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Tuesday, October 19, 1999 Published at 13:43 GMT 14:43 UK


'Wacko Jacko' bewilders Barnstaple

Wacko in full flight - but not in Barnstaple

Pop fans in a sleepy UK town are bewildered after a visit from the King of Pop turns out to be the great sting of pop.

Queen's Theatre manager Darren Regan: "Performance was absolutely fantastic"
The excited audience had insisted that Jackson played at an awards ceremony for children at a martial arts club in Barnstaple, Devon.

They had been watching the Matt Fiddes Black Belt Academy extravaganza, when a previously unnamed "special guest" arrived in a white stretch limousine with 10 bodyguards.

He took to the stage with a troupe of dancers and performed four Jackson routines leaving the audience, theatre staff and sound engineers in no doubt that it was the real thing.

But on Tuesday, Jackson's record company, Sony Music, burst the Barnstaple bubble and denied the superstar had been in Devon at the weekend

"Michael has been in Los Angeles since last week and sends his love to all his British fans," it said in a statement.

Mask and glasses

Barnstaple fans had seemed happy to accept that the superstar had taken to the boards in front of 450 people at the Queen's Theatre.

Robin Meltzer of the Michael Jackson fan club had said: "If it's a hoax it's a very, very good one".

Darren Regan, manager of the Queen's Theatre, said he was convinced he had seen the performer once dubbed "Wacko" Jacko.

[ image:
Mr Regan said he had six hours' notice of the performance - the first clue he got was when a troupe of backing dancers turned up at the theatre.

Then, at exactly 8pm, a white limousine pulled up to the theatre door, and out stepped the "star" who shielded his face with a mask and dark glasses.

Once inside he joined the audience in the dress circle to watch the martial arts club perform its routines, said Mr Regan.

'Smooth Criminal'

When the demonstrations finished, the performer took to the stage, to wow the crowd with a medley of hits including You Are Not Alone, Billie Jean and Smooth Criminal.

Mr Regan said: "Certainly, the appearance, the facial features and the performance were absolutely fantastic.

"We knew something special was happening as soon as the white limousine turned up. It was amazing - absolutely phenomenal."

Robin Shepherd-Blandly, who was the lighting engineer for the performance, also believed he saw the real Jacko.

"During the afternoon, two blokes came to the threatre and we discussed the lighting for Mr Jackson. We rehearsed it - to the second - for three hours," he said.

"After the performance, he walked straight past me - he was only inches from my face. It was definitely him."

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