Dame Elizabeth Taylor dismissed the Michael Jackson memorial service as “public whoopla” as it was revealed that a former Britain’s Got Talent contestant would take part.
Welsh schoolboy Shaheen Jafargholi, a finalist on the reality TV show, will feature alongside worldwide music icons including Lionel Richie, Mariah Carey and Stevie Wonder in the eagerly-awaited tribute to the King of Pop in Los Angeles today.
But as California braced itself for an invasion of British fans seeking to share in the farewell to the star, Hollywood star Dame Elizabeth revealed she had snubbed the event.
CNN.com predicted the tribute, under the global media spotlight, “could be one of the most-viewed events of all time”.
The Oscar-winning actress, a long-term friend of Jackson’s, wrote on Twitter: “I said I wouldn’t go to the Staples Centre and I certainly don’t want to become a part of it. I love him too much.
“I just don’t believe that Michael would want me to share my grief with millions of others. How I feel is between us. Not a public event. And I cannot guarantee that I would be coherent to say a word.”
Revealing how she had been asked to speak at the service, she added: “I cannot be part of the public whoopla.”
Basketball legend Magic Johnson, singer Usher, Smokey Robinson, Brooke Shields and Jennifer Hudson will participate in the event, the Jackson family said in a statement.
The city of Los Angeles has asked Jackson’s family for financial help to deal with the cost of coping with the ceremony.
Officials have warned fans without tickets to stay away from the Staples Centre and believe as many as 700,000 people may try to reach the arena.
City councillor Jan Perry said she would “love it” if the Jacksons helped with some of the city’s expected costs but that officials had not had a reply.
Family friend the Rev Al Sharpton has said: “The city is trying to do what it should do to secure people. That’s what cities do. Clearly, no one in the family are happy that the city is incurring any expense at all.
“You’re talking about a historic figure that will have a historic celebration, probably one that we would not see similar in this generation.”
Airlines reported a surge in bookings to Los Angeles yesterday.
British Airways spokesman Philip Allport said: “From the beginning of this week, flights are looking very busy...
“People are trying to get there, even if they don’t get there in time. They want to catch the atmosphere, and to be part of it.”
Virgin Atlantic spokesman Paul Charles said: “It’s filled up from the end of last week, undoubtedly there are lots of people going out there. There’s a combination of fans and VIPs travelling.
“I think lots of people are converging in the hope that they will get in to see some of the service.
“I think this is America’s version of Princess Diana, people want to be in the vicinity, people from the UK and elsewhere want to share their emotions together.”
Services to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas were all busy, he said.
More than 1.6 million fans registered for today’s event to win a ticket.
A spokesman for the Staples Centre said 8,750 names had been chosen in the draw, with each person receiving two tickets and notified by email. The odds of getting a ticket were about one in 183.
The tickets will admit 11,000 people to the centre, with 6,500 seats in the Nokia Theatre overflow section next door.
Winners received a unique code and instructions on how to pick up their tickets at an off-site distribution centre. Tickets and wristbands will be needed for entry.
The anticipation among the selected fans comes as the courts untangle the future of Jackson’s estate and police investigate the circumstances of his death.
Assistant Police Chief Jim McDonnell said Jackson’s family was planning a “private family function” at the Forest Lawn cemetery in the Hollywood Hills.
The ceremony will not be shown on the arena’s giant outdoor TV screen and there will be no funeral procession through the city.
Jackson, who died on June 25 after suffering a suspected cardiac arrest, continues to figure strongly in the British pop charts.
He dominated Sunday’s album chart with The Essential occupying the top spot. Jackson has nine records in total in the top 75 of the album chart.
Some fans sent souvenir tickets for Jackson’s ill-fated 50 London concerts have been cashing in by selling them on auction websites.
As dozens of the tickets appeared on eBay, some sellers were asking prices of £170 each — up to £100 above their original price.