1. Michael Jackson Memorial Ceremony the 17th of July 2009: Amid the media storm over the singer’s controversial personal life and sudden death, the 11-year-old girl’s emotional tribute capped a somber, spiritual ceremony that celebrated what his fans saw as the essence of the man: his music, his moves, and his humanitarianism.
Jackson once said his own funeral would be the “greatest show on earth” and he would not have been disappointed as music royalty turned out at a memorial service for the “King of Pop”. But while it was a public memorial, it was also intensely private, with his famous friends addressing personal messages to the pop star.
The most personal moment came from Jackson’s daughter, Paris Michael Katherine Jackson, who made her first public statement to the estimated one billion people watching around the world. “Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father I could imagine,” she said, dissolving into tears and turning to lean on her aunt Janet. “I just want to say I love him so much.”
It was the first time the world had heard one of Jackson’s children speak, after he went to great lengths to keep their appearances secret, even having them wear masks or shawls around their faces in public. Paris, 11, sang along on stage with an all-star cast to Jackson’s songs “We Are The World” and “Heal the world” before taking the microphone herself, gazing out at the crowd and at the £15,000 bronze and 14-carat gold plated coffin holding her father’s body in front of the stage. During the service, the little girl sat in the front row with her brothers Prince Michael, 12, and Prince Michael II, seven, who is known as Blanket.
Emotions peaked when the Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil rights activist, delivered a fiery eulogy highlighting the racial barriers Jackson broke and the troubles he faced. “Every time he got knocked down, he got back up,” Rev Sharpton said. Rev Sharpton rode the moment, building to a crescendo. “There wasn’t nothing strange about your daddy,” he said, addressing Jackson’s three children. “It was strange what your daddy had to deal with!”
Celebrities lined the front of the stage: Kobe Bryant, Spike Lee, Wesley Snipes, Lou Ferrigno, Don King, the Kardashian sisters, Magic Johnson, Brooke Shields, Larry King. But while Jackson was among the most recognised faces in the world, today’s megastars were largely absent. Those present mostly reflected some connection to Jackson’s life or work. Among those conspicuously not in attendance were Elizabeth Taylor, Diana Ross and Debbie Rowe, Jackson’s ex-wife and the mother of Jackson’s two oldest children, who has said she is considering whether to sue for custody.
The ceremony began with a message of condolence from Nelson Mandela, who described the singer as a “giant and a legend”.
Jackson’s £15,000 coffin – made of solid bronze, plated with 14-carat gold and with a blue velvet interior – was placed in front of a stage decorated with extravagant floral tributes and a screen proclaiming: “In Loving memory of Michael Jackson, King of Pop 1958 – 2009”.
Mariah Carey performed the Jackson 5 hit I’ll Be There and was followed by the singer Queen Latifah, who fought back tears as she told the audience: “Michael was the biggest star on earth. In Birmingham, Alabama, and in Birmingham, England, we are missing Michael Jackson. We are the world.” Among the singers chosen to perform was Shaheen Jafargholi, 12, from Swansea, who rose to prominence after singing the Jackson 5 song Who’s Lovin’ You on ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent.
In the front row, Jackson’s brothers wore single sparkling white gloves, echoing the singer’s signature style. Images of Jackson during his life and career were projected above his coffin.
But as Los Angeles and the Jackson family were praised for a relatively sombre and sober service to honour the King of Pop, the BBC faced criticism for deciding to clear schedules for two hours on BBC2, as well as the BBC News channel, to broadcast the event live from the Staples Center sports arena in Los Angeles. Last week the corporation received 748 complaints over the extent of its coverage of the singer’s death.
Outside the arena, tickets changed hands for hundreds of dollars but fears that up to 700,000 ticketless fans would besiege the building did not materialise. Earlier, the singer’s family and closest friends had gathered at Forest Lawn memorial park, a cemetery in the Hollywood Hills.