Daughter leads tearful farewell

MICHAEL JACKSON’S daughter fought back tears to pay tribute to the “best father” imaginable last night as an estimated audience of more than a billion tuned in to bid farewell to the King of Pop.

A host of the world’s biggest stars gathered for a glittering memorial ceremony in Los Angeles to pay tribute to Jackson.

But it was two children who made the greatest impression of the night. Jackson’s 11-year-old daughter, Paris Michael Katherine tearfully spoke in public for the first time.

And 12-year-old Welsh boy Shaheen Jafargholi proved an instant hit, winning a standing ovation from the packed stadium, before Paris, said: “Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine and I just wanted to say I love him so much.”

Nelson Mandela and Diana Ross had led tributes to Jackson before his golden coffin, adorned with red flowers, was brought to the Los Angeles Staple Centre.

Many in the audience were visibly upset at the sight of the coffin. Fans were seen breaking down in tears as it was brought in while the Andraé Crouch Choir sang on stage.

The event, billed as the biggest celebrity send-off in history, ran far longer than scheduled. Mariah Carey opened proceedings with a rendition of the Jackson Five’s ballad I’ll Be There, alongside Trey Lorenz.

Usher, the R‘n’B singer who identified Jackson as his greatest inspiration, caused a stir among the crowd by becoming the first artist to touch Jackson’s coffin.

After breaking down in tears singing Gone Too Soon, he was embraced by Jackson family members as he was led away from the stage.

Before the packed Staples Centre joined in several minutes’ silence for the star, singer/songwriter Smokey Robinson read out the messages from Diana Ross and former South African President Nelson Mandela.

A message from Diana Ross said: “Michael wanted me to be there for his children and I will be there if they ever need me – I hope today brings closure for all those who loved him.

“I send my love and condolences to the Jackson family – Diana Ross.”

Praising Jackson for triumphing over tragedy in his life, Mandela said: “Michael was a giant and a legend in the music industry and we mourn with the millions of fans worldwide.

“We also mourn with his friends and his family for the loss of our dear friend [who] we will miss and memories of him cherish for a very long time.

“My wife and I, our family and friends, send you our condolences during this time. Be strong.”

Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown, earned a roar of approval from the crowd when he said: “He is quite simply the greatest entertainer that ever lived.”

Actress Brooke Shields, who first met Jackson when she was 13, spoke candidly and sensitively of their friendship.

Describing Jackson as “pure”, she said: “He was often referred to as the King but the Michael that I knew was always the little prince.

“Michael saw everything with his heart.”

She said his favourite song was Smile. Referring to the lyrics “smile though your hearts are aching”, she said: “Today, though our hearts are aching, we need to look up and we need to smile.”

After her emotional speech, Jackson’s older brother Jermaine sang Smile.

He was wearing a white glove in tribute to his brother Michael and received a standing ovation as he left the stage.

Stevie Wonder dedicated his songs Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer and They Won’t Go When I Go to Jackson.

Before launching into the first ballad, an emotional Wonder said: “This is a moment I wished I had never seen come.”

Commenting on Wonder’s performance, Trevor Nelson told viewers on the BBC: “Easily my favourite performance of the evening.”

After actress Jennifer Hudson, whose own life was hit by tragedy, sang Jackson’s hit You’re Always In My Heart, the Rev Al Sharpton suggested Jackson laid the foundations for a black man to become president of the United States.

The civil rights activist said: “It was Michael Jackson that brought blacks, whites and Asians together.

“Thank you Michael, thank you Michael, thank you Michael.”

He added that he thought Jackson was not “strange” but what had happened to him was.

Before Lionel Richie appeared on stage to sing Jesus is Love, Queen Latifah appeared on stage to speak of the worldwide sadness over the pop legend’s death.

“In Birmingham Alabama and Birmingham England, we are missing Michael Jackson,” she said.

Family members had held a private funeral service earlier at Forest Lawn Cemetery. Police blocked off roads and warned those without tickets to stay away because they would not be able to get close to the centre. Reports said up to 700,000 tried to reach the arena.

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