Michael Jackson visited Hong Kong: 3 weeks dodging paparazzi, riding roller coasters and learning about Chinese culture

Michael Jackson, who would have turned 62 this month, visited Hong Kong only once in his lifetime – the autumn of 1987.

The King of Pop loved the city so much he stayed for several weeks, arriving on October 21 and leaving for Sydney on November 10.

It was during the singer’s worldwide Bad tour, which kicked off in Japan in September of that year, but left a month off before heading to Oceania.

“I was working at Duddell’s on Duddell Street [a different version to the current restaurant],” says the Moroccan-born entertainer Dr Penguin, who became the star’s minder and friend.

His colleague Rick Mayo and the owners of the restaurant knew Jackson’s personal travel agent. One thing led to another and they found themselves in the star’s hotel room in Japan inviting him to visit Hong Kong.

Michael Jackson and Dr Penguin in Hong Kong in 1987. Photo: Dr Penguin

“Michael was enthused with the idea as he had never been there and wanted to go. He loved Chinese movies, kung fu and Bruce Lee,” said Dr Penguin.

“They came back to Hong Kong happy with the idea but did not know when Michael was going to arrive. He did say there was one condition. If there was any press at the airport he would turn around and go back to Japan.

“On October 21, Jackson and his entourage arrived on a private jet, and I was in the office when my boss started freaking out,” recalls Dr Penguin, who is now based in Thailand.

“I asked him what was wrong and he said, ‘Michael Jackson is arriving and the press are at the airport. What are we going to do?’ I said, ‘That’s easy. I have an idea.’

I grabbed Peggy Johnson, who was our singer at the club. We rushed back to my place, I put on my costume. My wife dressed Peggy up as Michael Jackson with a hat, weird wig and dark clothing and we rushed off via the subway to get to Kai Tak Airport on time,” says the magician.

“We come down the elevator to where the press were waiting – I look around wearing these dark glasses and I say – ‘Where’s the limo?’ I look at her and said, ‘Quick, Michael, run.’

And we ran toward a taxi and there was only one policeman there. The press were throwing money at the taxi driver and the police did nothing, I was beating them off and yelling at the press saying ‘let us go, let us go.’ Finally we got moving and the press followed us into town.

“We went to the Mandarin [Oriental] hotel as we knew there were lots of different exits and it was close to Duddell’s. We got rid of the press and we ran to Duddell’s; by then it was midday – we had a couple of vodka tonics and laughed about it at the bar.

When the papers came out we were everywhere – The Standard had a huge colour picture on the front page of me and Peggy with headlines ‘Michael Jackson arrives in Hong Kong.’

I had however called my editor friend Zelda Cawthorne at the South China Morning Post and gave her the story.”

This SCMP’s story on October 21, 2017. Photo: SCMP

“Meanwhile the real Michael Jackson arrives and gets into his car with no press and goes to the Hong Kong hotel where he was staying. That night Michael came to Duddell’s and we put on a special show for him downstairs in the cellar where the bank vault used to be, and which had been converted into a VIP area,” he continues.

Fans will drop thousands – or even millions – to get their hands on prized memorabilia of the world’s biggest names, like Elvis Presley (left), Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana. Photos: Instagram

“His team were there first. We had jazz musicians, a stand-up base and piano. Just before Michael arrived Rick said, ‘can you put a band together?’

And we said, ‘it’s a little bit late for that.’ Rick then asked us to at least get a drummer, so I hired Sam, a Jamaican drummer who plays reggae. So the three of them, having never played together, were trying to keep the ambience going.

Sam was able to play along with the jazz. We brought in acrobats and a kung fu show and I did close up magic.

But during the evening, Michael got up and wanted to sing a song and it was hysterical because the band did not know any Michael Jackson songs or any song that he knew – it was an embarrassing moment,” recalls Dr Penguin.

Michael Jackson outside the old Duddell’s bar and restaurant in 1987. Photo: Dr Penguin

“Michael was a big fan of magic, so we ended up talking for an hour and a half. Michael wanted to see more card tricks and how to do them.

Then we were talking about The Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers and arguing over which ones were funnier and he appointed me there and then to be his tour guide in Hong Kong.

He asked me how long I had been here and where I had lived, which included Nepal and other places, and he was fascinated by it, so I agreed to take him around.”

Michael Jackson, Dr Penguin and his minders taking a ride at Ocean Park in October 1987. Photo: SCMP

One sightseeing trip Jackson enjoyed was Ocean Park. “Michael was looking for a roller coaster to buy for Neverland [ his home in California] so he wanted to test it out.

We had a private tour, and were the last two on the roller coaster. Everyone else had bailed because they were throwing up but Michael and I kept going again and again,” says Dr Penguin.

“We took Michael antique shopping. He did a day trip to China and Macau, which he didn’t enjoy too much, but he really loved going up to the Shaw Brothers Studio.

He wanted to meet Sir Run Run Shaw who had lent us his Rolls-Royce to use and it was arranged for him to meet some of the stars which he went gaga over.”

MJJ LEGION HD on X: "Michael Jackson in China (1987)  https://t.co/dAPDmsesI4" / X

Michael Jackson with Ann Tsang at Shaw Brothers Studios in 1987 Photo: Ann Tsang

Ann Tsang was tasked to look after the star during his visit to the Shaw Brothers Studios in Clear Water Bay.

“I had spent just two days in the marketing and PR department having moved over from programming at TVB when my boss called me in to let me about this special project.

I had to meet with Jackson’s team and it took four to five days to make the arrangements,” says Tsang.

“Michael wanted to dress is period costume and shoot some B-roll for laser disc in the Shanghai Street scenes at the Clear Water Bay studios,” says Tsang, who still lives and works in Hong Kong.

“Only five people were allowed on the set and Michael had four and then there was me. His people had specific requirements to make things go smoothly. It took us two days in the wardrobe department to figure out how to put on the costume. We had a 5am call on the day,” continues Tsang.

“Michael was humble, soft-spoken with no demands. He just wanted to dress up and play. He was curious about Chinese culture and wanted to wear the costume properly. It was a 12-hour shoot. I was not star struck, but I couldn’t comprehend it was happening.”

Michael Jackson with his entourage of bodyguards at Kai Tak Airport in November 1987. Photo: SCMP

Michael was supposed to come to Hong Kong in the early 1990s to do a concert at Sha Tin Racecourse during his Dangerous tour, recalls Andrew Bull, who was organising the concert. Sadly it was cancelled and Jackson never came back to the city before his death in June 2009.z

Midway through the record-breaking Bad world tour, between stops in Japan and Australia, the King of Pop took time out in Hong Kong – eventually passing 3 whole weeks hanging out, visiting famous tourist attractions like Ocean Park and filming at the Shaw Brothers Studio

Tracey Furniss is a freelance writer for the SCMP.

She was the former Deputy Editor, Specialist Publications at the SCMP, where she oversaw special reports and publications, and was editor of Good Eating magazine, Christmas magazine and 100 Top Tables – an award-winning executive dining guide.

Before joining the SCMP, she was a television journalist and an award-winning documentary filmmaker, digital editor and travel writer for a host of international publications such as Fodor’s, Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel and Passport Newsletter.

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