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Thursday 7 January 2021

Treasures From The Attic No 3: The surreal night I had dinner with Michael Jackson

As I ransack the contents of my keepsake boxes in the attic during lockdown, here's one of the strangest of them all.

Would I like to have dinner with Michael Jackson? It was an invitation that, as a showbiz writer, I’d never even dreamed of.

So it was that I found myself a VIP guest at London’s Guildhall on July 20, 1988 for the most surreal evening of my career.

The King of Pop was in town to celebrate his imminent Bad shows at Wembley Stadium, and they laid on a party like no other. 

Guests of honour at Guildhall banquets are more usually kings and queens, world leaders and politicians.

And, indeed, Michael was treated like royalty. He became the first commoner ever to enter by the hall’s Royal Entrance, a unique privilege that required the Queen’s personal approval.

His arrival was heralded by the red-jacketed trumpeters of the Life Guard cavalry, usually seen marching along the Mall. There followed a £75,000 banquet, during which the roast beef was paraded through the room by the Corps of Drums of the Honourable Artillery Company.

Dancers in Olde English costume scattered rose petals at Michael’s feet. Then he watched wide-eyed as first Henry VIII, then Elizabeth I, Lord Nelson, Nell Gwynn, Robin Hood, Maid Marion and Dick Whittington paid their respects.

Ballet dancers burst from a box. Fire-eaters, jugglers, jesters and Elizabethan musicians visited his table. Then Michael was stunned as Merlin appeared in a puff of smoke, and glittering knights in armour bowed before him.

But as guests tucked into the finest food England had to offer, the reclusive singer nibbled only at corn on the cob, vegetable salad and orange juice prepared by the personal chef he had flown over.

It was after the dinner that things took an even stranger turn. I joined Jackson and his pony-tailed manager Frank Dileo in the Guildhall courtyard, where the star took the salute as the Band of the Corps of Royal Engineers beat the retreat, walking up and down a line of liveried Life Guard troops as if he were a general inspecting them.

He bopped lightly on his heels as the band played and grinned wildly when they launched into a version of Billie Jean. Then a knight in shining armour galloped across the courtyard, leapt from his saddle, pulled a sword from a stone and went down on one knee before handing the sword to Michael.

He was blissfully unaware of the historical significance, and handed the sword to a 7ft minder wearing a top hat. “Do you realise,’ I said, “that you’ve just become the King of England? That’s supposed to be the sword King Arthur pulled from the stone before he recruited the knights of the Round Table.”

His response was utter delight. “Gee,” he said. “A King? I never knew. I love your traditions!” And with that, he was whisked away to a limo to take him back to his Mayfair hotel.

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