When I was sixteen, I jumped on a coach, upon which I sat for thirty hours, before disembarking in Prague in the Czech Republic. As a painfully shy teenager, I wasn’t confident enough to be forthright enough to make friends on the journey, so the trip was undertaken alone. Besides, I wasn’t travelling to make friends. I was going to see Michael. I hadn’t seen him for four years, since that soul-altering night on the Dangerous Tour. I was nauseous with excitement.
It was so cold. But I was determined to get a position close to the front of the following day’s concert, so, after being stood a short while at the feet of the specially erected Stalinist HIStory statue, staring up at it, both bewildered and awestruck, I left the coach party. After mindlessly navigating the streets of the alien city for a number of hours, I eventually managed to stumble across the stadium, Letna Park; where I joined a throng of similarly single-minded diehards who were also gathering to queue overnight before the concert. But it was so cold.
The concert happened. I had managed to hold my own in the downright dangerous race to the front, once the gates had finally opened. And, devoid of food and sleep, had also, somehow, managed to stay upright all day, in spite of the intermittent tidal surges created by the momentum transfer of the one-hundred-and-thirty-thousand people standing behind me.
As well as when we all jumped and joined along together in singing, “Tom Sneddon is a cold man.”
I filled my pockets with the confetti that had burst from cannons signalling the end of the show, then – very, very slowly – shuffled my way to a merchandise tent. My understanding of the Czech currency was limited at best, and my adrenaline was sky-high: a combination ripe for disaster. The kind of disaster where you find yourself lost and alone, at night, in the middle of a mid-nineties, recently Eastern Bloc capital city (incidentally, a significant choice by Michael, considering the socialist theme of the HIStory project), wearing the three Michael Jackson T-shirts you’ve just spent all your money on, whilst also clutching the Tour programme as close to your torso as possible, in an attempt to achieve that extra microtherm of warmth.
I had a ticket with the name of the hotel I was supposed to be staying in, but I couldn’t pronounce its name, and the odd person that walked past who I summoned the courage to engage and show the ticket to, just shrugged at me and continued walking. After the roar of the concert, everything seemed more silent than was possible.
Penniless on the deserted streets of Prague, I sat down and cried. Then a car pulled up.
A woman wound down the window and garbled something in a foreign language, whilst gesturing for me to approach her. She was my only hope. I showed her the ticket. Again, a shrug and a look of confusion. My heart sank as I was hit with a genuine terror that I wasn’t going to be either home, warm, eating or sleeping any time soon. Then the woman, whose face had empathetically mirrored my own as it fell, suddenly pointed at my T-shirt (the top one, anyway), and simply said, “Michael!”, before directing me to take a seat in the back of the car, and beginning to drive around what came to seem like endless, dark, desolate city streets. Finally, she turned a corner, and I saw something I recognised. Illuminated like a homing beacon, in all its white-light glory, stood the HIStory statue.
And at its feet, my ride home.
Michael understood that there is magic in nostalgia; that nostalgia is emotional time-travel; that magic becomes manifest through the mind and its perceptions. As much as Michael enjoyed stage magic (who can forget the introduction to the Superbowl performance – Michael Jackson… in three places at once!), as he expressed in his song, Mind Is The Magic, “Your own thoughts play the game / In the magical wonders they do / The mind in the magic is you”.
And it was this kind of magic, real magic, that Michael wrote about in his book, Dancing The Dream, within which he describes magic as being how the thrill that a toddler experiences when watching a tadpole wriggle in mud, is akin to an adult’s encounter with the majesty of a whale crashing in the ocean.
And it was with this kind of heart, this “quality of wonder” – as author Howard Bloom described it, when reflecting upon Michael’s life – with which he reigned over Neverland: inspiring children to enjoy, as he called it, “the playfulness of life”. Of course, Michael entertained many, many sick and dying children at Neverland, but one child that he became particularly close to, was Ryan White. Ryan lived with HIV/AIDS for seven years after being diagnosed aged just eleven years old. He was instrumental in evolving people’s understanding of the disease, therefore helping to diminish the prejudices associated with it. Ryan died twenty-four years ago today.
Another specific child that Michael helped, was the focus of a recent campaign to flood Twitter to create awareness of Michael’s humanitarian efforts. It was the example of Bela Farkas, a four-year-old Hungarian boy who Michael funded the liver transplant for, and hence saved the life of. The reason for the re-emergence of this story was down to the fact that Farkas had recently become a father himself.
Michael never won the Nobel Peace Prize, although he was twice nominated, in 1998 and 2003. For my money – unsurprisingly – he is, without hesitation, the most worthy human being to have never won it. However, in spite of this particular accolade not having graced the mantelpiece of Neverland, Michael Jackson, nevertheless, did receive some twenty internationally-recognised humanitarian awards; as well as countless other recognitions and tributes; a Guinness Book of World Records entry for the Most Charities Supported By A Pop Star (thirty-nine), and a music industry award that is named after him, which is annually presented to celebrate that year’s most philanthropic musical artist. As well as this, Michael also set up his own charity, the Heal The World Foundation, for which he toured the world to raise funds – donating every penny of the proceeds from it, before having the charity deliver aid by military planes to the innocent people caught up in the war in Sarajevo. All this, without even mentioning his constant striving to use his talent and status to release globally-recognised musical anthems carrying the sole purpose of encouraging human peace and unity.
The magical truth of the human being, Michael Jackson. The truth. Invigorating, isn’t it?