Navi, right, with his idol Michael Jackson.
By TOM CARDY / Stuff.
Such is the popularity of Michael Jackson six years after his death, this month New Zealand hasn’t got one Jackson, impersonator but two.
United States-based Michael Kiss performed in Christchurch last week, looking very much – based on publicity shots – like the King of Pop.
UK-based Navi, who will moonwalk his way across Wellington’s Opera House on Saturday, in publicity shots also looks uncannily like Jackson. Navi has been open about having plastic surgery to his face to look more like his idol.
But Navi’s big point of difference from other impersonators and Jackson tribute artists is that not only did Jackson see him perform, he hired him to be a body double. It included Navi – who keeps his surname private – acting as Jackson’s decoy at hotels, so Jackson could avoid the crowds. “It was frightening, it was very scary. I remember one specific one in Thailand in 1993. I had something like 10 bodyguards and 25 police [as an] escort and two and a half thousand people chasing you is not a pretty sight,” says Navi, who on the phone speaks in an English accent without any Jackson-like affectations.
“In a shopping centre I went [down on] the floor and they covered me. People were just throwing themselves over the top and then they got me out and put me in a vehicle. I remember these MJ fans running and grabbing on to the back of the van, banging ‘Michael, I love you.’
“It’s memories. I worked for him for good times and bad times.” It included visits to Jackson’s Neverland ranch and appearing at Jackson’s trails to support him.
Navi first met Jackson in 1992. “I remember I was in Berlin, during the Dangerous tour, doing promotions for it. You actually don’t believe you’ve just met Michael Jackson because while he’s a real life superhero on the videos and concerts, you just see this guy and he’s not standing very big. He’s just really tiny and kind of quiet, more or less.”
Navi has a stronger memory of Jackson when he was hired to perform at the star’s 45th birthday party in New York in 2003. “My parents were sitting on the stage and he came out and shook their hands. Then he spoke backstage. He said to me: ‘you’re an amazing dancer, do you practice everyday?’
“I said ‘Michael, you’re an amazing dancer.” He said ‘really?’
“I’m thinking ‘the guy’s winding me up. He definitely can’t be that naive’. Then he did the World Music Awards in London. They had the Thriller dancers dancing as monsters. I was backstage and Michael came off the stage and didn’t want to meet anyone [except] all the dancers. He was really about the everyday person. He wasn’t about the big megastars. He was just really in awe of people.”
Navi, who was born in Trinidad and moved to Britain in the 1980s, says he never set out to be a Jackson impersonator and had been doing impersonations of other musicians, including Guns N’ Roses Axl Rose, Elvis Presley and Bob Marley. “But Jackson was the one that was the real deal,” he says.
To perfect his impersonation, Navi underwent several operations between 1992 and 2012. British newspaper The Mirror reported that at one point Navi was spending £150,000 (NZ$300,000) a year. But Navi says he’s actually held back on some of the alterations, so that he can walk about in public without getting too many stares.
“I could have gone thinner with the nose, I could have gone bigger with the jawline. I could have been precise but I wouldn’t have been Michael Jackson and I wouldn’t have been able to pull it off like Michael Jackson. Even though he went over the top with it and he knew that himself. I always wanted to be the good-looking version of Michael Jackson.”
It’s worked. Navi has performed in 57 countries and is often hired for special events. He’s met several of Jackson’s family and mixes with celebs, including television talent show king Simon Cowell. He has about 200 Jackson costumes, including 20 Thriller jackets. His five bedroom house in Essex is full of Jackson paraphernalia.
But it does make one wonder. When Navi is away from the spotlight who is he? When he looks in the mirror, who does he see?
“I’m not Michael Jackson. I could never be him. I could never replace him,” he says.
The only downside to his career “is that your privacy is sometimes tested”.
Source: TOM CARDY / Stuff.
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