Daily Mirror Interview April 12 1999
SUPERSTAR Michael Jackson wept last night as he told The Mirror of his anguish at being branded a child abuser. Speaking publicly for the first time of his private pain, Jacko said: "I'd slit my wrists rather than hurt a child. I could never do that. No-one will ever know how much these wicked rumors have hurt me."
In his first interview with a British newspaper for 20 years, he told of his desperate wish to help the refugee children of Kosovo.
[Jackson], 40, said: "I feel so sad when I see the pictures of those poor kids. It makes me cry every day. I just want to go over there and hug every one of them."
He has dedicated his new record What More Can I Give? to the refugees and will give all profits to victims of Kosovo's ethnic cleansing. He also plans a star-studded video. Harrods boss Mohamed Al Fayed is helping the project. In his candid talk, Jacko told of his joy at being a dad and his love for wife Debbie.
The King of Pop does not give interviews. Michael Jackson does not need to. His astonishing talent has always driven a unique worldwide publicity machine that ensured his status as the biggest star of them all.
But that reclusive silence has had an adverse flip-side. The 40-year-old star has never been able to counter the child-abuse allegations that threatened to wreck his career. He knows a lot of people believe him to be a child molester, a man who seduces and abuses young boys for pleasure.
Yet for years he has said nothing, refusing to go public and reveal himself to the world's media on the record about the issue that has dogged his life. Now he has. With tears streaming down his face, Jackson told me of the terrible pain and hurt he has felt at what he calls "wicked lies and rumors."'
Sitting next to his friend Mohamed Al Fayed at the tycoon's Harrods store in London, Jackson wept uncontrollably as he poured out his anguish about the "evil people who think I could do this thing to children."'
His frankness shocked me. This was not a glib, girlish monosyllabic character hiding behind the famous mask and make-up. This was an intelligent, articulate and mature man. And a man who very clearly bears the emotional scars of a terrible humiliation based on alleged crimes he says he could never commit.
It was a curious and bizarre experience hearing the most famous person on the planet crying his eyes out as he defended himself. I've never been sure either way about Michael Jackson and those claims. The parents said he had
abused their kids, the kids they'd left alone with him for weeks on end despite the rumors – then walked off with millions of dollars for their troubles. How much more convincing they would have been if they had never taken the money, I've always thought.
What is for sure is that if he IS guilty, he hides it extremely well. Having spoken to him for 40 minutes yesterday, I would say he loves children in a way that few ordinary people can ever match or understand. He puts it simply but devastatingly – "If it wasn't for the children…I'd throw in the towel and I'd kill myself."
The tears start to flow as he explains: "I wouldn't care to live without children and without the inspiration they give me. They inspire me in all I do, every song I write, every dance I perform. People try and use that against me and it's just so unfair. I get very upset by it, it breaks my heart."
Jackson wed US nurse Debbie Rowe in November, 1996, after the collapse of his high-profile marriage to Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of rock legend Elvis.
The star is now the proud father of two children of his own – two-year-old Prince Michael, who he has nicknamed Baby Doo-Doo, and one-year-old Paris Michael Katherine, named after the French capital where she was conceived.
His joy at fatherhood is tempered by the knowledge that it hasn't stopped the sneering, the rumors, the nudge-nudge, wink-wink brigade. He says: "I love my children so much. They have changed me and my outlook on life.
"I just wish people would leave me alone to get on with my life. I'm just a person who wants to be honest and do good, make people happy and give them the greatest sense of escapism through the talent God has given me.
"That's where my heart is, that's all I want to do. Just let me share and give, put a smile on people's faces and make their hearts feel happy. To see my kids leaping round the room going mad to my sister Janet's music is just fantastic. It fills my heart with so much joy.
"As soon as Janet's songs with a good beat like The Knowledge or Rhythm Nation come on they both go crazy.
"You'd think a machine is moving them around."' The star starts to rap out his sister's hits to me, using the desk in front of him as a drum. This is definitely one of those Kodak moments for the grandchildren.
He goes on: "I start singing and there's screaming all over the house.
"I start dancing and Prince is all in the way trying to dance with me. "Jackson never plays his own music to his children – "I'm saving that for a surprise when they are a bit older,"' he smiles. He would love them to go into the entertainment world but he's aware of the dangers.
He says: "It's going to be hard for them. When Lisa-Marie wants to sing, people always compare her to her father which is so tough.
"Of course, I'd love them to do something in the arts so I could teach them to sing and dance. But they'd have to want to do that without pressure from me."
Jackson is clearly devoted to his own kids. 'He tells me: "They are staying with a friend of mine who I went to school with. We go back a long way.
"My children are with hers having fun which is great. I call them all the time and we have great conversations. Hearing them say 'Dad! Dad!'' is such a thrill."'
Jackson says he has learned a lot about being a father from Al Fayed, a friend for more than 20 years. The two spent Saturday touring the toy department at Harrods and watching Fayed's team, Fulham, play in Division Two.
Jackson says: "Mohamed is a lovely family man and has been giving me some great tips.
"He tells me to be loving, to take time with the children, not to leave them with anybody and to be with them as much as I can.
"To help them grow and let them know you love them by looking them in the eyes, and saying 'I love you.'' And play, play, play with them."' The singer, who spends £3,000 a day on 24-hour nannies, lives apart from Debbie, 40. But he laughs at suggestions his marriage is a sham. He insists: "I love my wife, and we have a happy marriage.
"Debbie is a nurse who loves her work, who loves taking care of people. Every day she wants to get up and look after others, to help them and make them better.
"That's why I love her, and that's what gives her bliss in life, God bless her."'
Debbie – who met Jackson when she worked as a dermatology nurse and treated him for his skin complaint vitiligo – is on record as saying: "Michael is a doting father. I know the children are safe whenever they're with him."
Further discussion about the marriage is not forthcoming. But again, you are left with a sneaking, dreadful feeling that Jackson might actually be telling the truth. That he might genuinely love his wife after all. They may even, incredibly, have had sex.
Jackson has a deep-rooted distrust of the press based on years of sneering treatment by journalists who, he claims, do not understand him.
He frowns as he sighs: "The press are hard on me, especially in England which is a shame because I love it here and would like to live here one day.
"To give you an example, the last time I was here I flew Mickey and Minnie Mouse from Euro Disney to a hospital in London for the sick kids and took them a load of toys and things to cheer them up. The next day's papers said Wacko Jacko Snubs Sick Children.
"That really hurt me – I tried to help those children but people just wanted to make fun of me. It was cruel and unnecessary."'
Jackson's despair at the way he is treated by the media is nothing to his anguish at the tragic events in Kosovo. The tears readily return as he says "I just want to go to Yugoslavia and hug every one of those children and tell them I love them. The TV footage just breaks my heart. It's just horrifying. I have to turn the set off – it makes me cry every day.
"It's time we did something. It's not enough to turn your head and pretend it doesn't exist. I've written a song for the refugees called What More Can I Give? and I'm going to give all the profits to the Kosovan Albanians.
"I want to do what we did with the people in Africa, get all the celebrities together and sing for those poor families. I'd like to do this in Britain and get the biggest British stars to join me. I want those people to know I love them, that we all love them. They are my family, my children. They desperately need our money now to help them."
Despairing of the world's reaction to Kosovo's plight, he adds: "We are all doing too much sitting back, and reading and watching TV saying how awful it is and not actually doing something about it.
"I'm not into politics and I don't talk about religion. But I think it's totally wrong and ignorant to hurt innocent children over some political or religious issue. It's genocide and ethnic cleansing and it's stupid. It shouldn't be happening."
DIANA CONFIDED IN ME. I TOLD HER:
BE STRONG AND BE DEFIANT. THEN NOBODY CAN HURT YOU
For Princess Diana, only one person in the world truly understood what it was like to be a hunted superstar icon.
Michael Jackson knew because he was perhaps the only bigger star on the planet. The only person who was better known around the globe than our own English Rose.
Now The Mirror can reveal the extraordinary story of how their shared experience of ultimate fame made them first friends and then confidantes.
By the time Diana was killed they were so close that Jackson spent thousands of pounds a month on the phone chatting to and advising her. Which is why the shocking and sudden nature of her death came as a terrible blow to the pop legend.
His eyes brimming with tears, Jackson admitted: "I had a concert on the day the news broke and my doctor woke me up to tell me Diana was dead.
"I literally collapsed, I fainted. He had to give me smelling salts to revive me and I cancelled my show because I simply could not perform.
"I just broke down. I wept and wept for weeks afterwards."
Jackson's grief was made worse by the fact that he was also a friend of Dodi Fayed. "They were a match made in heaven," he says. "I thought they were so beautiful together.
"It was lovely to see them like that. Diana was a wonderful person with such a good heart. She went round the world as a philanthropist just like Mother Teresa. She proved that she really, really cared about people and children especially. The way that I do.
"She used to confide in me. She'd just call me on the phone and we would talk about everything that was happening in her life. The press were hard on her in the same way they were hard on me and she needed to talk to someone who knew exactly what she was going through.
"She felt hunted in the way I've felt hunted. Trapped, if you like. You can't talk about that to your neighbour because how would they ever understand?
"No normal person could possibly understand, could they? I've had that attention since I was a kid, whereas Diana had it suddenly thrust upon her at the age of 19.
"I've had it all my life so I had the experience to tell her how to handle it.
"I just said to her, 'Rise above it all'. I'd tell her how I would go on stage sometimes in the worst pain – either emotionally, or physically with something like a toothache, and I would put whatever it was out of my mind and perform.
"I'd say, 'Be strong and be determined and nobody can hurt you. Only you can hurt yourself – so be defiant'. I think she appreciateed it and got something from my words. I think I was able to comfort her.
"I adored Diana. We talked so many times, much more than people realised.
"When I heard about the paparazzi chasing her, I just thought how lucky I was that it had never happened to me because I've been chased the same way so many times and you always wonder.
"Diana's death was the saddest I've ever felt – it reminded me of when Kennedy died. It broke my heart so much, I just cried and cried."
Jackson has never met Princes William and Harry. But he says: "Diana desperately wanted me to meet her children and we talked about it many times, but I never did get the chance.
"Mohamed talks very highly of the boys. He says they are wonderful and he had some good times on holiday with them and Diana. It would be nice to meet them sometime."
Jackson met Dodi many times in Hollywood, where Mohamed Al Fayed's son made films.
He recalls: "He was wonderful, just wonderful. A really smart, charming guy. It was a terrible tragedy for Mohamed and my heart goes out to him and his family."
The friendship between Jackson and Fayed is a curious one, but understandable when you consider the similarities. Both billionaires, both sneered at by the establishment, both lone fighters against what they see as a hostile world.
Jackson says: "Mohamed has taken a lot of flak in this country, which is so unfair. He is one of the sweetest, kindest men you could ever know.
"The problem is that people judge people before they even know them. To me he is like a big Santa Claus. He loves giving, he's very wise and creative, talented and kind-hearted. Very giving.
"He has taught me a lot and I love learning from him."
Fayed treated Jackson to his first-ever soccer match last Saturday, watching his team Fulham in their battle for promotion from Division Two.
Jackson clearly loved every minute as he was paraded to the fans and watched the first half with his Fulham scarf wrapped around his neck.
"I knew nothing about soccer and I've never been to any sporting event, so it was a great experience for me.
"I'm a soccer fan now, definitely. I'm addicted. It was so exciting and passionate – the fans were like the people who come to my concerts. They were screaming and shouting and cheering their players on.
"I loved it. I wanted to jump up and start dancing because I'm used to performing on stage when I hear all that noise. The fans were great, although they seemed pretty surprised to see me. I have no doubt that Fulham will be promoted, they seemed a really good team with a great spirit.
"I met all the players and they were so kind to me."
Jackson's legendary business brain sprang into action the moment I mentioned Manchester United.
"I don't know them, but I'd love to get involved with one of the big teams if it was right to do so. How much are they?"
I told him the asking price was around six hundred million.
"Dollars or pounds?"
Pounds. There was a long pause.
"That's interesting, very interesting."
I pointed out that it would be a perfect union since Manchester United are supposed to be the most famous name in the world after … Michael Jackson. "I'll have a think about that. It sounds intriguing. I'm astounded by how much I enjoyed the soccer, that's for sure."
Jackson's career has been relatively quiet for the past couple of years, but he is planning a massive end to the century.
I have an album coming out for the Millennium which I'm half way through. It's going to be the best thing I've ever done," he says.
"I'm putting my heart and soul into it because I'm not sure if I'm gonna do another one after this…"
Sorry? Did I hear right? Was the King of Pop quitting? This was an astonishing little titbit. Yes, I did hear right. He is quitting – making solo albums. "This will be my last album, I think. I may do the odd movie soundtrack, but this will be my last proper album.
"I want it to be something that touches the heart and emotions of the world. From a child to older people, from the farmers of Ireland to the lady who scrubs toilets in Harlem.
"I mean I want to reach every demographic I can through the love and joy and simplicity of music."
He is also planning a sensational reunion with his brothers.
"We are doing an album together, it's legitimate and I'm going to do it. I'll play on three songs and produce the rest. It will be fun." How does Michael Jackson unwind I wondered? His answer was astonishing.
"Well, I've stopped being such a recluse now. My friend Elizabeth Taylor has got me out," he says.
"Every Thursday we go to the movies together. She is Godmother to my son Prince and we get on so well.
"I said I could get Warner Brothers to put aside a studio just for us every week to watch films in private, but she forces me out. She's the only person who can get me out in public.
"We walk in, sit down, watch our film and walk out. And every time we leave the audience all stand up and applaud us. It's funny. The last one we saw was Patch Adams which we loved. It was so touching, it made me cry.
"It's a true story about a man who takes the time to make children happy. That's what I'd like to be considered as.
"The Millennium is an appropriate time to change direction.
"I'd like to get more into movies. Mohamed and I are looking to set up a company and do some films together. It's going to be great."
With that the two billionaires both roar with laughter at the mischief and mayhem they may be getting up to in Hollywood.
Michael Jackson is a curious cove, that's for sure. He's definitely odd. Not quite the full ticket, the entire shopping trolley or even the complete picnic. But he's not the nutter I thought he was before I spoke to him.
He speaks confidently and intelligently, admittedly with a liberal sprinkling of the lovey-dovey outpourings you'd expect from him.
He was happy to talk about any issue I raised, and shirked no questions I threw at him.
Most people I know have a pretty dim view of Jackson the man, while remaining massive fans of his music.
I came away from this encounter feeling I may have misjudged the man, that Michael Jackson is not such a wacko after all.