My 2009 Jackson Odyssey

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Before the beginning of this year I had never been within a continent of any member of the Jackson family. Michael was an eccentric faded pop star and his brothers were mythical creatures from around the time of my birth, freeze-framed in my brain wearing brown flares and comedy affros. However, 2009 proved to be a year where my Jackson spotting would finally up its game, and also proved to be a year that they will never forget. Beginning in March at the O2 with Michael, I have now been in the same room as every member of The Jackson 5 bar Randy – so if you’re reading Randy and fancy a coffee, get in touch…

My unlikely journey began in March this year when I was invited along to the O2 Arena for a Michael Jackson press conference. Rumour in the press room was that he was set to announce a string of dates at the O2 for the coming summer, signalling his return to the stage after a 12-year abscence. It was exciting but it was also freezing, a grim March day where some of the more ardent Jacko fans had been waiting in the O2 foyer since 9am. I arrived 3pm, the conference was due to start at 4pm, so I grabbed a coffee, avoided the choc-chip cookies on the advice of my newly acquired personal trainer and sat in an icy, bleak room backstage waiting for the nod. All around me, chatter was about nothing but Jackson – no matter how hard some of the press try to assume an air of cool indifference this was something special. No matter the bizarre circus that always seemed to accompany Jackson’s life, he was nevertheless a truly global superstar and not somebody you had the chance to see in person every day.

Eventually at 4.30pm we were led to a penned-in enclosure in the O2 foyer, sandwiched between jeering, sneering Jacko enthusiasts, teeth bared against what they perceived to be an aggressive and anti-Jacko press pack. As they booed us and spat, I began to understand what it must be like to be villified through no fault of your own – not something that Jackson himself can claim. Ahead of us was the stage soon to be Jacksoned. Some fans had tour T-shirts on from years back, some were too young to remember much of Jackson’s black days. An hour later a video played, Dermot O’Leary appeared and then there was Michael, all black and gold with bouffant hair and his strange, inverse face. The crowd screamed; the press pack jolted forward and every eye strained to focus on the bag of bones and stretched flesh before us. Jackson told us it this was it – his final curtain call. How prescient his words were.

And then it was over. Nearly three hours, three coffees and frostbitten fingers later, he was on-stage for approximately a minute before disappearing behind a shiny red curtain. I left slightly bemused that I’d waited so long for so little, but it’s still an impressive tale to tell – even my mum was boasting about my being there the next day which shows Jackson’s wide-reaching appeal. But that was it. I reported the gigs, rehearsals got under way and everything seemed normal until June 25th. I was just brushing my teeth getting ready for bed when the radio reported that Jackson had been rushed to hospital having suffered a heart attack. I quickly finished brushing, turned the TV on and began to blog that historic day.

There were, it turns out, not to be any gigs in the end. Jackson was dead and every music channel had his videos on 24/7 – if I never see Smooth Criminal again it won’t be too soon. Two months later, I was called to another press conference hosted by Jermaine Jackson detailing a tribute concert for his brother that was set to take place in Austria. I duly turned up at the Orangery in the grounds Kensington Palace and it was far cry from the frozen press conference six months earlier. This time around there was champagne on silver trays, juices, croissants and fresh fruit – this was a press pack they wanted to impress. I took my seat four rows from Jermaine – I could see the sweat on top lip I was that close. He told us about the concert that had no confirmed acts but was taking place in four weeks time. He also told us that Michael would be performing with him one last time. Eyebrows were raised. When the questioning got too much, Jermaine shed a scheduled tear. The following day the concert was postponed until next year, giving them more time to book some acts. For a seasoned concert producer, Jermaine had been terrifically crap at organising this one. The next day I mused that I had now been within touching of both Michael and Jermaine Jackson this year, which felt kinda spooky given the circumstances. Would Jermaine now die three months later? The bet’s still on.

Finally, on October 8th I took a friend to review Gladys Knight at Wembley Arena, an awesome evening in the company of a true legend. Her support came from none other than Tito Jackson and at the end of his blues-inspired set which also took in a couple of classic Jackson 5 numbers, he introduced to his brothers Jackie and Marlon who were in the audience along with his mum. The crowd shrieked and my Jackson list was nearly complete. Nearly. So Randy, if you’re reading this, get in touch – my treat…

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