On July 11, 1992, Young Germany editor Alex Handcock was picked as one of several children to sing “Heal the World” on stage with Michael Jackson in Cologne. With Jackson’s untimely death, he remembers the day he took to stage with the King of Pop.
The anticipation had been building all week. Our teacher had told us we were going to Cologne to sing at a Michael Jackson concert. Our class talked of nothing else – we were going to sing “Heal the World” with the King of Pop.
Our school – the main English language primary school in the Bonn area – had been chosen as it was a melting pot of different nationalities. We had embassy kids and children whose parents worked for international organizations and multinationals from over the world. Our class was like a United Colors of Benetton ad, so we fit the bill perfectly for the make-the-world-a-better-place message in the “Heal the World” song we were to sing.
I sat on the coach on the way to Cologne as the class sang the “Heal the World” song again and again. I remember not knowing the words. I hadn’t really paid much attention to music up until that point in my life. I was 11 years old and associated music with pesky recorder lessons. Michael Jackson was someone I was only vaguely familiar with. But, by the time we arrived, I knew most of the song.
“Heal The World, Make It A Better Place, For You And For Me, And The Entire Human Race.”
Arriving at the stadium
I spotted the Müngersdorfer Stadium in the distance. The bus was now inching along, carving its way through thousands of fans wandering across the road. Some had big banners. Others were dressed like their idol. And everywhere street vendors were hawking their memorabilia. I gaped out of the window and attempted to process what was going on.
When we pulled up into the backstage area, a hectic-looking man clutching a walkie-talkie greeted our teacher and signaled for us to follow. We snaked through corridors and up stairs, before arriving at a room. There, we were to wait.
When would we meet Michael?
We were in a spacious backstage room. It had several tables, each with piles and piles of chocolate bars. It was an 11-year-old’s dream. We set about attacking the food. I can not remember how much chocolate I ate that day, but such was the impression the chocolate extravaganza made on me, that even today, I can remember thinking that it was a shame we had to leave so much behind.
After what seemed like an eternity the door opened. We were all disappointed. It was not Michael, but instead a business-like lady who explained that we could not all go on stage to sing the song. They would select a dozen or so children and the rest could watch the concert.
“Is there anyone who would prefer to just watch the concert?”
So we lined up; and in the cruel fashion we were already familiar with from playground sports, the lady proceeded to pick out the kids she wanted.
“The others were in floods of tears,” my classmate Sarah Jewer recalled.
Getting changed for the concert
Luckily for me, I was one of those chosen and was led away to the dressing room along with the others. There I was informed that I was to represent an American kid and was handed my “American outfit”. I quickly squeezed into my blue jeans, t-shirt and baseball cap attire and nervously looked around at my classmates who were sporting similarly clichéd looks.
When we finally walked out of the room and scurried across a stretch of tarmac towards the back of the stage, I was struck by how big everything seemed. That was small wonder as the Dangerous Tour had equipment weighing over 100 tons. Two Boeing 747 jets and multiple lorries had been required to transport this gear to the venue. Added to that, the sound of the music – even from behind the stage – was deafening. I began to understand what having butterflies in your stomach really meant.
Spotting Michael Jackson
I walked up the stairs with my classmates where we waited in an area to the right of the stage. The roar of the 65,000 sell-out crowd was incredible. We must have arrived in between songs, because suddenly, around 20 meters away, I spotted the man we had all been hoping to meet. Michael Jackson was there standing in the wings talking to what looked to be Macaulay Culkin, the actor from Home Alone. I bounced up and down along with my classmates, pointing and screaming stuff no one could hear over the music anyway.
When Michael Jackson was back on stage, I concentrated on remembering the instructions I had been told. Looking back, it wasn’t rocket science. At the time it required the utmost concentration: “Hold hands with designated partner. Move onto stage. Look forward and not at Michael, smile, and ‘sing’.”
Before I knew it, my classmate was tugging at my hand and we moved out onto the stage. I gazed out at the sea of faces and promptly forgot I was meant to be singing, or mouthing the words. Standing on stage in front of 65,000 people was intimidating to say the least.
My classmate Sarah, just two people removed from Jackson, recalled: “The crowd was mesmerising. Just so many people and so many lights.”
We moved clockwise around a huge inflatable globe; I ignored the “don’t look at Michael” instructions and turned my neck to try and catch a glimpse of the King of Pop. But I was on the wrong side of inflatable Earth to see him properly. My memories are of brief fleeting glimpses. Before I knew it, the song was over and I stumbled off stage glancing back to see the superstar.
We were whisked away, given a T-shirt and headed home. My classmate, who had been holding hands with Jackson, was the center of attention. She ran through a blow by blow account of her experience and pledged never to wash her hand again. I was jealous and exhausted. I fell asleep on the bus, wearing an oversized Dangerous Tour T-shirt.