It’s almost 40 years since Wham! rolled into Saas Fee to film the Last Christmas video which still fills our TV screens, with the song itself going back into the top 10, every December.
Though we know the video well and you can still visit the places it was filmed, how did it come to be made in the beautiful Swiss ski village?
Credit goes mostly to Beat Anhamatten, the former director of the Grand-Hotel Walliserhof, who convinced the film crew that at 1800m, surrounded by thirteen 14,000m peaks, car-free Saas-Fee would have the snow and magical atmosphere they needed for the perfect Christmas film, earlier in the autumn. Due to these facts Beat Anthamatten managed to convince location scouts who were particularly looking for a snowy winter landscape.
Once things started moving, an available chalet had to be found at short notice. However, as the producers preferred an interior with a fireplace, the interior and exterior shots were not shot in the same chalet and the material had to be transported back and forth.
During the video shoot, the 40-member crew also came into contact with the local population from time to time and four decades on many of the older Saas-Fee locals still have anecdotes to recount about the visit of the late, great George Michael and the Wham! crew.
Martin Beutler for one, the current leaseholder of the Hotel Marmotte in Saas-Fee, was astonished to find George Michael, Wham! and the whole crew appear in his studio in early December 1984.
The story goes that interior shots for the Last Christmas video clip were filmed in an empty apartment, which unfortunately they forgot to heat it before the shoot. So George Michael and his crew soon got cold and as locals knew that Martin’s basement studio nearby was never locked, they made themselves comfortable.
“Everyone was very friendly, including George,” says Martin.
Another story is that George Michael was reported to have arrived in the car-free village with just moccasins on his feet, not realising he’s need to walk through deep snow at time.
The people of Saas-Fee apparently found it particularly amusing that the young pop star arrived in the depths of winter wearing just summer moccasins. But George apparently insisted on keeping his summer shoes on as long as there was no filming going on.
In the first scene of the Last Christmas video, George meets his friends and together they take the cable car to go skiing. The lift shown is the station of the Felskinnbahn lift, where Charly Schmidt was the lift driver, appearing in the clip.
Charly admits he had no idea who Wham! were at the time and as neither he nor his colleague spoke English, they couldn’t talk to George or the rest of the crew to ask. Charly finally saw the video 10 to 12 years later.
“In the 80s it was not common to own a TV. Nobody had English channels. We had no idea the clip would be so successful,” he laughs today.
Wham! and the entire crew stayed at the Hotel Walliserhof – today’s Walliserhof Grand-Hotel & Spa during the production of the music video. The suite in which George Michael stayed at the time has been renamed the George Michael Suite and has been furnished with some memorabilia. Depending on availability, the suite is open for booking.
During filming, Wham! lost the brooch that George gives to his ex-girlfriend in the video – drama ensued. The crew was completely freaked out and the entire hotel staff at the Walliserhof had to help search for it. Everything was turned upside down, every pillow turned over, every inch of carpet searched. Finally, a porter found the brooch in the snow outside the hotel.
Saas Fee still remembers Wham!’s visit very fondly and over the years have held many different celebrations and activities related to the video, including Wham! Walks, with guided tours of locations; the chance to rent the chalet in the video, various musical events, re-creating the video and of curse the chance to stay in George Michael’s suite in the Walliserhof.