Aussie dancer on the moment Michael Jackson abuse started
FOR Wade Robson, a Michael Jackson dance-alike competition at a Brisbane Target store in 1987 was the catalyst for years of alleged sexual abuse at the hands of the superstar.
In controversial HBO documentary Leaving Neverland, which aired in the US this week, the Australian-born choreographer details the sliding-doors moment that saw Jackson take notice of him and, allegedly, subject him to harrowing molestation at seven years old.
Robson's mother Joy, who was also interviewed for the two-part, four-hour documentary, recalled how a friend told her about a kids' dance competition being held at the Brisbane shopping centre a week before Jackson's Bad concert tour arrived in the Queensland capital.
The winning child would receive tickets to the show and a backstage meet-and-greet with Jackson.
Wade, who had just turned five and often performed moves from Jackson's Thriller music video in his loungeroom, was too young for the competition.
But in a seemingly inconsequential decision by organisers of the dance-off that would change the course of his life, the little boy was allowed to appear on stage as a "special guest".
"He brought the place down, everyone was screaming for him," Joy Robson recalled of her son dancing in front of a crowd of hundreds at the shopping centre.
"At the end of it, the store manager who was the judge said 'Well, I want to get out of here alive, so I'm going to declare Wade Robson the winner'".
Not only was the five-year-old given tickets to the Brisbane concert and a meet-and-greet after the show, but he was also invited to dance on stage with Jackson and several other children. This first interaction led not only to Wade becoming a local celebrity, but was the start of a relationship between the Robsons and Jackson that would culminate in Joy, Wade and his older sister Chantal eventually moving from Brisbane to Los Angeles to be closer to the "king of pop".
"He helped me tremendously," Wade, now 36 and a successful dance choreographer who has worked with Britney Spears and NSYNC, said early in Leaving Neverland.
"He helped me with my career. He helped me with my creativity, with all of these sorts of things.
"And he also sexually abused me. For seven years."
(Jackson's family vehemently denies the allegations and is suing HBO for US $100 million).
The content of Leaving Neverland, which is directed by Emmy-winning filmmaker Dan Reed, is so confronting that counsellors were on standby when it premiered at America's Sundance Film Festival in January.
Robson shared his allegations along with, James Safechuck, 41, who also alleges to have been abused by Jackson as a child.
Both men make extremely graphic allegations of harrowing sexual abuse at the hands of Jackson. The two men's stories share many parallels, such as how their idol showered their families with gifts, and managed to groom them while gaining the trust of their parents.
Much of the abuse would take place after Jackson, separately, convinced the boys' parents to allow their son to sleep in his bed at Neverland Ranch, on tour, or at one of his other homes.
Rumours that Jackson was a paedophile followed the 'king of pop' for decades.
The Billie Jean singer was cleared of child abuse charges in 2005 with the assistance of lawyer Tom Mesereau who still defends him today.
In a marathon 14-week trial, Jackson fought 14 charges - of child molestation, supplying alcohol to minors and of conspiring to imprison his accuser and their family at Neverland.
After eight days of deliberation, the jury found Jackson not guilty on all charges.
The singer's not guilty verdict is still vigorously defended to this day by his millions of fans.
Leaving Neverland premieres in Australia on Channel 10 in two parts on Friday, 8 March at 9pm and Saturday, 9 March at 9.30pm.