mon 23/09/2019

Leaving Neverland: Michael Jackson and Me, Channel 4 review - sordid revelations from the court of the King of Pop | reviews, news & interviews

Leaving Neverland: Michael Jackson and Me, Channel 4 review - sordid revelations from the court of the King of Pop

Leaving Neverland: Michael Jackson and Me, Channel 4 review - sordid revelations from the court of the King of Pop

Dan Reed's sprawling documentary makes for sickening viewing

Michael Jackson and the Robson family in 1990 (Wade Robson, front left)

Not just the Peter Pan of Pop, but also its very own Houdini. With the aid of shed-loads of money, an illusion-spinning PR machine and the most aggressive lawyers that money could buy, Michael Jackson managed to make it to his premature exit in 2009 without being sent to jail. Dan Reed’s sprawling two-part documentary Leaving Neverland comes to bury Jackson, and to do posthumously what nobody managed to achieve in his lifetime.

Reed focuses on the stories of two boys who became, for a time – or perhaps forever, considering the terrible emotional legacy it all left them with – Jackson’s pets. Wade Robson, living with his family in Queensland, Australia, was five when he came to the attention of the King of Pop by winning a dance competition with his “Smooth Criminal” impersonation, and was invited onstage by the man himself in Brisbane. “It was like I’d been anointed in some kind of way,” he recalled (pictured below, Jackson and Wade Robson).

Over in Simi Valley, California, Jimmy Safechuck, the child of a fairly mundane suburban family, met Jackson when the agent his mother had found for him got him a role in one of the star’s Pepsi commercials in 1986. At age nine, Jimmy was delirious with excitement at meeting his idol. “He invited me into his trailer,” he remembered.

Both boys found themselves whisked away on a magic carpet ride. All these years later, their recollections of the extraordinary magnetic aura surrounding Jackson were undimmed, and how being in the brilliant spotlight of his temporarily exclusive favour rendered everything and everybody else irrelevant. Meeting up with the star again when he went with his family to California two years later, where he was going to dance at Disneyland, Robson found himself at Jackson’s Neverland ranch, sleeping with Jackson in his bedroom while his family went off on a trip to the Grand Canyon. “What you’d think would be standard kind of instincts and judgements seemed to go out the window,” he mused. Jackson’s technique of schmoozing the parents while stealthily drawing their boys away from them was seemingly a marvel of diabolical guile. “He just came across as a loving, caring, kind soul,” said Wade’s mother Joy. Mind you, even she drew the line when Jackson asked if she’d leave her son with him for a year.

As for Jimmy Safechuck, he was invited to go out on Jackson’s Bad tour, and shared the star’s bed while his star-struck parents slept in a room down the hall. As the tour went on, they found themselves billeted on a different floor. Jimmy’s mother was persuaded that all they were doing in Jackson’s room was watching videos and eating popcorn, but that wasn’t quite the full story. “In Paris, he introduced me to masturbation, and that’s how it started,” Jimmy claimed. "He would like it if you would bend over and, like, spread open your cheeks… and then he would masturbate.” It was alleged that Jackson would subsequently start treating his proteges to hardcore adult porn (pictured below, Jimmy Safechuck today).

It was striking how the two men’s recollections tallied so closely together. Strange, too, was how it became quite difficult to tell them apart, as though their shared experiences had created a physical as well as an emotional closeness. Having flown close to the Jackson sun, both duly found themselves banished to the outer limits while Jackson moved on to fresh pastures (it seemed he liked to change favourites every 12 months). Later arrivals Macaulay Culkin and Brett Barnes denied that Jackson ever abused them. Mind you, so did Robson when he testified at Jackson’s 2005 trial.

Some of the biggest question marks must hang over the heads of the boys’ parents, for whom the phrase "duty of care" evidently held no meaning. The Robsons suffered particularly severely, with Joy leaving her husband and taking her children to California to pursue what she saw as a great opportunity to exploit Jackson’s patronage. Her husband killed himself, and her children can’t forgive her. It was a sickening, debilitating story, and I’m kind of sorry I watched it.

  • Part 2 of Leaving Neverland: Michael Jackson and Me is on Channel 4, Thursday 7 March at 9pm
Some of the biggest question marks must hang over the heads of the boys’ parents

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

Advertising feature

★★★★★

A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway

 

Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.

 

★★★★★

This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman

 

Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.

 

Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.