A Dangerous-tour driver talks about his time with Michael
THE PLANE HOVE in to view and around me, the enormous crowd began to stir. ‘It's him!' called a voice from somewhere deep within the melee. The call was taken up by another fan. 'It's him! It's him!' The excitement was palpable, as more and more members of the crowd took up the chant, 'It's him! It's him! It's Michael! Michael! Michael!'
There were thousands of people mobbing the airport that day in Munich in 1992 as the world's greatest pop star was about to kick off only his second solo tour. And although the crowd was well behaved, there was a kind of feverish anticipation surrounding all of us, me included, as the plane carrying Michael Jackson came in to land. Michael is not only one of the greatest entertainers in the world, but also one of the most mysterious, and we were actually going to see him in person. Little did I know that I was to form a brief friendship with the man himself and get a glimpse behind the scenes of a show business legend.
Back then, though, it was June and the start of Michael's 'Dangerous' tour, a tour that was to break world records and establish him more firmly than ever before as the greatest performer of the age. It was an astonishing endeavour. The first date of the tour was in the Olympic Stadium in Munich on June 27, when Michael performed in front of a sell-out crowd of more than 72,000 people. The tour was scheduled to last a year and a half, finishing in Mexico City in November 1993 and although some of the concerts were cancelled due to Michael's illness, he performed in sixty seven concerts to approximately 3.5 million people. In the course of it he donated all profits to charity, including his ,own Heal the World charitable foundation, and his Bucharest concert was sold to HBO for $20 million. This created another world record, as did the recording: it gained the highest audience on any cable channel- 34 per cent - and won the Cable Ace Award. The staging was phenomenal; it took three days to erect and cargo planes had to fly twenty truckloads of equipment in to each country.
As for me, I was about to embark on one of the most exciting adventures of my career. I was to spend four months as one of Michael's drivers and, as his plane taxied towards the airport building, stopped and was instantly surrounded by a police escort, I could hardly contain myself. Nor could the crowd. The cries of, 'Michael! We love you!' had gathered in crescendo to a deafening roar; it felt as though the ground were shaking. That was as nothing, though, as to when the door of the plane opened and Michael stepped out dressed in his usual military garb and red mask and raised a hand to his fans; the noise the crowd made must have reverberated from every tree in the forests of Bavaria. The security just about managed to contain the ecstatic hordes, but they very nearly had mass hysteria on their hands. I have driven some of the biggest names in the business, but I've never seen anything like the public's reaction to Michael Jackson.
To begin with] didn't have anything to do with Michael personally. I was driving his security men around in the third car of the entourage, while Michael usually travelled in a customised minibus luxuriously kitted out with facilities for eating and sleeping. Right from the start, though, you could tell he was no ordinary superstar. Everywhere we went, roads and traffic were blocked off for his arrival, a police escort drove us through the cities and the crowds went
absolutely wild. We didn't have an escort for our three-strong convoy between the cities, though, which led to one potentially nasty incident.
Michael was in the van and another driver, Stan, and I were following behind in two cars. Suddenly my walkietalkie bleeped. 'Keith,' said Stan, 'what's that coming up behind us l'
I looked in my rear view mirror and at first I saw what looked like a couple of motorcycles. Then a couple of more joined them and a couple more until there were several dozen in pursuit - and it suddenly hit me with a jolt that we were being followed by a gang of forty or fifty German bikers.’I don't like this, Stan,' said in to my walkie-talkie. 'We'd better get the minibus to speed up.'
All three of us put our feet on the accelerators, but the bikers were gaining on us and it wasn't long before we were surrounded. After another minute, they'd got their bikes in between the various cars in an attempt to separate us. The situation was getting pretty frightening. Then my walkietalkie bleeped again. 'What we're going to do is this,' said Stan. 'You go as close to the curb as you can on your side and I'll do the same on the other side. Then we'll come in sharply behind Michael's bus in a V and cut him off from the bikes.' We did exactly that and it worked: the bikers were forced to slow down. They were furious, yelling curses at us, spitting and trying to get in between us all again, but tills time we didn't falter. I kept my car exactly two inches behind Michael's bus and Stan drove exactly two inches behind me until at last the bikers got tired of the chase and turned back to create havoc elsewhere. Michael was asleep at the time; he never knew what had happened.
I still hadn't properly met Michael, though, and it was only because of a near disaster, for which I thought I'd be dismissed, that we actually became friendly. Michael was staying in Rome and wanted to go to Florence to look at a picture he was considering buying. There were something like 2,000 fans in front of the hotel, however, and getting him out of the hotel and on the road would be no easy matter. So his security people formulated a plan. Various cars were stationed at various exits from the hotel, while Michael's official car and police escort was round at the front. The choice of which car to take would be made at the very last minute. Suddenly my walkie-talkie bleeped. 'Keith, it's going to be your car,' said Michael's head of security. 'Get ready. We're coming to you:
I opened the car door and quite suddenly Michael Jackson was beside me. I bundled him and a friend in to the car, while the daughter of the concert promoter got in the front beside me. It took just a couple of seconds for Michael to move between the hotel and the car but in that time he was spotted, screams went up and a moment later the car was surrounded by fans.
There were two security men in front of us: they managed to clear a path between the hysterical bystanders so we could drive off. But just as we were about to move, Michael put his hand on my shoulder. 'Stop!' he cried. 'Someone's taken my friend's hat!'
I stopped, but I wasn't happy. 'It's not safe, Michael,' I said, as the security men frantically waved us on. 'In a crowd like this anything could happen:
1 made to move again. 'Don't go!' cried Michael. 'I want that hat!'
They security men were going ballistic. 'Come on!' yelled one as the crowd roared and surged around us. 'Get going! You've got to move!'
'I'll get you another hat,' said the girl in the seat beside me.
"Please, Michael, we've got to move now.'
Michael finally agreed and so, just as people were beginning to bang on to the car, we moved off. The plan had been to execute a series of right turns to bring us back to the front of the hotel, where we could link up with security, but the traffic was so solid we were forced to turn left in to a one-way street - and we were going the wrong way.
There was no way I could turn round, though, and so, horn blaring and lights flashing, I edged up past the traffic. I then made a few more left turns - and suddenly realized. I was totally lost, to say nothing of the fact that I had Michael Jackson in the back of the car and no security men to protect him. For a while] drove around, but it was no good. There was nothing for it: I was going to have to admit what was wrong. 'I'm lost: I said.
'That's okay,' said Michael in his soft voice. 'What shall we do?'
The girl sitting beside me was not taking things so calmly. 'Get back to the hotel!' she cried. 'You can't drive around Rome with Michael and no security. What if someone recognises him? It could be a calamity!'
She had a point. Michael Jackson is one of the most recognisable people on the planet and the hysteria that surrounds him is such that, even if his fans don't mean to do him any harm, there is a real danger that violence could erupt. Besides, ever since the terrible assassination, of John Lennon in New York in 1980, every star has had to be more cautious. The Beatles might have thought they were bigger than Jesus but Michael was arguably bigger than The Beatles at that point in his career. A swift decision was needed.
'Michael,' I said, 'what do you want me to do? I could head for Florence and we could look for the other cars there?'
Michael hesitated. 'I think we'd better go back to the hotel,' he said eventually and so I turned the car around and we made our way back. Michael was very calm about it, but I thought I could sense that he was getting a little tense. Eventually] found my way back, but now we had a further problem. Michael was lying on the floor of the car when we drove up to the hotel so the fans couldn't see him and mob him, but we were a good 30 feet from the hotel entrance, a path that was blocked by six rows of parked cars, and no security men in sight. 'There's nothing for it, Michael: I said. 'We're going to have to run for it. Get ready.'
The girl beside me went ahead to alert the hotel. ] went round to Michael's door and opened it. Michael leapt out. ] threw one arm around him and used the other to ward off the crowd, who nearly had an attack of hysteria when they realised he was in the car after all. We charged through them at speed, got back through the revolving doors in to the hotel, at which point a guard locked the door - and realised that Michael's friend was trapped outside. 'Let him in!' I screamed and the friend got through just before the crowds closed on the hotel.
I went straight upstairs to my hotel room to pack my bags, because I was sure I’d be sent home after that cockup. A moment later my boss came in. 'What are you doing?' he asked.
'Packing. I'm off home, aren't I!?'
'Are you joking?' asked my boss. 'You got him back in to the hotel safely all on your own; it usually takes up to nine security men. Michael is very relieved to be back and he's talking in a very complimentary way about you.'
And so it was that I began a brief friendship with one of the nicest men I have ever known.
The more I got to know him, the more I realised that although Michael Jackson is a brilliant performer, artist and businessman, it's completely true what people say about him: he lost his childhood and he's never been able to make up for that. Despite his business acumen, there's a strange sort of vulnerability about him, which almost makes you want to hug him and tell him to look after himself - and I say that not as a sentimental man. Michael loves toys and toy shops - wherever we went, allover Europe, if we saw a Toys R Us in any given city, we knew that's where we'd end up later.
While we were m London, Michael paid a Visit to Hamley’s, the famous toy shop on Regent Street, as well as to the Disney shop on the same street. Each shop blacked out its windows so that Michael could look around in private. He spent thousands of pounds on toys; he particularly loves magic sets and he also bought some remote-controlled cars, which he drove up and down the halls in The Dorchester. When we left the shops the whole of the trunk and the back of the car were filled with toys - and apart from a few special ones that he took on with him, they all ended up at children's hospitals, as they did in every city we visited.
Wherever Michael stayed, pinball machines and computer games would be installed in his suite before his arrival. On one occasion he saw a merry-go-round that he liked in a city in Germany, bought it and had it shipped back to his Neverland estate in California. He also had a friend with him on the tour, and having seen the friendship at close hand, I can vouch for the fact that never at any moment was there one tiny signal of impropriety about it.
Everyone knew Michael's friend was with him and everyone accepted it unquestioningly. Our only reservation was that Michael was leaving himself open to innuendo and indeed, that is exactly what happened the following year when it was alleged that he had had improper relationships with young teenagers. It is often forgotten that not one shred of evidence has ever been produced to substantiate those claims.
Having known the man, I didn't believe the allegations then and I don't believe them now. For a start, Michael is such a genuinely nice man that I simply do not believe him capable of the actions of which he's been accused. Secondly, when I was working for him during the 'Dangerous' tour, his attitude towards his friend struck me as simply that of a big brother. He may be a musical genius, but Michael Jackson sometimes has the mentality of a child himself and that is why he loves to play with children. The fact that now that he's got two children of his own - Prince Michael Jackson Jnr and Paris Michael Katherine Jackson - must be the greatest thing in the world for him, because now he can indulge in his love of children's games with his very own offspring.
But despite his enormously likeable and gentle personality, everyone around Michael is frightened of him because of who he is. Michael is aware of this, but doesn't quite know what to do about it. Problems would be reported back to him via Bill Bray his head of security, who has been with him for thirty years, because people just do not dare tell Michael when something has not gone according to plan. It would seem the more famous you are, the more people are scared of you. I can see why they say it's lonely at the top. Bill is one of the few people who isn't scared of Michael and whenever he told him of another case of someone hiding something from him. Michael would say in bewilderment, 'But why doesn't he come and see me himself?' For some reason, though, despite the fact that I was so excited to meet him, I wasn't frightened of him. I treated him normally, which is perhaps why we got on so well.
For a start, he was fascinated by my cockney accent and started trying to mimic it. 'Hello mate, how are you?' he'd say when he got in to the car. 'Hello Michael, how are you?' I'd reply in an attempt at mimicking his own voice -low and very soft - which he would think was great fun.
'Oi, mate!' he'd say. 'Yes Michael?'
'Tell me about cockney rhyming slang.'
So I did. Michael became terribly interested in it for some reason, and got me to start teaching it to him. 'What's the cockney rhyming slang for stairs?' he'd ask.
'Apples and pairs.'
'What's the cockney rhyming slang for suit?' 'Whistle and flute.'
'What's the cockney rhyming slang for cash?' 'Bangers and mash.'
'Oi, mate! That's wild!'
And so it would go on, for hours. Eventually I bought Michael a book about the subject, which he absolutely loved. , 'That's great Keith, thank you so much,' he said when I handed it over. He'd sit in the car going through it for hours, giggling when he came across something he particularly liked. One day, he turned to me and announced: 'I'm sitting in a La-Di-Dah!'
'Come again, Michael?'
'La-Di-Dah,' he pronounced triumphantly, before revealing: 'It's a car!
MICHAEL WAS VERY interested in the cities we visited. When we were actually in situ he tended to stay in his room because he couldn't go anywhere without being mobbed, but when we entered a place for the first time or drove around it on the way to a show, he'd be very intrigued by these countries, which were so different from his own. For some reason, he was particularly taken with Copenhagen. 'Would you like to live here, Keith?' he asked.
'I don't know Michael, I've hardly seen it.'
He mused for a while. Then he announced: 'I want to go to Tivoli Park.'
And so, after he'd done his concerts, we arranged for him to visit Tivoli Park, Copenhagen's foremost amusement park, on the last day of his stay. The visit was to be on a Sunday and the arrangements were very hush-hush because we didn't want to attract the usual hordes that surround Michael wherever he goes. We planned to smuggle him in at a side entrance and spend an afternoon there. Michael was extremely excited by the whole thing.
His excitement turned to shock and then disappointment when we got there, though, because the side gate through which he was to slip in opened to reveal banks of photographers, cheerleaders and a band. His first inclination was to turn back and it took us a good fifteen minutes to persuade him to go in after all, but once there he began to enjoy himself. 1 drove him from one ride to the next - he couldn't walk between them because he'd be mobbed - and his reactions were like those of an excited child. 'Wow, that was fantastic!' he'd say on re-entering the car. '1 loved that!' He enjoyed the ride on which you were whirled round in buckets so much that he insisted on going on it twice and asked me to come on it with him, too.
'I can't Michael, I've got to watch the car,' I'd tell him. "Aw, Keith, you're no fun!'
As ever, though, it took no time at all for word to get around that Michael Jackson was in the park and crowds soon began to gather. Michael reluctantly decided after an hour that he'd have to leave rather than spending the whole afternoon there as planned, so instead we got a local driver to take us to the city's military and souvenir shops. Michael loved those. He spent about two hours in one of them, buying up more of the bright uniforms he so loves to wear.
It was Michael's birthday during the tour and we held a birthday party for him in the grounds of his hotel in Frankfurt. We had a barbecue and people relaxed on the sunny lawn as we serenaded him with 'Happy Birthday'. Michael didn't come to the barbecue himself, because every time he was in public, he'd be besieged by fans, but someone took a birthday cake up to his room instead. 'That's really nice,' said Michael, and he came out on to his balcony and shared the cake with members of the adoring public.
By the time we went back to Germany - to Hamburg Michael and I were getting on better than ever. By this time I, like the rest of the crew, had acquired my own mini fan club - three girls: an Italian, a German and a Spaniard. The Italian was called Claudia, the German was Greta and the Spaniard was Anna. In Hamburg, we'd sometimes take a boat out together for an hour, when I wasn't ensconced in 'the hotel.
Back at the hotel, I was still taking liberties that other people just wouldn't dare risk. One day I went for a swim but found two of Michael's security men guarding the door to the pool. I realised Michael was in there and turned to go, but the men waved me in.
I went in. Michael's friend and his family were swimming in the pool, while Michael walked round the edge, wearing a pair of earphones. He lifted a hand in acknowledgement of my presence, after which, on his next, circuit of the pool, I pretended I was going to push him in. At first Michael looked a little shocked, but after a moment he found it absolutely hilarious. He was in stitches. He continued his walk, but kept looking at me and making pushing movements. I should think that I was the first person to behave like that with Michael Jackson for very many years.
I must admit, I also played a few jokes. Michael had four adjoining rooms on the first floor of the hotel and I had the fifth (not adjoining.) The fans always discovered which suite Michael was staying in and would wait outside, hoping for a glimpse of him. Occasionally Michael would pull the curtains back and look out, which would prompt a roar of acknowledgement from the crowd. So I bought a pair of white gloves, one of Michael's trademark items of clothing at the time, and I would occasionally twitch my own curtain back, standing well away from the window so that only my hands could be seen. The fans didn't know that the last room wasn't Michael's, and so I too got my own roar of acknowledgement - even if it was actually meant for someone else.
The 'Dangerous' tour occasionally lived up to its name, particularly in Romania. Michael flew in to Bucharest, but three of us were required to drive the three main cars across country to meet him there. We were told to make sure the cars were full of bags of crisps, bottles of water, Coke and so on, because whenever a car stopped, it would be immediately surrounded by the locals. This turned out to be absolutely true. At one point I stopped at a garage (which turned out to have no petrol) and people appeared literally out of nowhere. They were swarming round the car and only went away after I'd thrown packets of peanuts out of the window. The same thing happened when I stopped at a railway junction - 1'd had to stop as there were no gates, no lights and no indication as to whether a train was coming or not.
The next problem was petrol: there wasn't any. The other two drivers and I found every garage we stopped at was empty and the three of us somehow coasted in to Bucharest running on empty. There we found that petrol stations attracted the most enormous queues in which you had to wait, literally, for hours. It is common practice in Bucharest to hire someone for the day to queue for you, which means that you could go off and do a full day's work and come back to find that your car, hopefully, is ready.
Because we were with Michael, the police escorted us to the front of the queue, which didn't go down too well with the locals, and a little girl came to fill my car up. She looked so sweet that I handed her a signed picture of Michael. Her little face completely lit up as she looked at the picture: it was as if 1'd given her a bag full of gold. After a moment, she handed it back. 'No, no,' I said, 'it's for you.' She looked at me quite wonderingly and carefully stashed the picture away.
Michael was staying at Snagov Lake Palace, the summer residence of President Nicolae Ceausescu before he was killed in 1989. Ceausescu might have fallen but a state of lawlessness remained: there were two buildings in the palace compound and we were told to drive between them rather than walk between them. We were also told not to go in to the grounds after dark. The place was overrun with armed guards - actually teenage boys waving machine guns - and there was a real fear that one might suddenly get trigger happy.
It was a strange set-up. The next day I asked the head of security where I could wash my car: 'Come with me,' he answered. He took me to a compound filled with scruffy young men who, I realised after a moment, were army convicts. They cleaned the car for me, but in the course of doing so, I had to open the boot for them. It was filled with water, Pepsi, crisps, peanuts ... The look on their faces was one of absolute amazement to see such abundance inside the car and I felt so sorry for them that I didn't try to stop them when a few cans and packets rapidly vanished.
Michael's enormous humanity was most obviously on display when he made a $1 million donation to a Romanian orphanage called Orphanage Number One. The plight of Romanian orphans, many of whom had either been abandoned or were HIV positive, had been in the news a great deal recently. Michael had been extremely distressed when he had seen pictures of the suffering, and so he decided to make a donation as a way to help.
The day before his visit, I went to see the orphanage and was met on the steps by Richard Young, a well-known paparazzo. A six-year-old boy had latched on to him and was carrying his bags around, while around us, workmen were whitewashing the walls in readiness for Michael's visit. 'Come on, I'll show you around,' Richard said to me.
'I'm not too sure I can take it,' I told him.
'We won't go to the bad bits,' Richard assured me and so we went in. It was very distressing. In a room with thirty or forty cots, the first thing you noticed was the absolute silence. Even when you spoke directly to the babies and tried to amuse them, they would merely stare at you with blank eyes. I couldn't take it after a short time and was forced to leave.
The next day it was time for Michael's visit. The palace was about a thirty-minute journey outside Bucharest, but we had no trouble to begin with: we' bad twenty or thirty police motorbikes escorting us and at least ten cars. All the junctions had been blocked off in readiness. We roared in to the city to cheering crowds with a highly excited Michael in the back, but as we got close to the orphanage the crowds were so great that the car was forced to slow down to a snail's pace. A couple of the policemen were then knocked off their bikes; they promptly whirled round and started beating the crowd with truncheons.
'Why ate they doing that?' asked Michael, unable to believe his eyes.
They need to clear the road,' I replied.
'But there's no need to do that,' he insisted. He was by now angry and upset and if there had been any way of him getting out of the car and putting a stop to the violence, I am absolutely sure he would have done. We later learned that the crowd was about 40,000 strong.
Once inside the orphanage Michael spent a couple of hours looking around and although very moved by the suffering he saw there, he was very pleased that he was able to make the donation. He later told me that he hadn't realised what an enormous gesture this would seem to the Romanian people, who; I believe, talk about it to this day.
And then, of course, there were the concerts. Capacity was supposed to be 60,000 but there must have been twice as many people as that present. Michael put on his usual brilliant show, but what stood out for me was the backstage catering arrangements. All the food was kept in cages - and standing over it was an armed guard.
On our final day, something very special happened.
Michael's people arranged for several hundred soldiers and policemen to gather in a park inside the town. Then Michael arrived. The troops, some on horseback, started marching with Michael at their head: after a minute Michael broke in to a run as the troops marched on, completely straight faced. And so for the next couple of hours Michael walked, talked, ran and danced around the marching troops in one of the most enjoyable sessions I have ever seen on a tour. The day was made for me when he danced past where I was standing and gave me a little wave.
Michael was extremely generous to everyone on the tour, and there were over one hundred of us. In Munich there's a large theme park called Europa Park and Michael booked it one evening for the whole party. He and his friend came along too; the theme was Western style, with a saloon bar and ranches, and they went on all the rides along with the rest of us. Characters from Disneyland wandered amongst us, talking to us and making a fuss of Michael.
Michael always made sure everyone was very well looked after. Although he didn't eat when he was there, dinner was laid out for all of the rest of us. He would sometimes mingle with us in other places, as well, as long as he was sure he wouldn't be mobbed. In Germany we once stayed in a large house rather than a hotel, which was memorable because it "featured a miniature bowling alley. Because we were the only people staying there, Michael felt able to come down to the bar and say hello to everyone, although unlike the rest of us, he didn't partake of the famous and delicious German beer.
Michael was far more tolerant of our normal human frailties than most people would have been. In Scotland, he stayed in a house, while we stayed in a hotel about a mile, away - a hotel that proved to be totally inadequate. We asked if we could move to another hotel and Michael agreed. While the move was taking place, we were asked to the house in which Michael was staying, where food and drink were laid out for us, along with playing cards and other entertainments. The drink flowed rapidly, with the result that when a call came from Michael's room at about 10 p.m. saying that he wanted one of us to go out and collect some Kentucky Fried Chicken, not one of us was in a fit state to do so. 'Look at you lot: said an aide. 'You're his drivers and none of you are capable of driving.' Michael took the whole episode in very good heart, though, and sanctioned a mini cab to go out for his late-night snack.
Before the start of every concert, Michael would have an audience with the local children. He was very friendly to them: he'd answer questions, sign autographs and pose for photographs with his young fans. The children absolutely loved it - they were as excited as anyone else about meeting Michael Jackson. When we returned to London, my children - Michael, five, and four-year-old Sheryl - were invited to the meeting and were wildly excited at the prospect.
In the event, the concert was cancelled because Michael had a sore throat, with the result that his audience with the children was cancelled, too. My children were bitterly disappointed but understood that these things do happen. Another member of the crew, however, found out that my kids had been desperate to meet him and were dreadfully upset to have missed out. I didn't know that Michael knew anything about it until he came up to me one day with two signed pictures of himself. 'I know this doesn't compensate for the meeting being cancelled, but at least it's something,' he said, as he handed them over. I looked at the photographs and on them he'd written 'To Michael, love Michael Jackson; and 'To Sheryl, love Michael Jackson.' I was particularly touched by this, as Michael usually just puts 'Michael Jackson' on his photographs - and only very rarely a personal message.
When he was travelling longer distances, Michael would usually go by plane or on the Orient Express, depending which one he felt like taking, while the rest of us would drive our cars to each new destination. This happened towards the end of my leg of the tour when Michael was performing in Istanbul when sadly I was never able to say goodbye.
Michael was going to be flying in to the city, while I drove a Mercedes behind his customised minibus through Turkey, and it was while I was on my way to the country's capital that I had the first indication that Turkey wasn't going to be like the other countries we'd driven through. A car came up behind me and carved up both me and the minibus, so I chased him down the road to show he couldn't get away with that kind of behaviour. Suddenly the car stopped and a man jumped out: I did likewise to have a word with him. Just as suddenly, the man pulled a gun on me. I got back in to the van and it was the last time I gave chase to any car in Turkey.
Once we got to Istanbul we all met up with Michael and settled down in to the hotel, where we lived in our usual luxury: food set out for -us at all times, beautiful rooms and so on. However, Michael wasn't at all well and after much deliberation, it was decided he shouldn't do the show, but return to London to recuperate instead. I drove him to the airport and had some trouble with the police en route: one car tried to force me off the road, assuming, no doubt, that it would be a great coup to cause trouble for Michael Jackson, while others were cutting me up. It was a nasty experience: my windscreen was smashed and it was with some relief that I got Michael to the plane. Michael never says very much on these occasions, but he was plainly relieved to be leaving ..
Initially the concerts were merely postponed until Michael felt better and it wasn't common knowledge that he'd actually left the country. After a couple of days, though, it became apparent that Michael still wasn't better and the concerts were to be cancelled all together. This presented us with a problem. Turkey is a beautiful country but, as I had already discovered, life is rougher there than it is in Western Europe. I wasn't the only one to make this discovery and so there was concern about how the promoters would react when they discovered that Michael had gone and wasn't coming back.
Ultimately and, I believe, wisely, we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and that it would be best for us all to leave before the official announcement was made. Michael's party started trickling out of the hotel in dribs and drabs and we ferried people in relays to the airport. After that was done, we had to get ourselves and the cars out of the country and so we ended up racing through Turkey in three blacked-out Mercedes. It was lucky they were good cars, because the police tried to stop us on a number of occasions, and in each case we got away simply by outspeeding them.
We were still nervous even after crossing the border in to Greece but by the time we made it back to Western Europe our nerves were gone and life returned to normal. Shortly after that I was reunited with my family and the four and a half months I spent on the road with Michael seemed like just a dream.
In the course of those months, Michael did forty-one concerts and I saw every single one of them. The openings were the most amazing stagecraft I have ever seen - and I've seen just about everyone. There would be a dramatic burst of music, which would build up in intensity along with flashbacks of Michael throughout the years. Then the lights would go down, the music would become increasingly frenzied and the stage would suddenly explode in fireworks as Michael himself exploded out of the floor from a 'toaster', something that made headlines all over the world. The crowd would go absolutely wild. Michael would stand absolutely still for as much as a minute - and it takes an inordinate amount of charisma to be able to stand on stage alone holding a crowd of thousands - then he would suddenly turn and hold his pose for another minute as the crowds erupted again. At the end of the concerts, he would leave wearing a jet pack - another world first.
And so that was my time with Michael Jackson: a musical genius, a truly kind and nice man and, for a very short time, a friend. I'm so glad for him that he has children of his own now and I wish him nothing but happiness in the future. And as for his music and his performances, I can only quote what someone else said in a very different context - baby, you're the best.
I met a couple of other members of the family over the years and to be honest, they aren't a patch on Michael. The first was Latoya, his younger sister, whom I met off Concorde with her then husband and manager, Jack Gordon. Of course, I recognised Latoya immediately and even if I hadn't, it would have been obvious she was a star. Latoya absolutely loves the attention she gets and was playing the crowds for all she was worth: fluttering her eyelashes, wiggling around, putting on and taking off sunglasses and generally acting the star. Jack was struggling behind her with the suitcases so I went over to him: 'Mr Gordon,' I said, 'let me help.'
It immediately turned out that I had made a mistake in Jack Gordon's book in talking to him without holding up a name board, as is the usual practice. He looked at me in a wary manner. 'Have we met before?' he said in a tone that could easily have served as an ice pick.
'No sir, we haven't. But since you're standing right behind a member of the Jackson family, whom I recognised as I have seen approximately 18,243 pictures of her in the newspapers and I knew she was married to her manager and that that manager was called Jack Gordon, it's a fairly obvious assumption that you would be he. And I was correct, was I not? You are that Jack Gordon? And you are accompanying Latoya Jackson, who has an even more famous brother called Michael with whom I recently spent a few months and who has more courtesy in his little fingernail than you have just shown? Now I will drive you in to London, as I am being paid to do. And might I add that your wife is wearing far too much make-up.'
Actually, I said nothing of the sort. I just picked up their bags and got on with it. But I certainly thought it.
I also met Germaine (LOL) Jackson - extremely briefly - when I was called to meet him and his family at the Conrad Hotel in Chelsea. Germaine came across as a decent man, and polite with it. He and his family had just been eating and offered me a sandwich, which I gratefully accepted as you can go for hours and sometimes even days without eating in this job.
The family then went to their rooms to change, while I want to wait outside. And so I waited. And waited. And waited ... Finally, over two hours later, a minion appeared. 'Sorry about this,' he said, 'but they've decided not to go out after all.'
'Couldn't someone have told me?’
'They, er, forgot you were here,' said the minion and went back inside. Oh well, I thought, thanks for the sandwich ...