For our second feature to celebrate MJWN’s 20th Anniversary, we have a Q&A session with MJWN’s founder – Adrian Grant, which we hope you’ll enjoy.
Why did you start MJWN?
I started ‘Off The Wall’ magazine in 1988, before the internet boom, and stopped publishing at the end of 1993. Prior to launching MJWN, I had started ‘King’ magazine run by the ex-editor of ‘Off The Wall’, Gloria Haydock. She did a great job with ‘King’, but in 1998 I decided that it was time to explore the online market, with a new dedicated team, headed by Jayne Ross. That saw, the launch of MJWN – The Michael Jackson World Network.
We all know Michael appreciated his fans, but do you feel that Michael appreciated his fan clubs? If so, please can you give an example.
Michael absolutely adored his fan clubs and is the reason I was given such great access to his world over the years. Michael (and Bob Jones, then Vice President of MJJ Communications), knew that my magazine, ‘Off the Wall’ was the voice of the fans, and through it Michael could communicate back and show his appreciation for all the support they gave him.
Michael would often donate prizes such as signed fedoras or even trips to Neverland for his fans to win via the magazine or at the MJ Days. And he would send over his own personal video crews to film the annual celebrations, so he could see his fans dressing up like him, and dancing and singing to his songs. He loved that!
What is the best and worst thing about running a club?
The best thing about running the club and magazine was I was doing something I loved. It was my passion, and it was about my favourite artist, Michael Jackson. I felt privileged to be able to connect his fans with one another (in a time before social media). It was a great place to make friends, some of which for myself are long-standing to this day, and for others have even blossomed into marriage and kids.
Of course another great thing for myself at the time, was the access it gave me to Michael. It’s not the reason I started a fan club, and I never thought that I would actually meet Michael when I first started in 1988, but it did open doors, and I was very privileged when Michael gave me such great access to his life both on and off the stage.
I would say the worst thing about running the club, after a while, were the expectations. I was always trying to improve and better what we were producing and offering the fans, and sometimes it was just not possible. Then ‘Off The Wall’ became a big business, at one point having a circulation of 25,000 copies in UK stores, and subscribers in 47 different countries. With this administration became harder, but so did the economic reality. Printing magazines was costly, and so there was a commercial balance that had to be met.
As the years went by more and more Michael Jackson fan clubs launched, and I think in some quarters there was unhealthy competition between some and jealousy in others. There were a few who did it purely for the love of Michael, and it was good to see internationally, fans in different countries creating clubs and events for their own territories.
During all the years you were involved with fan clubs, what is the most bizarre thing that has happened to you.
Unfortunately, I am getting old now and my memory is not so great! But there were many, many bizarre things that happened that will never leave me. I remember the day I was flying to Los Angeles in November 1991. I was due to meet Michael backstage at MTV’s 10th Anniversary Special. But shortly after my flight left Heathrow, whilst sitting at the back of the plane, I looked outside the window and saw the engine catch fire! I swore loudly, and the Captain told everyone not to panic, as the plane still had three other good engines! However the passengers were still really worried. Fortunately the plane made a safe emergency landing back at Heathrow. But there wasn’t another flight out to LA until that evening, meaning I would miss the MTV Anniversary Show. Fortunately I had sent the Appreciation Award for Michael from the fans to LA a few days before, and it was being looked after by MJJ Productions. So I arranged for our LA based writer, Janis Da Silva, to go to the show instead and she had the evening of a lifetime when she presented the award to Michael.
Do you miss being involved with Michael’s fans directly?
I don’t miss running the fan club or magazine. Jayne and her team do a far better job of that. I am just happy that I was able to pioneer a number of fan led projects that got fans closer to Michael and created a bond between us all over the world. I still get some fans come up to me today and say they used to read ‘Off The Wall’ when they were a kid, or go to the MJ Days and that makes me proud.
And now with ‘Thriller Live’, I get to connect with Michael’s fans on a different level in many different countries. It really is my life, and I feel Michael is still with us everyday through his spirit and music.
Do you think there is a future for fan clubs?
Absolutely, MJWN is proof of that. It may now be all via the internet, but moving MJWN online has proven to be the best way to keep Michael’s fans connected, as it has such a huge following. Far bigger than we were doing in the 90’s.
And the beautiful thing is there is a whole new generation of Michael Jackson fans appearing. I see kids as young as 5-years old attending ‘Thriller Live’, dressed up in full costume, and they have become fans through seeing Michael’s videos on YouTube or hearing their parents play his music. Michael’s popularity and relevance is still massive, and he has influenced so many of the artists that are in the charts today, from Beyoncé and Lady Gaga to Justin Beiber, Ne-Yo and Joe Jonas, who recently filmed a music video with the ‘Thriller Live’ dancers.
You are also the founder of MJ Days with Michael attending MJ Day 10. What is your fondest memory of that day?
Obviously that would be when Michael attended the tenth annual celebration on the 7th March 2001. What an experience for all his fans and everyone involved with running the club. I did have a major panic attack a couple of days before when I heard that Michael had broken some bones in his foot. I thought he was going to cancel his trip to England, and that I would have to postpone the day, but fortunately he still came, on crutches, and absolutely loved the event. When he came on stage the fans went wild, the noise was deafening and seeing Michael talk directly to the fans who had been buying ‘Off The Wall’ from the start and were members of the fan club, was a surreal experience. Then when Michael spoke, and even complimented me, I knew the journey I had been on (with many ups and downs), had been worthwhile – because we had brought pleasure to thousands of his fans who otherwise would not have had that kind of access to their idol.
What is the funniest thing that happened to you during a meeting with Michael?
Again, there are a number of stories I could tell, especially as Michael was such a big kid at heart, and what I remember most is his smile and laughter. The first time Michael showed me around Neverland was special. We went into his dance studio next to the theatre, and I joked with Michael that I could show him some dance moves. He just rolled his eyes up and laughed, as if to say, ‘sure’!
And then on one occasion, I was taking a fan to meet Michael backstage at one of his concerts, but she was literally hyperventilating with excitement, to the point of a frenzy and security thought she was a risk to Michael, so she had to leave! It wasn’t at all funny, but I felt incredibly sad for this fan who had dreamt of that moment for so long. Thankfully she did eventually get to meet Michael with her emotions in check!
Do you have a favourite Michael moment you could share with us?
My favourite moment was the first time I met Michael in March 1990 at Record One Studios in LA, and is a story I have shared many times. But there were a few times when I met Michael and it was just the two of us talking casually. One such time was at the Hit Factory, New York in 1994, when he was recording the ‘HIStory’ album. I was with Michael in his personal office, and he was just asking me about my life in England. He was always very inquisitive, he even wondered where I got my hair done, as it was forever changing style back in the 90s. To have that time with Michael, when he was relaxed and being open were my favourite.
On the opposite scale, being a part of his entourage and following him on various trips in limousines was also amazing. One time I was actually riding with Michael in his limousine and there were hundreds of fans knocking on his window. We had a police escort, and I got a glimpse of his life from the inside out, ‘looking through the windows’ (sorry excuse the pun!)
‘Thriller Live’ has been a fantastic success. Do you have any further plans for the show?
We are now in our tenth year at the Lyric Theatre and have recently become the 14th longest ever running musical in the West End. But I did always think with Michael’s catalogue and legacy the production could run and run. His music, like Queen’s and Abba’s (which kind of gave me the inspiration to create a show) is very theatrical and songs like ‘Beat It’, ‘Smooth Criminal’ and of course ‘Thriller’, lend themselves perfectly to the stage.
We are always looking to improve the show or reinvent parts with new songs. It runs for 2 hours and 20 minutes, but could easily be three or four hours long if we were to include all the hits that Michael had. There are a couple of changes I hope we can implement this year, but we have an incredible team, from Gary Lloyd, the director and choreographer, through to John Maher our musical supervisor who works meticulously with the singers to make sure they are delivering the songs with every ounce of detail and quality that Michael did so well. That’s not to say we look to imitate Michael, but it is important our cast put on the best performance they can – 8 shows a week, because every night a new audience is seeing it for the first time.
We have been to more than 33 countries and played to over 4.5 million people, but I hope one day we can bring the show to the United States as I know there are fans there that would love to see it tour there.
What reality television show would you advise Michael to watch and why?
To be honest I don’t watch much reality TV myself, so wouldn’t be able to recommend a lot to him, and wouldn’t want to. I do wonder what he would have made of the Talent Shows today. Would he ever have performed on a show like ‘American Idol’ or ‘The X-Factor’?
We have a lot of the contestants from those shows who then audition for ‘Thriller Live’. One thing I can say is even if you can sing, it’s a whole new level being able to sing a Michael Jackson song well and consistently, so casting the show is very difficult.
Which Michael song do you find yourself singing along to most?
Mmm, so many… In ‘Thriller Live’ my favourite songs I sing a long to are ‘Get On The Floor,’ ‘Man In the Mirror’ and ‘Earth Song’. My favourite album is ‘Off The Wall’, closely followed by ‘Thriller’. Another song that I love to play really loud when I’m at home is ‘PYT’!
If you had to dance to obtain what you’ve always dreamt of…would you pick a Michael dance to do?
If I had to dance to obtain what I’ve always dreamt of then I think I’d be dreaming a very long time, for I think my dance skills got left in the 80s along with my hips. I’m quite good at the moonwalk now, so long as it’s in my kitchen, no one’s watching and I’m wearing a lovely pair of thick socks!
Thank you Adrian – Through your own fandom, dedication and work you have given us a door into a world most of us have only dreamt of and as you said yourself, we’ve all made many friends along the way. None of it would have been possible without you and we certainly wouldn’t be where we are today, celebrating our 20th Anniversary, without your help and guidance. You are amazing!