I seem to have this uncanny knack of being at the centre of major happenings at work, be they sport or news related. Last night I found myself embroiled in a far reaching news event that in a bizarre way was almost a carbon copy of the events of the evening almost exactly four years ago – turning up to work in the evening after a pleasant meal only to find all hell breaking loose and every plan for the evening abandoned.
Naturally the same person was involved. Four years ago I arrived in the office to the news on all TV screens that the jury in the Michael Jackson trial had reached a verdict, a verdict that would shape the agenda for the rest of the evening. Last night Michael Jackson was involved again, and as I arrived at the office just before 11pm to start a long-planned overnight shift television was reporting that the rumours that the singer had died were turning into cold hard facts.
When we went on air at 1am, the death of Michael Jackson was the only topic of debate. For five straight hours we took calls from people wanting to give their thoughts on the subject, occasions like this the being the time that speech radio comes to the fore. Whilst the music stations that had the resources had switched their programming to back to back renditions of his hits, we provided the means for people to express their shock at the loss of their idol.
Not that everyone shared that view, and indeed picking a middle way was the hardest thing of all. Sometimes you have to balance free speech with questions of taste and it meant that whilst callers who wanted to express concern that the star’s lifestyle was being whitewashed and that we were painting him as a modern day saint were allowed to express their view, those who simply wanted to make outraged points at how he was nothing more than a vile child abuser of which the world should be glad to be rid were politely informed we wouldn’t be taking their call that night.
Mind you, as night turned into morning there were some other equally outlandish points of view being put forward. First there was the man who wanted to discuss what was going to happen to his concert tickets. “Will we be getting a refund, that’s what I want to know” he informed me. When I assured him that of course that would be the case, he shouted he wasn’t so sure and spent the next 45 minutes ringing up repeatedly to insist that he got to discuss his concerns on air. In doing so he forgot the first commandment of speech radio. Thou shalt not piss off the call screener, they and only they are the gateway to the airwaves, and you only get one shot at convincing them.
Then there was the man at about 4am who was making up conspiracies in his head. “Is he really dead, that’s the question..” I assured him that it was absolutely the case. “Ah, but it is like in 1977 when Elvis was supposed to have died, we all know that he didn’t”. At that point I myself broke the first commandment of phone answering: don’t tell the callers they are nutters. Really though I think he had it coming.
You may guess from this whimsical account of the events of last night that I’m not exactly donning the sackcloth and ashes over the whole thing. Chalk this up as yet another public figure event that I have little or no emotional attachment to and can so do little more than observe it all with bemusement. Once I’d slept off the excesses of last night, I couldn’t resist a trip to the O2 to see the small shrine that people had set up to the man who sadly would never get to play there. It was hardly a scene of mass mourning, just a handful of students signing their names on posters underneath a giant screen advising people that the issue of refunds would be decided soon. Nonetheless as I left to return to the tube station, the individuals all carrying bouquets of flowers suggested the installation was only going to grow. The state of play as at 4pm today is in the photo at the top of this entry.
One thing is for sure, the sudden passing of such a major star can’t help but have a huge chart impact come the weekend. Although the effects were slow to make themselves known (and I will confess to checking the iTunes countdown at regular intervals during the evening just to spot the first Jackson singles appearing) by the middle of Friday it was clear that the expected sales rush for his entire back catalogue – both singles and albums – was underway. Indeed, amidst the “oh my word” shocked comments from friends on Twitter and Facebook last night were the other pertinent observations that acts like La Roux might be about to to have their triumphant chart week almost totally eclipsed.
I’m not completely sure Sunday will see a Top 20 almost totally dominated by Jackson recordings, but even a cursory glance at the iTunes chart this evening shows three different Jacko singles all heading for the top end, with Man In The Mirror leading the charge at Number 3.
In the cold light of day I’m also struck by the huge economic impact the death of Michael Jackson will have on this, my local area. Much comment has already been made of the herculean task the promoters will have in refunding millions of pounds to the people who have bought tickets for the 50 concerts that will now never take place. Sympathies or sniggers should also be directed to the speculators who bought tickets and then sold them on at a profit even before they had been delivered. Working out who gets to be liable there could keep a few lawyers in business.
On a more serious note, there are local businesses who could well feel a knock on effect. Inside the O2 itself there are bars and restaurants who were looking forward to bumper takings on the nights of the concerts themselves. Whilst the dates later in the year may well be snapped up by other events, friends in the know are resigned to the fact that the arena will simply have to go dark on the dates next month when the first gigs were due to take place. That is not counting the effect on all the hotels in the surrounding area which you can almost guarantee were fully booked with people who were to fly in from all over the world to see the events. Coming home from work on nights when events have been on at the O2, it is a common sight to see the DLR station packed with weary concert goers all attempting to find their way to their beds. Only the other week I did my good turn for the year by leading a veritable posse of lost Britney Spears fans down the road to the Etap hotel next door to my flat – I figured they had suffered enough already after all. Cancelled hotel bookings may well be filled over time by other events, but guaranteed capacity nights may well be hard to come by.
So whilst I wasn’t exactly a fan – I liked his music enough in his heyday when I was a teenager, but could not easily sit comfortably with the notion that by continuing to buy his records I was validating his lifestyle and condoning the inappropriate way he behaved – the tragic death of Jacko the superstar still managed to have an impact.
It only seems fitting that I use the chance to dig up some happier memories, so later this weekend I will reproduce everything I’ve ever written about his chart singles, dating back to 1992. Plus I get to reproduce this photo, a memory of the day 12 years ago that I spent an afternoon pretending to be the man himself, all for a local radio promotion.