Ben Bradshaw: I grew up following Jackson's every move

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The Independent Online

There was only one choice for the first song at my civil partnership celebration. When Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" began playing, everyone rushed to the dance floor. It got people up on their feet and I was the first among them.

From childhood onwards I have been an enormous fan of Jackson and his music. I danced to the Jackson Five as a boy and then as a young man to his great hits of the 1980s. I have always liked soul music and I love to move. Jackson brought together soul and dance.

But his real importance lay in the fact that he broke through so many cultural and social barriers in his life. He broke through the race barrier, the music barrier and the video barrier. In so doing, he earned the awe and respect of millions of people.

Jackson made black soul music accessible for the mainstream and white consumers. Before his records, soul was followed by aficionados but with the likes of "Thriller" and "Billie Jean" he brought this music to the mass market for the first time.

Yesterday morning, shortly after the news of his death had spread, I was having my hair cut on Portobello Road in west London. At the door of the barbers, they had placed a radio playing some of Michael Jackson's songs. Several people walking past heard them and burst into tears.

There were, of course, different sides to the man. As well as inspiring millions of people, he was a rather tragic figure in his private life. He was clearly a very vulnerable person.

I think people will recognise the difficulties that he had in his life. There will be enormous sympathy for the loneliness he felt and the problems that he had with his father in his childhood.

He showed the difficulties of being a superstar. It is difficult enough for people like him who are in the public eye. But when you have the background he did and you don't make close personal relationships easily, you are left vulnerable in adult life.

Above all, the vast majority of people will focus on Michael Jackson's genius as an entertainer, a man who contributed hugely to music and dance during his lifetime.

With his character and culture, he showed how people can be engaged across the race divide. He showed that whatever your background and colour, you can make it and be a star.