VIDEO: Today is 20th anniversary of pop megastar Michael Jackson playing to 52,000 fans in Sheffield

He was the undisputed King Of Pop - and on this day 20 years ago, global music superstar Michael Jackson set foot on stage on his first and only solo date in South Yorkshire.

By The Newsroom
Sunday, 9th July 2017, 9:30 am
Updated Tuesday, 18th July 2017, 8:47 am
Michael Jackson at Don Valley Stadium in 1997.
Michael Jackson at Don Valley Stadium in 1997.

The moonwalking megastar called into Sheffield on July 9, 1997 on his HIStory World Tour - and thrilled fans with a set of all his hits and trademark dance moves, although the concert was not met with universal acclaim by our reviewers two decades ago.

Here's the remarkable story of how Jackson, who died at the age of 50 in 2009, came to play a corner of South Yorkshire...


"Jacko's HERE! Don Valley date is on," screamed The Star in April 1997 after details of the long-speculated concert were finally confirmed.

"Global megastar Michael Jackson WILL play Sheffield this summer," wrote David Dunn. It added how the "controversial American pop giant" was a "stadium coup" and Richard Caborn, then chairman of Sheffield City Trust, which owned the Don Valley Stadium saying: "This really confirms Sheffield as the centre outside of London for major outdoor events."


Tickets for the show sold out within days - and many fans spent more than 13 hours queueing outside the Sheffield Arena box office.

"A chilly night in a sleeping bag was a small price to pay for devoted fans determined to see pop superstar Michael Jackson play Sheffield," The Star wrote.

Pals Emma Richards and Charlotte Howson of Thurcroft, Rotherham, were among those waiting and Charlotte said: "We have been here all night - but it's worth it."

The tickets were priced at £30 for reserved seating and £26.75 for general admission - and the singer's appearance was hot on the heels of concerts by Tina Turner and the Rolling Stones at the stadium, which was demolished in 2013.


It wasn't Wacko Jacko's first Steel City appearance - he performed with The Jacksons in February 1979 at the Fiesta Nightclub - and of course, he had encountered one of Sheffield's most famous sons Jarvis Cocker when the Pulp frontman had interrupted a performance of the star's Earth Song at the 1996 Brit Awards, waggling his bum at Jackson in protest at his "Christ-like" performance.

Of course, his appearance also came after child sex abuse allegations four years previously in 1993 - and his date in Sheffield wasn't without some complaints and controversy.

By the time the show rolled around, the mood in the city had reached fever pitch.

Sheffield City Airport was hoping the star would fly into Tinsley and a team of 560 people spent four full days at the stadium building the 550-ton stage, with 47 trucks ferrying 1,200 tons of equipment into the city for the £16 million show - including explosives for 500 separate blasts - comparable to the TNT needed to blow up a three storey building.


On the day of the concert, The Star revealed how children from Phillimore Park Primary School in Darnall would be joining the singer on stage to perform Earth Song.

Headteacher Colin Pleasance said: "It is a great honour. You can't imagine how excited they are - there's a buzz through the whole school."

Youngsters from Oakes Park School at Backmoor were also special guests - taking delivery of a Variety Club Sunshine Coach from the pop megastar. Head Pat Johnson said: "I am sure they will remember it for a long, long time."

Jackson was also presented with a Sheffield Steelers ice hockey shirt. Club worker John Handley said: "I got this frantic call saying Michael Jackson wanted a shirt but all the offices were locked. I bumped into former player Paddy O'Connor and he had a shirt he'd never worn that Jackson could have."

Fans began queuing outside the DVS at 3am for Jackson's first British concert for five years. Susan Crossland, 32 of Penistone, waiting with daughters Vanessa and Melissa, said: "I've been a fan of Michael since he was in the Jackson Five. I'm just as keen on him as my daughters." The group brought a teddy bear with a letter attached to it which they hoped to throw to Jackson on stage.

"We want him to know just how much we love him," said Vanessa, 16.

John Chan, 32, from Eckington, went to queue after his job working in a fish and chip shop. "I just had time for a bath and a wash before I came. I want to make sure I am on the front row."


Stradbroke Mum Julie Bowler, then 42, couldn't afford to get tickets to see the concert for herself and her 17-year-old daughter - but she rubbed shoulders with Jackson after winning a Hallam FM contest.

"I really can't believe this is happening, its like a dream come true. I'm still shaking with excitment," she told The Star. After meeting him, she said: "It was the happiest moment of my life. I really could not believe that I stood so close to a star who has been a hero all my life."


And so to the big show itself - at precisely 8.30pm on July 9, 1997, Michael Jackson began his one and only solo South Yorkshire performance.

The Star's David Dunn was there: "Dressed in something not unlike Bacofoil, the man of the match exploded on stage via a kind of lunar module as a lazy sun bowed out behind Don Valley Stadium.

"The fancy moves were still there, the moonwalking, the grabbing of one's family jewels, the awkward posturing. But Jackson has an unfortunate way of sprinting from the stunning to the downright sycophantic; the theatre of Smooth Criminal with mock gunfire contrasting the scary preaching of Earth Song.

"Yes, this was audio-visually very large," he added. "But embellished with a multi-million pound stage show, piles of pyrotechnics, a team of top musicians and dancers and 560 personnel, so would a knitting festival."

The Sheffield Telegraph's Martin Lilleker was equally unimpressed, grumbling about the "sad fireworks" and comparing the "skeleton-like" Jackson to "panicky robot C3PO from Stars Wars."

He added: "He danced like a demon, defied logic and gravity with his moonwalk, grabbed his crotch and pulled his trousers. His only words to the audience throughout were an almost comic "I love you."


After the show, Jackson was embroiled in accusations that he had mimed for large portions of the concert. A press official had said she was "unsure" how much vocal backing tracks had been used during the concert after Radio 1 accused the star of not singing live during parts of his 180-minute set. A Sony spokesman would not confirm or deny the rumours and said: "I do not know the answer to that question.

"It is an incredibly complicated show - the technical tricks from the illusions to what's going on at a production level, they are immense."


The HIStory tour continued with three dates at Wembley Stadium. and concluded in October 1997 in Durban. It was Jackson's third and final solo tour - his 2009-10 This Is It series of dates at London's O2 Arena were cancelled following the star's death on June 25, 2009.

The Don Valley Stadium continued to host musical events, welcoming The Spice Girls the following year and also The Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, U2 and Sheffield's own Arctic Monkeys in later years. The closure of the stadium, which was only opened in 1990 for the World Student Games, was confirmed in January 2013 and was demolished between November 2013 and May 2014.