'Second Star to the Right and Straight On 'Til Morning':
Five years after the death of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson's California mansion is on the property market and expected to sell for a value between $75 and $85 million. Investment firm Colony Capital have placed the Neverland Ranch on the market: they bought a $23.5m controlling stake in the property just before Jackson's death in 2009, which gives the company the right put the estate up for sale.
A seven bedroom mock-Tudor mansion served as Jackson's dwelling on the site and the rest of the 2,600 acre plot was filled with all manner of wondrous features. In its heyday the sprawling grounds of Neverland contained carnival rides - including dodgems and a carousel - a drive-in cinema, a candy shop, a zoo and a huge artificial lake.
When interviewed about the unusual contents of the estate in 2003, Jackson explained that he had wanted "to have a place that I could create everything that I never had as a child. So you see rides, you see animals, there's a movie theatre. I was always on tour travelling, you know, and I never got a chance to do those things. So I compensated for the loss by – I have a good time – I mean, I can't go into a park, I can't go to Disneyland as myself. I can't go out and walk down the street. There's crowds and bumper-to-bumper cars. So I create my world behind my gates. Everything that I love is behind those gates. We have elephants and giraffes and crocodiles and every kind of tigers and lions." Calling it 'Neverland' after the land inhabited by J.M Barrie's Peter Pan, Jackson cast himself in the role of the boy-who-never-grew-up and retreated into his own fantastical land in his back garden.
However, when Jackson vacated Neverland and fled to Bahrain following his acquittal for his alleged crimes against children in 2005, the fantasyland started to fall into disrepair. In recent years Paris Jackson (Michael's 17-year-old daughter) has spearheaded efforts to restore her father's beloved ranch to its former glory. Some changes have been made –the fairground has been replaced with a Zen garden, for example – and the fountains and pools have been filled once more with water as part of the regeneration project. However, with upkeep costs for the Los Olivos property estimated to be in the region of $5 million per annum and with Michael Jackson himself having lost control of his finances and property in the latter years of his life, the Jackson estate sadly could not retain or sustain Neverland.
The Jackson estate have expressed their disappointment and sorrow at the sale, despite Colony Capital's insistence that they would like to see Neverland remain as an 'enduring tribute to Michael Jackson'. A spokesman for the estate implored any prospective owner to 'respect the historical importance and special nature of this wonderful property', reminding of the hordes of fans who regard Neverland as Jackson's spiritual home and hold his memory dear.
While the fate of Neverland is yet to be decided, Michael Jackson's fans will almost undoubtedly continue to make pilgrimages to the famous property as they have done in the years since his death, and just as fans of the other King – and Jackson's one-time father-in-law – make the journey to pay their respects at the gates of Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee. And should it be changed beyond recognition, the ranch will always remain part of the legacy of the undisputed King of Pop in the minds of many.