On September 12, 1997, ABC (USA) aired a Michael Jackson interview with Barbara Walters (20/20) which had been taped at the George V hotel (Paris, France) that same week. Michael talks especially about the tragic death of princess Diana and the role that paparazzi nowadays play in the life of stars.
From here on Barbara Walters will be known as (BW), Hugh Downs as (HD), and Michael Jackson as (MJ). All other names used were stated as written:
BW: Up until 13 days ago perhaps the two most photographed people in the world were Princess Diana, and Michael Jackson. Now only one remains to talk about what it means to live under that kind of scrutiny. Since the allegations of child abuse made against Michael Jackson four years ago, he has been, if possible, even more pursued. And by the way, we checked with the District Attorney in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara and learned there is no active case against Mr. Jackson today.
Michael Jackson himself is notoriously shy about giving interviews, but on my way home from covering Princess Diana's Funeral I met with him in Paris to discuss the paparazzi and his personal recollections of the Princess.
When it comes to the paparazzi, Michael Jackson says he feels a bond with Princess Diana. Paparazzi have been a part of his life since he was a small child. The youngest of the Jackson 5, he has been a Super Star for three decades. At 39 he continues to sing and dance all over the world and the Paparazzi follow him all over the world. He has been on a European tour for the last five months, playing to over two million people. The night Princess Diana died Jackson canceled his concert, but the last two concerts were dedicated to her. He doesn't pretend that she was a close friend. She was a fan.
MJ: I met her first at a concert in London. She was very kind. Very loving, very sweet.
BW: What did you two talk about?
MJ: I wrote a song called Dirty Diana, and it's not about Lady Diana, it's about certain kinds of girls that hang around concerts or clubs. We call them groupies. I've lived in that all my life, you see these girls, they do everything with the band and everything you can imagine. So I wrote a song called Dirty Diana. But I took it out of the show in honor of her Royal Highness. And she took me away and she said [
MJ: whispers] 'Are you going to do Dirty Diana?' No! I took it out of the show because of you. 'No! I want you to do it, do it, do the song.'
BW: So she had a sense of humor with you?
MJ: Yeah, of course. And she told me she was honored to meet me, and I said it's an honor to meet you.
BW: How did you hear about her death?
MJ: I woke up, and my doctor gave me the news, and I fell back down in grief, and started to cry. That's why, the pain, I felt inner pain in my stomach and in my chest. So I said I can not handle this, it's too much. Just the message and the fact I knew her personally, then on top of that one. I said there's another one real soon, I feel it coming, there's another one, and I pray it's not me. Please, don't let it be me. And Mother Teresa came.
BW: Are you psychic? Is that what you're saying?
MJ: I don't want to say that, but I've done it before.
BW: And you though it might be you?
MJ: Yes, I've been living in that kind of life all my life. The tabloid press, that kind of press, not the press, the tabloid. The paparazzi, that type. Hiding, getting away. You can't go that way because they're over there, we won't, lets go this way and pretend we're going that way and we'll go that way. Someone should say HOLD ON, STOP. This person deserves their privacy. You are not allowed to go there. I mean I go around the world dealing with, running and hiding, you can't…I can't take a walk in the park. I can't go to the store. I can't. I have to hide in a room, you feel like you're in prison.
BW: What's been the most intrusive thing? What's the worse?
MJ: They always have been, uh, they go as far as to hiding in places, they'll slide cameras up under the toilet…chit chit chit... you go 'Oh my God!' They've done that.
BW: When you came into this hotel, you had to come in, or you felt you had to come in through the kitchen.
MJ: I've been doing it for years. Many lobbies I've never seen the front door, never.
BW: Did you ever try and out race the paparazzi?
MJ: To out race them?
MJ: They follow, they chase you on their scooters.
BW: Cutting in front of you?
MJ: Yes, and I have said to the driver, 'slow down', I jump in, 'slow down, it's going to kill us, slow down.' I've said it many times. 'It's going to kill us.' So he jumps out of the car and yells at these people.
BW: You know there is that argument that you rely on publicity to sell your albums, for your concerts.
MJ: When I approve, yes.
BW: But you can't always control the press. You can't approve of everything. You can't invite them in again and again and then at a certain point close them out.
MJ: Yes you can.
BW: Well how do you do that? What is that line?
MJ: By doing that. This is their time. This, and this you should not do. You should not say he's an animal. You should not say he's Jacko. I'm not Jacko, I'm Jackson.
BW: How do you feel when they call you Wacko Jacko?
MJ: Yeah, Wacko Jacko, where did that come from? Some English tabloid. I have a heart and I have feelings. I feel that when you do that to me, and it's not nice. Don't do it. I'm not wacko!
BW: There are those who would say you add to the tension.
MJ: No, I don't.
BW: Well the masks, the mysterious behavior.
MJ: No, there is no mysterious behavior. There's a time, when I give a concert I like to have... as many people who want to come can come and enjoy the show. And there's a time you like to be private. When you put on your pajamas and go to sleep, cut off the lights -chading- and lay down. That's your private space. If you go in the park, I can't go in the park, so I create my own part at Neverland. My own water space, my movie theatre, my theme park. That's for me to enjoy.
BW: I don't want this to sound insulting, I'm just going to be straight with you. You are somewhat eccentric, to say the least. The way you dress, the way you look, it invites attention. The whole appearance as you grew up was larger than life, more extreme. You don't think that calls the paparazzi to you?
MJ: No, No, No, maybe I like to live that way. I like to dress that way. I don't want paparazzi really, but if they come, be kind. Write the right, kind thing to write.
BW: Michael, is it the journalist role or the presses role to be kind?
MJ: To be kind?
BW: 'Cause the press also sometimes has to look into things, be tough, we can't always be kind.
MJ: What you saw, what happened to Lady Diana, you tell me. There should be some boundaries. Some kinda way. The star needs some space. Give him a chance to relax, he has a heart, he's human.
BW: And when you finally did a concert, you dedicated it to her. What did you say?
MJ: In my heart I was saying, ' I love you Diana, shine and shine forever, because you are the true Princess of the people,' And in words I did not say it, but I said it for three minutes, and showed big pictures on all the jumbo screens, big huge screens, and her picture was there, and the crowd went bananas. I played the song 'Smile' and 'Gone too Soon.'
BW: Give us some of the lyrics if you can.
MJ: Shiny and sparkly and splendidly bright. Here one day, gone one night. Gone too Soon.
HD: Michael Jackson says he wants to keep the paparazzi away from his son, but after the baby was born he sold pictures of him to the tabloids. What was he thinking? You'll find out when Barbara continues with Michael Jackson.
In December of 1996 Michael Jackson married Debbie Rowe, his second wife, and last February their son was born. An event that whipped the tabloid media into a frenzy. And the baby is now also a target of the paparazzi.
BW: You said 'I grew up in a fish bow, I will not allow that to happen to my son.' Yet when your son was born you sold pictures to the National Enquirer and other European tabloids. Why did you do that?
MJ: Because there was a race. There were some illegal pictures out. Illegally somebody had taken picture of a baby. Millions of dollars, and said here's Michael's son.
BW: And it wasn't as I recall.
MJ: And it wasn't. So, I took the pictures of the baby and said they're forcing me to get his pictures. There's helicopters flying above us, flying over my house, flying over the hospital. Machines and satellites all over, even the hospital said 'Michael we've had every kind of celebrity here, we've never had anything like this. This is unbelievable.' And so I said here, take it. I gave the money to charity.
BW: Rather than... in a sense what your saying is what you did was to get them off your back.
MJ: Yeah, now they want to do it again and I don't want to. Maybe I don't want to show him to the world like that. I want him to have some space where he can go to school. I don't want him to be called Wacko Jacko. That's not nice, they call the father that. It's not nice, right?
BW: You said you don't want your child to be called Wacko Jacko's son. How are you going to prevent it, so they don't do it to him?
MJ: That's the thing, that's the idea. Maybe you should come up with a plan to help me.
BW: You're his daddy.
MJ: There you go. They created that. Did they ever think that I would have a child one day, that I have a heart, it's hurting my heart, why pass it on to him?
BW: Do you like being a father?
MJ: I love it.
BW: Are you very involved with him?
MJ: [laughing shyly] Yes.
BW: You have been in the spotlight since you were a baby yourself.
BW: If your son showed talent, does he show any talent at nine months?
MJ: Well, I'll tell you this much. When he's crying, to keep him from crying you have to do one thing.
BW: What's that?
MJ: I have to stand in front of him and dance.
MJ: Yes, he stops crying. His tears turn to laughter. He starts happy, he smiles.
BW: Do you do your moonwalk with him?
MJ: [laughing] Yeah, I do all kinds of moves, then he stops crying.
BW: He stops crying?
MJ: Stops crying.
BW: You must do a lot of dancing.
MJ: [laughing] I do a lot of dancing, yeah.
BW: Michael, if this little boy says 'daddy I want to go on stage' after what you've gone through
MJ: ...[laughing] I'd say, Hold on now, hold on. If you do go that way expect this, expect that, expect this, expect that.
BW: You'd lay it all out.
MJ: I'd lay it all out. Your gonna get all this, and all this, and all this. Are you ready to do that? If he says 'Yeah! I can't wait!' Go! And do it better than I did it.
BW: But know what you're in for.
MJ: Know what you're in for.
BW: Our interview was over. We told no one it was happening, nor had the Paris Hotel, but when Jackson tried to sneak out through a back door he found a huge crowd already waiting.
HD: Boy it doesn't take long. Barbara, we know now that Diana didn't have adequate protection on that last day. What kind of protection does Michael Jackson have?
BW: We saw at least four body guards, and he needed them.