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Wednesday, 7 March, 2001, 14:14 GMT
Jackson's drizzly reception
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Michael Jackson and Oxford Union president Nick Mason
Top marks: Jackson received a standing ovation at Oxford
BBC News Online's Darryl Chamberlain witnesses pop superstar's Michael Jackson's descent on the university city of Oxford.

If the people of Oxford were thrilled to have Michael Jackson in their midst on Tuesday night, they weren't showing it.

Bemused locals looked on as hordes of fans blocked the narrow street outside the Oxford Union.

"It's like the United Nations here," one teenager muttered as she found her view blocked by chanting youths from across Europe.

Oxford is used to high-profile visitors to its union - as well as hundreds of tourists - so the city of the dreaming spires initially shrugged off the arrival of bus-loads of Germans.

Michael Jackson fans in Oxford
Fans were bussed in from Germany
"Are we here for Robbie Williams?" shouted their leader, who runs the Angel fan club.

"No!" the fans replied.

'Bad things'

Clad in a fluorescent yellow jacket and baseball cap, he explained how his followers had come by coach from Germany, having endured a 15-hour journey to stand in a street all day.

Then they were going to London to "show their support" outside the Lanesborough Hotel, where Jackson was staying.

A local newspaper reporter, clearly impressed with his dedication, smiled and enquired if this thirtysomething man had time to hold down a job while chasing Jackson around the world.

Michael Jackson
Late arrival: Jackson blamed a doctor's appointment and heavy traffic
"Of course I have a job. I must go. Please, do not write bad things," he stuttered, before returning to his position as the crowd's cheerleader.


A lookalike - complete with mask - emerged from the throng, and a crowd grew around him in the main shopping street.

"He might be the real Michael Jackson, how can you tell?" one woman asked her partner.

Inside the union, 20 hired guards skulked around, one perched precariously on a low roof.

There was discontent among waiting journalists as it was confirmed that Jackson would not allow his words to be broadcast.

"I've handed my press pass back - it's not worth us covering it with these restrictions," a local radio reporter told his listeners.

Michael Jackson
The singer made his mark on the Oxford Union
The menu for Jackson's pre-speech kosher dinner appeared, kicking off with "smoked salmon and trout mousse roulade on a bed of spring leaves, served with a roasted tomato coulis".


But Jackson was late - and as the skies grew dark, the fans fell quiet and the rain fell.

Rumours spread and unflappable PR staff started to look agitated. That kosher dinner was definitely in the dog tonight - or in the bin, as fire bells rang from a smoking kitchen at the stroke of 2000 GMT.

Finally, the fans piped up again, and at 2045 GMT, Jackson appeared, half an hour after Uri Geller and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.

Bathed in a glow of flashes and arc lights, and without his mask, he hobbled slowly into the building, stopping only to nod an answer to a question which nobody heard.

Safely inside the union building, he posed for pictures with union members, while the hired security leapt on photographers who had the temerity to take pictures through the windows.

Then, nothing for a further half an hour - Rabbi Boteach had started to speak, but the press were kept out in the rain. If this was revenge for "Wacko Jacko", it didn't work - The Sun's man was already in the debating chamber.

Michael Jackson
Up close: the media were kept at a distance
Finally, Jackson emerged at 2115. It was hard to believe this frail, awkward looking man was the one whose music and dancing had enchanted the world.

He faltered slightly on his way into the building, where he received a rapturous reception.

Hurt puppies

Delivering his speech, Jackson only became animated talking about his own experiences, and became visibly emotional as he described "a lot of kids today" as "hurt puppies who have weaned themselves off the need for love".

But it was Jackson who looked more like a hurt puppy, and he stumbled as he talked about his father, departing slightly from his script, and crying.

Uri Geller and Michael Jackson
Jackson looked awkward in his cap and gown
More tears flowed as he ended the speech with: "God bless you, and I love you from the bottom of my heart."

Then, no more words were spoken - from somewhere, a gown and mortar board were found, and Jackson sat down wearing them, looking a little like a discarded mannequin as Rabbi Boteach effused about his speech.

Fifteen minutes later, Jackson was whisked away, with two cars full of security guards, a police car and motorcycle outriders, sirens blaring.

And Oxford quickly returned to normality, with students heading for the bars, and the Germans heading for Jackson's hotel.

See also:

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