's people telephoned my staff in London, and asked whether I would be available to photograph him. I had very recently photographed the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles and this was one of the rewards, getting commissions that had previously been out of reach.Jackson
's staff wanted me to be in the Dorchester Hotel, Park Lane, and they wanted me now - he had just arrived at Heathrow, and the shoot must happen this afternoon, they said.
A few hours later I was in the Dorchester, with my dreams of a beautiful, personal and insightful portrait - but the plans changed.Jackson
had decided that his children should see his waxwork at Madame Tussauds, and that this was to be "the picture". The Madame Tussauds museum had been closed to the public, and we found ourselves at Marylebone, waiting for the King of Pop to arrive with his children.
At this eleventh hour, important-looking people began telling me what I could and couldn't do: the children must not be photographed, and I must not talk to them. In fact, maybe I should not even be in the same room as the children? Then, maybe I could stay in the same room, but I wasn't to look at them. I nodded.
He walks in, quiet, shy, wearing sunglasses, but unmistakeably he is Michael Jackson
Each of his children is wearing what appear to be string bags over their heads, similar to the nets in which you'd buy tangerines or lemons from the supermarket. The child I think is Prince Michael is wearing a yellow net, and Paris is wearing a dark green one. The baby is passed around, wearing a red version. My jaw drops.
The first problem is identifying which waxwork is Michael Jackson
, because, quite honestly, the two Michaels do not look alike. In fact, the real Jackson
doesn't really even want to acknowledge the Thriller version of himself, a somewhat darker-skinned image than he is today.
I hold him in position with the briefest of conversations, and in between firing off the pictures, I am instantly won over by his gentle manner, his politeness, his unmistakable voice and his charm. He is a real person, a man and a father, engaging, sweet, concerned and shockingly normal - and standing next to this weird wax effigy magnifies all that is the real Michael Jackson
Photo shoot over, and with a deep sigh I lower my camera. Clunk.
Where did that come from, that squeak? Looking down, I see a mini person, face shrouded in a net, rubbing their forehead.
Oh my God - I have just hit Paris Jackson
on the head with my camera.
"Ooops - sorry sausage, you OK there?" I see a cross expression underneath the net.
"I'm fine, but YOU HIT ME with your camera."
"I am so sorry. Are you OK, sausage?"
An enormous hulk of a shaven-headed security guard with cold eyes, a radio cable coiled in his ear and a sweating scalp leaps forward and tightly grabs my arm, bellowing "What did you say to her?"
I stammer: "What?"
"I said, 'what did you say to her?'"
"'I said 'Sorry, are you OK sausage?'"
"You called her SAUSAGE?"
"Errr - yes?"
Holding the earpiece tightly into his ear he mutters into the microphone hidden up his sleeve.
"Yes, he called her 'sausage' - I repeat, he called her 'sausage'."
Suddenly there are three of these guys all around me, pressing the radios deep into their heads, all jabbering into their sleeves. I am exasperated.
"Jeez, I have four of my own children. It's a term of affection. They all get called sausage at some stage."
Then, melting away back into the shadows, they disappear as quickly as they'd appeared. I move forward and join the family. Jackson
smiles at me, and once again, I am won over. I am happy with the picture, I am happy that the child is OK, and I am happy Jackson
is smiling with me. I text my wife: "Guess who my New Best Friend is?"
A crowd has gathered outside Madame Tussauds, and Jackson
is asking whether the crowd is ready. Ready for what, I wonder. A people carrier is pulled up as close to the door as the pavement will allow. Between the building and the car the crowds are shouting, chanting, baying, hollering for "Michael", and he, inside, nods that it is OK for the children to go ahead, one by one.
Individually they are escorted across the short stretch of pavement to the open door of the people-carrier, with the deafening shouting getting louder with the appearance of each child. I am wondering what these poor children could possibly think is happening?
A mass of lunatics, screaming "Where are you? Where's Michael? We want YOU, Michael". These little people, faces covered in netting, cling to Michael's trousers until it is their turn to run the gauntlet.