Goodbye Neverland - Jackson leaves fantasy retreat for Bahrain
By Andy Goldberg Oct 21, 2005, 18:06 GMT
A file photo of US pop star Michael Jackson gesturing to his fans. EPA/CONNIE ARAMAKI
Los Angeles - Michael Jackson has moved from his fantasy retreat Neverland to take up permanent residence in Bahrain, The Los Angeles Times reported Friday.
The paper quoted lawyer's for the controversial singer as saying that he has not lived at Neverland since shortly after he was acquitted of child molestation charges in June.
'He's living permanently in Bahrain. He has friends there who have been very loyal and helpful to him in a difficult period of his life,' said his lead attorney Thomas Mesereau. 'He's looking much better. He's with his children, and he's moving on in life.'
Mesereau made the statements in response to a jury duty summons for Jackson. Under California law citizens do not have to serve on juries if they permanently reside elsewhere.
So while Mesereau's comments might be a simple legal ploy, they do jibe with information that has consistently leaked from the Jackson camp that the former child star would not live in Neverland again.
The sprawling estate was Jackson's indulgent retreat for some two decades, and he spent millions of dollars converting the property into a children's paradise. But Neverland was also the setting for his nightmare - the charges that he repeatedly molested a young cancer victim there. Though Jackson was eventually acquitted of all the charges, the trial experience was believed to have been so traumatic that he wishes to distance himself from everything associated with it.
That would mean the sale of one of the most famous private residences in the world, an eccentric mansion that was more closely associated with its star resident than any other home in the celebrity world.
Local realtors in the nearby town of Santa Maria said they are so far unaware that the property has been listed for sale, but estimated that it might fetch somewhere between 50 and 100 million dollars.
Jackson bought it for 17 million dollars in 1988, and ploughed a fortune into converting it into 'Neverland' - named after the fantasy world visited by Peter Pan, the boy who refuses to grow up.
Its previous owner, golf course developer William Bone, had built the elaborate structure to resemble a baroque country club, with two lakes, waterfalls, a treasure trove of antiques and a generously stocked wine cellar.
Jackson added a zoo and amusement park rides and dotted Peter Pan statues all over the expansive grounds. He built an 80 seat private theater on to the 1,300 square metre residence and began inviting groups of children to visit the extravagant retreat that covers 10,500 hectares. The property also boasts a library with a million volumes, and rooms that are virtual shrines to movie stars like Shirley Temple.
Over the years he invited thousands of sick and underprivileged children to enjoy the magnificent amenities.
'My fondest memory here,' Jackson told Life magazine in 1993, 'was one night we had a houseful of bald-headed children. They all had cancer. And one little boy turned to me and said, 'This is the best day of my life.' You had to just hold back the tears.'
As many as 160 staff members were on the Neverland payroll, while the annual cost of running Neverland and providing security is 5 million dollars.
Jackson's flight from the area has left locals with mixed feelings. Some welcomed his departure, saying it would allow the quiet central Californian community to revert to its past, when it was known for its agriculture and vineyards. Others noted that Jackson has injected millions of dollars into the local economy and employed over 100 local people.
But they may not have to wait too long for a new owner to move in. According to the gossip magazine Us Weekly, controversial rapper, Eminem is interested in buying the property. He sees Neverland as the perfect place to raise his daughter and a welcome escape from the grueling winters of his hometown Detroit.© dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur