Friday 17th November 2006

I was a man on a mission. That was the description from one of my colleagues on the helpdesk, quite early on Wednesday morning. It was true and I knew there was so much to be done before that 12 o’clock bell would ring. I could not sleep, I was just far too excited. On the day, my feelings were mixed. Yet I had little time to focus on the events of the evening. I had to concentrate on work and all the tasks that needed to be done before I was allowed to leave. It was not exactly a race against time, but I was under a little pressure to get laptops loaded for testing and SD cards loaded with software. I got there in the end, squeezing in a database backup for a contract developer two minutes before midday. One of my colleagues had given me a CD he had burnt, to listen in the car. However I cannot explain this story without giving the full back story. Sorry but it will be worth going off on this minor tangent.

Back in April I was at a client site, spending three nights and four days rolling out the latest version of our bespoke software. I mentioned briefly then my colleague coming to pick me up in his 51 plate, blue BMW 3 series. Well, he was listening to an oldies album he had burnt full of classics. There were some great smooth chilled out songs from the 1980s and early 1990s and I sat back while he hummed along to the songs. It took me nearly half the year to finally be given a CD to listen to. The ‘oldies’ as he referred to it was a separate album to his contemporary entitled, ‘Nice Jamz’. As I rushed to my car, parked outside the main gate, the buzz was starting to catch up with me. I was tempted to listen to one of my own albums. There was only one artistic I was going to listen to. However, I put on my colleagues CD-R instead, going for pot luck. I was not to know what the first track would be. I half expected the CD to be another Mp3 album, but it had only be burnt as compact disc audio. As I pulled off at quite a speed from the main drive. The first track came on. I could not believe it. Was this just a matter of sheer coincidence? Only a handful of people in the company knew I had the afternoon off and fewer knew where I was going and I assume even less knew which living legend would be making an appearance. I was amazed, surprised by this moment. Here I was driving home and although I could have listened to any of my own albums (with countless MJ tracks dotted around), I had opted to listen to my colleagues own compilation and the first track was, ‘Don’t Stop Until You Get Enough’. I smiled as I sped off onto the bypass home.

It was 12:20pm as I pulled onto my drive, with Beat It blaring at high volume. The adrenaline rush had begun and I did not expect to come down from this high for at least another twelve hours. Rushing inside I started to get ready. Being a perfectionist on this day, I already had all my clothes ready, Oyster card, Extra Mints and other essentials. I also had a pre-written note. A few lines I had written on Tuesday night, explaining to my family where I had gone. No one in my family knew I was going to the awards ceremony, even though a few of them are regular readers of this blog. After getting changed, grabbing my things, I headed out of the door, rushing to make sure I caught my train on time. Originally I thought I would catch the 1.20pm train, giving me enough time to get back home, get ready and then drive into town. Being ahead of schedule, gave me time to take some deep breathes. The traffic going into Wycombe was slow. The inside lane on Marlow Hill was closed as they undertook some repairs, but all I saw was one pick up truck and no actual workmen, but then that is hardly a surprise. I pulled up at High Wycombe station and was able to quickly find a spot, even though there was a sign that the car park was full and cone stopping cars from entering. It was just a few minutes before 1pm as I bought my tickets and boarded the train waiting on platform one. The ticket master said I had less than a minute before the train would leave, so I ran and jumped on board, taking a seat on the left-hand side. I was bored and decided to text a few people to pass the time. I text Pinky from the forum and was surprised that she had been queuing since 6.30am at Earls Court and was about to be let in. Almost five hours before the show begins. Crazy. I was concerned that I would have a rubbish view of the stage now but that was the least of my worries. I had to wait for Michaela to get my ticket. Thankfully thirty-one minutes after my train departed from my hometown, I got the call. I got the confirmation that my ticket had been collected from the box office. I could rest easy. It was actually a case of lulling myself into a false sense of security.

Arriving at Marylebone, I headed for the tube and took the journey as follows. Took one stop down the road to Baker Street. Here I picked up the Circle line southbound (or is that westbound?) I know I could have jumped off earlier but I waited until Gloucester Road to disembark from my tube train. I then went across to the opposite platform and waited for the next train going west. It was a Piccadilly train and I got off at the next stop. Earls Court. I was here. Well yes and no. I came out of the wrong exit (not the first time) so was lost. No question I was lost and did not know where the arena was. Not a major issue. I would just call my friend and find out where they were so I could meet them. To my shock, they informed me they were in Harrods, a corner shop the other side of town. Not a million miles away but I knew that we had to queue to get a decent view of the stage and this was suicidal. The complete professional I am, I did not let my true feelings come across on the phone. I let my friend do the grovelling. They would meet me by the side entrance within the hour. I checked my watch. It was 14:17. To rub salt into the wound she said I should go to McDonalds. (I did not get the chance to to explain that I have not been to that fast food chain in over two years. Well not to buy food for myself anyway.) You can try and imagine how I was feeling. Here I was, in the heart of West London, hours away from seeing the return of the greatest entertainer the world as ever seen and I had no ticket. I was not really that concerned because I knew that my friend would pull through and arrive on time. Anyhow I had a more pressing issue to deal with. I had to find the venue. There were a big group of security guards wearing bright yellow ShowSec jackets milling around. I was tempted to ask them where Earls Court was but did not want to look like a complete fool. Instead I followed the road signs and walked around to the rear entrance. However, there appeared to be some show about Dubai property on in the conference centre, so I carried on walking to the main vehicle entrance at the rear and asked the security guard at the gate directions to the World Music Awards. He pointed me back in the direction I had come but said I should walk around the side entrance. Walking back, I was directed to the main box office. There was already quite a big queue, but rather than this being a queue for the standing audience, it was just for ticket collection. I walked back to the area, which was labelled for all those with standing tickets. There were a few diehard fans queuing but only a handful. It was coming up to 3pm. I then walked back to the Box Office and waited, calling my friend but their phone was off. Waiting around, looking for any fans I recognised. Then I saw Terry in the distance. Or rather I saw his blue Arsenal top. I walked over and was glad to be with friends again and not look like some loner. Terry had just arrived and I did not reserve my excitement. With him were Diane and Tibsy. We started talking and preparing ourselves for what was just around the corner, literally. This was the relative calm before the storm. Further friends arrived, adding to the surreal atmosphere. This was my first MJ event with other fans, with Michael actually making an appearance. I had by now made good friends with several members of the UK fan community, all stemming from a documentary I watched on Channel 4 back in early January 2005. I was looking forward to the entire awards show and of course the magic moment of Michael being presented with the Diamond Award. However there was one minor issue. It was getting closer to the time to be let in and I still had not ticket. My friend was not answering her phone. I had to make a decision, I had to make it soon. We were queuing now and luckily quite near the front. Doors would open at 5.30pm as it clearly stated on those that had their tickets out. The time must have been around 3.30pm. Tibsy had a friend, Holly who had a ticket going spare. I had to take it. I could not wait for my friend to come back and find me. Even if they did, they would be way behind in the queue. With a ticket in my possession, I calmed down. Or rather was less agitated and now just full of pure excitement. It was getting colder and the few hours that had already passed by started to catch up with me. I bounced up and down on the spot to warm myself up but with little of the desired affect. It was then I recognised a face in the crowd, on the wrong side of the railings.

Sudhir was there, talking to his friend across the barrier. I squeezed by some other people and said hello. He was waiting for the others. Anika was already inside, along with Pinky. The long queue was compacted down and split up. With these instructions we thought it would not be long before we would go in but it was not the case. Sudhir jumped the barrier when the security guards were not watching and I helped his friend with her Heat Crossword, getting three of the handful of words remaining. A few minutes later, we were let in, one at a time, our tickets checked and given a flourest venue wristband. I thought it would only be a matter of time before we were inside, after all the show was scheduled to start at 7pm. Little did I know there was another two hour and fifteen odd minute wait ahead of us. It was getting cold and the wind was picking up. However the entertainment came in the form of some guys standing directly behind us. Firstly they kept asking for Lempsip, as it was so cold! (This became the running joke for the rest of the time we were in the queue). Then they started using the name of Jackson’s solo albums to describe how they felt outstand on a frosty autumn evening. For example, “Let us in, it is Dangerous out here…” “Will you please get us Off The Wall” “We are not Invincible, let us in!” and the opening lines, “It’s close to midnight…” (of course it was not but that is how it felt) Okay maybe you had to be there. In any case, there were moments that I was laughing so much that I forgot about the elements. I was content with the thought that in short time, I would be in the same room as a musical legend.

While these guys were our entertainment in the queue, they also provided me with a fascinating insight into the perfect professionally of the King of Pop. I overheard one of them tell the other the following story. When Michael had turned up to see rehearsals, he had asked for them to continue but not looked at any of them on the stage. In fact he was facing away from the stage and focused on the music. He could ‘hear’ when any of the performers missed a step. Wow! Just imagine having that kind of ear for music and dance. It was a thought that stuck with me for the rest of the night. Genius.

At quarter to the hour, 8pm that is, we were let in and I rushed through the second barrier and queued by the main entrance. We were warned by the security to relax. How can you relax when you are about to come face to face with one of your children heroes? I was held up at the front of the queue, as Terry and the rest of the gang went through. After a wait for a minute I was let in and I rushed up the stairs, only for a security guard to open the door and warn me to take it easy. Step aside, can’t you see I’m on pure adrenaline. After being padded down by yet another security guard I went through to a female security woman. She asked for my ticket, and tried to scan it through a barcode. It failed the first time, even though I had passed her by. She called me back a few steps and I waited for her to scan it through and she then threw it into a big transparent plastic bag. Gone was my small momentum of the day. (Thankfully Tibsy had taken a photo with his camera, while we had waited in line.) I rushed up some more stairs right behind Terry. I was once again warned by a security guard not to run, he said if fell flat on my face it would be fun for him but not for me, he muttered, with no emotion in his voice. We walked to towards the stage and our wrist tags were checked. We headed to the left of the stage and I snapped some pictures on my Nokia 6230 camera phone.

World Music AwardsWorld Music Awards

We had been pre-warned that only camera phones would be allowed inside, but to my shock people had bulky digital cameras, even camcorders. Why were they allowed in? I was disappointed for a while, wishing I had brought my digital camera. Then I considered it again, another thing to carry and potentially lose. And why fight with dozens of others to get a good view, when I can just look up instead of waving a hand around in the direction of those on stage. Plus I would always be able to get pictures from someone else. Tibsy had followed us in, but gone to the far left of the stage. I called him and stuck my hand up in the air and he found me. He was disappointed with our spot on the floor. I could understand, we did have a guy of nearly seven foot standing towards the right. He wanted to head over to the main VIP area and look out for celebrities. He asked me twice but pondering I turned him down and stayed in my place with Terry and the rest of the gang. I did not want to walk over there and get a rubbish view of the stage. Even if there were some “celebrities” nearby. There was only one person I was here to see.

We were in, and there was that eerie semi-silence before the show would kick off. The buzz of the audience talking, the director making final adjustments, the camera crew taking some final test shots, with simple background music filling in any holes. It is difficult to put into words how I felt. Sure we were an hour late, but I was in the arena, I was here. I had made it. The show was about to begin, the lights dimmed and you could see the shadowy silhouette of Miss Beyoncé Knowles walk across behind the screen to the top of the main stairway. Then we waited. And we waited some more. There was a technical fault of some kind. It would prove to be the trend for the rest of the evening. I could go into the details but I would rather not focus on what went wrong and concentrate on the most important aspects. The performances.

A quick run down of which artists performed and the songs they sang. Beyoncé opened with Deja Vu, Andrea Bocelli gave a wonderful rendition of Can’t Help Falling In Love With You featured on his new album, Amore. Beyoncé returned to perform Irreplaceable, the best track on her album B-Day. There was a performance by Kate Melua, Enya came on to perform It’s In The Rain.

We were all hoping that MJ would be performing Thriller with Chris Brown but after a fifteen-minute delay (it felt much longer, trust me) only Chris Brown appeared in the famous red outfit. His performance was amazing a great re-creation of the music video. This just warmed the crowd for the main event. Beyoncé came to present Michael with the Diamond Award. It was a strange moment for me, for a split few seconds as I saw Michael appear up the stairs I was lost in the moment. Was I really here? Was I really in the same room as this legend? The same artist, whose music I have listened to more than any other persons (Last FM statistics do not lie). It is difficult to describe in the words when you finally meet (okay I am stretching the use of the adjective, but you understand what I mean) someone in the realm of Michael Jackson. There are superstars, there are A-list movie stars and then a whole light year beyond that is this living legend. I am running out of superlatives to use. The moment he appeared on the balcony will stay with me for the rest of my life. A magic moment and then you hear the rest of the crowd go absolutely crazy. I joined in with the chorus of “Michael, Michael!” at the top of my voice.

There have been many things I have discussed on this blog over the past four years. However, a few topics tend to remain constant. Arsenal, football in general, blockbuster movies, computing and other geeky stuff and finally Michael Jackson. To say he has been an inspiration would be an understatement. He has influenced, via his music alone, many of the best entries. Just take a look through the archives and you will see clear evidence of the journey. The journey, which began many years ago but was only documented from February 2003 with the screening of the Living With Michael Jackson documentary. To that wonderful day in mid June last year when the jury finally gave their verdict. During the many months between these two significant points in my life, one thought, one image kept me going. I would listen in the late evening to FiveLive as they reported daily outside the courtroom in Santa Barbara. The return, the comeback. I am not talking about just another album, another media appearance, another interview on a talk show. I am talking about the greatest comeback in the history of entertainment. Things have moved on so much over those three years since Martin Bashir made that controversial documentary. I now had a whole network of MJ fans and access to forums, but more than this thanks to another documentary on Channel 4, I know people who were there, inside and outside the court, showing their solidarity. I also have the privilege to now call them my friends.

So here I was, the other side of that dark tunnel, at the moment I and many millions more had dreamed of. Some feared that it would never happen and I must admit at times, I too questioned my faith. How could a human being brought down in this way with such lies and deception ever face the public again? Why would he ever want to? Michael Jackson is unlike any other person. To quote the beautiful lines from Speechless, “helpless and hopeless that is how I feel inside, nothing real but all is possible if God is on my side”. Michael makes the impossible nothing.

People will say that he only sang two lines from We Are The World, when he appeared on stage for the finale. Just as the media reported when I listened to FiveLive when I eventually got home around 1am. They have missed the point. They do not see the bigger picture. This was Michael telling the world, I’m still here and prepare yourselves. He is back in the studio and working on his new album. As much as I would like him to tour again, I know that may not be possible. New material is critical. Proof, (as if it ever was still needed) that he still has the talent, the genius, the magic that has made him the King Of Pop.

Michael threw his jacket into the crowd and this fan was lucky enough to grab a strip of the inside. Now this picture might look strange but trust me, the fabric smelt of an orange perfume. Hate to use a tired cliché, but I will do anyway. Is this the sweet smell of success?

Small Piece of HIStory

[Image courtesy of MJJ-Europe]

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