MICHAEL AND ME

How the po­lice­man sent to guard Michael Jack­son in 1993 made friends with the King of Pop and had a mag­i­cal day out in Bangkok

Bangkok Post - - Front Page - By Kri­tini Prach­abarn

A baby ele­phant to play with, and a room filled with toys and bal­loons? Sneak­ing out to see the sights of Asia’s most ex­cit­ing city without the pry­ing eyes of se­cu­rity guards and fans? No prob­lem, when you are the King of Pop and have just struck up a friend­ship with the Bangkok po­lice­man who looks af­ter vis­it­ing stars.

Pol Col Taveesak Veer­a­vat­tanayothin of the Tourism Po­lice Depart­ment had good rea­son to be up­set when he heard of Michael Jack­son’s pass­ing. He es­corted the megas­tar when he toured Thai­land in 1993 and 1996 and be­came close enough to the star to learn that Jack­son had the ge­nius of a mu­si­cal great, but the soul of an in­no­cent, play­ful child.

‘‘I was in shock just like ev­ery­body else at his sud­den death. It’s numb­ing. It isn’t even sink­ing in yet, but I think the world has not only lost its great­est en­ter­tainer but prob­a­bly also the nicest per­son,’’ said Pol Col Taveesak.

On the first tour in Au­gust 1993, the po­lice of­fi­cer says, Jack­son ar­rived ‘‘abruptly’’ in Bangkok a day early from Hong Kong with only one se­cu­rity guard. The tour was dogged by con­tro­versy as Jack­son was forced to post­pone two shows af­ter child mo­lesta­tion charges against him emerged in the United States.

‘‘It was chaotic be­cause we had to re­ar­range the se­cu­rity plan in a hurry.’’ Pol Col Taveesak paused, rec­ol­lect­ing the fran­tic scene. ‘‘It was fun, though.’’

A lieu­tenant colonel back then, he rushed to the Ori­en­tal Ho­tel where Jack­son was sched­uled to stay, strug­gling past hun­dreds of fans gath­er­ing in front of the ho­tel. ‘‘I was told to meet them in their ho­tel room im­me­di­ately. I jumped into the lift go­ing up to the room, and to my sur­prise I found my­self stand­ing right next to Michael and his guard. It was just like a scripted movie scene.’’

Jack­son greeted the po­lice of­fi­cer, who in­formed the star he was there to take care of him, with a sim­ple ‘‘Hi’’.

‘‘He was very shy. He took a look at me, wag­ging his fin­ger to­wards my uni­form and then said out of the blue ‘nice’.’’

At the time, the me­dia re­ported that Jack­son and his en­tourage, in­clud­ing the con­cert crew, were in con­flict.

To Pol Col Taveesak, it looked as though Jack­son was flee­ing from some­thing. ‘‘He didn’t bring any lug­gage.’’ He said Jack­son’s trusted per­sonal body­guard later con­fided to him that the star was sur­rounded with ‘‘bad peo­ple’’ who took ad­van­tage of his fame and money like ‘‘leeches’’.

‘‘Michael’s en­tourage splurged on ev­ery­thing. I asked one of them who’d pay for the bill. He said ‘Michael’.’’

Since there was no planned itin­er­ary, Pol Col Taveesak asked Jack­son’s body­guard what the singer wanted to do.

‘‘Michael went shy. He whis­pered to his body­guard to tell me he wanted to do a lit­tle tour of the city. He wanted to see where Bangkokians hung out. Well, Siam Square it is!’’

The next morn­ing, Pol Col Taveesak picked them up at the ho­tel.

‘‘I bought Michael a gift but didn’t have time to wrap it. He saw the small plas­tic bag I car­ried. I think he knew it was for him. He cu­ri­ously kept looking at the bag all the time. I guess he was guess­ing what it might be. I wasn’t sure if it was ap­pro­pri­ate.

‘‘His body­guard didn’t say any­thing, so I handed Michael the gift. ‘This is for you, sir.’ I could tell he was thrilled when he opened it. His eyes lit up and a broad smile fol­lowed, as if he was jump­ing up and down in­side like a kid happy to have a candy bar. ‘Thank you so much,’ Michael said to me.

‘‘It was the set of ‘nice’ dec­o­ra­tions from my uni­form which he pointed to the pre­vi­ous day.’’

At Siam Square, the three went into a record store. Jack­son seemed in­ter­ested in what kind of mu­sic Thai peo­ple liked. He bought many CDs, then headed to Siam Cen­tre where he spent quite some time in a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment store.

‘‘Michael walked straight to a grand pi­ano, sat down and started to play. I thought to my­self: ‘Wow, lucky me! I’m priv­i­leged to see his pri­vate show.’ But Michael just hit the keys like a kid who doesn’t know any notes, gig­gling and stomp­ing his feet. He was just fool­ing around.’’

The whole day Jack­son looked at ease and re­laxed, still shy, but hap­pily wav­ing to peo­ple on the street, who recog­nised him and shouted his name. There were Ja­panese groupies fol­low­ing him around the world. Th­ese girls were in Bangkok too and even hired a boat to get a glimpse of Jack­son step­ping out on the bal­cony of his ho­tel room.

‘‘He was an or­di­nary per­son en­joy­ing a short ad­ven­ture and ap­pre­ci­at­ing ev­ery sin­gle mo­ment of his rare free­dom,’’ re­called Pol Col Taveesak. Was Jack­son de­mand­ing? ‘‘Not at all. He’s the op­po­site of that. His only ex­cep­tional re­quests were to play with a baby ele­phant in the ho­tel, to meet chil­dren and to have a games room filled with bal­loons and toys both in his ho­tel room and in the chang­ing room at the Na­tional Sta­dium where the con­certs took place.

‘‘Frankly, that’s quite un­der­stand­able as we knew how he grew up with the lack of a child­hood.’’

The po­lice­man also helped in­spire Jack­son’s fa­mous crotch-grab­bing move.

‘‘Michael had a zip-fly mal­func­tion. It was loose and opened sev­eral times. I had to tell him once. He was em­bar­rassed. I think the zip­per is­sue in­spired that sig­na­ture dance.’’ Have you seen his face up close? ‘‘Yes. His skin looked al­most trans­par­ent. Michael cov­ered up his face with a large hand­ker­chief when he was in pub­lic, though.’’

Jack­son’s crew ar­rived the day af­ter their day trip, and Pol Col Taveesak said he was rep­ri­manded by one of the se­cu­rity guards. But the po­lice­man, who had es­corted the Brazil­ian na­tional soc­cer team and Miss Uni­verse con­tes­tants, was aware that the lo­cal Tourist Po­lice had pro­vided beefed-up se­cu­rity and ‘‘Michael was comfortable with it’’.

How­ever, the hol­i­day was over. Jack­son went back to work. He was sched­uled to shoot a mu­sic video at the Royal Thai Air Force Academy Cadet School. He marched along­side a pa­rade of air force cadets, and the clip was shown on MTV many times. ‘‘Michael was so poised and pro­fes­sional. The shoot went well. On stage he was even more as­ton­ish­ing. It was by far the big­gest con­cert ever held in Thai­land.’’

Af­ter the shows, Jack­son and the team left al­most im­me­di­ately for Sin­ga­pore. Pol Col Taveesak said sit­ting in the car with his per­sonal body­guard, Jack­son looked ‘‘frail and ex­hausted’’ af­ter putting all his en­ergy into the show.

‘‘Still, he nod­ded and the guard, who was friendly with me the whole trip, handed me a bag. I opened it. Now it’s my turn to act like a kid. I was given a pair of his sig­na­ture large avi­a­tors [sun­glasses], a hand­ker­chief and a pic­ture of him­self with a signed au­to­graph. ‘Thank you for your gift and for tak­ing care of me’, Michael said with the ex­act same in­no­cent smile I saw ear­lier. I was sim­ply de­lighted.’’

Pol Col Taveesak’s gifts from Jack­son.

LEG­END LIVES: Michael Jack­son’s po­lice es­cort, Taveesak Veer­a­vat­tanayothin, and the per­former in Bangkok.

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