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"Do you want to see something?" asks Taj, the eldest and smallest member of 3T, cheerfully, "I could show you the glass door I accidentally ran through, when Aunty Janet was chasing me."
Ah yes, the famous forehead-scarring accident at Grandma's house. Could it be Taj actually carries a picture of the shattered window? Of course not. For we are, in fact, standing in the courtyard of the Jackson house, Encino, California. That's the house that Michael, Janet, Tito, Jermaine and LaToya all grew up in. Here, under the watchful eye of three burly security men, the Hits are mooching around, attempting to act casual whilst trying to steal a mug and search for scuff marks left by the infant Michael his moonwalk practice.
The thing is, no one gets just hang out at the Jacko mansion, especially the press. In America, the Jacksons are like the Royal Family - prime victims of scandal, tabloid trashing and profit-seeking backstabbers. But Smash Hits have been invited over to the palatial, high-security pad to interview the swoon some 3T. And as it's unlikely we'll be permitted to "drop by any time", we may as well snoop around between serious discussions with America's most famous Nephews Of Pop.
"There it is", says Taj, pointing to a wall at the back of the house, by a dribbling fountain. "Well, there it was. They bricked it up after the accident."
That was twenty years ago, Taj is now 23, still so cute and probably not much taller. As we head off into the house, into a large sparsely furnished room with two enormous photos of Michael on the wall, the other two brothers, Taryll and TJ, smile knowingly. "He'll keep you talking all day," they laugh. "Once he gets going, there's no stopping him." It's true, Taj is a chatterbox. Articulate, down-to-earth and friendly, he squashes all preconceptions about the boys. That 3T have had it easily. That they're spoilt Hollywood rich kids, born to be famous, with no idea of the real world. If the truth be known, they suffered as much as benefited because of their family name.
"I think America in general is really cruel to our family," Taj reflects, sipping on a large coke. "I was on holiday during Michael's trial and everywhere I went people were talking and making cruel jokes about my family. It was horrible."
Does it surprise you? "No, because I've heard it all. Nothing was ever shielded from us. I guess it forced us to grow up faster."
When did you first realize your family was special, that your father was a member of the massively famous Jackson Five? "When I was eight or nine," he ponders. "Until then, I thought everybody's dad did the same as mine. People would say to me, 'Do you know who your dad is?' And I'd say, 'Yeah, he's my dad."
In the US, being who they are caused 3T problems. Despite their chart success, TV shows have tried to abuse the rules ("If we book 3T, what will Michael do for us?"). But 3T haven't fallen for it. They even refused to release Why as their debut single, leaving their duet with Michael to one side until they'd achieved notoriety on their own. Now they have and Why is their new single.
"Yes, he's in the video too," explains Taj. "I think that anyone who did a single with him would want him in the video, too. Anyone would jump at the chance of doing a duet with Michael Jackson." But enough of that. Now Taj is here and speaking frankly, what about the other, more personal issues? What about Michael's ill-fated marriage to Lisa-Marie Presley?
"We only met her twice, but she was great. We all got along fine," he shrugs. "It was sad when it ended, because we know how special she was to our uncle. Right from the beginning everyone wanted to see it fail. A lot of it was media pressure and rumor - maybe she just didn't want to be under the spotlight."
And then there's Aunty LaToya. She said some terrible things about Michael during the child abuse allegations. Were you close to her? "That's a good question," muses Taj. "She was always closest to us, so when all that stuff happened in the media, we said 'It's not her, it must be her husband.' We were proved right eventually - she's getting a divorce for physical abuse. She said some harsh things, but I hope she makes it up with our uncle."
The brothers have been through an awful lot. Losing their mother in suspicious circumstances, a few years back, has made them and their father Tito extraordinarily close, and he raised his sons to respect everyone, regardless of wealth, status or color. "I remember my father telling us about drugs, alcohol and girls when we were really young," grins Taj. "We just laughed at him, but if he hadn't told us, we might have been tempted to try smoking, sex or drugs."
Have you ever been tempted? "No," he states firmly, "It's always been accessible to us, just by living in Hollywood, I've seen ex-friends do drugs around me, but I've never been tempted. Morally it's wrong for me." Taryll knocks at the door - Taj's time up. One last question: what's the worst thing you've heard about yourselves? "That 3T were all lovers," he frowns, as he makes for the door. "Somebody had misunderstood that we're brothers and thought we were all gay lovers."

Taryll is next. He sits down on the sofa, suddenly realizes he's forgotten something and runs out. Here's an opportunity to visit the Jackson bathroom. Sadly, it's just an ordinary toilet - not even a laundry basket to rifle through. Hmm, I wonder how much you'd get for a pair of Michael Jackson's old pants?
Back in the lounge, Taryll gets comfortable. Of all of them, he seems the most withdrawn and rarely smiles. "I don't think I'm moody," he says, slightly offended at the suggestion. "And I don't smile much, because I don't like my smile." He smiles - not bad as it goes. "If I'm quiet, it's because I'm always thinking. That's why I'm a bit moody."
Taryll recently turned 21. He spends the most time immersed in music (Taj is into film making, and TJ has only just graduated from school) and looks most like his uncle Michael. "I asked my uncle if he was like this," says Taryll, "and he said Yes, a lot of the time."
Do you spend much time with him? "Yes, we're very similar, especially on the musical side. I've drilled him with questions, because I want to know everything. He understands."
But you're young - you should be out having fun! "I feel older," he shrugs. "Sometimes I have to remind myself that 21 is young. But I do have fun - I go to the movies play games, basketball... Writing music is fun, too."
Are you missing out on anything? "Not really... (he pauses.) Except maybe girls. But girls are third on my list. If I had a girlfriend, I might have kids - but I don't have the time or the money right now."
Recently, there was talk of a Jackson Five reunion tour. Is it true? "I don't think so, though people have been talking about it for ages. If it ever happened, I'd love for 3T to be part of it. (he starts fiddling with his hair) But I wouldn't want it to be a Brady Bunch kinda thing, with the whole family on stage. That would be so corny."

It's almost time to go but we haven't seen nearly enough of the house yet. Perhaps if we did TJ's interview somewhere else...?
"Fine," says TJ, opening a door that leads through into the enormous dining room. Well, this is very impressive - polished wooden floors, a huge oak dining table with eighteen beautiful crafted chairs, exotic cabinets and loads of elephant statues. The Jacksons still gather here for Christmas, so it feels a bit weird to be sitting at the head of the table.
Despite being the youngest member, TJ is the business brain. He recently graduated and is thrilled to be free of essays. His future stretches out in front of him and the possibilities make him dizzy. He wants to go to college, he wants to act, he wants to model, he wants to start his own record company, he wants 3T to play in stadiums...
What he doesn't want to do is take his shirt off for the camera. "I'm too embarrassed," he says coyly. "Maybe in the future, if I do any modeling, I'll take my top off."
With the Jackson family's reputation for plastic surgery, people have suggested that 3T have also been under the vanity knife. Well, they do all have very good chins and jaw lines. So is it true?
"No, not at all," assures TJ. "You really think we have good jaw lines? That's amazing! Thank you."
It's so typical of these boys that, instead of taking offense, they take the compliment politely and modestly. How can they be so normal? So darn nice?
"It's because of the way we were brought up, and our friends. We were always told we were lucky, but that didn't make us better than anybody else. We also have a lot of friends who aren't too wealthy. One of our best friends was even homeless for a while."
The door to the dining room suddenly opens and a well-dressed woman walks in, loaded with shopping. She looks over and smiles - it's obviously who she is. "Hi, Grandma," greets TJ. "Hi, TJ," she replies then disappears into the kitchen. It was like looking at Janet in 30 years' time! Scary.
So, TJ, do you have a girlfriend? "No, " he whines. "But I'm not sure if I'd want one right now. I love going on dates, but it would be frustrating to have a girlfriend."
But you're a sex symbol... "A sex symbol? Ha! I don't think it's hit me yet... or if it ever will."
How did you find out about the birds and bees? "I think Taj corrupted me. He used to watch some bad movies. I don't know if our father knew about it. They weren't really bad, but it's still embarrassing."
You seem a very intelligent and organized person. Michael's a pretty shrewed business man, too, isn't he? "Yeah, he's very smart," TJ agrees, leaning back on his chair. "My uncle is amazing to me - he knows exactly what he's doing. He's like our older brother, really. We have water fights and pie fights and play video games. He's really not very good at them, but we play him anyway."
And what about acting? You're young, good-looking... "I'd love to act," he enthuses. "I've already gotten a few film scripts, but they've not been the right roles. They've been things like young gangsters and drop-outs. I don't think I should downgrade myself like that."

Tito, 3T's dad, comes in and whispers into TJ's ear. We've been here five hours - it's time we vacated the Jackson premises. We pile into the car and drive slowly past the house, the huge fountain in the forecourt, down the driveway, past the security post and out the huge wooden gates.
We may not have managed to steal that mug, but we did get to spend time with three charming lads... and, er, take a few sneaky photos to impress our mums.
Well, wouldn't you?


 

Smash Hits, 1996

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