One reason a show like HBO’s Entourage was so compelling is the unbelievable power of celebrity in our culture. Today, the chance of crossing paths with an A-list celebrity is thought of as a winning lottery ticket. These major league celebrities almost take on a “genie in a bottle” quality. With a snap of their fingers they can change your life forever. The new book Remember the Time, by Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard, centers around the incredible force of celebrity in the form of Michael Jackson. Whitfield and Beard were some of the last people tasked with protecting the King of Pop. The book is a first hand account of working as Jackson’s security during his final roller coaster months.
With the help of writer Tanner Colby, the two lay out a story that begins with simple security roles, but quickly morphs into Whitfield and Beard becoming apart of Jackson’s inner circle. They paint the picture of a man in Jackson who is so blinded by his own immense fame that he can’t fathom the dysfunction that surrounds him.
We spoke in depth with Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard about Remember the Time in a special Hidden Remote Q&A. We discussed everything from the economic challenges of working with Mr. Jackson, to the types of music the legendary singer would listen to during car rides.
1. Bill & Javon, both of you described yourselves as huge Michael Jackson fans before working for the King of Pop. How did that affect your judgement when it came to the job?
It certainly made us more loyal. It became more of a personal mission than a job, particularly in the times when his life grew more difficult and his managers were refusing to pay us so they could starve us out and put in security guards loyal to them.
When you do personal security, you are not supposed to make it personal. It’s a professional working relationship; you’re present for a lot of private moments, but you need to keep a distance. But we’re also only human. Mr. Jackson and his children were going through a very difficult time, and we stayed on because of the affection we felt for them.
2. What was your first reaction when you found out that Mr. Jackson would only listen to Classical Music in the car?
It was shocking at first, because you just thought he would be listening to all the current acts like Usher and Chris Brown because they had so many similarities to his own music. But after getting to know Mr. Jackson it made sense. Classical music is very relaxing. I remember being on long drives while Mr. Jackson was in the back seat listening to classical music and he’d fall asleep. And after being around it, the classical music started to grow on us, too. It made us appreciate instruments more.
3. Javon, you described the lengths Mr. Jackson went to in testing your loyalty with a fake bribe offer. Just how important was loyalty to Michael Jackson?
Loyalty and trust were everything to him. At Neverland, he’d had members of his own household staff sell secrets to the tabloids. On a private jet one time, someone taped a private conversation between Mr. Jackson and his attorney. Anything private about Mr. Jackson was worth a lot of money to the media. Which is why he trusted no one and tested our loyalty on the job.
4. You both describe a volatile atmosphere between Michael Jackson and the rest of the Jackson family. Do you think he trusted any of them?
He trusted his mother. She was the only member of the family who had his phone number and the only one allowed to visit the house without an appointment. What exactly had caused the rift between him and his siblings, he never discussed with us, but he made it clear that they were to be kept at arm’s length.
5. There were many moments when your job as security began to blur into other areas. For instance the news of Michael’s oldest son Prince getting a puppy soon turned into you being asked to clean up after it. Were these sorts of things normal for you guys in the security world or did working for Michael Jackson change all the rules?
Working for Michael Jackson was an experience like no other we have ever encountered. The measures we had to take to ensure his privacy were greater than any other celebrity we’ve ever worked for. And as for taking on so many extra duties, it simply a result of him trusting so few people and not wanting many people around. It fell to us to be security, personal assistants, babysitters, run errands, take the dog to the vet, you name it. Every day you showed up to work with no idea what the day would bring. Every day was different from the day before.
6. Even though you were working for the biggest star on the planet, there were money issues to deal with. It was a situation where everyone was getting paid, but you guys, yet you continued on the job. You both sacrificed for your families in order to keep those positions. Was the lure of working for Michael Jackson so powerful that you could overlook not getting paid?
By the time we had payroll issues with his management, we had been there for several months, so it wasn’t the “lure” of working for him that kept us there. Part of it was simple practicality: if we left, we would never get paid. We’d be at the back of the line behind all the other creditors trying to get money from his manager. As long as we were standing next to Mr. Jackson, they would have to pay us at some point. But mostly we stayed out of loyalty to Mr. Jackson and the three kids. We knew how vulnerable they were, that the paparazzi were swarming around them. We worried what would happen if we weren’t there to look out for their personal protection.
7. The people around Michael’s finances all seemed to be working on their own priorities. How much do you think Michael’s financial problems contributed to his death?
His financial problems led directly to his death. Without those problems, he never could have been forced into the position of doing those 50 shows in London for This Is It.
8. Could anyone tell Michael Jackson what to do?
Almost no one. His mother had the most influence. And Grace Rwaramba, the children’s nanny, she was one of the few people with the leverage to tell Mr. Jackson that something needed to be addressed. But by and large, if you told Michael Jackson no, he would find someone to say yes. Sometimes we had to put our foot down on matters off security, if we felt he was making a choice that wasn’t safe. Sometimes he respected us for telling him no. Other times, he really didn’t like it.
9. Talk to me a bit about the two women you mention Michael spent time with in the book, “Friend” & “Flower”. Are you convinced that Michael Jackson had a sexual relationship with them? Was this the only time that you saw a glimpse of Michael’s love life?
We are not “convinced” of anything. All we reported in the book was what we saw: that these women visited and that they spent private time alone together. That’s all we know and have ever said. There was a romantic nature to the relationships, a flirtation, but what happened between them behind closed doors is private and should remain that way.
10. There was a moment when you were using your own money to put gas into Michael Jackson’s cars, and living on the hope of payment down the line. Did you ever think about quitting when it got that bad?
Honestly, we wouldn’t be human if the thought didn’t pass through our minds. But those thoughts came because we were angry. After speaking to Mr. Jackson he would not only promise that things would be better, he also told us how much he appreciated our loyalty. There was no way in hell we could walk away from him after that. We came to love Mr. Jackson and the kids. They became family, and you never turn your back on family.
11. What’s the one thing you’d want people to know about your time working with Michael Jackson?
The one thing that people should know that he was one of the best single fathers we ever came in contact with, especially with all the things he had to go through. We want people to know that Mr. Jackson was really a good dude, and though there were people who turned their back on him he always had his fans in his corner and he appreciated that.