In Los Angeles I met a whole new group of fans, some of whom would become my closest friends.
In 2007, Michael told me in Las Vegas (speaking of me and a friend of mine from England):
"I love to look out and see you girls waiting for me. It makes me feel less lonely.”
Well, when he says something like that to you, what are you going to do? Be there all day every day of course, and that’s what we did. And when he invited us to follow him place-to-place, we did that too. We were always there for him. We were his wall of love, something for him to draw on when he was feeling stressed or tired or sad, a collection of smiling, loving faces waiting to greet him, give him gifts and letters and shower him with love.
While Las Vegas had been low-key and private, Los Angeles soon became a public affair, with clusters of fans, paparazzi and autograph hunters (people who collect celebrity autographs and sell them) often gathering, particularly in the first months (in October, November, December 2008) while he was staying at the Bel Air Hotel and the final weeks (in June). Yet there were still many opportunities to see and talk to him in private.
Of course I loved seeing Michael (and his children) alone. But I also loved seeing him with other fans. Unfortunately there had been occasions over the years when he had come to talk to us and one person had ruined it for everyone, either by freaking out or talking over everyone and trying to dominate the conversation.
The best kind of people
The people I became friends with in LA were the best kind of people. We shared everything with each other and this created such a lovely atmosphere, without the usual competitiveness and jealousy that was sadly always a (perhaps inevitable) part of the fan world.
We would keep each other up to date on what was happening – where he was, what he was doing, etc. We would talk about each other in our letters to him, and the friendship we shared. And when he gave us letters, we would have a lottery to see who got to keep the original and then make copies for everyone.
In April and May, Michael went to the CenterStaging Studios in Burbank a few times a week to rehearse for the This Is It shows. When he came out in the evening, he would stop and talk to us, sometimes for a minute, sometimes for ten. We would all gather around him cooing and giggling and asking him questions.
If we knew someone wanted to ask him something but was too shy to speak up, we would draw his attention to them so that everybody felt included and nobody felt left out. Sometimes we ran out of things to say and there would be silence for a while and then one of my friends would elbow me and says, “Say something, Talitha,” to keep him there just a little while longer ;-).
The first time I, along with a close friend from England, visited Michael (and his children) inside his home on Carolwood Drive, on 23 February 2009, he spoke several times about the fans and how they make him feel.
He said (as extracted from my transcript of that evening):
“I’m so thankful to all the girls who send in gifts and letters."
"It’s you who inspire me... I feel all that love and I soak it up and then give it right back."
"I read everything you guys give me. There’s a special place in the house where the security put things. I read it all and I show it to the children.”
I will always have a very special place in my heart for those lovely LA girls, not only for the way they treated me and each other, but most of all, for the way they treated him. Because of them (and the other lovely fans who came by from time to time), Michael got to feel an abundance of kindness, appreciation and love in what would become the last months, weeks and days of his life.