Much has been made of Michael Jackson’s Neverland, but inevitably the images have been of the theme-park exterior and its glittering façade. I entered through a side gate and felt I had stepped through Alice’s looking glass. Looming large was a bulky turreted railway station (Katherine Station, named for his mother) that was sometimes mistaken for the Jackson house. The Katherine steam engine was a prominent feature, and Katherine Street conspicuous, though there was no Joseph Street, nor anything bearing his father’s name. There were a dozen or so serious rides, a carousel and a Ferris wheel, as well as a movie theater and the constantly flickering screen (always cartoons). Beyond the tennis court and set of tepees was the gazebo where Elizabeth Taylor, an enthusiastic visitor to Neverland, married Larry Fortensky.
To the rear of the valley was the zoo with its elephant, its giraffe, its chimp, orangutan and llamas. The lake was dotted with spouting fountains. The Neverland fire station housed a big red engine. Lining all the gravel roads were winsome statues—flute players, rows of grateful children, clusters of them, some holding hands, some with banjos, some with fishing rods, the bronze sculptures of carefree children gamboling among the shrubbery. In front of Michael’s house was a statue of Mercury, rising 30 feet, winged helmet and caduceus and all, balanced on one tiptoe.
The entrance gate is now iconic, with all its heraldry, the archway lettered “Neverland” in gold, Michael’s name above it, a king’s crown and a gilt imitation British royal coat of arms, with the lion and the unicorn and the standard motto, Honi Soit Qui Mal y Pense (“Evil to him who evil thinks”).
At the end of the winding road, lay Neverland’s main house, a Hollywood Tudor-influenced design, with touches of the suburbs, dark shingles and bow windows, all sheltered by trees and neighbored by the towering and bewildering statue of Mercury.
Not many people were admitted to the inside, and anyway, the whole of the exterior of Neverland was such a dazzling evocation, why bother?
I had the good fortune to be admitted one chilly April day. Michael was not in residence, and yet many gardeners were toiling in the flower beds, and the Michael Jackson security people were out in force, patrolling in golf carts. It is a truism to say that interiors are revealing, but I was not quite prepared for the inside of Michael Jackson’s house. At first glimpse, the rooms seemed no more than a jumble of glittery objects, a set of rooms filled with portraits and framed snapshots, statuary and trophies and, in the library, a coffee table with two books on it. The library was crammed with bright leather-bound books.
The interior of Michael Jackson’s house at Neverland was filled with power figures, objects of veneration, objects of desire, yearnings, fetish objects and self-portraits, as in the full-length oil painting of Michael as a king in Elizabethan court dress, with ruffed collar and cuffs, holding a crown on a velvet pillow. On the inner walls and on the walls lining the stairway were more portraits of Michael as a regal figure, with a cape, with an ermine collar; with medals and braid and stripes and epaulets.
One book on the coffee table was a large-format illustrated edition of Peter Pan; the other book was the limited-edition program of HIStory, which was much more than a mere concert program.
Marilyn Monroe was one image in Michael Jackson’s set of personal iconography, along with Charlie Chaplin and Edward Scissorhands. Disney figures occurred as pictures, as statues, as framed tableaux, as cartoon cels, throughout the house, especially Mickey Mouse. On the piano, along with Marilyn and Elizabeth and Mickey, were photographs of Michael taken with President Jimmy Carter at the White House and with Nelson Mandela in South Africa.
One of the features of the house was its life-size figures, in particular one of a Jeeves-like butler in a swallowtail coat that stood near the kitchen. The kitchen itself was large, more suited to a restaurant than a private house; but with its substantial dining table, it was a more welcoming area than the white-carpeted living room, with its white piano, or the library, smelling of overripe leather bindings.
A large game room occupied a separate building at the rear of the house. All the games were the sort that would be found at an arcade—a number of pinball machines, shooting galleries, video games and contraptions that could be ridden. The compelling feature of this arcade was that although all the games had slots for quarters, none of them required money—it was a child’s dream of endless play on demand, music, bells, gongs and flashing lights.
In the course of a long phone call, I asked about this much-used game room. Michael said, “I love video games. X-Men. Pinball. Jurassic Park. The martial arts ones—Mortal Kombat.”
As for Beast Busters, he said, “Oh, yeah, that’s great. I pick each game. That one’s maybe too violent, though. I usually take some with me on tour.”
But surely half-ton video game machines were too big for that?
“Oh, we travel with two cargo planes,” Michael said.
I asked him if he would encourage his three children to be performers. He said, “They can do whatever they want to do. If they want to do that, it’s okay.”
But when I pushed him for details, he said he was certain he would raise his children differently from the way he was brought up.
“With more fun,” he said. “More love. Not so isolated.”
Neverland was a refuge of twinkling lights. Music was continually playing in the house, in the garden. Instead of the TV that flickers in a child’s bedroom, Michael had his JumboTron playing cartoons all day and night. Children love zoos and circuses and amusement parks: Michael had his own. Most of all, Neverland was safe. Here and there, like toy soldiers, were the uniformed security people, some on foot, others on golf carts, some standing sentry duty.
After the scandal and the celebrated trial, in which Michael was vindicated on charges of child molestation, he said that Neverland was so tainted by the scandal, he would never live there again.
To Michael's fans however, Neverland will always be "Foreverland".
Originally written by Paul Theroux