- Paris still sleeps with one her daddy's jackets
- After their bizarre upbringing, the children crave normality
- The singer was convinced he was going to be killed
His mother's son: Katherine Jackson says the family remain close despite differences over how to honour Michael's memory
They have the same air of a person who has endured much, yet has a sense of naivety. More than anything else there is a feeling that she is not quite of this world.
I am inside the Jackson family home. The decor is chintzy faux Versailles with a few Seventies browns and oranges. There are paintings of princesses, lots of sculptures of giant hands, galloping horses and the odd giraffe.
There is an ornament depicting Michael Jackson holding up the world with doves and children. It’s ornate and sentimental, a bit like Michael. I walk past a row of children’s bikes — a reminder that she now has custody of Michael’s three children — and a swimming pool, in sight of majestic mountains under the blue California sky, to get to Katherine Jackson’s quarters. I had to go through double-gated security to get to this house 45 minutes from Hollywood.
She greets me warily but sweetly. She’s dressed in a pale blue jacket and black slacks. Her skin looks much younger than her 81 years. Her eyes are dark and dart around. She seems to be frisking me for my soul.
The Jacksons are naturally suspicious and they all believe in various conspiracy theories surrounding the death of her son and their brother.
She has just taken a call from her son Jermaine who is vehemently opposed to the Michael Forever Tribute Concert at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, on October 8, which will be televised and downloaded to more countries than any other show in the history of pop (or so they claim).
JLS will perform with Marlon, Tito and Jackie Jackson. And a pregnant Beyoncé, wearing a Michael wig, will be seen on film, introduced by the Jackson children — Prince Michael, 14, Paris, 13, and Blanket (passport name Prince Michael II), 10.
The concert has caused friction within the family, because Jermaine feels it is inappropriate to stage it at the same time as Dr Conrad Murray goes on trial for the involuntary manslaughter of Michael Jackson.
Katherine Jackson seems keen to diminish the spectre of the sad Michael, plagued with demons and eccentricities, and get on with celebrating his memory and cherishing his talent.
‘Jermaine feels it’s not the right time because of the trial coming up.
Michael’s been gone two years now. They kept postponing the trial. We didn’t know when exactly it was coming around and I don’t see anything wrong with this.
‘Jermaine has his own thoughts. He’s entitled to his opinion.’
Pop legacy: Michael's sister La Toya with her niece Paris-Michael Jackson, who still sleeps with one of her father's jackets
I have heard that Jermaine seems to be acting out the role of the new Joe Jackson, their disciplinarian father who used to beat them if they didn’t work hard enough in rehearsals.
Sources say that it is usually Jermaine and Randy on one side and Jackie, Tito, Marlon and La Toya on another, and Janet one step removed. Katherine disputes this.
‘When we are together we get on well. I don’t know how this lie started but I’m so tired of people believing it. Every family has their problems. It doesn’t mean we never get along. Anyone can agree on something today and change their mind tomorrow.
‘My children are grown up now. I always tell them: “This is your brother, this is your family. If you don’t agree with them and something happened to them you would not pass your family by. You would always give a helping hand.”
‘They may fight and have their differences. They may not speak for a while — and this never happened in my family — but if somebody got sick or needed help, I would always be there.
‘You can’t change a person but that doesn’t mean you don’t love them.’
I sense that here is a frail woman who has endured pain, betrayal, loss, and might snap at any minute.
Those around her say she is the driving force of the family and that nothing happens if she doesn’t want it to.
She is the legal guardian of Michael’s children. You can’t help wondering if she has the stamina to bring up two teenagers and a ten-year-old. Isn’t it all very demanding? ‘No, not at all. I have a lot of people helping. They’re good kids and I don’t have that much to worry about. They have their friends over. They ride their bikes.’
It’s almost more strange that she makes them seem normal. Their upbringing even before the tragedy was at the very least eccentric. They went out dressed in Spider-Man masks and Prince in a surgical mask. Yet they sound very well adjusted.
‘They go to acting school and they love that, although Paris doesn’t need lessons,’ Katherine chuckles, meaning she is a natural actress.
What makes Katherine happy now? ‘That’s not an easy question. I believe in the resurrection and I’m happy when Paris and Prince come home from school happy. Prince is a very good student. He’s always saying: “Grandma I got a 98 in my test.” It makes me happy to see them smile.’ She says she sees Michael in all three. ‘They are all going to be like him, especially Paris. She has pictures of him hanging all over her wall.
‘When I had a decorator come in who moved them, she put them all back. “I want Daddy hanging on the walls”, she said. I don’t know how she could, but she does.
‘She took a pillow and one of his jackets, and said: “I don’t want a jacket that’s been cleaned. I want something with his scent on it.” She put the jacket over the pillow and she breathes it. It’s still there.
‘She said: “I don’t ever want it cleaned. He’s worn it and it smells of him and I don’t ever want the smell to go away.” ’ Katherine starts weeping.
‘They’re doing OK,’ she says. ‘I’m doing OK. It’s hard being a mother and losing your child. It shouldn’t be that way round. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t...’
Her whispers turn into tears. ‘People tell me all the time that I’m strong, but I don’t think so. Paris, Prince and Blanket suffer in different ways. Prince tried to be stronger than the others. He wants to be a man. He doesn’t want people to see what’s inside.
‘During the funeral when the children were given the crown to put on top of the casket, he put his hand on my shoulder and started to cry. He wanted to be strong because he was around all his cousins. From the moment they came from the hospital [after Michael died], they were all bawling their eyes out.’ She composes herself slightly. ‘He was a very good son. People tried to poison the world against him. All this molestation stuff was just a lie.
Brotherly love: Jermaine Jackson is opposed to the Michael Forever Tribute Concert to be held in the star's memory in Cardiff next month
She recalls what happened the day she got the news that something had happened to Michael. ‘I got a call to come to the hospital. We rushed down there and when we got there, we said: “Where is he?” and they took me to another room. They wanted to sit down and talk to me and that’s when I was told.
‘I said: “How is he?” They told me he didn’t make it. But all I could say was: “How is he?”
‘I think when your child has died there is nothing to take that pain away.’
She is looking forward to the Cardiff concert because, she says: ‘It makes me feel good that people all over the world can love him even after his death and it made me feel good to know that perhaps they didn’t believe those bad things after all. I know he didn’t do it. People are mixed up. They don’t know.
‘These people who did it, they know who they are. They know what they did.’
She’s resolutely silent and not going to tell me who the people are.
She seems to be saying that there was a conspiracy to murder her son, and in this thinking the family are not at war.
Jermaine in his graphic book, You Are Not Alone: Michael Through A Brother’s Eyes, reveals that Michael’s chimp wore clothes and Poison perfume by Christian Dior. The book paints him in all his weirdness, but it exonerates him of any crime.
The family toe one united line, which is that dark forces claimed Michael. Not those within him, but something beyond his reach.
Even this fractured and broken family can agree Michael was a victim — although nobody is exactly sure of what.
La Toya Jackson has spent the past two years making a documentary and it is speculated that in it she will reveal who she thinks is responsible for his alleged murder.
Did Michael ever tell his mother he wanted her to look after the children if anything happened to him?
‘No. He never talked about that but he always felt that someone was after him, trying to kill him. He would ask: “Why are they after me? I haven’t done anything. What are they accusing me of?” ’
It sounds like he was in a panic. I don’t want to say it sounds like he was paranoid in front of her in case I make her cry again. ‘No,’ she says, very resolute, ‘I don’t think he was panicking. He would say it just like that if he were here with us today. He felt something was going to happen.’
Katherine’s favourite Michael Jackson song is Man In The Mirror and she is looking forward to it being performed at the concert which she is attending even though she doesn’t like flying.
‘Every time I think that people did care about my son . . .’ She can’t finish the sentence for weeping.
‘If he were alive he’d be proud to see that a lot of people were giving back. It is so emotional because he really loved everyone and he’s not here to see it. I’m sure he will be nearby.’
Does she think that she can feel him around her and communicate with him and his spirit? She shakes her head. ‘Michael’s sleeping now and I know he’s not conscious of anything.’ She says this as a measure of ultimate sadness and relief. The profits from the concert will go to his favourite charities.
‘Wherever he was he would visit orphans and hospitals and babies and children in need. He would always give. Since he was that high.’ She gestures to knee level.
Family values: The singer with his parents Katherine and Joe Jackson
But I had heard that the concert was to directly benefit Michael’s children, because his executors had decided to wait until the children are 40 before releasing the millions they are holding in trust.
Although when Jackson died there were substantial debts, the subsequent posthumous sales of albums and DVDs are said to have generated £196 million.
On the day we meet there is a news story that suggests the trust had revised its policy and was to give £20 million to Katherine and the children and to some charities. ‘The only thing I’m going to say is they are unfair.’
Perhaps she means the estate is unfair because it’s a trust and the children will not be awarded that money straight away.
She continues: ‘They say they’re selling Hayvenhurst [the Jackson family’s English Tudor-style home in Encino, California, where Michael grew up]. I haven’t agreed to that. I don’t want it sold. Michael remodelled it as a gift to me, but I won’t go back to live there. I like where I live now because it’s lighter, brighter.
‘The happiest time for me and my family was when everybody was at home, nobody was married, my children were young and they could go out and play.
That was before they were signed to any record companies. They were just in talent shows. And we were all there sitting around the table eating and talking and having fun.
‘I used to cook soul food. In the wintertime we would buy a big piece of beef and put it in the freezer and I would freeze peaches so we would have steaks and gravy and rice and peach cobbler. We would always have a dessert. Maybe fried apple turnovers. Those were my happy days. But they will come again.
‘I am a spiritual person and I feel I will see my son again at the resurrection. I try to be strong.’
It certainly must have taken strength to stay with her husband of more than 60 years, Joe Jackson. They are still married, although estranged.
Her children have spoken about their father’s brutality. Michael in particular felt tortured by it.
It’s hard to grasp how this empathic, intelligent matriarch stood by as her husband Joe regularly beat his children if they didn’t get their songs right. It was also rumoured that he cheated on her. Does she still love him? ‘Well yes, I do. That’s a strange question.’
Not really. I want to say to her, not many women would. But, instead, I ask does she get on with him? ‘Oh yes.’
Here I see parallels with Michael, to want to believe the good in people, that the world can be beautiful when it most definitely isn’t.
Does that make her naive or strong? ‘I don’t have Michael’s pictures out all the time, but I have got some of his things. I’m never going to forget him. Every time I see something of his it just makes me feel bad.’ She shakes her head as if she both cherishes and is tortured by the memories.