I have asked my old mate Roger Edwards, who used to be marketing director of Wembley Stadium, to provide me with his own reminiscences on the Michael Jackson circus from the time he worked at Wembley. It is still surprising to consider that fifty nights at the O2 would have translated as five nights at Wembley in Roger’s day – something a little more manageable for Jackson, though not necessarily, given how very frail he turned out to be.
Wembley Stadium is now owned and run by the FA so its priority is football. The FA have always been an organisation that has had its issues. A strong vision might get them back up to speed, competing for gigs with the O2.
Michael Jackson at Wembley
Jackson played an unprecedented seven sell out concerts at Wembley Stadium on the BAD tour summer 1988 putting him in the Guinness Book of World Records. Demand was such that there could have been another seven but Brent Council had capped the number of concert licenses for the Stadium at 8 and the Stadium was already committed to the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Concert (Mandela was still in prison in 88 and this multi artiste concert simulcast around the world was to foster awareness). Originally pencilled for up to three days, when the concerts went on sale further dates were rapidly added, as it was clear demand would exceed the agreed number of dates, Brent Council were approached to extend the agreed number of concert events but could not be budged. Originally the Wembley dates were intended to be the UK’s only Jackson appearance. With the cap on Wembley and demand still running at a record level further dates were added at Cardiff Arms PK Liverpool Aintree Racecourse, Milton Keynes Bowl and Leeds Roundhay Park.
Jackson was at his absolute performing peak, the shows were fabulous audience reaction what can only be described as ecstatic. The demand and volume giving rise to a number of other interesting aspects. Merchandise ran at an unprecedented level but not without its curiosities. The merchandise company Brockum anticipating pirate sales had engaged an investigation firm to monitor known unofficial producers; the week before the first run of Wembley dates they trailed two forty foot trucks of unofficial merchandise from the North to the M1 Scratchwood services where the police impounded both lorries and their contents. This action however failed to completely stop off site unofficial sales.
The ticket sale profits from a later date were donated to the Princes Trust and Princess Diana attended the concert. This involved an exercise in getting Michael Jackson from the Stadium backstage area to the Banquet Hall where together with others he could be presented to Diana. This was following explanation to his people that she would not come back stage, Michael had to the Banquet Hall, this at a time when the audience were crowding the outer concourse. He made this journey in an unmarked van being dropped off at the kitchen loading bay before progressing past the well used bins, up a back staircase, through the kitchen and into the banquet hall where he joined the presentation line-up. I recall his being placed at the start of the line-up as the first to be presented but there was to be a wait until Princess Diana’s arrival, after metaphorically clicking his heels for a few moments he proceeded down the line introducing himself to others to be presented to Diana before returning to his first position at the start of the line.
There had been some debate prior the concert as to whether “Dirty Diana” should be dropped from the set list in case the audience thought this was some reference to the Princess.
On a personal front my eldest, four and a half at the time, joined Michael on stage at one concert before the 75,000 audience. At each concert a group of small children were collected to crocodile around the stage while Michael sang Working Day and Night.
Having enjoyed a very long career in venue management this sequence of concerts was undoubtedly a high point. It was pre internet ticket sales so sales were principally over the phone so for Wembley required briefing British Telecom who would filter calls so as to reduce the load on the local exchange to prevent it crashing. Tickets were security printed with a multiplicity of control features as was the norm at Wembley to prevent or at least limit forgery. I had never experienced such demand before and certainly nothing anywhere near since; the BAD tour was very much a moment in time.
The Return 1992 – the Dangerous tour
Not the same, by 92 that moment had passed although a longer run of dates were pencilled only three went to contract with only one other UK date at Sheffield Don Valley being included in the tour. Still a spectacular production including courtesy of David Copperfield the master illusionists advice Michael being made to disappear on stage as a closing routine before re-emerging flying round the side of the stage courtesy of a personal “jet pack” before finishing the concert with The Man in the Mirror as in 1988.
There was one unusual experience in the 92 tour; Michael was taken ill late in the day resulting in the necessity to cancel the concert. The decision was made to let the audience into the Stadium before telling them as being the most effective means of delivering the same message to everyone. Fortunately due the extra dates that were not taken up the concert was restaged later.
Roger Edwards Sales and Events Director the Wembley Complex 1987 – 92