"It was in a children’s hospital near Cape Town during the South Africa leg of the History Tour in 1997. On that same day, Michael had also visited an orphanage where many of the kids had lost their parents to HIV/AIDS. South Africa clearly touched his heart, as it did mine. During the weeks there, he was even more open and affectionate than usual, had a lot of fun and received a warm welcome everywhere he went. I saw him both before and after the hospital visit but I didn’t want to intrude by going into the wards with him. What happened inside, however, summed up why Michael was a soul of the dearest kind.
He was accompanied by his cinematographer, a wonderful, warm and gentle man named Joe Wilcots, who later recounted the following to me. Michael was being shown through the hospital by doctors and nurses. They were doing the usual things - greeting children on the wards, giving them presents, spending some time with them. Then, they walked along a corridor between wards and there was a separate room with one child in it. Michael asked why the child was alone and what the room was. The doctors told him it was a quarantine room - that they had to restrict who could go in there because the child was seriously ill and they didn’t know what was wrong with him or whether the boy’s illness was contagious.
The doctors carried on walking. Michael hung back, and when they had gone ahead a little, he ducked into the room. All hell broke loose. The doctors and nurses panicked but none of them wanted to follow Michael into the room unprotected. Joe told me that they watched through the window as Michael sat on the bed with the child, spoke to him and kissed him on the forehead. Then Michael just calmly came out of the room and of course the doctors didn’t want to scold him - he was Michael Jackson, after all. But they were clearly anxious.
Afterwards Michael’s cinematographer Joe Wilcots asked Michael why he had done it - what on Earth had he been thinking to take what could have been such a serious risk with his own health. Michael replied very simply: “I wanted to do what the child’s mother would have done, if she was here.” He knew no danger would keep a parent from their child. No risk would stop a mother reaching her child and making sure he knew he was loved.
This has always epitomised, to me, Michael’s relationship with children. He seemed to feel a parent’s love and a parent’s responsibility for every child in the world."
Maria Crawford describing Michael’s visit to a children’s hospital in South Africa, 1997