My defining memory of Michael Jackson — vulnerable, brilliant, otherworldly — is of watching him dance to the soundtrack of a movie.

My defining memory of Michael Jackson — vulnerable, brilliant, otherworldly — is of watching him dance to the soundtrack of a movie.

This was early in our friendship, around ten years ago in New York. I visited Michael in his hotel room and was amazed to find it decorated with Hollywood posters and eight-foot cutouts: Anakin Skywalker peeping out from the folds of Darth Maul’s cape, ET bicycling over the full moon.

I told him he should see The Matrix, because of the spoonbending sequence, and he immediately instructed his aides to book a whole cinema. The response was instant: ‘Yes Michael!’ Nobody around him ever said ‘No’ to him… and during the tragedy that unfolded over the next decade, I often reflected that what he needed above everything was someone to tell him ‘No’ once in a while.

We took Michael’s little boy to the Sony cinema, and sat side by side in the empty auditorium with boxes of popcorn and candy. After about half an hour, Michael slipped out of his seat. I assumed this was his way of avoiding goodbyes, but after a few minutes I looked round and saw him silhouetted in the projectionist’s beam. He was dancing, lost in the moves that only he could make — the twists, the spins, the moonwalk. No one else on earth ever danced like that. Michael was absorbed in the soundtrack, unaware I was watching him. He was mesmeric.

He was in New York to record his album Invincible, a $30-million project that was intended to relaunch his career — but his confidence was so battered that he could no longer believe in his own musical genius. ‘The music is still in me,’ he whispered sadly, ‘but sometimes, when I sing, I don’t know how to reach down and touch it. Please — help me.’ But he wanted more than motivation — he wanted mental transformation. At last he decided that he could only break through his fears with the power of hypnosis, and he begged me to place him in a trance. I agreed to try a technique I have used many times on heavy smokers who are trying to quit. Within a few seconds Michael had surrendered his will. I have hypnotised many people, and it’s easy to tell if they are faking. A good subject can eat a whole onion in the belief that it’s a sweet apple. Jackson was an excellent subject.

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We worked for a few minutes on his musical block, and then I did something I have never done before. I’m not proud of this — in fact, I feel it might have been unethical — but I began to probe deeper into Michael’s mind. I knew of the disturbing rumours that he had bought off a court case with a $20 million settlement. My intuition told me he was innocent, and so sensitive to attacks that he would do anything, even throw away millions, rather than face a confrontation. But I had to be certain.

‘Michael Jackson,’ I said, ‘tell me with total honesty — did you ever touch a child in an inappropriate manner?’

He answered without hesitation. ‘No. I would never do that.’

‘Then why did you pay Jordy Chandler’s family off?’

‘It was the easiest thing to do.’ The statement was simple and unembroidered, made without pause to invent a lie. ‘I couldn’t take it any more. I’d had enough.’

I pushed the question again: ‘Have you ever touched a child or a young person in a way that you shouldn’t?’ And he replied: ‘Never. I would never do that. My friendships with children are all very beautiful.’

He appeared to be still under deep hypnosis and I believed he was quite incapable of lying. Years later, when he was hounded by prosecutors in California who forced him to stand trial on similar allegations, I never doubted that he was innocent — though I did fear that the jury would convict him, not on the evidence but based on prejudice.

As I was sucked into the insanity of media and adulation that followed him round the world, I began to marvel that Michael remained as sane as he was. One evening we drove out of his Knightsbridge hotel in a people-mover with midnight-tinted windows, and there were 2,000 people crowded across the pavement. Around 60 of the younger ones broke from the press and sprinted alongside us. I was concerned that someone could slip and fall under a wheel, but they were all so exuberantly happy. They were shouting out, ‘Michael, we love you!’

Michael gestured for the car to slow down, and he edged his door open, leaning out of the car to touch the hands of his fans.

‘We love you, Michael!’

‘I love you more,’ he said.

But too often he seemed not to love himself. With no one to say ‘No’ to him, his behaviour could become self-destructive — and when I tried to be the one who stood up to Michael and his ever-changing squad of advisers, our rollercoaster friendship dived into a trough. I lost my patience and shouted at him: ‘Stop doing this! Before it kills you!’ Michael did not want to listen. That was the beginning of a rift between us, although on his most recent visit to London he did ask me to visit him.

On my wedding day in 2001, Michael had been our best man. He was hours late, and afterwards he seemed jetlagged and exhausted, so I led him into the family room of our home. Crystal pyramids and globes are clustered on the table, and beside the sofa stands a lifesize wooden effigy of Elvis, in his rhinestone period.

I sat Michael down, gave him a drink of juice and left him to relax. At the doorway I turned round. Michael was sitting quite still, with his eyes closed, and he had reached up to hold Elvis’s hand. The King of Rock and Roll stood over the King of Pop, like a guardian angel with a guitar.

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This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated