Magazine article The Spectator

Michael Jackson Notebook

Magazine article The Spectator

Michael Jackson Notebook

Article excerpt


The news cycle of a dead celebrity is a curious thing. One minute I am calmly watching Kelvin Mackenzie laying into Julia Goldsworthy about a rocking chair on Question Time, the next minute Michael Jackson is dead and I'm on a plane to LA. Los Angeles is a terrible place for a celebrity to die. It is an 11-hour flight and an eight-hour time difference, which naturally runs the risk of the celebrity being too dead by the time you land. Locked in airspace - in ignorance - you never really know how a story is playing out on the ground.

12 hours later

We arrive to find the OMG! (ohmygod) text-speak of shock already gone, but the fans are out in full force. We head to Hollywood Boulevard where they cluster around his star on the walk of fame. They are a happy bunch, actually; his music is everywhere and his sudden death has liberated people to embrace the 1980s with a benevolent buzz of nostalgia. Overnight, white ankle socks and hush puppies will become de rigueur. The breakdancers on the strip are now moonwalkers, the T-shirts (RIP Michael - 1958-2009) are hot off the press and hawked on the streets as we pass, and people queue up to receive therapy by voxpop.

They tell me how they grew up with Jackson, went through puberty with Jackson, broke up to Jackson, got married to Jackson - in essence he is part of who they are. Tonight, for 24 hours only, no one will mention court cases, his delight in the company of young boys and monkeys, or even his nose.

At the satellite truck next door to ours sits Marti, an ABC anchorwoman and long-term resident of LA. Is the atmosphere tonight so very different, I ask her. She sighs. 'The skirts are a little shorter and the heels a little higher.' To mourn Michael Jackson? I struggle to catch her drift. 'Not for Michael, ' she explains, 'for the TV cameras. They're hoping to get talent-spotted by all the crews in town.' Should I be shocked? It would seem a little hypocritical. If you can't be shameless about wanting fame in Hollywood, then where can you?

24 hours later

The next day we start broadcasting at midnight to hit BBC Breakfast in the UK. We have decamped to the San Fernando valley and are stationed, with 20 other broadcasters, in a quiet residential cul de sac, home to the Jackson clan. The night is balmy and once again people have come to leave makeshift memorials of balloons, flowers and, indeed, a large purple gorilla.

One fan, Eduardo, decides to leave a framed photo of himself for Michael. And someone has left a large box of strawberry Twizzler liquorice sticks which my cameraman is eyeing enviously but cannot quite bring himself to pinch.

It is these tributes - in all their creativity - that, oddly, give our shot here legitimacy and inform the viewer, shorthand, that we are still covering the DEATH OF A SUPERSTAR. Every car that leaves the compound is followed and snapped, but there will be no Cherie-on-election-morning moment, with a tousled prime minister's wife still in pyjamas opening her front door to the world.

The Jacksons know life in the spotlight too well. Indeed, this compound has probably had a photographer by its gates every day of every year that they have lived here.

48 hours later

If the fans last night refused to do anything other than eulogise, then already, tonight, the mood is different. I meet Ray and Debbie from New York. Ray visited this spot many times as a child, hoping to catch a glimpse of his hero. …

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