THE Palace of Westminster has been treaty to many weird and wonderful spectacles but few events were quite as magnificently odd as the moment yesterday when an international pop star, an escapologist, an amateur magician, a psychic and a Ghanaian-born politician gathered for an impromptu birthday party.
One day, the doorkeepers, the morning-coated wonders who guard the Houses of Parliament, will be able to tell their grandchildren of the time they saw Michael Jackson, a popular music entertainer of some renown, moonwalk through the Royal Robing Room.
If they wished to embroider this fabulous tale, they could tell their gawping audience of how Jackson was accompanied by one Uri Geller, famous in many lands for his ability to bend spoons and other cutlery, his Lordship Greville Janner (former Labour MP and part-time magician), and a US citizen called David Blaine, who attracted a certain notoriety for standing on an 80ft pole in New York for three days and three nights.
And, should the grandchildren remain unimpressed by such a cast list, much mention could be made of the presence of Lord Irvine, a very distinguished man sometimes compared to Cardinal Wolsey and a Mr Paul Boateng, formerly of Ghana and now the Chief Secretary to Her Majesty’s Treasury, the UK’s first-ever black Cabinet minister.
This was not, it would be stressed, a fantasy guest list for a dinner party, nor a celebrity balloon debate but - and at this moment one is asked to suspend one’s critical faculties - an incongruous publicity stunt for Exeter City Football Club.
Jackson, the proprietor of a chimpanzee called Bubbles and the most successful recording artist in history, had travelled to Britain at the request of his friend, Geller, to be made an honorary director of the football club of which Geller is chairman.
Geller, it should be known, is a close and dear friend of Lord Janner, a diminutive peer of jovial nature who happens to be a member of the Magic Circle.
Unfortunately, no explanation was given for the presence of Blaine, although Lord Janner was on record as saying: "Uri is a great friend of mine - though he is a psychic, not a magician - and asked whether I could arrange this for him because Michael wanted to see the Palace of Westminster." It was also recorded that Lord Janner accurately described the visit as "great fun, a marvellous occasion" and "totally unique".
So it came to pass that on the day of our Lord, Friday, 14 June, 2002, Jackson arrived in a fleet of blacked-out limousines at the portals of the palace for a sightseeing trip.
This jolly enterprise included a meeting with the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, a political escapologist who could tell the assembled magicians - and psychics - about how to make cabinets disappear. The distinguished entourage then proceeded to the terrace of the House of Lords, a riverside location where their lordships have been seen enjoying G&Ts on hazy summer evenings, for a surprise 51st birthday party for Mr Boateng.
In a ceremony which, to borrow Lord Janner’s remark, was totally unique, Mr Boateng was presented with a candlelit chocolate cake while his guests, led by the singer of such hits as Thriller, Beat It and Dirty Diana, offered a recognisable rendition of Happy Birthday. "What a fantastic birthday surprise - I can’t believe it," said Mr Boateng. "I thought it was a spoof. It is the most incredible surprise. It is the best present ever.
"I can’t believe that I’m with the most famous musician," he added.
It was a reaction shared by Emilie Williams, a tourist from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who was mildly astonished that his journey to London, England, should include a chance meeting with a famous singer from Neverland, a domestic property in the state of California.
Jackson, for it was he, was then shown the Royal Gallery, the Prince’s Chamber, which he decreed his favourite room so far, and the Robing Room wherein he performed the aforementioned dance routine.
In the Lords’ Library, Blaine took it upon himself to request a copy of The Discovery of Witchcraft, by Reginald Scott.
In the chamber of the House of Lords, a not inconsiderate space decorated with red leather benches and adorned with gold-leaf trimmings, Jackson expressed wonder at the gold throne, saying: "I want that!"
Although the palace is no stranger to unusual ceremonies, there was a detectable surprise that Jackson was accompanied by an assistant whose duty included brushing the singer’s hair at regular intervals.
The responsibility for dabbing one’s face with a make-up sponge was undertaken by Jackson himself. "I’m impressed by the architecture the most. And I like the gold rooms," he said at the end of the tour. It was assumed this was not a slight on Mr Boateng, Lord Irvine or Peter Bottomley, the Conservative MP who kindly showed the party around the green benches of the House of Commons.
The official record is a little hazy at this point, but it is understood that Geller, Blaine and Jackson departed for Exeter where they have organised a benefit show to raise money for sufferers of HIV in Africa.
Tickets, it was alleged, have been slow to sell as the locals thought the show was a joke or even an illusion.