SCMP Friday, March 9, 2001

Bedtime story bill of rights

Michael Jackson made a tearful appeal to the world to introduce a children's bill of rights that would ensure parents read bedtime stories to their sons and daughters and make them feel loved.
The king of pop hobbled on to the stage in Oxford University's venerable debating chamber, after breaking his right foot in a fall last week, to promote his Heal The Kids charity and appeal for a renewal of parent-child bonds.
''Tonight I come before you less as an icon of pop . . . and more as an icon of a generation, a generation that no longer knows what it means to be children,'' he told the packed audience of about 500 students and journalists.
In a lecture punctuated by bouts of weeping, Jackson urged children to forgive their parents as he spoke of growing up under the spotlight of stardom. ''My father is a tough man, and he pushed my brothers and me hard, from the earliest age, to be the best performers we could be,'' Jackson, 42, said.
''The cheery five-year-old who belted out Rockin Robin and Ben to adoring crowds was not indicative of the boy behind the smile,'' he said. He longed, he revealed, for ''a father who showed me love. And my father never did that''.
Jackson wore a black and white suit and pushed back curtains of jet-black hair as he began to speak in his almost child-like voice. He argued that a ''Universal Children's Bill of Rights'' should be introduced in every home.
His choice of a good cause could raise some eyebrows - in 1993 a 12-year-old boy accused Jackson of sexually molesting him. The singer denied any wrongdoing and no criminal charges were ever filed. He settled the matter out of court for an undisclosed sum.
The Oxford Union debating society is no stranger to controversy and Jackson referred in his lecture to illustrious and controversial guests who had graced the stage before him, including Albert Einstein, Malcolm X and OJ Simpson.
Outside in the rain, fans from across the globe had gathered to catch a glimpse of their idol. ''People from all over the world follow him everywhere, that must be love and love can't be a bad or dangerous thing,'' said Dorothy Debuhr, 42, her face daubed with blue paint and glittering with gold stars.
But not everyone was as happy to welcome Jackson. ''There are more police here than when Her Majesty came,'' said Reverend David Johnson, an Oxford Union member. ''It's an absolute disgrace. I'd like to say it was cheap publicity, but it's not cheap. We have to pay for all these police. It brings this place into disrepute. When you ask serious people if they want to speak at the Oxford Union, they say, 'Is that the one OJ did?' ''
Jackson has two children of his own by his former wife Deborah Rowe, who filed for divorce in 1999. He was also married briefly to Elvis Presley's daughter, Lisa Marie.
His Heal The Kids charity was founded last year in partnership with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach under the umbrella organisation of the L'Chaim society, based in New York. Before his speech, the star and the 350 people who received tickets out of the 20,000 who applied, sat down to a kosher meal. Daniel Johnson, president of the Union, said: ''The whole menu has been approved by Michael Jackson.''
For those curious about what constitutes a meal with the stamp of celebrity approval, the starter was to be smoked salmon or duck salad, followed by noisette of lamb and chicken with red pepper stuffing.
Meanwhile, for those unable to see the star in person, Jackson's professional double, Navi, who accompanies him on tours, was thought to be preparing an appearance amid the dreaming spires to satisfy the fans.
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