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Subject: Michael becomes the King of England Sun May 06, 2012 8:40 am
July 20, 1988
Michael Jackson: The day our man came face-to-face with King of Pop
Jun 26 2009 by Paul Cole, Sunday Mercury
IT was the knight in shining armour galloping across the courtyard who did it. He leapt from his saddle, pulled a sword from a stone and went down on one knee before Michael Jackson. Then he handed Excalibur to the excited pop legend, and made him King of England. Jackson, dressed in the bright red and blue uniform of a military dictator, just giggled and grinned.
It was one of those moments when you had to pinch yourself to ensure that you weren’t dreaming – the most surreal meeting I ever had in a long career as a showbiz writer.
The invitation had been simple: would I care to join Michael Jackson for dinner at London’s historic Guildhall ahead of his string of shows at Wembley Stadium, part of 1988’s Bad tour?
Guests of honour at Guildhall banquets are more usually kings and queens, world leaders and politicians. It had been the centre of civic government in Britain for more than 1,000 years.
And, indeed, Jackson was treated like royalty. He became the first commoner ever to enter by the hall’s Royal Entrance, a unique privilege that required the Queen’s personal approval.
His arrival was heralded by the red-jacketed trumpeters of the Life Guard cavalry, usually seen marching along the Mall. There followed a £75,000 banquet full of pomp and circumstance.
The roast beef was paraded through the room by the Corps of Drums of the Honourable Artillery Company, and dancers in Olde English costume scattered rose petals at Jackson’s feet.
During dinner, he watched wide-eyed as first Henry VIII, then Elizabeth I, Lord Nelson, Nell Gwynn, Robin Hood, Maid Marion and Dick Whittington popped up to pay their respects.
At one stage ballet dancers burst from a box for his approval. Fire-eaters, jugglers, jesters and Elizabethan musicians took it in turn to visit his table.
Then Jackson was stunned as magician Merlin appeared in a puff of smoke, and glittering knights in armour bowed before the US pop superstar.
But as guests tucked into the finest food England had to offer, the reclusive singer nibbled only at corn on the cob, vegetable salad and fresh orange juice prepared by the personal chef he had flown over.
It was as the dinner ended that things took a surreal turn.
I joined Jackson, his pony-tailed manager Frank Dileo and 10 year-old orphan Jimmy Safechuck – the first in a string of the singer’s young companions – in the Guildhall courtyard.
Jackson took the salute as the Band of the Corps of Royal Engineers beat the retreat, walking up and down a line of liveried Life Guard troops as if he were a general inspecting them.
He bopped lightly on his heels as the band played military marches and grinned wildly when they launched into a version of his hit Billie Jean.
It was then that a clatter of hooves announced the arrival of the knight who would bear Excalibur into his hands. Jackson was blissfully unaware of the historical significance of the moment.
He handed the sword to a 7ft minder wearing a top hat. It was at that moment that I became one of the very few guests to get a word with him.
“Do you realise,” I said, “that you’ve just become the King of England? That’s supposed to be the sword King Arthur pulled from the stone before he recruited the knights of the Round Table.”
His response was utter delight. “Gee,” he said. “A King? I never knew. I love your traditions. You have so much history here in England!”
And with that, he was whisked away to a limo to take him back to a top Mayfair hotel, and a meeting with Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford to discuss a new movie version of Peter Pan. It was very different to Jackson’s brief encounter with fans at London’s O2 Arena last week, at which he announced a string of comeback concerts, the last he will ever play in the capital.
Time and trouble have taken their toll on the man who would be King.