My Friend Michael; The Real Manchild Behind The Mask

posted by Jacqueline

This week a rabbi, a spoon bender and a superstar began a bizarre tour of Britain.

Their friend JONATHAN MARGOLIS joined them: his unique report offers an extraordinary insight into the strange world of Michael Jackson – and he might have witnessed the moment the tortured singer made peace with his father…

The call came at 2am.

They say the only thing worse than a wrong number in the middle of the night is a right number, because it invariably heralds tragedy. In this case, however, a right number in the small hours brought one of the most remarkable opportunities imaginable for a journalist.

‘Would you like to come and meet Michael Jackson off the plane at Heathrow at 9am and spend some of the week with him?’ asked a familiar American voice.

The caller was Shmuley Boteach, my hyperactive rabbi friend who, in one of showbusiness’s more unpredictable couplings, has become pop legend Michael Jackson’s guru, friend – and, last week, partner in founding a children’s charity.

Naturally, I accepted Shmuley’s offer and, hours later, would enter for the second time in a few months the maelstrom that is the life of the 42-year-old singer, once described by Bob Geldof as ‘the most famous man on the planet, God help him’.

Behind the scenes of one of this most extraordinary of celebrity stories, I would find myself doing everything from listening to Michael in his pyjamas putting the finishing touches to his Oxford Union speech, to making him laugh with a joke in the back of his car, to hearing him make one of the most emotional phone calls of his life – while on the Hammersmith flyover in West London.

Michael Jackson was coming to England to launch his US-based charity Heal The Kids, in a speech at Oxford University, and to be best man at paranormalist Uri Geller’s wedding, as thanks to Geller for having introduced Jackson to Shmuley over two years ago.

It had been a tense weekend for Shmuley. Jackson’s long-planned trip was jeopardised at the last minute by his breaking two bones in his foot falling downstairs, then by an airline strike – and finally by a snowstorm in New York.

So it wasn’t just cynics who doubted that the singer would ever make it to Oxford. The rabbi, too, was getting distinctly nervous. He had put almost a year’s work into getting Michael to

speak at Oxford, against advice that the controversial megastar might get a rough reception from the students.

But a few minutes before phoning me, Rabbi Shmuley had received confirmation from America. Michael Jackson was in plaster, in pain and on crutches – but he was also on a flight out of JFK airport.

In November, I had spent a week around Michael in New York for an American magazine article. Now Shmuley wanted me to witness further, by getting me still closer, how Jackson, who this month becomes a UN Special Ambassador for children at the behest of his friend Nelson Mandela among others, is morphing from entertainer into serious world figure – or so his influential supporters hope.

Shmuley has made it his mission to convince the world that the twice-divorced Michael may be unconventional in a host of ways, but is a good-hearted, fundamentally innocent

innocent man whose desire to sensitise adults to the needs of children deserves to be heard.

So now here we were, travelling out to the airport in a minicab.

Michael’s people, a tribe of burly blokes, were already there, of course.

There were the squat, silent, watchful American minders, and the drivers, all English and experienced at whisking celebrities around in convoys of blacked-out Mercedes and people-carriers. There was even a photographer employed to video and photograph Michael’s every move for his personal archive.

Then the travelling party arrived – Jackson’s young manager, his elderly Lebanese doctor, there to look after the star’s bad foot, plus yet more watchful and burly men.

Normally, there would also have been Michael’s children’s nanny, a nice, sensible, middle-aged lady who fusses and cares for the Jackson Two, Prince and sister Paris. (There is, incidentally, no troop of 12 nannies as is often reported – just the one).

Michael’s children (both by his second wife, nurse Debbie Rowe) are an impeccably behaved pair; unspoiled and scarily bright.

Their father had decided for once not to bring them on a trip, because he feared they might be photographed, something he dreads after a childhood of being constantly hunted by paparazzi.

As Michael and his men cleared Customs, the four-car entourage got into position in a public part of the airport, next to people getting out of cars to go on holiday.

To my amazement, Michael was wearing his black silk facemask, an item that hadn’t made an appearance once, either in private or when we went out in New York, or for that matter when I met him in Japan years ago.

Indeed, I have always told people that the mask is another myth, along with the oxygen tent story and rumours of Michael having Prince and Paris’s toys thrown away after one use for fear of germs, both of which I know to be untrue.;col1

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