Round-up 2009, part 2
Japan, Russia, Holland, Germany, France… my TV shows have taken mearound the world this year, and I’ve enjoyed the incredible privilegeof broadcasting live to tens of millions of people.
His murder was all too possible… but the love he felt for Yoko and Sean was immortal, and I couldn’t imagine the love without the man.
When a journalist phoned me late one night last summer and told me that Michael Jackson was dead, once again I did not believe the news. I put the phone down, and told Hanna the call was a hoax.
I had been worried about Michael’s health for years. If he had collapsed during his trial, when he was under more stress than anyone could bear, nobody would have been surprised, least of all me.
And I had witnessed the effects of his prescription drug addiction, I had urged him repeatedly to break the destructive cycle, and I knew that he was getting bad medical advice from people who should never have been allowed near him.
But I was staggered when he died. The news, when I heard it over and over again, floored me. I don’t think I slept for about 48 hours, as I talked to TV stations and reporters all over the planet, desperately trying to make sense of the tragedy.
Michael had been on the verge of making a real comeback. Everybody who has watched the movie of his rehearsals for the This Is It shows, scheduled for London’s O2 stadium, must know that as a singer, a dancer and an entertainer, he was as good as he had ever been.
His death was needless, and heart-breaking for all the hundreds of millions who loved him. It was the event that defines 2009 for me, even more than the live TV shows in Russia, France, Germany and Greece and my globe-girdling visits to Japan.
It was a year that connected me to many people in pop music, some old favourites and some delightful new discoveries.
I was blown away by the power of Speech DeBelle’s lyrics and her rapping when I met the Mercury prize-winner on BBC1’s This Week.
She told me that the prize really will make a massive difference to her life — though her album was acclaimed by the critics, it had not dented the charts until the judges picked her. The album is called Speech Therapy and I’ve been listening to it often on my BlackBerry.
This Week is presented by my old friend Andrew Neil, alongside Michael Portillo. Andrew is never afraid to give offence, and just before we went on air, he told me with a grin: “You’ve started adding blond highlights in your hair!”
Michael overheard and burst out laughing. “You’re the last person to make comments about other people’s hair,” he said. And the two of them were off, bantering and insulting, trying to out-do each other for rudeness.
I had heard of the Japanese boyband Smap, but it wasn’t until they invited me to Tokyo, to be a guest on their cooking show, Smap Bistro, that I understood how phenomenally famous they are.
In every Tokyo square there are vast advertising screens, and the boys from SMAP seemed to be on every one, in close-ups 100 feet high, advertising mobile phones and electronic gadgetry.
The five boys are in their thirties, and they have been writing and performing platinum hits since their teens. When they wanted to explore their talents beyond pop, they devised a brilliant TV concept for a cookery show that has exploded all the ratings records.
Pop stars, politicians and movie celebs are shown to a table in Bistro SMAP and invited to order any meal they can imagine. One of the boys plays head waiter, and the other four team up in two competing pairs to create gastronomic fantasies.
It’s a TV formula which I believe could be a massive success in Britain… imagine a restaurant staffed by Big Brother and X Factor winners.
At the GMTV studio these two young ladies threw their arms around me for a cuddle. They certainly live up to the name of The Cheeky Girls!
When we were walking through London after a fabulous veggie meal, my daughter Natalie spotted a Hollywood star through the open windows of a noisy bar. It was Jason Segal,
star of the brilliant comedies Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Knocked Up. I was delighted to take the opportunity of telling him how much we all loved his hilarious movies.
Sting and his wife Trudi have been passionate advocates against rainforest destruction for 20 years. Now that global warming has become a crisis, people are starting to wake up to their message. At a gala exhibition entitled People Of The Forest, Sting and I bumped into each other in the crowd, and I asked him about something he has rarely discussed — his interest in the spoon-bending experiments carried out in the Seventies by Professor John Hasted, at University College London.
“I wasn’t just an onlooker,” he replied. “I had to try it for myself. And after focusing my mind, I discovered that I could do it — I could bend a spoon with the power of my thoughts, or my mental energy, or… I don’t know. I can’t explain it. But I did it.”
“You understand as much as I do,” I assured him, “and I’ve been doing it since I was four.”
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