Sligoman who became an unlikely friend of pop icon, Michael Jackson, has described him as a "down-to-earth doting father" who had casually arrived at his Dublin home in "a banger of a car" to celebrate his 48th birthday.
Master puppeteer, Eugene Lambert, told THE SLIGO CHAMPION how his famous puppet, 'Judge' from the 'Wanderly Wagon' TV series had sung ' happy birthday' to the tragic superstar as members of the Lambert family hosted Jackson at their Monkstown, Co. Dublin home eighteen months ago.
"Michael arrived in a banger of a car, with his three children. There was no big entourage, just one security man and an au-pair. They spent over two hours with us, enjoying a show we put on for them and then sitting around having tea and scones. When we discovered it was Michael's birthday, Judge sang him the happy birthday song and Michael happily sang along. It was a great day, a lovely memory," Eugene recalled.
Another memory Eugene cherishes from that special visit is of the global pop icon gleefully filling his pockets with sweets from a small shop in the Lambert Puppet Theatre. "We have a small sweet shop in the theatre, and as we were about to start a show for Michael and his children, one of the kids asked if they could have sweets. I told the lad to help himself, and the next thing Michael was in the shop filling his pockets. He was quite literally the child let loose in the sweet shop, and he loved it," Eugene said.
Despite the allegations which were later to emerge about the singer's peculiar relationship with young children, the Sligo born grandfather said he only saw evidence of a doting father who loved his children.
"He clearly loved his children, and they equally loved him. They had a lovely, normal relationship. He struck me as a very kind, gentle person. The children were perfectly behaved, they had impeccable manners and they wouldn't touch anything without permission.
"It was very much a normal family scene, and I really couldn't relate the person I met to the man portrayed in the media. To me, he was an ordinary, lovely man, and we got on really well together. I was quite fond of him," Eugene said.
The birthday visit was the second occasion on which Michael Jackson had called to the Lambert Theatre. The first was in 1992 when the family was given a half hour's notice of the impending arrival of one of the most famous men in the world, who duly arrived with an entourage which included two stretch limousines, a huge van and about a dozen minders.
Eugene recalls: "He had a great interest in children's theatre and had asked to visit us. It was panic stations when we were told he would be with us in about half an hour, but we got everything ready and it all worked out very well,"
Initially, Eugene recalls, Jackson struck him as a chronically shy man, but when they found common ground in their admiration for the mime artist, Marcel Marceau, the star soon relaxed.
"He was very impressed with a poster we had of Marcel Marceau, and when I showed him some etchings we had of the great man he was very excited. We chatted for about two hours. He had a great passion for children's literature and Russian folklore, and we put on a little puppet show for him which he really enjoyed. Once the ice was broken, he was extremely relaxed and said that he would love to stay longer with us," according to Eugene.
While he has a treasured autograph as a testimony of his friendship with the singer, the Sligoman unfortunately has no pictorial record of the visits.
"He was very security conscious. We were sworn to secrecy about the visits and he posed for no photographs. The security people even took the tape from the CCTV camera outside our premises as they were leaving," he explained.