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
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.