Why now, people ask.
Why has it taken almost 20 years for two of Michael Jackson’s former childhood companions to publicly claim he sexually abused them?
Because they didn’t know they’d been abused, is the answer presented in harrowing new documentary, Leaving Neverland.
Both Wade Robson and James Safechuck were in love with Michael Jackson. In the words of Wade, “I loved Michael and Michael loved me and we were going to be together forever.”
Their families loved him too. James’ mum Stephanie welcomed him into their small, suburban home in Simi Valley, US, washing his clothes and cooking him meals like she would for another son.
He would call her from overseas, crying because he was so lonely. What she saw was a boy trapped in a man’s body, not a predatory paedophile who allegedly used her and her son for his own sordid sexual gratification.
Wade’s mum Joy was so enthralled by Jackson’s seemingly genuine love for her family and his promise to propel Wade to fame that she even agreed to move with her son to LA, leaving her mentally ill husband and eldest son Shane thousands of miles away in their native Brisbane, Australia.
“My dad asked me, ‘have you lost your mind,'” she recalls. “I think I had.”
Jackson, 36, taught Wade – who he nicknamed ‘Little One’ – how to Moonwalk and put him in the video for Black or White. He predicted he’d be a film director and bought him his own mini recording studio.
He showered him with love and affection so that when his hand allegedly reached into a seven-year-old Wade’s underpants for the first time, Wade didn’t fight, flinch or cry. Instead, he says there was, “nothing aggressive about it. I wasn’t scared.”
It was the same for James Safechuck, who claims Michael taught him how to masturbate in a hotel room in Paris. He was 10, Jackson was 29.
His penis swelled up so much that he couldn’t urinate, James says, claiming Jackson helped him bathe his genitals in a cup of warm water.
Jackson told him he was his first sexual experience and claimed James taught him to French kiss.
Too young to ejaculate, James, now 42, described how he would instead leak a ‘clear lubricant’ during the ‘hundreds’ of times they went on to have sex.
“It sounds sick but it’s kind of like when you’re first dating somebody, you do a lot of it,” James said, listing all the places the abuse took place, from secret closets at Neverland to rooms with one-way glass.
They held hands like a couple, they had a secret code where they’d scratch each others’ palms if they were thinking about sex. James started to think he was gay.
The child was so smitten that he begged Jackson to share a bed with him, admitting he would get jealous if he woke up to find Michael in another room.
Jackson even staged a fake wedding where they committed to each other with rings, James claims. In the documentary, his hands shake as he looks at a box full of jewelery that Jackson allegedly gifted him in return for sexual favours.
“It’s still hard for me to not blame myself,” he says.
To Finding Neverland director Dan Reed, Michael’s alleged actions were ‘repugnant’.
“The wedding was a token of Michael’s love and how they were going to be together forever,” he says. “[But] obviously Michael had no intention of being with James forever and probably had slept with many other boys. We know he did. We know he slept with Wade while he was seeing James.”
The alleged sexual routines the two men describe are chillingly similar. Touching, followed by masturbation, followed by oral sex. They claim Jackson liked his nipples rubbed and pulled and would ask them to bend over on all fours at the corner of the bed and expose their anus as he masturbated.
“I liked the feeling that I was making him happy, that I was pleasing him,” Wade says.
Both described how Jackson had a system of chimes or alarms that would alert him if others approached the bedroom.
James would sit in the bath watching porn whilst eating sweets.
And Jackson allegedly told both that no-one could find out, that no-one would understand. That if they did, they would both be thrown in jail for life.
In a bid to keep their relationship a secret, Jackson allegedly asked James’ mum Stephanie to tell her son not to hold his hand in public.
And Wade says he taught him how to ‘shelve’ his feelings – something he believes contributed to the two nervous breakdowns he suffered as an adult.
For Dan, hearing how in love the boys – who are now both married to women – were, cemented his belief that Jackson was a paedophile.
“To me, what’s more distressing than the graphic descriptions of sexual abuse are the ways that Michael emotionally manipulated these children and dropped them,” he told Rolling Stone.
“These are relationships that, if they had happened between consenting adults, would be entirely normal. Loving, nurturing, mentoring. They were characterized by all the trappings of love.
“And that’s one of the moments when I really hit the level of belief. Because obviously, as a journalist, I approached the interviews and reserved judgment until I heard more. When Wade, and then James, said, ‘I loved Michael and Michael loved me and we were going to be together forever,’ they spoke the way a loving adult speaks about their partner.
“Or about their first love. And that’s incredibly powerful, as we all know. And when I understood that, then I understood everything.”
Their feelings for Jackson were further complicated when the star apparently withdrew his affections in favour of another, leaving them heartbroken.
James spent one night crying uncontrollably for his mum after being replaced in Jackson’s bed by another boy. “I felt so alone,” he recalled. “You’re no longer special.”
And when both were called by Jackson to defend him against allegations that he sexually abused another of his companions, Jordan Chandler in 1993, neither thought twice.
By that point, James says, he was going through puberty and Jackson was starting to lose interest. Desperate to stay in favour – and still unaware that he’d been abused – James says he was coached by Jackson’s lawyers to give ‘rehearsed questions and testimony.’
Wade, too, unflinchingly defended Jackson. Then aged 11, he says he had been ‘brainwashed’ into being a ‘good soldier’.
Going into adulthood, both Wade and James suffered from depression, anxiety and nervous breakdowns.
Michael’s estate has labelled the documentary and its claims, “yet another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson.”
However, Dan Reed says their behaviour is typical of a child who has been groomed.
“I wanted people to understand that when a child is groomed by a predator, it’s a very complex relationship. The parents are manipulated. It’s all very gentle, and often manifested as love to the child,” he said.
“The families still hang onto the mentorship, love and attention that Jackson brought into their lives, and find themselves grappling with the contradictions of their relationship. Leaving Neverland is about both what Michael Jackson gave to them, and what he took away.”
* Leaving Neverland airs on Wednesday, March 6 and Thursday, March 7 at 9pm on Channel 4.