Before the plastic surgery, pet monkey Bubbles and dangling his baby outside a hotel room window, there was a time when Michael Jackson was the biggest star on the planet. Now, nearly 10 years since his untimely death aged 50, the National Portrait Gallery honours him in the exhibition “Michael Jackson: On the Wall” (from 28 June, 2018). From the King of Pop to Pop Art, the gallery brings together more than 40 artists, from David LaChapelle to Andy Warhol, depicting the singer’s huge impact on art and his influence on popular culture.
Given that Jackson was a master at creating iconic images, whether it was with his fedora hat or rhinestone single glove, it’s fitting to find that he is being remembered with such an exhibition. The gallery’s director, Nicholas Cullinan, says: “It is rare that there is something new to say about someone so famous. This will open up new avenues for thinking about art and identity.”
Here, we recall Jackson’s famous moments in London, from the “Bad” to the bonkers.
If you ever need convincing of what a mind-blowing performer Michael Jackson was, just watch any performance from his “Bad” tour that came to Wembley Stadium in 1988. The tour spanned 16 months and visited 15 countries. This was Jacko at his peak, doing what he did best, from the 45-degree, gravity-defying tilt in “Smooth Criminal”, to his passionate singing on “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” with Sheryl Crow.
In London, the show was seen by more than 70,000 people each night. Princess Diana and Prince Charles attended in July 1988, and out of respect Jackson did not perform his song “Dirty Diana.” Jackson, who later became close friends with the Princess, said, "The song is not about Lady Diana. It’s about a certain kind of girl who hangs around concerts – groupies. I took it out of the show in honour of Her Royal Highness. She asked me if I was going to perform 'Dirty Diana' I said no, and then she said, 'No, do it, do the song.'”
When the musical show opened at the Lyric Theatre in January 2009, it became an unexpected success. Created by the Jackson family and producer Adrian Grant, the show is a tribute to Jackson with non-stop singing and dancing. The jukebox musical takes us from his early days of “I Want You Back,” to the debut of his moonwalk during “Billie Jean.” If you’ve never seen Jackson perform, this is the closest you’ll get.
Just a few months after the show opened, Jackson died on 25 June. The theatre immediately took on a symbolic importance with the public; it became an unofficial memorial place for bouquets of flowers, and a spot for Jackson fans to congregate and sing. It is now The Lyric’s longest-running show.
Getting a Madame Tussauds waxwork made of you is a clear "you’ve made it" moment – you’re famous enough to a global audience who want to pose alongside your image. Michael Jackson got his first waxwork here on 28 March 1985, and he decided to visit the venue. When his limo stopped off at Marylebone Road, it was instantly mobbed by crowds. In true Jackson fashion, he climbed on to the top of his car, white glove waving, so that all his fans could get a glimpse of him.
Madame Tussauds has since created 13th incarnations of Jackson—hardly surprising, given that he had many famous looks. Only the Queen has been portrayed more often.