Terry George leapt up excitedly as the phone rang. It was 9pm and he knew exactly who it would be… the most unlikely best friend a 13-year-old boy could have.
It was none other than his pop idol Michael Jackson, who had been calling his Leeds home like clockwork for the past five months after striking up a bizarre relationship.
But this time the besotted young fan’s excitement soon turned to shock and embarrassment as Jacko’s voice crackled down the line.
“He’d ring at 9pm on the dot three times a week and we became like best friends,” Terry recalled. “But on this night he sounded different. The line went quiet and I asked if he was still there.
“Then, suddenly out of nowhere, he asked me if I masturbated and that if I did, did I use cream? I was puzzled and said no. I said I didn’t know what he meant.
“When I paused he said, ‘Would you believe that I am doing it right now?’ and I could hear down the line he was making strange noises. It made me feel confused and uncomfortable.”
This is the story about Michael Jackson which shocked. Calling up a boy and masturbating over the phone? Michael Jackson fans deny it ever happened, calling Terry George an “opportunist” who sold his story to the tabloids.
However in early 2007 he posted this story on his website terrygeorge.co.uk to set the story straight.
On a Friday afternoon in August 1993, I was contacted by someone claiming to be a reporter from the News of the World. He told me about a conversation he had just had with one of my close friends and revealed how he knew of the interview I had done and my subsequent friendship and telephone conversations I had had with Michael Jackson when I was aged 13.
This astounded me as I had only told a handful of friends about the particular telephone conversation he was referring to. I asked for his name and number and told him I would get back to him. I did this as I was unsure if this was legitimate or not. I then proceeded to check with directory enquiries and then called the number, and sure enough he was genuinely a News of the World reporter. With that, I put the phone down.
I then tried to contact the few friends who may have known this secret and in particular one friend who worked in television. He pointed out to me the angle the News of the World would take when reporting this story and suggested I contact someone from a more ‘reputable’ newspaper. He gave me details of a reporter at the Mail on Sunday.
Within an hour of speaking to the Mail on Sunday they had a journalist waiting to speak to me
near to my home. I was advised by this journalist not to speak to anyone and to avoid being photographed by anyone. I had expected to have a chat with him in his car, but was told that the editor wanted to meet me and that a jet was waiting at Leeds and Bradford airport to take me to London.
This took me by surprise and I pointed out that I had been prepared to travel, however he insisted that this meeting was important if I was to have my story published in the Mail on Sunday as the News of the World would go ahead with the story as an ‘exclusive’ if I didn’t get my story across first.
The last thing I wanted was to be splashed across the News of the World in a ‘kiss and tell’ story about Michael Jackson, so reluctantly I went to meet the editor of the Mail. The meeting took place in a hotel in the centre of London and went on until the early hours of Saturday morning, where they questioned me about my friendship with Michael, where we met, the telephone number given to me and the conversations we had – it was like being interrogated by the FBI!
All the time I was being interviewed, although it felt more like an interrogation, I was regretting having agreed to speak to them at all. But I knew that if I didn’t give my side of the story the News of the World would run the story and twist the truth. The people from the Mail told me that they would speak to the News of the World to ensure they didn’t publish the story and told me that they had the exclusive.
They continued to question me all through the night and well into the next day. They began checking up on the facts that I had given them, such as looking into old telephone bills to make sure I was telling the truth, contacting close friends I had told the story to years previously; in fact the only thing they didn’t do was hook me up to a lie detector! I was so naive at the time, I would probably have agreed to that.
By Saturday afternoon, the interview had gone from being me and the editor to around four different people. I was exhausted and hadn’t even had time to get any advice from anyone as everything had happened so quickly. I felt very alone and vulnerable and still feel depressed thinking about it now. Finally they allowed me to go home and I cried on the train back to Leeds.
That night I couldn’t sleep and stayed up all night watching the news to see if anything was said. Sure enough, the article was pointed out on Sky news and at about 5 in the morning, I was waiting outside the newsagents to see the paper. I tried to get some sleep when I got back home, but later that morning, journalists began to appear at my house, and tried to take photos of me when I looked through the curtains to see who was there. More journalists appeared as the day went on, banging on the door and trying to get me to talk to them.
Eventually I managed to escape and went to my Mum’s house, but even there reporters managed to find me, so I went to Manchester with some friends to try and get away from it all. Returning to Leeds in the early hours of Monday morning, we stopped at a service station and I was in the toilet when my partner Michael Rothwell went to the shop. The next thing I knew, Michael was shouting to me “Terry, get out now! Quickly, come here!” I didn’t know what was going on and even envisioned a reporter waiting for me in the toilets!
He held up a copy of the Sun newspaper with a huge headline “I had phone sex with Jacko” and a picture of a face peering from behind a curtain. I was in shock and couldn’t focus on it properly and all I could think was it was a photo of me taken by one of the photographers that morning. It wasn’t until we stopped at the side of the motorway for me to be sick from nerves that we realised it was a picture of Michael Jackson in Asia- he too was trying to escape from the media attention.
The story they ran was exactly the same as the feature in the Mail On Sunday, except they gave it the usual Sun angle with a smutty headline – exactly how I had expected the News of the World to report the story. This was what I had hoped to avoid by speaking to the Mail. As you can imagine, the offers for me to tell my story started to flood in from everywhere; Richard & Judy, Anne & Nick, local television new programmes – all of which I turned down.
10 years later I received a phone call from a BBC TV producer working on a Louis Theroux documentary. He told me he had read my story in a book ‘Michael Jackson Unauthorised’ by Christopher Anderson and was making a programme about Michael Jackson and would like to interview me about my friendship with him. Louis wanted to explain more about the programme and arranged to meet me at my bar in Leeds.
After the first meeting with Louis, he explained how he was a big fan of MJ and how keen he was to make this documentary about how people had been affected by MJ. He went on to explain that he was including Uri Geller in the documentary and suggested Uri might introduce him to Michael. This got me thinking and opened up a possibility that I had been considering for a few years previously, that I might get the chance to speak to MJ again and explain to him how my story hit the papers and that I didn’t sell him out.
Therefore I provisionally agreed with Louis to consider taking part in his interview for the documentary. A few weeks passed and Louis kept in contact with me, letting me know who was to be included in the documentary and the angle it was taking. Then he told me about how Martin Bashir had been introduced to Michael by Uri Geller and was making his own documentary. Louis told me that he was still going to go ahead with his own programme.
More time passed and I met with Louis again and I got the feeling that he was interested in talking about the more ‘intimate’ telephone conversation I’d had with MJ. I spoke to Uri Geller and asked what he thought about the documentary and he suggested to me that Louis should not be trusted and that he would only be interested in the more intimate conversation that had taken place between MJ and I. On the 12th December 2002 I then sent an e-mail to Louis’ producer pulling out of the programme, telling them that I was not interested and that I perhaps had another way of apologising to MJ. I copied Uri Geller into this e-mail.
After speaking to Uri Geller and explaining to him what I hoped to achieve by taking part in the programme, i.e. to tell MJ that I had not intended to sell him out by speaking to the papers and to explain the reasons behind this. The reason I had copied Uri into the e-mail was that he led me to believe he might be able to get this message to Michael and in a way apologise for the betrayal he must have felt and perhaps arrange a meeting with him in the future.
Months passed and the Martin Bashir interview was broadcast. I kept in contact with Uri and got a strong feeling that he was now in the same situation as I had found myself in due to the angle taken by Bashir. All of a sudden an e-mail arrived from Louis Theroux telling me his programme had been dropped due to the aftermath of the Bashir interview. He told me that he was going to be in Leeds to see Jimmy Saville and would like to come and meet me for a drink at Fibre, to which I agreed.
During our meeting, we were chatting about MJ and the Bashir interview and I mentioned how
sorry I felt for him in the light of the way Bashir had portrayed him in his programme. Louis went away and a few months later I received an e-mail from him saying how he had been thinking about what I had said and how he had decided to make a new programme about MJ, but this time from a more sympathetic angle. In his own words:
“The funny thing is, in some ways our new direction with the programme was inspired by our lunch in Leeds. I thought a lot about what you said about MJ not having the best advisers around him and being cocooned from reality by these various hangers-on, and that you wanted to meet him in order to help him and try to give him some perspective; and I realized that was a theme that was powerfully present in the material we’d shot, too. That his various gatekeepers like Uri Geller and people we’d met in America all claimed to be working in Michael’s interest, but were really just promoting themselves and making money from their association. I think Michael puts up with it because he’s never known any different, having been treated as a commodity by his own father, Joe, since the age of three or four. To some extent he encourages that behaviour, by treating himself in the same way.
This is the working thesis of the film at the moment. How exactly we bring it across is still a subject of discussion. One idea I had (which I don’t know if Will, the director, will go for) is to reveal how much each person in the programme was paid for their interview – maybe put it in writing on screen the first time they appear in the film. Eg. Joe Jackson, MJ’s father, who charged us five thousand dollars for a two-hour interview in a hotel room in Las Vegas last year.
Obviously, it will also be a question of challenging those people we speak to about their motivations for being involved with Michael – and how they’re helping Michael with what are clearly very real problems to do with his self-image. This is what came across in the Uri Geller interview – He didn’t even seem to know Michael very well and here he was pontificating and talking up their friendship.
Given that you were part of the inspiration for this way of looking at the subject, I’m obviously as keen as ever to have your input. In particular, to talk to you about how you came to know Michael; to include the interview you did with Michael as a young man, which you said you still have tape of; and to talk to you about your feeling that you owe him an apology. And maybe to do our part to make that apology happen.”
Again, Louis came up to Leeds with his producer Will Yapp and explained how they saw me fitting in to the documentary. I had not heard anything back from Uri Geller and saw this as a means to get my message to Michael. I pointed out to them at this point that I wasn’t interested in talking on camera about the telephone conversation that had started all the media interest. He agreed not to discuss this, however when the night came for me to record my piece, Louis asked me about the conversation and I stated that I didn’t want to discuss it. I thought I had handled the questioning well and after the broadcast of the programme a number of people commented on how they thought I had been dignified under questioning.
The programme was broadcast on Sunday 16th November but I was unable to watch the programme as I had been invited on a press trip to Israel. By sheer coincidence, Uri Geller was a passenger on the flight to Israel. I sat and spoke to Uri for a while and talked about the documentary, and he claimed that he was unaware that it was to be broadcast and that he would also be away at the time of transmission. I asked Uri if he had heard anything from MJ since the Bashir interview and he went on to tell me that the only contact had been via a security guard he had arranged for Michael during a visit to the UK. Apparently Michael had called the security guard to ask if he still worked for Uri, and when he said yes, Michael told him that he could not work for him any more – implying that he had some grudge against Uri.
I flew back from Israel on the 17th November, the day after the programme was broadcast. I had assumed that no scandal would come of the Louis Theroux programme as there was nothing new said that hadn’t been covered before. I was just recovering by Tuesday evening when a news story about Michael Jackson started to break from the US about new child abuse allegations. I thought “oh my god, what bad timing”. The next morning there was a knock on my door – it was a journalist claiming to be from the Sun newspaper. I didn’t speak to him, but my partner Michael gave him a hostile reception and chased him from the property. More journalists followed over the next day or so and I even got a call from my business to let me know that they had received calls from journalists.
I took part in a short interview on Liquid News on Wednesday night and on Thursday I received an e-mail from a man called Steve Myall asking me to call, who turned out to be a journalist from the Sunday People. He was asking me to take part in an interview for that Sunday’s edition. I told him that there was no story to be had and it was history, not news as it had appeared in the Mail on Sunday back in August 1993. I told him that I was not interested. He informed me that they were going to run the story anyway, with or without my co-operation. If I co-operated, I was told they would pay me well, which again, I refused and ended the conversation. He e-mailed me explaining the angle they were going to take with the story and the part I would play in it:
“Our view is that in the light of what has appeared in the papers this week your story is very important.
I completely understand your concerns about not wanting to go over old ground but as you pointed out there is a lot you haven’t said.
You have a unique insight as far as we are concerned and are really keen on your story.
We would give you factual copy approval and any concessions we can. Also to pay you for your story.
The People is very keen on covering childrens issues and we have exposed a number of child abusers in the past. Personally I am really interested in the ‘exchanges” you had with Jackson and how they have affected you.
The piece would be a warning piece.
The worry I see is that if you decide not to say anything then someone will just re-tell what was in the Mail On Sunday in 1993 including whatever it was you told me you were unhappy with.
I am anxious that your family are not bothered and have asked that we do not send any reporters around to see them. Other papers may continue to hassle you though.
Also I have spoken the company lawyer and she says it is a “remote possibility” that you will be asked to go to America. They can say they want you but there is no way of making you go.
I hope that makes you feel better.”
Shortly after that I called Max Clifford as this felt like history repeating itself. Max spoke to the editor of the People and told me that it was true – they were going to run a story about me and if I was to take part they would give me ‘factual copy approval’. The editor then rang me himself and told me the same. I told them that I didn’t trust newspapers and that it wasn’t necessarily what they wrote on the day, but how the other papers picked up the story on the following days and twisted the facts. I told him I didn’t need the money as I am a successful businessman. He said then that I could donate the money to the charity of my choice and I reiterated that I was not interested and further queries should be made via Max Clifford.
I then spoke to Max Clifford who advised me to take part in the interview as it would be better to get my side of the story across. I did not agree with this however, as I had been tricked in this way before in 1993 by the Mail on Sunday. I assumed that if I kept my mouth shut, all they would be able to print would be a re-hashed version of the Mail interview. This didn’t turn out to be the case – the way the story was printed made it look as if I had co-operated with the Sunday People and in fact some of my friends assumed that I had given them the story.
The most upsetting thing about the article in the People was how they sensationalised the story – starting with the ludicrous headline ‘My Jacko Sex Hell, By British Boy Of 13′. They had quite clearly stolen the pictures from the Louis Theroux documentary by taking screen captures from the television, all of which are my copyright. They also claimed that I had made a statement to the police, which has never been the case. They also incorrectly quoted parts of the Louis Theroux documentary; where I was asked if I listened to the tape and replied that it brought back memories. This was said with a smile on my face as it brought back happy memories, not bad ones as the People decided to report.
Although the telephone conversation they refer to is true and is documented in an article that ran in the Mail on Sunday in 1993, I wish this whole story would have remained my lifetime secret. One lesson I have learned is that if the press are determined to get their story, they will print it with or without your co-operation.
This story is also featured in the book Michael Jackson Unauthorized by Christopher Andersen.
“He seemed fascinated with the subject of child abuse,” George said. “He asked all about how I was raised, if I’d been abused.”
Michael also confided in George about his family, “He didn’t seem fond of the men in his family at all. I was surprised that he never talked about his brothers, and that he was obviously much closer to his sisters, La Toya and Janet.
As for the opposite sex: “Michael never mentioned women. I got the feeling that he wasn’t of any particular sexual orientation.”
It was in April 1979 that Michael suddenly switched gears. “Do you masturbate?” the 20-year-old man asked his 12-year-old friend.
“I sort of giggled and said, ‘Yes’ I was embarrassed,” George said, “and I didn’t really understand what he was talking about.”
George said he “kept trying to get him off the subject”, but Michael persisted.
“Would you believe I’m doing it now?” Michael asked.
“I replied, ‘Are you?”‘ George said. “I really didn’t know what to say. I was shocked, panic-stricken. I wanted to hang up, but he was Michael Jackson, and I didn’t want him to stop being my friend.”
According to George, Jackson went on describing this sexual activity in detail for four or five minutes. “Today you’d call our conversation phone sex, I suppose. But I don’t believe it was a dirty- old-man thing. I think for Michael talking like that on the phone was a way of expressing affection.”
Nor did George feel that he was the only person Michael talked with over the phone in this suggestive manner. “I have no way of knowing for sure,” he said, “but it didn’t take him long to get around to talking about sex. And he didn’t seem awkward at all when he brought it up.”