Chapter 34

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February 1, 2003


“I’m so excited to meet your parents!” Nina squealed as she hopped onto the golf cart and adjusted her hat. “You told them great things about me, right?”

I started the ignition and drove to the movie theatre, where everyone was already waiting. I wanted everyone to find the best seats in the house, get all the snacks they wanted and relax before Nina and I got there. Nina was equally as nervous as I was. I haven’t introduced anyone to my parents since Shayla. That was eons ago.

“Well,” I sighed. “I told them you’re very special to me and that you’d be honored to meet them.”

“…you didn’t tell them I’m your girlfriend of two months, did you?”

“No. I don’t tell my parents about my love life. All they need to know is that you’re my special friend.”

“Mmm,” she groaned, a disdained look on her face.

“Look, my mom was never the type to discuss romance, and neither am I. It’s just the way we are, okay? Just have a good time for me. Can you promise me that?” I brought her hand to my lips and kissed it. “Can you do that for me?”

She sighed, “I have no choice, right? I mean, at least I was lucky enough to introduce myself to Shayla and your children, too, huh?”

“Exactly,” I nodded.

I’ve been excited to see the final product of this documentary since Bashir and I wrapped up in Miami last month. I made the necessary edits I wanted, and I’m sure he did too. Because Drew was a part of it, he wanted certain parts in the final copy, but not all, and I can respect that. He also encouraged me to do the same. So, I know this documentary will be totally in my favor, and people will finally see the real me. They’ll finally know the real me and see that I’m not just this walking, talking enigma. I’m human, just like everyone else. And I want to be normal.

We parked in front of the movie theatre, and I helped Nina out.

“How do I look?” She smoothed out her beige skirt and adjusted her top not to show too much cleavage.

“You look fantastic,” I pulled her in for a kiss. “Come on.”

Upon opening the door, I could hear Milan and her cousins giggling. I could pick out my child’s laughter among many anywhere.

Nina and I entered the theatre hand in hand. First, Drew looked back, then Shayla, then everyone else.

“Daddy!” Milan screamed and ran up to me. I picked her up and kissed her cheek. “We’ve been waiting so patiently for the movie. I can’t wait to be on TV. MJ acts like he doesn’t want to be on TV, but secretly, I think he’s excited,” she whispered the last part to me.

“Is that so?” I laughed.

“Mmhm,” she nodded. “Hi, Nina.”

“So, this is her, huh?” Joseph stood up with Michael in tow. My brothers gave me a nod of approval from their seats, not wanting to interrupt the introduction.

“Joseph, this is Nina. Nina, my father, Joseph.” I introduced the two.

“It’s such a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Jackson,” Nina curtsied… Curtsied for my father. Yeah. She’s nervous.

“Oh, no. The pleasure is all mine!” He pulled her in for a hug. “Katie, come up here and meet Michael’s special friend.”

My mother looked back, and I could tell immediately that she did not want to get up, but she did anyway. “I’m Katherine, but you can call me Mrs. Jackson,” mom held a hand to Nina. A hand? Mom always hugs. What’s this?

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Jackson. I’ve heard so many great things about you,” Nina beamed.

“You’ve been with my son for how long?” Mom wasn’t holding back any punches.

“We’ve known each other for three months, but we’ve been together for two.”

“Hmm. Welp, grab a seat. I’m ready to see what this film is all about.” Mom returned to her seat beside Shayla and continued chatting up a storm.

She’ll always love Shayla. I can’t change that, but she could have been more welcoming. She normally is. I can’t put my finger on why she’s acting completely opposite.

“Your mother’s right. Y’all grab a seat and come on. We want to see what this documentary is all about,” Joseph took Michael’s hand and returned to his seat.

I told Nina to find a seat for us in the front of the theatre and went to stand center stage in front of my entire family. “I’m not gonna say too much, but thank you for coming. I wanted my family to be the first to see what I’ve been working on for the past year. Bashir and I have cleared so much up for the world and gotten down to the nitty-gritty. Now, the world can see me for who I really am.” I was applauded by everyone and signaled to my employees in the back to start the film.

After a year, this is what we’ve finally come to…

The documentary began with the interview of Bashir and me in the studio here at the ranch. We were both laughing about mocking his accent, which I enjoyed so much. The camera panned underneath the second “Neverland” sign, and a montage of Bashir’s and my time together began. Things were already starting to come together, and I enjoyed seeing the happy moments displayed on the screen—this montage of videos with fans, my children, Shayla, and my family. Everything was just so well put together.

“Eight months ago,” Bashir began. “I put a proposal to Michael Jackson. Show me the real man. But show me everything. Make nothing off limits. He thought about it. And then he said, ‘yes, come to Neverland.”

This footage began with the interview where I was wearing a green silk shirt while walking amongst the ranch rides. I remember this. And I remember feeling so vulnerable, nervous, and excited once Bashir asked me to get on the Ferris wheel, knowing I would open up to a man I didn’t know, but he was going to air everything I felt to the world.

“We began a journey together through his past and rapidly into the disturbing reality of his life today.”

Disturbing? What exactly is disturbing? I showed the man my life and my children and was open about anything he wanted to know. What exactly was disturbing? I guess he’s gonna show me what’s disturbing because I don’t know what he’s talking about.

“This is Michael Jackson as you’ve never seen him before. From the inside: his music. His money. His children. His sex life. His face. Quite simply, his world.”

Had I known he was going to say “sex,” I’d have told my children, nieces, and nephews to cover their ears, but alas, I was too late…

The footage switched to the interview, where we talked about me coming up with music. I enjoyed talking about this. Bashir was so understanding at this moment. No one has ever really delved into how I came up with music, but he did, and I appreciated that.

I observed the footage while everyone else laughed at me being nervous on screen, trying not to dance for Bashir. My family knows me. They know I’m nervous when I’m not on stage. They know I can be shy, so that didn’t mean anything to them, but being so shy to do it in front of Bashir made them all laugh. Even Nina, who had leaned her head on my shoulder, beaming at me on screen as I showed Bashir how to moonwalk.

“Are you gonna teach me that someday?” She whispered.

“Sure,” I said quickly. I’m invested in seeing how this documentary came together. The last thing I’m worried about is teaching someone else how to moonwalk right now.

Bashir rode through the Neverland gates in my Batman-themed golf cart.“Michael Jackson’s home, Neverland, is a 3,000-acre ranch three hours north of Los Angeles. As with most of his life, it has to be seen to be believed. Inspired by the children’s fairytale Peter Pan, about the little boy who never grew up, it’s a multi-million dollar manmade slice of make-believe. As well as the full-sized fun fare, there’s a zoo with giraffes, elephants, tigers, and a couple of orangutans. Bubbles the chimp has been moved out to an animal sanctuary. It’s literally paradise for a ten-year-old child. But Michael Jackson is now forty-four.”

Okay? What’s that supposed to mean? What’s wrong with that? I told him why I wanted to create Neverland. I told him what it meant to my children and me. Why would he say that?

“The climate is a problem for Jackson. He says the color-changing skin condition, vitiligo, has made him allergic to the sun. So, shielded by his umbrella, he took me to his most secret place.

In the footage, I spoke to Bashir about my “Giving Tree” and what it meant to my family and me. He was listening intently, but based on the commentary so far, I’m already tensing up to what he could say about this encounter.

“Daddy, I want to climb to the top!” Milan called out from the back of the theatre. Everyone laughed.

I managed a smile, “we’ll get there eventually.” I’m already on the defense, and we’re not even fifteen minutes into the documentary yet. I didn’t notice it then, but when Bashir asked me if I preferred making love over water balloon fights, he was trying to make me sound weird and sinister.

“So, how had this singing and dancing genius arrived in this surreal place that is his life today? I started to look for answers back at the beginning. He played me his first single, ‘Big Boy,’ which was released when he was just eight. By then, Michael Jackson had already been performing for three years.” The documentary went back to the interview at the studio. I was talking about my parents, and the footage went to a scene where Bashir and I were watching old footage of me and my brothers in this very movie theatre. It at least felt like he was interested. It really did. So, now I’m not so much on the defense anymore, but I still don’t know what to think anymore.

“Daddy?” Milan came over to me, “why do you look like MJ?” Nina and I laughed.

“MJ looks like me,” I told her. “I was young once too, ya know? See?” I pulled her onto my lap as my brothers, and I continued to perform on the screen. Like in the documentary, I’m reflecting on those days with my brothers. I miss it, but I’m glad we all branched out to do our things. We needed to be individuals, not stay in a group the entire time.

The conversation of discipline came up, and I winced. “Sorry, Joseph,” I called out. Sometimes, I feel bad about talking about Joseph like this, but it was my reality. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. He had a good reason until it got too far, but one thing I’d still never do is beat my children. My children have never known that life and never will.

“I looked up at the screen and couldn’t help wondering what effect this violence had on young Michael.” So, he was listening. He did understand me! He’s doing what he said he would, and he’s not painting me out to be some monster… “Thirty years on, the memories seemed as raw as ever, but there was little time now for reflection… Or so I thought, Michael’s ex-wife, Shayla-Elizabeth, who still holds the surname ‘Jackson,’ came over to drop off the divorced couple’s children. I would soon find out why the ‘World’s Most Perfect Couple’ ended in ruin. Although Shayla-Elizabeth is now engaged to Architecture Tycoon Andrew Hammond, it’s evident that she and Michael still hold some love for each other. The photos we took of the family were not intimate, but if you had not known that the couple was divorced, you’d still think they were together.” The photos we took were released earlier this week as part of the promotional campaign for this documentary. We looked good, but you must have lived under a rock if you didn’t believe we weren’t divorced. Drew complimented the photos and said we looked terrific. If he’s not threatened, then what Bashir just said was a load of crap.

The footage began with Shayla adjusting her microphone and continued with the interview. We answered each question truthfully yet enough to protect a bit of ourselves from the public. They don’t need to know everything about us.

“Michael still had the letters from the seventies that Shayla-Elizabeth had sent him, and she admitted to having his as well. It told me that if they had indeed done away with one another, they’d have thrown those letters away long ago. As of this airing, they have been divorced for five years, coming up on their sixth. ‘Why hold onto something that they’ve divorced from?’ I wondered, but Michael told me about the letters just as he told me about everything else; he likes to hold onto the past because that’s where he thrived best.”

“What?!” Shayla and I exclaimed in unison. I looked back to see the same shocked face that I had.

“Why would he say that?!” She asked.

So, holding onto something that has sentimental value to me is weird to hold onto? Reliving my glory days is a problem? Everyone does that? Why is it a problem when do it?

“Their marriage being kept secret for ten years still struck odd to me. Protection made sense, but how and why else would you hide a marriage? Was it that they were going through more personal things they didn’t want to be aired out? Amongst their ‘secret marriage,’ they were outed countless times only for it to be debunked time and time again, but they finally came out about their marriage a couple of months before the events of 1993. Not only was it convenient, but like the rest of the world thought, I was sure it had to be planned as a cover-up for what would soon come out about Jackson.”

“Planned?! A cover-up?!” Shayla shouted at the screen. The tension in the room rose to the ceiling. Everyone, except for the children, was feeling exactly how Shayla and I were both feeling. Anger filled the room, but I kept my cool. I want to see how he spins this.

“I could sense the tension in the room when I brought up the real reason why Shayla-Elizabeth and Michael split. The world may never know why, but one thing’s for certain, bringing two babies into the world is not why they broke up. ‘Growing apart’ was only a fraction of the split. In a normal universe, a couple stays together after bringing children into the world. In Michael Jackson’s universe, his wife not only beats him backstage at an award ceremony but three years later, she divorces him after bearing his children.”

So, that’s it, huh? He’s just making things up to fit a narrative he’s made up on the spot for whatever reason.

“I knew he would do this,” Shayla said from behind me. “I knew something was wrong. I could feel it.” She did. And once again, I did not listen.

“I had deeply upset Shayla-Elizabeth with my questions about her marriage to Michael Jackson. Much like her ex-husband does in the rest of the interview, she deflected from the conversation and distracted me with the couple's children.”

Michael and Milan were brought in front of the camera, finally making my children pay attention to the screen. I’m glad they weren’t interested in seeing anything else. They were too focused on their family. But now that they were on screen, their attention was all on themselves. Everyone, including myself and Shayla, laughed at the twins' reactions when asked if they liked their nicknames. They’re the best part of this interview.

“It was late summer, and Michael Jackson was leaving Neverland. He called me on my mobile to say he was off to spend a few weeks in Las Vegas and I could join him. In Las Vegas, he would reveal his bizarre experiences of love and sex, his obsession with his face, and most extraordinary of all; I get to see what it’s like to see the blended family that he, Shayla-Elizabeth, and Architecture Tycoon Andrew Hammond have created. In the summer, Michael Jackson has set up a temporary home in the gambling capital of the world, Las Vegas. I went to see him at the Four Seasons Hotel, where he’d taken out no fewer than seven suites. I wanted to know why he would leave Neverland to spend months on his own in a hotel room, especially as it would become quickly apparent that Jackson was deeply bored and isolated. Something that has consumed him since his divorce from Shayla-Elizabeth. In fact, he was delighted to have some company other than the bizarre collection of mannequins and gadgets that I found in his room.”

What’s bizarre about having a collection? Millions of people have collections of many different things. But once again, because it’s me, my collection has to be bizarre. Wow. No one complains. No one is bothered by it but him.

“I soon learned that Las Vegas was filled with uneasy memories for Jackson… But before that, a freshly engaged Shayla-Elizabeth had come with Andrew Hammond to pick up the twins for her week. The ex-couple share split custody of the twins. This time, Michael was releasing his children to his ex-wife.”

The footage cut to when Milan had pointed out Shayla’s engagement ring. I remember feeling the tension in the room when my daughter pointed it out. I could see it on the screen, but I don’t think anyone else outside of Shayla, Drew, and I could see it.

“While Michael took his ex-wife off camera to discuss the matter, Andrew and I discussed how he met Shayla-Elizabeth and how he feels about her children. He wouldn’t trade them for the world, but I couldn’t help but wonder how he felt about Michael pulling Shayla-Elizabeth off privately and what Michael had to talk to her about if he had truly moved on.”

The camera crew captured Drew playing with the twins the way I would. The way a father would play with their children, and at that moment, I was proud. Proud that Shayla had chosen right in a man and proud that he was going to be the twins' stepfather. He’s great with the kids. And that fact that even out of ear and eyeshot, he still treated my children well. That’s all I could ever ask for.

“Upon asking Michael how he felt about his ex-wife marrying someone he admired in the past, I had upset Andrew. And because I signed a confidentiality agreement, I wasn’t allowed to include the footage of what happened between us in that hotel room. But for now, it can be stated that Michael might be happy that his ex-wife is marrying someone he looked up to. Someone that he wouldn’t have thought of in a million years. Someone who had had his eyes out for his ex-wife for a while. I'm unsure how this affair began, but marriage is the goal for the couple, and I cannot help but feel sorry for Michael Jackson once again.”

“I’m gonna sue him. That is not what we agreed upon. Excuse me,” Drew excused himself with his cellphone practically attached to his ear.

Affair? That’s how we’re gonna spin this? Just because he doesn’t know all the facts doesn’t mean he has to make up his own. What is wrong with Bashir? He signed an agreement on this segment on both my and Drew’s ends. Now, we’re just lying? Wow!

“The couple left with the children, and after a small break, Michael and I sat down and talked about what happened to him in Vegas, how he felt about sex, and his deepest traumas. It’s safe to say I learned so much about Michael Jackson. And still, I feel sorry for him.”

“Feel sorry for me for whaaattt?!” I groaned audibly. “Nothing’s wrong with me. What is wrong with him?”

“It’s okay, baby,” Nina rubbed my shoulders.

“No, it’s not okay. He’s making it seem like I’m this charity case he’s supposed to feel bad for. I was vulnerable. I was open. That doesn’t mean anyone should feel sorry for me!” She went quiet. She’ll never understand. I’ve only known her for so long. She will just never understand.

“We headed straight for Jackson’s favorite shopping mall. He told me he wanted to spend some serious money, and he wasn’t joking. And when Michael Jackson goes out, every step of the way, there’s a fan waiting to greet him.”

Upon hearing, “if there is a girl I like, I’ll buy her jewelry,” Nina kissed my cheek. “I’m so lucky,” she whispered.

“Yup…” I nodded, still focused on the footage and critiquing it. We walked into Regis Gallerie and returned to the hotel room interview. So much was said that I was open about that I genuinely thought Bashir understood but based on his following statement, I knew he didn’t.

“I wasn’t convinced by Jackson’s explanation and felt that he wasn’t being entirely honest. I knew I’d have to return to the subject of his face before we were through. But there was something else that was bothering me. Back in Neverland, I met one of his good friends, a twelve-year-old boy.”

I tensed up. Based on his tone alone, I can already tell that the commentary on the time spent with Gavin isn’t going to be good.

“Mother?” I asked, “can you take the children outside, please?” My mother happily obliged. I’m sure she couldn’t stand seeing my sabotage on screen anymore, either.

Drew walked back in just as footage of me on the screen holding hands with underprivileged children popped up. “My lawyers are contacting Bashit’s people now,” I heard him tell Shayla. I need to get on the phone with my own soon…

“In the time I’ve known Michael Jackson, we touched on most aspects of his life. Say, for one, his relationship with children. For me, perhaps the most disturbing aspect of his life story. As he often does, he’d invited a group of disadvantaged children to Neverland. They couldn’t believe their luck.”

So, we’re creating a “disturbing” narrative of me giving underprivileged children something they’re not able to do often. Gotcha. This is what we’re doing. People say I’m weird with children, but there’s footage of me allowing them into my home. Allowing them to be children, and I’m weird???

“He was evidently enjoying the company of the children, and they liked being there too. What the children wanted, they got, and everything was free, and for a day, Jackson got to be one of them. The problem was, I, like everyone, knew that ten years ago, children were being invited to sleep over at Neverland. One of them, a thirteen-year-old boy, accused Jackson of sexual abuse. A claim that cost him millions of dollars. I’d assumed that now, he’d be more cautious. But to my utter astonishment, I discovered that children were still sleeping over. Sometimes in his house, sometimes with him. And then, I met twelve-year-old Gavin and his brother and sister. Gavin met Jackson after he’d been told he was dying of cancer.” And we’re just gonna turn this into something sinister. Wow. I patted my pockets and pulled out my cellphone to text my manager, Dieter Wiesner: we must stop this from airing. Do whatever you have to. This cannot air. It’s full of lies. I don’t want ANYONE to see this. I pressed send and went back to look at the screen. Bashir painted me out to be a monster.

“While interviewing Gavin, Michael, and now Michael’s son, I’ve gotten the inkling that Michael told little MJ to say that his father slept on the floor. I don’t believe for one split second that they slept on the floor together. I wholeheartedly believe that Michael slept in the bed with Gavin and his brother, Star.” My eyes widened in shock and anger. Now, he’s lying on my children and saying I’m lying? Why would I sleep in a bed with children that are not mine???? Riddle me that! Riddle me that, please! Because I’m not understanding. So, after a year of “living” with me, after getting all of the information he pried out of me, now he’s just gonna make up his own crap? He could have done that without interviewing me!

“I felt very uneasy after this conversation. I knew I had to confront Jackson about what I thought was an obsession with children. It just couldn’t be avoided. Early in the new year, Jackson agreed to what would be our final meeting. This time in Miami, Florida, where I learned that Jackson had a girlfriend that he’s been keeping under wraps. I don’t know if that was to cover up for his obsession with children or if it was the truth. And after thinking about it for a while, I began to wonder if his obsession is what made his ex-wife divorce him almost six years ago. And how with a quote un quote new woman in the picture, how she could handle that obsession as well.”

Nina’s jaw dropped. Bashir has come for everyone, both seen and unseen. He didn’t interview me to get to know me. He interviewed me for ratings and to continue to push a sick narrative about me. And I fell right into his trap…

“There were unanswered questions. Lots of them. Areas of his life, that which I felt, he’d been less than honest. His face, his denials about plastic surgery, and of course, I also wanted to return to the Neverland sleepovers. Confronting him wouldn’t be easy, but now, it had to happen. As we prepared for the interview, the atmosphere was unusually tense. This time, Jackson had flown in his own lightning expert. Maybe there was a reason for that. Cosmetic surgery was to be the focus of some difficult questions.”

“I think you look fine, baby,” Nina tried consoling me, but I ignored her. Bashir has made me look like a monster with a sick agenda. Like, I’m crazy in the head and don’t know anything. He’s put the final nail in the coffin. He didn’t come into this trying to help me. He went into this trying to finish off my carer. And he thinks he’s done just that.

A monitor featuring the interview with me, Gavin, and MJ popped up.“And so it was, we came back to our meeting at Neverland with twelve-year-old Gavin. I’d found this easily the most disturbing moment of the past eight months.” Disturbing. Wow. Amongst everything my son and I said, this man is still making up stories to fit his sick narrative. Everyone thinks I’m sick, but it’s Martin Bashir. Who “lives” with a man and makes up something just for the world to go along with? He is lying to the world. To adults. To children about me. When he saw the truth! He said he wouldn’t put words in my mouth or makeup narratives about me because he was with me to see the truth. But what he wanted was ratings. He’s trying to do the same thing to me that he did to Princess Diana. He’s obsessed with me, and it’s sick.

And the crazy thing is about those allegations he brought up, why in the world would I get sued for millions if I touched someone’s child. I would want a monster like that in prison. I wouldn’t want money from them. I wanted to prove my innocence, but I wanted the whole thing gone. That’s the thing with these people. They don’t think about that. They’d want a monster like that to be murdered and locked away. Instead, that family wanted money from me. They were the sick ones. Not me. That was a nightmare, and I never want to go through that again.

“I questioned him much further, but the confidentially agreement he signed means we cannot show that part of the interview. My questions had upset him deeply. And so I left Michael Jackson as he prepared to go back to Neverland. What I’d come to realize wasn’t just a home near Los Angeles; it was Michael Jackson’s World, wherever he happened to be. A place where his enormous wealth allowed him to do what he wanted when he wanted, how he wanted. It’s a place that he’d created. He’d lived there since he was a child, and it was clear that he would never leave. But for me, it was time to say goodbye to Neverland.”

Once the documentary was over, the entire room was silent. No one said a word. It was clear that we were all stunned. I had been used and abused once again. The final copy I just witnessed will be shown in the UK and the US on the third. I’m going to do everything in my power to stop it. But even if it gets out, my mind is already reeling with ideas on how to refute this. Bashir cut out so much footage where he praised me, my parenting, my livelihood, and what I did for people and children, but none of that was featured in this. He wanted to paint me as a monster, not the good guy he praised me for being behind the scenes.

Nina tapped my shoulder, “are you okay, baby?”

“I just want everyone out,” I said quietly.

Different members of my family came up to me spewing words to hate towards Bashir and how they were going to get the best lawyers money could buy, if I needed anything, they’d be there to help me, and that Bashir wasn’t gonna get away with this.

“I just want to be left alone…” I curled up in a ball in my seat. This is humiliating. And to think I invited my entire family out here to witness this joke. I was played as a fool for a whole year, and now the entire world will see it.

My family knows how I can get, so they decided to leave me alone, promising they would call me to check in. Everyone left except for Shayla…

“Whatever you need, you know I gotchu, right?” She asked. I kept quiet. “He did you wrong. He did all of us wrong, and he knows it. He’s not gonna get away with this. God has the final say.” Again, I was quiet. “We’re gonna show the world the real you. We’re not gonna leave the world with this. They’ll see, I promise,” she kissed the top of my head. “I’ll see you next week. Call me if you need anything,” she said before finally leaving.

Shayla stayed, but Nina left… Nina was supposed to stay behind and tell me what Shayla had just done, but I guess she didn’t have it in her…

Shayla’s right. I’m not gonna leave the world with this image of me. They’re gonna see the real me. Not a caricature of what Bashir portrayed me to be.

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