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Last Updated: Friday, 10 March 2006, 12:37 GMT
Inside Jackson's fantasy estate
The gates of Neverland
Reporters have rarely been allowed into the star's private home
Singer Michael Jackson has been ordered to close down his Californian home, Neverland Ranch, after failing to pay staff or renew their insurance policies.

The star has been living in Bahrain since being acquitted on child sex abuse charges in June 2005.

Throughout his four-month trial, the singer took refuge at Neverland, where fans gathered attaching banners of support to the gates of the estate, at 5225 Figueroa Mountain Road.

Jackson bought the ranch, in the rolling hills of the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County, in 1987 for a reported 11.3m.

At the time, Jackson was at the height of his career. The former Jackson Five star had released his third solo album Bad to global acclaim and record-breaking sales across the world.

Neverland Ranch
Debts in 2003 led to rumours that Neverland could be sold

Named after the fictional home of Peter Pan - JM Barrie's boy who never grew up - Neverland Ranch became a retreat for the child star turned millionaire singer who spent his youth in the public eye.

Jackson's 1,100 hectare (2,800 acre) estate, set amid the luxury homes of the LA jetset, included a theme park and a zoo complete with tigers, lions and giraffes.

One of the zoo's inhabitants, Bubbles the chimp, became Jackson's most famous companion.

Described as "the middle America a lucky kid might've grown up in decades ago", at its height, the ranch featured a steam railway, a funfair, a cinema and a make-believe Indian village.

Free sweets were readily available, while an orchestral soundtrack blared out from speakers hidden in rocks.

Neverland Ranch
The grounds include lakes, tree-houses and ornate street lamps

Celebrity friends were entertained there, and in 1991, Jackson's confidante, actress Elizabeth Taylor - who had donated an elephant to the Neverland menagerie - married seventh husband Larry Fortensky in the grounds.

Children were frequently invited to Neverland, including child star Macaulay Culkin and others selected by charities with which Jackson was involved.

"It's like Disneyland two minutes before it opens - everything's on, but no-one's here," said one young prize-winner, granted entry to the ranch.

But adults, notably the press, rarely gained entry into this exclusive world, fuelling rumours about Jackson's unconventional lifestyle.

Public party

Unusually, ITV journalist Martin Bashir gained access to the ranch when he filmed the controversial documentary Living With Michael Jackson.

And in September 2003, amid reports that money troubles might force the sale of the ranch, Jackson finally opened the gates of Neverland for a public party.

Some 500 guests attended the invitation-only event, with a fifth of the $5,000 entrance fee going to charity.

Typically for Jackson, the media was banned, and reporters had to stand outside the front gates.

But shortly afterwards, the world's spotlight was trained on Neverland, when police initiated a search of the singer's home in conjunction with sexual abuse allegations made by a 12-year-old boy.

Michael Jackson fans outside his Neverland ranch
Fans gathered outside Jackson's ranch following his acquittal

The search revealed a museum filled with costumed mannequins - one dressed as Marilyn Monroe.

Jackson's bedroom contained a grand piano, an array of toys and dolls, piles of videos and pictures of child prodigy Shirley Temple.

In later searches, conducted after the singer was charged, police seized phone records, videotapes and a DVD of party held at Neverland - suddenly the ranch was at the centre of the court case.

Abuse was alleged to have taken place during sleepovers at the ranch, but Jackson was later acquitted on all charges.

When Jackson was cleared, the ranch became a rallying point for hundreds of fans, with cars queuing for at least three kilometres (two miles) outside.

But Jackson appears to have lost his taste for his fantasy home, after his life there was so brutally exposed to public view, and his move to the Middle East suggests the singer may not return there.

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