In the aftermath of Michael Jackson's death, I found myself in a surreal situation that gave me a glimpse into the dark side of bloodsuckers, media and celebrity.
In those few hours, I saw a side of humanity that saddens me - where people try to take advantage of vulnerability, confusion, and grief for their own advantage. I realized that much of media has so much more to gain when they report salacious gossip, even in the aftermath of a tragic death like Michael's. I also realized that all of us, myself included, who participate in the engagement of that media feed so-called journalists to do anything to get their information. In the end, personalities like Michael are portrayed as freaks and dysfunctional, people who love them are taken advantage of, and those seedy, washed out journalists profit.
I share my experience because it involves Grace Rwaramba, who served as the nanny to Michael's three kids. Grace is more than my best friend - I refer to her as my sister, and she thinks of my parents as her own (she actually calls my father papa).
In the last day in the aftermath of Michaels death, recent quotes have surfaced about her life with Michael, as well as speculation about her role in potential custody battles for the three children.
Grace has read this article before I published it.
Michael had a pattern of letting those close to him in and out of his life, and Grace was no exception. Lisa Marie Presley’s reflection on her emotional relationship with Michael expressed beautifully the power Michael had with those he loved. Over the years, Grace faced a similar cycle of wanting to save him and being hurt by him. It was an endless cycle that seemed similar to those faced by friends and families of other addicts. Michael had a knack of surrounding himself with enablers, and avoiding people who wanted to help him like his family, real friends who cared deeply about him, Grace and my father, Deepak Chopra.
Daphne Barak, a so-called journalist who claims to be a friend of the Jackson family and who got to know Grace through them, has been cultivating a friendship with Grace over several years. Unfortunately, the story with Daphne and Grace seems to be one that echoes the vultures that took advantage of Michael throughout his life.
Daphne reached out to Grace a few weeks ago, when she knew she was in a vulnerable place, having recently been let go by Michael yet again (this was a regular pattern). In the 17 years that Grace has worked with Michael, she has never spoken to the press. She loves Michael and his children at her core.
Grace genuinely believed Daphne was her friend who was trying to help her. Daphne had offered to help Grace launch a foundation she was creating to monitor non profit work in Africa. (Grace was originally from Rwanda.) She told Grace that they should record her speaking about the work. However, every time they began to record, her questions would center on Michael. Grace would say she was uncomfortable speaking about him.
On the morning of June 26th, after finding out that Grace was also in London, I rushed to her hotel. She was staying in a suite with Daphne. Daphne told tell me she had invited Grace to stay with her in Switzerland as her guest, and how she had helped Grace with the immediate aftermath of shock hearing about Michael's death. She said that she had spent several thousand dollars to buy a business class ticket for Grace to fly to LA. She boasted about how close she was to the Jackson family, world leaders, etc.
I witnessed Daphne act as a friend while trying to bait information from Grace on her conversations with Jackson family members and friends about his death. She warned Grace that the family was going to try to set her up for Michaels downfall, and that it was critical that Grace speak with a lawyer before leaving. As a friend, she had organized a "lawyer" to get Grace's story before she left for the airport.
In essence, Daphne was setting up a scenario to garner more information from Grace before she left for LA. I discovered that one of her friends who happened to be there had made a documentary on Princess Diana.
When we tried to leave, Daphne screamed at Grace - in front of my young children who began to cry -- that she was an ingrate. She had spent thousands of dollars hosting her, she was her guest, and she wanted to spend the time to say goodbye. (Daphne obviously could not believe her luck that she had baited Grace as a sympathetic friend for stories before he died, and had Grace with her on that sad day.)
Ultimately, Daphne, having obviously drunk a bit much, threatened to release the recordings she had made of their private conversations. Grace was petrified. I held her by the shoulders, looked in her eyes, and said lets just go. So what, let her put it out there. She is a washed up journalist trying to mine a tragic situation. Michael was gone now, and the future is the wellbeing of the children. Grace agreed.
Ultimately, I had to get the hotel manager involved to escort Grace out of the hotel. I also bought Grace's ticket home myself, discovering that Daphne had misled us about the time and the price. It was a 650 Pound economy ticket, not several thousand dollars.
Twenty four hours later, I found that Daphne indeed had written an article full of quotes by Grace for a tabloid magazine. (A quick search of her other work not surprisingly shows she did a recent feature on Amy Winehouse.) Grace's quotes are now being picked up by other tabloids and will find their way into more magazines and articles. (People Magazine is also featuring some today, including the inaccurate claim the Grace pumped Michael's stomach several times. For the record, Grace never pumped Michael's stomach. She has no idea how she would even do such a thing.) Which quotes are true, which are in context, (many are not) to me frankly doesn't matter. I will not be surprised if Daphne releases audios or videos soon.
Grace feels used, insecure and shaken that she could have been so naïve, particularly having witnessed so many vultures in Michael's world over the years. She made a mistake. The sad truth is that when you are a celebrity, or a close friend or family of one, in a world of tabloids, you must be impeccable in what you say and to whom. Michael probably faced the epitome of vultures, bloodsuckers and hanger-ons displayed in his endless cycle of managers, enabling doctors, and new business partners. How could anyone blame him for becoming so paranoid in his life?
In the article, Daphne tries to portray a rift between Katherine Jackson and Grace. This is not true.
I would like to go on record, with Grace's permission, to say that Grace firmly hopes that the Jackson family gets custody of Prince, Paris and Michael. It would be detrimental to the children to be separated, and they should be with Michael's family. They should know their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and they should learn about who he was as a person, not just as an icon. She has no interest in custody, and just wants the children to be happy and secure. She will be there for them whenever they need or want her.
As for the appetite for the salacious details of Michael's life, my hope is that we let him go in peace. We already know he led a tortured life. He also led a great one in which he loved, and was loved, by many.
Let his family heal, and let his fans celebrate his music and his giving heart.
Follow Mallika Chopra on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mallikachopra