Matt Fiddes is a tall man – a very tall man, and it is easy to see why he was one of Michael Jackson’s former body guards. I went through to interview him and his beautiful South African singer/songwriter wife Moniqe while they were in Johannesburg recently, with their two gorgeous children.
Little did I know that it would be one of the longest interviews I would have ever conducted, and possibly one of the most interesting, with many secrets revealed that have not been shared publicly before, about the life and personae that was Michael Jackson.
The beginning – who is Matt Fiddes?
But let us start at the very beginning first. How does kid that got bullied at school – wind up working with one of the most famous celebrity’s this world has ever known?
Being bullied was a huge thing for Matt – he started working out and getting stronger to allow him to stand up to the kids who tormented him, getting his second dan black belt by the age of sixteen. It was then that he left school – and with a 100 pounds in his pocket opened his first martial arts training school in a rented church hall in his native town of Barnstaple in the UK.
He worked hard, but the money was never great. After a visit to a training facility in the US, Matt was filled with great ideas and flew back to England to pour these ideas in to the Matt Fiddes Martial Arts, until eventually he was making several thousand pounds a week and it was then that he met world renowned illusionist and mentalist Uri Geller and spent some time getting to know him during the summer of 1997.
Uri had read about Matt’s success at running a martial arts school at 18 years old and called him to chat about the possibility of making a fitness video, harnessing Matt’s fitness skills and Uri’s mind control skills. About a year later Matt received a 2am call from Uri asking him to head up to his home for an important meeting. Of course, when someone like Uri Geller calls you, you get out of bed, explain to your partner that you have to go – and off you go.
It was there that he first met Michael Jackson and Uri felt that Michael needed extra protection, and with Matt’s martial arts background, that he would make a great body guard. No one would have believed it until Matt was caught in a picture by the press, holding an umbrella over Michael to shield him from the sun at a press conference – and the rest, as they say is history.
The Umbrella Man
“The Umbrella Man” spent the next 10 years mostly by Michael’s side – and flying around the world with him. Their kids were roughly the same age and played together often. Michael never asked Matt to sign any privacy agreements. Their relationship was all about trust, and it is evident to see in Matt’s face as he chats about Michael, that that relationship was indeed an amazing one.
Michael was very passionate about martial arts, so Matt helped to train him to black belt standard – bet you didn’t know that, did you.
So of course I then had to ask…what is it like to work with the biggest musical legend that we have ever had. Matt laughs and says “The fascination with Michael seems never ending – even now, 8 years after his death, people just want to know what he was like and what it was like to be around him”
A quiet and gentle soul, however a consummate professional, Matt shares that Michael worked extremely hard, his schedule was grueling, but he wanted to be the best, and that is what it takes.
He shares that there was much that the public would never have guessed, and being me, I had to know.
Behind the man
Michael’s voice was never that soft – he spoke like that in public as part of his “personae” he had created, and Matt laughs as he shares a story about how they once went to a signing at a record store and Michael spoke normally, and Matt had to nudge him and remind him to use his “Michael” voice.
The personae was almost a show in itself, with costumes set to get people talking, if you will. He mostly wore wigs, hence the many hair changes, and hats. Michael over the years created the most outlandish “things” for his “character” to do – almost like he was living this eccentric fantasy life – and got a total kick out of doing completly outlandish and crazy things.
And I asked – what was with the paper mask and finger plasters? Matt shrugs “It was part of the personae – the personality that the world loved. Michael’s record sales and downloads almost doubled when he did a press call or public appearance with the mask on. It was unbelievable and totally unexplainable”.
One would guess that there were many speculations about Michael’s health, given his frail stature, and possibly the nose plasters and makes made people wonder if he was ill, or had had more surgery, and that was what caused the hubbub.
Michael loved woman, he was most certainly not gay as it is often speculated in the press, and Matt recalls on occasion having to help sneak a young lady out of Michael’s hotel room to avoid the paparazzi waiting outside.
The Balcony Incident
I asked about the famous balcony incident involving his son Blanket – and the world wide furor this caused. When the balcony incident happened in late 2002, Michael was so upset that the world thought he would hurt his child.
The press had been calling for Blanket all morning. Michael finally gave in and took the baby out to show the media – with his head covered. He held Blanket up and over the balcony, and the world went mad. Little did they know that there was a ledge just there under the balcony as all big hotels do have to avoid people jumping from the windows, and it was not out over the street – the angle of the picture just was the wrong angle and it went mad from there.
Not long after that it was on the television, and they all rushed to switch them off so that Michael wouldn’t see – but eventually they had to let him know. Michael was devastated that people would think that of him, that he would dare to hurt his own flesh and blood.
Matt adds that Michael totally loved his children, and all children for that matter. He would never have caused harm to them, but he did realise what he had signed up for. He knew that being a world wide star, leads to the same amount of hate and anger.
Michael had grown up in a strict household – his father Joe was a tough man – expecting nothing but the best from his performing children, and not the kind to dole out love and compliments. I personally think that Katherine had her work cut out for her with this man as a husband, and nine children. That said, they worked hard and are still some of the most amazing performers the world has ever has the pleasure to witness. They sang and danced and performed – and Michael was amazing, with moves that would blow your mind.
Matt laughingly shares a story that Katherine relayed to him, about a young Michael as he appeared on television in one of her jackets – all sequins and epaulettes and all Katherine could say was – “I can’t believe he has stolen my jacket – look at him!”
His Final Days
The last time Matt saw Michael was in March 2009, three months before his death on June 25, they had gone to watch a musical Oliver in London and afterwards went back to the hotel and ate fish and chips sitting on the floor in the room. Many of Matt’s food eating memories with Michael involve sitting on the floor it seems.
While they were eating, someone from Michael’s team came in and told Michael that it had just all been confirmed that he had been signed for a 50 show world tour, the O2 tour.
Michael was terrified about the pressure of having to do 50 shows – bearing in mind that he was 50 years old. “It was only supposed to be a few shows” he kept saying to Matt.
The harsh reality was that there was no money – who knows where it went, but Michael, and his estate were in the red and he had to do it, there was no other choice. He has always had trouble sleeping, and was on a carefully monitored combination of uppers and downers – uppers to get him ready to perform and do what he needed to do, and downers to get him to sleep – and get some much needed rest.
It was this balancing that eventually took it’s toll on his health – and his life. There was no landline in the house – as it was a security issue, people would get hold of the number and call constantly wanting to speak to him.
Matt spoke to Michael two days before he died. He’d often call for a chat, but this time he sounded nervous – Matt could sense that something wasn’t right.
He received a panicked message the night of Michael’s death that Michael was looking for Joe, but it was late and nothing could be done.
That night Michael passed away. His physician was at that point staying in the house, and found Michael barely breathing at about 2 am and started CPR – as there were no phones in the house, calling for an ambulance proved to be a trial and by the time 911 responded and were able to get in to the house, it was too late.
I think the thing that hit me hardest hearing this story was that the King Of Pop – loved the world over, died all alone. Not even able to reach out to those he loved and needed in his time of need, he was truly all alone in his giant mansion. It makes one question the price of fame and all that it entails.
Following Michael’s passing Matt returned to the UK and developed a range of products for franchisees of The Matt Fiddes, such as women-only training programmes and child classes, as well as working with many celebrities to instruct and train them.
He has over 1 000 UK franchises and has launched in to Germany and Australia, and maybe – just maybe – South Africa (but you didn’t hear that from me) 😉
His wife Moniqe is reaching for stardom with her singing career, and there honestly seems like there is no stopping this power couple. It was an inspirational and insightful interview and it was with reluctance that I left the hotel, and to be honest just processing this again as I write this article leaves me with weird sense of how short life is, and the price of fame – and all that comes with it.
Find out more about Matt and Monique Fiddes:
Matt W: http://www.mattfiddes.com/
Moniqe FB: https://www.facebook.com/MoniqeFiddes/