How many chances do you get to take an intimate snap of the king of pop himself?
Well one typical overcast May morning I received a very excited phone call from my Daily Mirror picture editor Ian Down, who told me to race over to Harrods in Knightsbridge. Once there we met Harrods boss Mohammad Al Fayed who personally escorted myself and Mirror showbiz reporter Fiona Cummins to his private offices. There we would eventually meet music legend Michael Jackson for an exclusive interview – and what turned out to be a very bizarre and unforgettable encounter.
Initially, Fiona and I were abandoned in one of the Al Fayed’s luxury apartments for over two hours, not having a clue what was going on. Eventually we were ushered to another room where we faced another agonising 45 minute wait.
Finally Al Fayed appeared with the news that Michael would be with us in 10 minutes. The air was thick with anticipation. After such a long wait we were still quite skeptical the whole thing would actually come off. We feared our chance to meet the strangest figure in pop history, a man who rarely gives press interviews, could crumble before us. But then suddenly the door swung open and in Michael Jackson stepped, looking even more bemused than us. I have to admit, I almost burst into laughter when we shook hands. The whole scenario was hugely surreal.
I immediately asked Michael to pose with my reporter and then with Al Fayed.
I had set-up a soft box in one corner of the room to take a few more shots of Michael, but a manic Al Fayed intervened and told me that there would be no more photographs of Michael, ‘Please let him rest’ he ranted. Michael then proceeded to circle the room, squeaking various indistinguishable noises. We asked a few questions about his trip to London and other pleasantries, trying to make him feel a little more comfortable. It’s true, he is as child like as they say. Even Al Fayed was trying to crack a few jokes to relax Michael – each joke wasn’t remotely funny, Michael coyly smiled.
With Al Fayed’s insistence on no more pictures pressing on my mind, I weighed up the possibility of grabbing another picture of Michael without causing too much of a scene. But then I kept thinking ‘How many times do you get to meet Michael Jackson?’ I decided to take the chance and take a couple more frames. Surprisingly Al Fayed didn’t react, I got the shots and we all shook hands again before Michael shuffled from the room.
Amazingly the two extra frames I managed to grab at the last minute that worked very well. Considering I didn’t really have time to frame the shot as well as I wanted I was thrilled with the results. I took a chance and it paid off, like him or not Michael Jackson is a living music legend, a unique figure of our times and as a photographer probably one of the most interesting characters you’re likely to encounter. The photograph was chosen for last year’s photographic portrait prize exhibition at the National portrait Gallery.
John started his photographic career in the early 1980’s working for a Fleet street news /Sport & General press agency. He worked his way up from Darkroom boy, to B&W printer, then trainee Photographer, then onto staff photographer, before leaving to go freelance in 86. He worked for various newspapers and magazines until he was offered a staff position on The Daily Mirror in 1996.
John has covered editorial stories all over world covering the whole gamut of press photography, from Celebrates, studio work, Royals, to conflicts around the world and major sporting events. His main passion in photography lies in portraiture, and he is currently working on two long-term projects, which he intends to exhibit next year.
To see more of John’s work take a look at these websites;
Photographer since 1984, EPUK member since 2004.
See more work by John Ferguson