News & Current Affairs

July 3, 2009

Photographer on Jackson rehearsals

Filed under: Entertainment News, Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 6:48 pm

Photographer on Jackson rehearsals

Renowned rock photographer Kevin Mazur was at Michael Jackson’s final tour rehearsal in Los Angeles last week.

Several images from the practice runs have now been released, showing the star dancing and smiling against large neon letters reading “This Is It”.

Mazur, who first took pictures of Jackson during the 1984 Victory tour, told the news about the “magical” show that was being prepared before the entertainer’s untimely death on Thursday.


Michael Jackson during last show rehearsal at Staples Center in Los Angeles (Kevin Mazur/AEG/Getty Images )

The pictures were taken on 23 June, just two days before Jackson died

How much of the rehearsal did you see?

I was there for a couple of days. I was there on the first day when they built the stage, and I took photographs of the dancers and the back-up singers for the tour book. Then, the next day I was taking casual shots of the band and the dancers rehearsing when Michael arrived.

I was like an expectant father waiting for him to take to the stage, I was so excited. And when he came out, I was even more excited because Michael was back.

He was happy, he was energetic, he was full of life. I had such an adrenaline rush. It was like the first time I had photographed him, when he moonwalked.

People were saying he wasn’t ready, and the first shows had been pushed back because of his health. Did you see any evidence of that?

A photo tells a story. Michael was physically fit and performing the same way that I photographed him through the years. You can look at the photos. I documented it, I was there.

So how did you feel when, four days later, you were told he had died?

I was so shocked, because from what I saw on Tuesday night, he was full of energy and full of life. I couldn’t wait to see this show at the O2 arena with all the fans there.

How much of the production did you see? Were there any big surprises?

There were still certain elements that they had to put into place, but I saw them rehearse about a dozen songs. And Michael never stopped. He worked right through. He did 12 songs and he only paused a couple of times to tweak some stuff with the music and a little bit of the choreography.

They had a screen that ran the full length of the main stage and was maybe about 50 feet high. And, supposedly, I heard they were doing some 3D things. I’ve been shooting shows for 25 years and I’d never seen anything like that before. I was very curious to see how it would all come together.

Michael Jackson during last show rehearsal at Staples Center in Los Angeles (Kevin Mazur/AEG/Getty Images )

The series of 50 concerts was due to begin in London on 13 July

So you could say the concert was really in the final stages of preparation – with all the individual songs coming together into a coherent show?

Yes, well… everything was pretty much staged and built. There were certain things they were still waiting to get – they had chandeliers they were going to put into the set. But musically and dancing-wise, I got to see it all. But I didn’t get to see things like aerial lifts and a few other elements in the show.

And when Michael was done rehearsing, he and Kenny Ortega [choreographer and show producer] went off the stage and they were looking at a bunch of props they had for Thriller and they had a puppeteer using zombie-type creatures that were going to go through the audience. It looked really, really cool.

This was going to be like no show anyone had ever seen.

The picture that has gone around the world today is of Michael in a grey suit, pointing into the centre of the auditorium. What do you remember much about that shot?

That might have been Black Or White – but I don’t remember. It’s so hard for me to keep track of the songs while I’m shooting, because it’s such an adrenalin rush for me. I’m just too excited, and I’m juggling round numerous cameras. But I do know this, it was magical.

There are rumours today that the rehearsals had been filmed and that segments of the concert will be released as a tribute. Were you aware of that?

Not specifically – but everything was documented. That’s why I was there. I was there to keep a record photographically, and they also had videographers. He’s Michael Jackson and, as you know, he documents everything.

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September 19, 2008

Blair gets serious on comedy show

Blair gets serious on comedy show

For a man who has sat down for interviews with Jeremy Paxman – not to mention his 2005 grilling from Ant and Dec – Tony Blair seemed surprisingly ill at ease talking to Jon Stewart on US television’s Daily Show.

But Mr Paxman rarely lulls his guests into a false sense of security – they know they are in for an inquisition.

On the Daily Show – liberal America’s favorite TV program – Jon Stewart uses charm to win confidences from his guests.

Stewart – a staunch opponent of the Iraq war and the Bush administration – appeared to be genuinely interested in finding out what Mr Blair thought about the war, and about the president.

He was not looking to score points or catch him out.

But, if anything, the relaxed line of questioning seemed to make Mr Blair more wary.

And, other than the admission that he “would have been shocked” if he had known in advance just how much bloodshed and disorder the Iraq war was going to unleash, he gave little away.

We learned that “it would have been complicated” for Mr Blair to convert to Catholicism while he was still in Number Ten.

He managed to win a few laughs when he offered to have a word with President Bush to persuade him to come on the show

But we knew that.

And Mr Blair divulged the basis of his close relationship with President Bush: “I like him”.

But we knew that too.

He managed to win a few laughs when he offered to have a word with President Bush to persuade him to come on the show.

Mostly, however, it was the host who provided the jokes.

At times, the conversation was pretty serious for a comedy show.

There was an in-depth discussion of whether radical Islamist movements like Hamas, al-Qaeda and Hezbollah should be lumped together as a single threat.

Mr Blair argued that they were all linked, while Mr Stewart maintained that the groups had different aims and motivations and should be dealt with separately.

‘Pet’ issues

One topic that was not touched on was the state of politics back in the UK.

Perhaps unsurprisingly on a show aimed at a US audience, Mr Stewart asked no questions about Gordon Brown’s recent troubles.

Of course, no guest comes on a chat show these days without something to plug, and Mr Blair was no exception.

He is about to begin teaching a course at Yale University on “faith and globalisation”.

Not that anyone watching was going to be able to sign up for the course on a whim (although Jon Stewart expressed an interest in doing so).

All in all, both men got what they wanted out of the encounter.

Mr Blair’s wariness meant that he was able to talk about his pet issues – faith and security – without giving away any hostages to fortune.

Jon Stewart got a chance to quiz a man who had been at the centre of one of the most controversial policy decisions in recent US history.

And, as he himself pointed out, he is unlikely to be getting such privileged access to any members of the current administration in the near future – even if Mr Blair does put a good word in for him with his friend George.

September 16, 2008

Roma poverty a major issue for EU

Roma poverty a major issue for EU

The European Union’s freedom of movement laws mean Eastern Europe’s large population of Roma (Gypsies) is now spreading west.

Roma family in Hungary

Roma make up around 10% of the population in Eastern Europe

The effect of this influx on national economies, as well as the deep poverty of the EU’s Roma, are high on the agenda as the first summit on Roma integration within the EU begins in Brussels.

Italy and Spain have received the most Roma, mainly from Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia, where they make up more than 10% of the population.

Italy has witnessed the most serious effects – murders blamed on Roma, and revenge attacks by vigilante groups, followed by controversial government attempts to fingerprint Roma immigrants.

In Hungary, there is tension between Roma and non-Roma, after the lynching of a teacher by a Roma mob in one village, and attacks on a lorry driver and his family in another – both after road traffic accidents involving Roma children.

The creation of a “Hungarian Guard”, by far-right groups who arrive in villages after such incidents, is fueling fears of an explosion.

Integration key

“I don’t really know how the EU could help,” said Andras Ujlaky, head of the Chance for Children Foundation in Hungary.

“But perhaps they could start by pressurizing national governments to implement their own declared policies in housing, employment and education.”

Hungarian customs trainee Jozsef Nagy
There weren’t many opportunities… This was the chance for me!
Jozsef Nagy
Trainee customs officer

In Hungary, an earlier policy to give money to schools for the mentally disabled, to which a disproportionate number of Roma were sent, was abandoned when it was realized that it encouraged segregation.

Now funds are focused on mainstream schools which accept more Roma – though they impose limits of 25% Roma in a class.

There has been a wave of school closures in recent years in Hungary, as population figures fall.

That cuts both ways for the Roma. When Roma ghetto schools close, and the children are redistributed among schools with an ethnic Hungarian majority, it helps integration efforts.

The town of Hodmezovasarhely in south-eastern Hungary has been a pioneer, with five out of 11 primary schools closed last year alone.

But in far-flung villages with a majority Roma population, Roma and non-Roma parents alike are upset when local schools close and children are bussed off each day to towns.

The links between the parents and the schools are broken.

An alternative policy, supported by opposition parties, would be to improve the facilities and standard of teaching in existing schools.

Police drive

In eastern Hungary poverty is so endemic – with the Roma blamed for widespread petty theft – that the head of the Hungarian Poultry Board recently complained that people are no longer raising hens in several counties.

One new initiative for Roma integration in Budapest is being run by Gyorgy Makula, a policeman of Roma origin.

Hungarian police officer Gyorgy Makula (left) and some Roma boys

Officer Gyorgy Makula (left) hopes to help Roma boys out of the ghetto

Giant placards will be placed at strategic points around Budapest, to try to encourage more Roma to consider a police career.

Data protection laws make it impossible to measure how many Roma police there are in Hungary, but Gyorgy Makula estimates no more than 200, in a police force of 38,000.

“We should show to the Hungarian people, to the majority, among them the police staff, that there are really excellent people in this community who have been working for the police, who are not criminals of course.

“So we would like to change the mind of the people,” said Capt Makula.

At the Police High School, on Szecsenyi Hill overlooking Budapest, Jozsef Nagy, a third-year trainee customs officer, says he always wanted to join one of the law enforcement agencies.

“There weren’t many opportunities in our village to get somewhere in life. This was the chance for me!” he said.

Bending rules

One obstacle to increasing Roma numbers in the police is the fact that fewer than 10% of Roma students complete secondary school in Hungary.

A new idea is to bend the rules – to let them begin police training, and take their school-leaving exams inside the police academy.

In Csorog, a village less than an hour’s drive north of Budapest, with a large Roma population, the idea of more Roma policemen goes down well.

“I can foresee some problems,” said Zoltan Lakatos, a dustman, “if a policeman was forced to arrest one of his own relatives. But on the whole it’s a good idea. I think it would help.”

But his son, Zoli, 15, cannot imagine himself in uniform, planning a career steeped in Roma tradition.

“I’ve already decided,” he said. “I’m going to be a dancer. I’m going to teach Gypsy dance.”

September 12, 2008

Thai party ‘drops Samak for PM’

Thai party ‘drops Samak for PM’

Ousted Thai PM Samak Sundaravej leaves Parliament House in Bangkok on 11September 2008

Protesters have consistently demanded that Mr Samak leave office

Thailand’s ruling party has dropped ousted PM Samak Sundaravej as its nominee for the job, say party sources.

The decision marks an apparent U-turn by the People’s Power Party (PPP), which earlier seemed determined to re-nominate him to the post.

Protesters have been demanding for weeks that Mr Samak should resign.

The apparent confirmation that he is no longer in contention for the post may pave the way for a settlement of the political crisis, analysts say.

Mr Samak had vowed not to bow to the protesters’ demands, but was eventually forced out earlier this week, over an apparently unrelated appearance in a TV cookery show.

The protesters call him a puppet for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in an army coup in 2006 amid accusations of corruption and abuse of power.

New candidates

Reports are confused as to whether the pressure to drop Mr Samak came from within the ruling party or from its five coalition partners.

The Associated Press news agency quoted PPP spokesman Kuthep Kuthep Saikrajang as saying the party had short-listed three party members as its prime ministerial nominee, though they were not named.

Video still of Samak Sundaravej

Mr Samak was a TV chef before becoming prime minister

The party will need to agree on a compromise candidate before Wednesday, when parliament has scheduled a new vote for prime minister.

Earlier on Friday, a planned vote in the Thai parliament to re-elect Mr Samak as prime minister was postponed because too few MPs turned up.

Thousands of protesters who have been holding a sit-in outside Government House calling for Mr Samak’s resignation were enraged by his re-nomination.

Protesters pledged to continue their protest until a suitable replacement for Mr Samak was found – a scenario which may now have materialized, say correspondents.

Although the PPP is the largest party in parliament, it does not have an outright majority and four of its five coalition partners had already said they wanted an alternative candidate.

On top of that, Mr Samak also faces disqualification again later this month if the verdict in a defamation case goes against him.

September 10, 2008

Thai coalition looks for new PM

Thai coalition looks for new PM

Thai deputy PM and finance minister Surapong Suebwonglee (C) sits next to deputy PM Somchai Wongsawat (L) and justice minister Sompong Amornwiwat (R) during a meeting in Bangkok on 10 September 2008

The mood in Thailand was reportedly tense as the coalition met

Thailand’s political parties are meeting to discuss who should replace Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, a day after he was stripped of office.

Mr Samak has not been seen since the Constitutional Court ruled he broke the law by appearing on a TV cookery show.

Parliament is due to elect 73-year-old Mr Samak’s successor on Friday.

His People Power Party (PPP), the biggest in the six-member coalition, appeared to back away from an earlier pledge to re-nominate him as PM.

“What the party spokesman said yesterday was not the party’s resolution. Our resolution is the next prime minister must come from the People Power Party,” Reuters news agency quoted finance minister and PPP secretary general Surapong Suebwonglee as saying.

‘Fuel the fire’

Now that the dust has settled after the Constitutional Court’s astonishing decision on Tuesday, the bargaining has begun, according to the correspondent in Bangkok, Jonathan Head.

Party factions have been holding meetings throughout the day; some have been in contact with the exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is still influential because of his continued financial support.

POLITICAL CRISIS
26 Aug: Protesters occupy government buildings, demand the government step down
28 Aug: PM Samak promises no use of force against the protesters
30 Aug: Samak rules out resignation, after meeting with Thailand’s king
1 Sept: A late-night clash between pro- and anti-government groups leaves one dead. Samak declares a state of emergency
4 Sept: Samak proposes a national referendum
9 Sept: Court orders Samak to resign for violating constitution

The PPP insists any replacement for Mr Samak must come from within its ranks, but its coalition partners are angling to get one of their own into the seat.

The second-largest of the partners, the Chart Thai Party, said the PPP should not re-nominate Mr Samak.

But Chart Thai’s leader, Banharn Silpa-Archa – who as prime minister a decade ago presided over a currency collapse that triggered an Asian economic crisis – told Reuters he had ruled himself out.

The opposition Democrats are proposing a new government of national unity as the best way out of the crisis – with the clear hint that their party leader should get the job.

Bangkok dangerous?

For the past two weeks, the Thai government has been paralysed by thousands of protesters who have occupied its headquarters, demanding Mr Samak quit.

Anti-government protesters at Government House in Bangkok on 10 September 2008

Protesters are still laying siege to Government House

They accuse him of being a proxy for Mr Thaksin, who was ousted in an army coup in 2006 amid accusations of corruption and abuse of power.

The demonstrators said they would continue to besiege Government House while waiting to see who parliament selects as the new prime minister.

They have already warned that they will continue their protests if Mr Samak or anyone else closely associated with Mr Thaksin is chosen.

The caretaker administration has anticipated the continued protests by proposing that ministers move their offices to the old international airport.

Deputy PPP leader Somchai Wongsawat is acting as a caretaker prime minister until the new premier is named.

Correspondents say his new role could fan Thailand’s political flames as he is the brother-in-law of Mr Thaksin.

September 8, 2008

Gallagher hurt after stage attack

Gallagher hurt after stage attack

Oasis star Noel Gallagher was admitted to hospital after being pushed over during the band’s set at the V Festival in Toronto, Canada on Sunday.

According to the band’s website, the star “fell heavily onto his monitor speakers”. He may have fractured his rib and sustained ligament damage.

The 40-year-old was playing guitar during a performance of Morning Glory when a stage invader pushed him over.

Oasis have hinted that a gig on Tuesday may be canceled as a result.

Fans have been asked to keep checking the band’s website for updates on the show, which is due to take place in London, Ontario.

Gallagher’s attacker was hauled to the ground by security guards. The guitarist’s younger brother Liam, who was singing, had to be restrained from retaliating.

The incident was captured on video by a fan in the audience and posted on the YouTube website.

Oasis left the stage immediately after the attack, but the show resumed a few minutes later.

Gallagher’s assailant was detained in police custody and will be charged with assault, according to the statement on Oasis’ website.

The festival gig came as the band prepare to complete their North American tour, which ends in New York on Friday.

Gallagher has yet to comment on the incident on the blog which he has been updating throughout the tour.

August 21, 2008

Capello defends England tactics

Capello defends England tactics

Fabio Capello

Capello said he played Gerrard in a supporting role behind the striker

Coach Fabio Capello gave England’s performance in the 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic a mixed review and defended his use of Steven Gerrard.

The Italian was criticized for playing the midfielder on the left wing.

Capello explained he was using Gerrard in a 4-3-2-1 system, with the Liverpool captain and Wayne Rooney supporting Jermain Defoe as a main striker.

“The position he had to play was in the line of the full-backs and midfield,” he said. “He never played on the left.”

Capello sought to get the best out of Liverpool’s influential captain and Chelsea’s Frank Lampard in the same line-up, a conundrum that has dogged his predecessors in the England job.

On this occasion he opted to partner Lampard with Gareth Barry in the middle with David Beckham to the right of the trio.

Capello added: “We played 4-3-2-1. We played Defoe, Gerrard and Rooney and three midfielders behind them. He [Gerrard] went to the left and to the middle.”

Gerrard was replaced by Joe Cole after an hour and the Chelsea midfielder admitted he was played out of position.

“I’m a winger, but the manager wanted me to play off the front man,” said the 26-year-old. “New manager, new ideas. We’ve got to try things.”

Only a last-minute goal from Cole saved England from defeat at Wembley, but Capello drew some positives from the salvaged draw, saying the performance was another step forward for his side ahead of World Cup qualifying campaign which begins in Andorra on 6 September.

He was also concerned by the ease in which England were exposed by a fast counter-attacking Czech side and admitted it is something they will need to work on.

“I think in the first half we played well, we had a lot of chances.

“After the second goal from the Czechs, the direction was not so strong.”

The problem is not with the style we played, but the difficulty we have when the other team play the counter-attack
England manager Fabio Capello

“The problem is not with the style we played, but the difficulty we have when the other team play the counter-attack,” added the 62-year-old.

“It is always dangerous and we have to study this problem.

“At this moment the players are not 100% physically, and important players like Rooney and Gerrard have played just one game.

“I think this result is important. We played against a very strong team and we’ll have more confidence for the next game.”

England’s uncomfortable night was compounded by the announcement that the Football Association’s chief executive Brian Barwick would leave his post by the end of the year.

Barwick was instrumental in the appointment of Capello, but differences with chairman Lord Triesman have led to their relationship becoming unworkable.

When asked about his departure the Italian said: “I am a friend of Brian, but it’s not my job [to comment] – it’s a board decision.”

Meanwhile, captain John Terry conceded that there had been “some plusses, but also some negatives” from their final warm-up game before the World Cup qualification campaign begins.

“Maybe we should have won the game with the players we had out,” the re-appointed skipper said

Of the crowd booing the players off, he said: “The crowd were frustrated as they’d paid a lot of money for their tickets, and we’ve got to put on a better show than that.

“It’s going to be a slow process, but hopefully we can get off to a good start against Andorra and go from there.

“We’ve got players playing in the biggest competition in the world [the Champions League], but sometimes we don’t click on the international stage.

“But I don’t think we should be worried. We have to stand up and be counted, raise our game, match teams with the commitment they show and hopefully our quality can overcome them.”

August 15, 2008

Goody ‘will appear in Indian BB’

Goody ‘will appear in Indian BB’

Jade Goody on visit to India

Goody visited Delhi after the row to apologize to the Indian community

Jade Goody is to appear in the Indian version of Celebrity Big Brother, according to reports.

It comes 18 months after the 27-year-old reality TV star was accused of racism towards Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty in the UK show.

Goody is expected to join the Indian house this weekend. Shetty is the host of the program, known as Bigg Boss.

A spokeswoman for makers Endemol said the identity of contestants was never confirmed or denied at this stage.

Because I’ve been there, done that, I’ll be able to relate to the housemates in a more empathetic way because I can imagine what they’re going through at that point in time
Shilpa Shetty

Bollywood reporter Harshita Kholi told that “a source from the production house has said that they’re under confidentiality”.

“But what they do so say is, yes, there is a buzz, there is a possibility of her being on the show,” she added.

Last week, speaking in an interview ahead of the show, Shetty said her advice to housemates was “just be yourself”.

“Because I’ve been there, done that, I’ll be able to relate to the housemates in a more empathetic way because I can imagine what they’re going through at that point in time,” she said.

Last year’s British show attracted 45,000 complaints to media regulator Ofcom over the alleged bullying of Shetty by Jade Goody and fellow contestants, model Danielle Lloyd and singer Jo O’Meara.

Cooking comment

In a report on the series, Ofcom ruled that, on three occasions, broadcaster Channel 4 had had failed to appropriately handle material.

It said one was where Goody referred to Shetty as “Shilpa Poppadom”.

Shilpa Shetty

Shilpa Shetty became a household name in the UK because of the show

Another was when Lloyd told Shetty, using foul language, that she should return to India.

The third was when Lloyd and O’Meara were seen making offensive comments about Indian cooking.

Gordon Brown – then Chancellor of the Exchequer – became involved in the row while on a visit to India during the show’s run.

Mr Brown said the issue had been raised repeatedly during his trip, adding that Britain should be “seen as a country of fairness and tolerance”.

It also led to a protest in the eastern Indian city of Patna which saw the burning of an effigy.

I am sorry for the hurt and pain that my actions caused
Goody’s apology to Indian community

But after Shetty eventually won the show, she insisted that Goody “didn’t mean to be racist”.

Endemol, meanwhile said it “sincerely regretted the level of offense caused by events in this series”.

When she left the house, Goody said her behaviour had been “nasty” and added: “I’m not racist but i can see why it has had the impact it’s had.”

A month after leaving the house, she visited India and told Indians: “I am sorry for the hurt and pain that my actions caused.”

Shilpa, meanwhile, became a household name in the UK after the series.

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