Jackson faces loss of Neverland ranch
Thursday 28 February 2008
Michael Jackson needs to find $25m (£12.5m) – and fast. The Peter Pan of pop has three weeks to raise the funds to keep hold of his famous Neverland fantasy ranch, or risk losing it at auction.
The adventure wonderland, replete with mock Tudor mansion, carnival rides, Ferris wheels, and a clapped-out zoo, is to be auctioned on 19 March after the San-Francisco based Financial Title Company filed a trustee's sale notice with Santa Barbara County Superior Court.
Barely an inch of the sprawling ranch in California is exempted from sale. An auction notice makes clear that not only the home but all elevators, railroad tracks, railroad equipment, trains, locomotives, rail cars and other rolling stock, Ferris wheels, carousels and merry-go rounds are to be auctioned off.
Taking its name from the island in J M Barrie's Peter Pan novels, the Neverland ranch was designed to fulfil every childhood fantasy.
Bought in 1987, the same year as his hit album Bad was released, at one point the ranch included a zoo that was home to alpacas, giraffes and lions.
The 2,900-acre estate became a focal point of Jackson's trial on child molestation charges, of which he was acquitted in 2005. Defending lawyers described Neverland as a fantasy land where underprivileged children spent time playing while Jackson sat, Buddha-like, atop a tree, allegedly answering only to his nickname, The Silver Fox.
Since his acquittal, the ranch has remained empty, with Jackson spending most of his time overseas. In 2006 local authorities demanded it be boarded up after discovering evidence that the singer failed to pay his staff or maintain adequate insurance on the property. To hold on to the ranch he needs to pay precisely $24,525,906.61.
And although he is one of the biggest-selling artists of all time, raising the funds quickly enough may be beyond him. The 25th anniversary re-release of his Thriller album has been a limited success, reaching No 6 in the UK album charts but selling just 166,000 copies in its first week in the US – less than Jack Johnson's Sleep Through the Static.
Numerous attempts to revive his musical career have flopped. His first return to the stage after his acquittal, at the World Music Awards in November 2006, was dismal, with Jackson barely able to string a few notes.
Since then, unconfirmed reports have claimed that he turned down a highly lucrative deal with AEG Live, the owners of the Millennium Dome, to perform a series of shows there. Other reports suggested he failed to turn up at the recent Grammy Awards despite being expected. Last month Jackson released his first song in seven years with a remixed version of his hit single "The Girl is Mine". The song was originally a duet with Paul McCartney but has been re-released as a collaboration with the artist Will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas.
Jackson has, of course, raised huge sums of money in the past. Apart from sales – Thriller is the best-selling album of all time, with over 50 million copies – Jackson spent $47.5m (£23.75m) on buying the Beatles' song-copyright catalogue in 1985, having been given the idea by his friend McCartney. That proved to be a sound long-term investment, but many others haven't.
In May 2006, The New York Times reported that a number of "monumentally unwise investments" had produced "equally colossal losses".
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