Highgate Cemetery: Visitor numbers rise as fans turn up asking about George Michael grave
Fans of Wham! star warned that singer's plot is currently off limits
01 June, 2017 — By Richard Osley
VOLUNTEERS and staff at Highgate Cemetery are bracing themselves for a surge in visitors following the burial of George Michael – even though his grave is currently off limits.
Visitors to the historic burial ground have increased from around 67,000 a year in 2013 to more than 82,000 last year, the annual general meeting of the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust was told, with the minutes revealing that chief executive Dr Ian Dungavell had said “more [are] inspected due to interest in George Michael’s grave”.
Fans of the Wham! star, who died on Christmas Day, are warned on the cemetery’s website and at the front door that they will not be able to see his plot during tours of the west cemetery. But Dr Dungavell told the New Journal yesterday (Wednesday) that worldwide publicity after the singer’s death had inevitably led to greater awareness of and interest in the cemetery.
“We have a sign but we are getting people asking at the door,” he said. “At the time of the funeral, Highgate Cemetery was in every news report so there was extra interest, even among people who were not necessarily George Michael fans.”
He said Michael – who had a house in The Grove, Highgate – was being treated like everybody else. “What we normally do is – and we did it for Lucien Freud, who is not far from George – is have a period of time, a respectful period, where the family is allowed to grieve with some private time. This has usually been a year or so, which is often the time when a family will have erected a memorial stone.”
Dr Dungavell added: “It isn’t the time to have a public discussion on when that will be and we will take the lead from the family. In the past we have families who definitely do not want their relative to be on any tour of the cemetery, while others have asked how they can be put on the map in the guide.”
He said that a “well-honed” tour of the west cemetery did not go close to Michael’s grave. The cemetery will, however, be discussing and reviewing the number of people that want to see Michael’s final resting place.
The minutes of the Trust’s AGM published this week added that “consideration was being given to the number of fans who might want to visit George Michael’s grave once the headstone was erected and the implications for the cemetery in accommodating the possible increase in visitor numbers”. A shrine of tributes currently remains in place on a green in Highgate village and there have been calls for a statue to be commissioned there.
Dr Ian Dungavell
An ongoing issue surrounding the cemetery is the different views on how far it should be treated as a visitor attraction alongside its use as a burial ground. Even before Michael’s death, it drew tourists wanting to see the graves of Karl Marx, George Eliot, Michael Faraday, Douglas Adams, Jeremy Beadle and a host of other famous names.
Dr Dungavell said a consultation survey is to be held ahead of a new management and conservation plan for the future. Projects in the pipeline include new signs which advise people that Archway is actually a closer station than Highgate tube, and new access to the cemetery at the Chester Road end with the possible introduction of fob technology for people living nearby to have access.
Highgate ward councillor Sian Berry told a recent council meeting she supported the idea of greater access, which she said could create extra interest in the parade of shops that are supposed to open in the Chester Road and Balmore development. “If people could buzz through the gates, it would increase footfall in the area and help bring more interest in that part of the neighbourhood,” she said, adding that “people who choose to be buried there do so knowing they will buried alongside people whose graves visitors will want to see”.