Pop megastar Michael Jackson is to stage a series of final curtain concerts in London in July, his first major shows for over a decade, he announced in typically eccentric style on Thursday.
Four years after his infamous child abuse trial, the creator of Thriller and Billy Jean confirmed he will play 10 gigs at the giant O2 arena from July 8 – and declared they will be a final curtain.
I ll be performing the songs my fans want to hear, the 50-year-old told hundreds of screaming fans gathered for the eagerly-awaited announcement at the O2 concert venue, which is fast earning a reputation for grand comeback gigs.
This is the final curtain call and I ll see you in July, said Jackson, wearing sunglasses and a black jacket with silver sequins to a near-hysterical crowd waving signs reading Michael We Love You and King of Pop.
Jackson s brief appearance, in which he seemed highly emotional and at a loss for words, was punctuated by salutes to the crowd, pauses, and expressions of love for his fans.
I love you, I really do. I love you so much. From the bottom of my heart, he gushed, totally ignoring an autocue which had been set up at a podium for him to speak.
His appearance was preceded by a short video compilation of past performances of his hits, heavy on shots of weeping and screaming fans, especially when he performed his famous moonwalk.
In real life Jackson didn t show any of his old moves. But fans who had queued for hours to see their idol for a couple of minutes were bowled over, despite the brief appearance.
I was expecting a bit more but… I ve queued up for five hours for him to say about 10 words, said Caroline Shove, 29. But asked whether she would be buying tickets, she said: Absolutely, it won t stop me.
It was unclear whether Jackson s reference to a final curtain meant there would be no concerts after the London shows.
These will be the last shows in London. Whether he will go on from here around the world… this will be his last tour, Randy Phillips of promoter AEG told the BBC. All he s agreed to are the London shows at this point.
An AEG statement said Jackson would perform with a band of the highest caliber, (a) state-of-the-art stage show and incredible surprise support acts.
Michael Jackson is a perfectionist so it s going to be amazing. He ll try a lot of new things, Phillips said.
Tickets will be on sale from 0700 GMT on March 13, ranging from £50 to £75 each (up to $100).
Reports suggest the King of Pop could make tens of millions of dollars from the residency-style string of London concerts, helping pay legal bills and debts amassed since he was acquitted in his abuse trial in 2005.
If they are successful, the London concerts would be a spectacular return for the man who dominated the pop world in the 1980s but has virtually vanished from public view since his trial.
The O2, formerly the much-maligned Millennium Dome, has transformed itself into a leading concert venue, notably hosting a comeback gig by legendary rockers Led Zeppelin and a 21-night residency by Prince in 2007.
Jackson is reportedly close to completing his first new album since 2001, and has collaborated with a younger generation of stars like rapper Kanye West.
But he has been dogged by rumors of ill health and bookmakers William Hill were Wednesday offering 5-1 odds that he would not turn up on the first night.
However, the Daily Mirror tabloid reported Thursday that Jackson had passed 50 health tests set by insurers to prove he was fit enough to perform.
Jackson last performed in Britain at the 2006 World Music Awards, where he sang a few lines of We Are the World. His last official tour was the 1996-7 HIStory World Tour, although he has played one-off gigs since.
The singer became a phenomenally successful star, first with the Jackson Five alongside his brothers and then as a solo artist.
But Jackson s career hit trouble in 1993 when a 13-year-old boy made sex abuse allegations against him and prosecutors and police launched an investigation.
A year later, Jackson reached an out-of-court settlement with the boy s family, paying out $23.3 million and the criminal case was dramatically stopped. Jackson says he now regrets the payment.