Ballooning with Michael Jackson: 'We were sworn to secrecy'
Michael Jackson never toured in Central Florida as a solo artist. But Central Florida did get one look at Thriller-era Jackson, and it was a doozy.
Jackson took a trip to Orlando in October of 1984, and decided he wanted to tour the area in a hot-air balloon. So he hired a crew of local balloon pilots, including Clearwater artist and balloonist Roger Bansemer, to take him up in the air.
"It all had to be very hush-hush," Bansemer recalled Friday from his studio in North Carolina. "We were sworn to secrecy that we wouldn‚Äôt tell anybody we were going to Orlando to fly Michael Jackson. I don‚Äôt think any of us did. In fact, we were very hesitant to even take pictures.
"You could tell he had no privacy in his life. If he got out, somebody‚Äôd see him, and before you know it, there‚Äôd be a crowd there. That was the sense I got."
But it wasn't just Jackson. The singer also brought Emmanuel "Webster" Lewis, not to mention his entourage, including a manager, cook and bodyguard. In all, some seven balloons were part of the caravan.
At one point, they flew above water park Wet 'n' Wild, and Bansemer pointed it out to Jackson's manager. He replied that Jackson had rented the entire park the night before, just so he could have some fun in private.
Jackson and Lewis were riding in a balloon adjacent to Bansemer and the manager, but the Jackson's voice was clear as a bell.
"We were flying fairly low," Bansemer said, "and we flew over what looked like an elementary school with children playing in the playground, and he started to sing to them, and of course they had no idea who that was. Who would think, ‚ÄòHey, that‚Äôs Michael Jackson?‚Äô We were high enough that he wasn‚Äôt highly recognizable."
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*. Phoro courtesy of Roger Bansemer.