With hit Jackson-tribute show Thriller live on its way to Dublin, Chris wasser talks to its creator
It's 28 years since a young Michael Jackson first performed the moonwalk on live television. The event was a glamorous birthday party of sorts to celebrate 25 years of Motown Records. And the man who would go on to dedicate his life and career to the King of Pop remembers it well.
"I had heard his music before," says Adrian Grant, the British creator and executive director of Thriller Live, "but then I saw him do Billie Jean and I thought 'wow, he's electrifying', and I began to follow his music a bit closer then."
Within the next few years, a fresh-faced Grant began seeking out ways to combine a new career in writing with his love for Jackson's music. And what better way than to set up a UK-based Michael Jackson fan club and magazine? Besides, the artist still known as Prince had one, so why not the biggest entertainer on the planet?
In 1988, Grant received the go-ahead from Michael's label and established the world's first Michael Jackson fanzine, Off The Wall.
"I always thought the magazine could do well," he says. "It went from 200 copies to 25,000 copies in a couple of years. I used to send it to Michael and he really liked it, and he invited me to Los Angeles in 1990. It was then that I thought this could really be special."
Needless to say, the first time that Grant stood before his hero remains one of the most memorable moments of his life. The artist was in the middle of recording Dangerous and Grant recalls a friendly, "down-to-earth" Jackson; a "kid at heart" who liked to laugh and joke around.
As Grant entered the gates of Jackson's fantasy homestead, Neverland Ranch, he marvelled at the chimpanzees and lions; the incredible funfair, and the classical music that flowed through the air. "This isn't reality," he said to the security guard. "It's reality for Michael," the man responded.
Over the next two decades, Grant and Jackson retained a close personal and working relationship, with the former writing a series of books on Jackson, as well as organising a yearly tribute show (MJ Day). In 2001, the man himself even showed up for the 10th anniversary of the show.
"He definitely trusted me," says Grant, "and we used to have personal conversations. He used to ask me my thoughts, and I used to give them honestly because I don't think a lot of people around him were that honest with him. Which isn't a good thing."
It was the success of the aforementioned tribute concerts that inspired Grant to go one step further and develop a bigger show that could appeal not just to the die-hards but indeed, the public at large.
Thriller Live hit the road in 2007. There is no story here -- no over-the-top, We Will Rock You script -- just a live celebration of Jackson's incredible back catalogue, featuring an array of talented singers and dancers.
"I wanted people just to focus on Michael's music and not the press headlines or the media speculation," says Grant. "In my opinion, Michael Jackson was the world's greatest entertainer. The music speaks for itself. He was the ultimate showman and that's what we try to bring to the stage."
The production hasn't changed since Jackson's untimely death in 2009 and more than 1.5 million punters have danced their way through Thriller Live.
"There's a whole new generation of fans now," he says. "There are kids as young as five who come dressed in their white gloves, and you see people as old as 70 dancing in the aisles. That just goes to show the appeal that he still has."
Thriller Live runs at the Grand Canal Theatre from Monday, September 19, to Saturday, September 24