Jacko on tour: 'This will be the final curtain call. I love you, I love you all'

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Crowds flock to London's O2 Arena to hear Michael Jackson reveal concert plans

The fans had stayed up all night, the press had arrived from 20 countries, the moneymen of the music industry had waited 10 years, and, at 5.40pm, nearly two hours after the scheduled start, the erstwhile King of Pop made his well-trailed comeback.

Jay Cochrane, 25, a medical student, had risked being thrown out of Liverpool University by taking a train to London to see the singer. Exposing his chest and stomach to reveal a large Jackson tattoo, the future doctor said: "I know it might sound strange to you, but I like to have him near me wherever I go."

Jackson made his entry on to a makeshift, blood-red stage in London's O2 Centre. Michael Jackson had come to tell us that this is where he would make his "final" curtain call with a series of 10 "big stadium" gigs in London. He gasped, he giggled, he twirled on his heels and air-punched as he said, with characteristic breathiness: "This is it. When I say this is it, it really means this is it. This will be the final curtain call. I love you, I love you all."

There was no moonwalk, there were no pelvic thrusts and his diminutive form on stage appeared for no longer than three minutes but that seemed to be enough for those waiting in the former Millennium Dome.

His words were met with a thunderous din from the most besotted fans, many wearing single white gloves and fedoras, an outfit often worn by the American singer. Even security guards looked on in bemusement at the sea of dated, Thriller-era T-shirts. As well as sporting chest-sized tattoos of the singer, some clutched pink cuddly toys, seemingly oblivious to Jackson's long legal battle against charges of paedophilia.

In the press room, some of the 350 journalists from more than 20 countries, from Ukraine to the US, also bought in to the hype and wore fedoras. The host of the ITV talent competition X-Factor, Dermot O'Leary, had been paid to stir up the crowd.

The front row for Jackson's three-minute appearance was crammed with the most delirious fans, some of whom had camped outside the North Greenwich venue. They had waited 24 hours, some travelling from America, the Czech Republic, Ireland and Finland. For their three minutes, they had paid €300 (£267) to get nearer to the front of the queue.

Mayah Thomas, 21, who had arrived the previous day at the O2, screamed his name. With an emotional edge to her voice, she explained: "Michael's been good to us. He's bought us pizza and he's taken us to see Mary Poppins. They love to paint us to be crazy fans and they love to paint him as mad, but what do they know? We get his love and a little attention and his music, which is the biggest gift."

His brief appearance merely confirmed what had been trailed, that he would perform this summer, the first set of concert appearances since a tour in 1997. Tickets start selling next week.

For a man who has been absent for 10 years from the stage, after a messy court battle to shake off the paedophilia charges, a reputed cash crisis and the loss of his ranch, Michael Jackson looked surprisingly rehabilitated. The O2's American owners, AEG, hope he may be fit enough to perform up to 50 gigs as part of his "residency".

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