly recognised for anyone else” to which George replied “yes, I often get mistaken for Rob Lamberti, he’s a George Michael tribute act” (laughter).

So, George gave me his approval in the interview for Q Magazine which is great, and I still have that. I have also heard that he often used to watch me on YouTube when I was performing as George Michael. In fact, one of the ladies who used to look after George whenever he was on tour would wind him up by constantly playing me on YouTube backstage and in his dressing room (laughter). Apparently, he turned to her and said, “I wasn’t bad that night was I, where were we?” (laughter). The lady burst out laughing and said, “It wasn’t you, it was Rob Lamberti” (laughter). In 2014 I sang at George’s neighbours son’s wedding in the Austrian Alps, and George was scheduled to be there, but something came up and he didn’t make it.

All the crew would constantly be taking the mickey out of George; playing me on YouTube to wind him up but, from what I have been told, George liked it. Apparently, he really enjoyed what I did, and he really did get a lot out of what I did. He loved being impersonated.

I have to say that, in my opinion; you will never be able to beat that quote, will you?

No, not at all; well I don’t think so. I think that if someone is to say something about you along the lines of “I keep being mistaken for the tribute act” then that really is the ultimate for me. I really do think that it is an amazing quote, and I couldn’t believe it at the time when he did that. Let’s be honest, George Michael is up there with Michael Jackson and The Beatles. He really is an absolute legend and to think that he would use someone like me to do PR shows for him then that really is just mind-blowing. I once sang some of George’s songs all dressed up on the rooftop of one of the buildings in Leicester Square and directly underneath me on the building was a huge poster advertising George’s first ever acting role; an American Drama called Elli Stone.

The advert was to let you know that the show was going to be shown on the Syfy channel because none of the majors here had picked it up. So, there I was singing on the roof and beneath me there was this huge poster saying ‘Tonight, Syfy George Michael in Eli Stone’ so even unusual things like that have found their way onto YouTube. It’s crazy really, me on this roof singing a bit of Wham (laughter). What you must remember is that it was George himself who made all of this happen. Absolutely nothing happened without George’s say-so. He wanted that to happen. I have to say that it has been an interesting journey so far and long may it continue. I personally think that it is fate and that these things have happened for a reason, but I am still trying to work that one out (laughter).

Do you feel under any added pressure to keep the George Michael Legend alive?

To some extent I would have to say yes. The thing is I have done it for so long now; what would I do, apart from delivering groceries to someone’s door out of the back of a Waitrose van or something like that. I could never go back and be a building labourer, so what would I do now. So, from that point of view there is most certainly pressure upon me to keep working. I almost feel that there is an emptiness there within the fans, especially within the heavy George Michael fans. They are really into it, and I must be honest and say that some of them really don’t like what people like me do. If you go on my Facebook pages and read the comments from the fans, I really am having to step-up my game all the time.

I am currently learning a new song and the comments that I have received are simply amazing. I am feeling that I have got to get closer to George, closer now than ever. I’m not sure if you would class that as a pressure or not but I do feel that the show has got to be even better than anything that I have ever done. At this moment in time, I feel that it has got to be as though he is doing it.

Have you ever received any feedback on the show from Andrew Ridgely?

I’ve not, no, and to be totally honest with you, I don’t think that Andrew would want to be associated in any way with what it is that I am currently doing. He never wanted to do it with George so I can’t really see him wanting to do something with me but hey, if Andrew would walk out onstage and perform one track with me, then why not. It would be an amazing thing for him to do. I personally think that it would be nice of him to do it; why not. He has just released a great book which was a brilliant read; I absolutely loved it. I honestly thought that it was an amazing book. It took me back to being a kid really. I can remember when my brother used to go out to all these house-parties, similar to what Andrew was talking about, and that is what happened to teenagers back then.

I don’t think that they happen as much now do they? I think that because parents are now spending so much money on their houses, they don’t tend to leave the kids at home alone with the house keys whilst they go away on holiday. However, back then, there was a lot more people who went out to the pubs or clubs leaving the kids at home to do what they wanted. Having said that, I don’t think that happens as much now. For me, if Andrew would come along to one of our shows and simply walk out onto the stage and play something that really would be amazing; a truly amazing thing to happen. I don’t think that it is out of reach. Never say never, but maybe with the interest that he has had in his book, I feel that it is something, at the right venue, that he just might do.

The reason why I asked is that I have photographed and reviewed the Fleetwood Mac tribute band, Rumours of Fleetwood Mac a few times now and at the start of every show they run a clip of Mick Fleetwood giving the band his blessing. I just thought that it would be great if you could get Andrew to do something like that.

Wouldn’t that be amazing? Funnily enough, Andrew has never reached out to me, and to be honest with you, I don’t know what his take is on what it is that I am doing. I honestly feel that because of all the other tributes acts that have done the scene, I think that Andrew was getting drawn into that and at the end of the day he simply sees me as just another George Michael tribute act. However, I now think that the word has gone out as to just how good my show is, and I honestly do believe that Andrew will come along to a couple of the new shows.

When you were growing up, were you a Wham and George Michael fan?

No, I wasn’t a Wham fan, although I can remember seeing them on the likes of Top Of The Pops or on a Saturday morning kids music show with the late Keith Chegwin. But, at that time, I was far more interested in football, and the band Madness (laughter). I was into Madness and football, and I have to say that I wasn’t the slightest bit interested in pop music (laughter). I was more into going down to the local market on a Saturday to buy yet another badge to pin onto my Harrington jacket. At that time, I had a skinhead haircut, wore tight skinny rolled up jeans and a pair of Dr Martins boots (laughter). Thinking about it, why did I have a stud earring in my ear? I have absolutely no idea where that came from.

I don’t think that Madness were into earrings so where the hell did that come from (laughter). So, as you can see, I wasn’t really into Wham at all. I have two older sisters and a brother, so I was really bought up listening to the music that they were into; the likes of Tamla Motown and Northern Soul back in the 70s. So, I can really remember listening to all that sort of stuff, together with Blondie and Spandau Ballet, and then my brother was into Punk, but despite all of that, for some reason I just latched onto Madness. I loved their songs, stuff like Baggy Trousers and Embarrassment. Does it really get any better than that? (Laughter). I didn’t even look outside of the box and I think that, as a northerner, or someone like me who was from Scunthorpe, that was what was going on at the time.

The pop thing that was happening down there in London, I don’t think managed to reach us up there in Scunthorpe. I wonder why I missed out on it all, I don’t know. However, I can clearly remember when Faith came along in 1987, and I was fourteen years old at the time. I can remember thinking, ‘wow, what an image’. At that time, we never spoke about sexuality. Back in 1987 nobody questioned anybody’s sexuality; you were a guy and that was it. So, for me, I thought that George’s image for Faith was absolutely brilliant. A girl who I was going out with at the time bought me a copy of the cassette, and I used to listen to it every day on my Walkman as I biked to school, and that would have been my very first interest in George Michael.

What was really funny was that I had teeth like my dad’s which really were nothing like George’s. However, when I got to fifteen years old, I went out into town in order to have a couple of drinks, illegally of course (laughter). As you most probably know, you could do it back then and get away with it. Anyway, I saw this girl who I quite liked, so I went over to her and tried to chat her up. Little did I know but she already had a boyfriend who promptly came over and proceeded to knock seven shades of shit out of me and in the process, he managed to knock my front teeth out (laughter). He literally broke my nose and knocked my front teeth out. So, I had to have crowns fitted to my teeth and because of that, my teeth are now identical to George Michaels teeth.

So, whenever I say to you that things happened for a reason, all of these little parts of the jigsaw are now finally all fitting into place, which I know will seem to be a very strange thing. But who could have guessed that because I got beat up I would now have teeth like George Michael (laughter). I could never have done this job with my own teeth; it simply wouldn’t have been the same. People will come up to me and say “you’ve had your teeth done”, and I always reply with, “yes, I’ve had my teeth done but not so that I look like George, I will tell you that story another day” (laughter). It really is strange just how these things have turned out really.

Do you have a favourite George Michael song that you perform?

Yes, I have. It is A Different Corner. I think that it is such an emotional ride. I think that whoever that song was written for, it must have hurt him so much, and I really do get a lot out of that song. It’s my mum’s favourite as well so that may be a part of why I like it so much.

I must tell you that I have been looking at some clips of you on YouTube and I have to say that I personally think that you perform Father Figure exceptionally well.

Thank you so much, that is so kind of you to say that. I have to say that I feel that Father Figure really does work for me. Again, it is another one of those songs that I really do fit into. As a singer, the more you sing these songs, the better you understand them, you begin to know and realise exactly where you must go with them. That song seems to fit my vocal range far more than any of the others. I have to tell you that Careless Whisper is one of the most difficult songs that I have to sing, along with Somebody To Love, simply because of George’s falsetto together with his range. If I am performing those two tracks night after night, then I personally feel that those two are the ones that I have to be on whenever I sing them.

What about Last Christmas. Does it have a limited seasonal run?

(Laughter) no, not at all, I sing it all year round (laughter). I will be honest with you; back in 2017 I didn’t do it at all. In 2017 I used to sing it in the middle of July. It really is a brilliant song, and I have always sung it, but when George passed away on Christmas Day, it completely knocked me for six. I couldn’t sing the song for a whole twelve months. Then in 2018 I started singing it again and I have now got back into singing it. I now try to use it as a celebration of George rather than something that will take you back to a sad time. For me, together with a lot of other people, it really was a sad time when George passed away on Christmas Day.

Whenever I start singing Last Christmas, some of the fans at the shows will walk out; they simply cannot handle it. They will shake their heads and tut as if I have sworn at them. However, I have to say that is easing off now as time goes on. Their feelings are healing, but I needed time to heal as well. It really was odd. It really was very strange. But Last Christmas is now most definitely back on the set list. I am also learning December Song which was never as popular as Last Christmas but if you listen to it, I personally feel that it is the better track. But I am now back to singing Last Christmas all year round, simply because it is a brilliant song.

Because George Michael and Wham have a published back catalogue, with no new songs to be released, how do you intend to take the show onto the next level?

That really is a great question. I think that in order for me to take the show onto the next level, I will now start to perform some of the other covers that George did together with a few new songs that I personally feel that if George was still with us, he would have performed those songs. I am going to take the show on a different journey; not changing things too much, but I am going to put a few new songs in there that nobody else will be putting into their shows which I really do feel will be exciting for the fans. That is where I am going to go with the show.

What was the first record that you bought?

That was Embarrassment by Madness.

Who did you first see performing live?

Don’t laugh at this but it was Meatloaf (laughter).

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

December Song by George Michael. It gets to me every time.

On that note Rob, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been delightful. You take care and I will see you in Nottingham.

Thanks Kevin, it’s been my pleasure. Please do make sure that you stop by and say hi at the Royal Concert Hall up there in Nottingham.