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Tuesday, 6 March, 2001, 22:35 GMT
Jackson calls for children's rights
Uri Geller and Michael Jackson
The press crowded around Uri Geller and Michael Jackson
Pop legend Michael Jackson has addressed the Oxford Union in a rare public appearance.

Launching his children's charity Heal the Kids, he claimed that childhood has become "the great casualty of modern-day living".

And he broke down in tears as he talked of his own childhood and his treatment by his manager father.

The superstar arrived at the university at 2045 GMT, almost three hours late, hobbling on crutches because of a broken foot and surrounded by security guards.

Tonight, let us create a symphony of hearts, marvelling at the miracle of our children

Michael Jackson
Looking frail, he was wearing a dramatic black suit with white trim - but not the mask that has become his trademark in recent years.

He was accompanied by friends Uri Geller and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who said afterwards: "It's not just the music, it's not just the dancing, he really does want you to heal the world."

Jackson told his audience: "I come before you less as an icon of pop and more as an icon of a generation, a generation that no longer knows what it means to be children.

"It is not just Hollywood child stars that have suffered from a non-existent childhood. Today it's a universal calamity."

He talked about the creation of Generation "O", people who have material success but "an aching emptiness on the inside".

Jackson looked frail as he walked in with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Jackson looked frail as he walked in with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
The pop superstar is the latest in a long line of political leaders and celebrities to speak in the 178-year-old university debating institution.

The move by Jackson, who rarely utters more than a few words in public, is seen by many as a bold one as eight years ago he faced child abuse allegations.

He was never charged and has always vigorously denied the claims, settling out of court for an undisclosed sum.

Jackson proposed a Children's Universal Bill of Rights including:

  • the right to be loved without having to earn it

  • the right to be protected without having to deserve it

  • the right to an education without having to dodge bullets at school.

    He broke down in tears for 20 seconds talking about his own childhood, saying his father pushed him and his brothers from an early age.

    Michael Jackson
    Jackson's trademark mask, rejected for the speech
    "He seemed intent...on making us a commercial success...but what I really wanted was a Dad."

    The singer also referred to the murder of Liverpool toddler James Bulger, saying: "Do you think we can really heal our children ... Children who can beat a defenceless toddler to death like the tragic story of James Bulger?

    "Of course I do, or I wouldn't be here tonight."

    At the end of the speech Jackson, who briefly shed tears again, was presented with a mortar board and gown to cheers and a standing ovation.

    Neil Evans, 21, a student at Brasenose College, said afterwards: "It was an incredibly genuine and heartfelt speech. It was a personal tribute to his own adversaries in his life and not just a prepared speech praising his new charity.

    "It was very moving and by far the best speaker I've ever heard at the Union."

    Crowds had earlier gathered to catch a glimpse of Jackson, including 300 German fans.

    Oxford University
    Oxford is one of the UK's oldest universities

    But not everyone was pleased with Jackson's presence.

    Reverend David Johnson, a former standing committee member of Oxford Union, told BBC News Online: "It's disgraceful, it's brought the union into disrepute.

    "I've met senior people who won't speak here because they've had the likes of OJ Simpson and Kermit the Frog speaking here.

    "It's been turned into a travelling circus."

    Jackson and the Rabbi both led a conference on their Heal the Kids charity in New York three weeks ago.

    Heal The Kids' board members include former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and actress Elizabeth Taylor, a close friend of the singer.

    Jackson's other British engagements include Uri Geller's renewal of marriage vows on Wednesday and a fan club event at the Hammersmith Apollo, west London, later the same day.

    The BBC's Nick Higham
    "At one point Jackson broke down in tears"
    Editor of the Cherwell, Charlie Talbot
    "Its the only time I've seen the chamber give the same person four standing ovations"
    Michael Jackson celebrates his career as a solo artist



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