There's a young man at Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch who looks just like Michael, dances like Michael and — according to the King of Pop himself — is Michael's biological son.
Not so, my sources say.
The young man, Omer Bhatti, is currently staying at Neverland and has been with the singer on and off for the last eight years.
Jackson has told several of his closest associates that he is the boy's father, and that Omer's mother is a Norwegian fan with whom Jackson had a one-night-stand around 1987.
According to Jackson’s story, because the fan was unable to take care of the baby, she allowed Jackson to send two employees to Oslo to raise the baby as their own. Omer, according to the story Michael offered, was told he was Michael Jackson's son, but that the fact had to remain a secret in order to ensure his security and privacy.
However, Jackson only told my sources that the boy was his biological son after questions arose about the boy’s constant presence at Neverland Valley Ranch.
In fact, my sources tell me it's not possible that Jackson is Bhatti's father, and that 1996 newspaper reports of Jackson's first meeting the family in front of a Tunis hotel are accurate.
One Jackson insider, who was with the singer when he met Bhatti, told me: "I met the mother and the boy with Michael. We were afraid she was stalking him in the hotel lobby. But then we met her, and the boy did his imitation of Michael."
Jackson, according to my sources, was so taken with the boy and his family that he "adopted" them. He immediately moved them from their native Norway — the father is Pakistani, the mother Norwegian — to Neverland.
Says another Jackson insider: "I'm not surprised Michael says he's the father. It's a fantasy. But these people did not exist in Michael's life before 1996."
Sources told me that the boy’s parents have long been on Jackson's payroll.
"Michael hired Omer's parents to work for him," say two of my sources. "The mother, Pia, became a nanny for Michael's son, Prince, when he was born a few months later. The father, Riz, became a driver for Michael."
Omer, dressed like Jackson's "mini-me," has traveled the world with the singer. There are photographs of him on tour with Jackson in places like Japan and Poland. The pair, at least superficially, resemble each other. Bhatti, even as a 12-year-old, had long flowing black hair, white-ish but not exactly Caucasian skin, and an upturned nose. In a February 2003 NBC "Dateline" special that showed home movies of Christmas 1998 at Neverland, Bhatti is seen receiving gifts from Jackson and hugging him gratefully over and over. A voice-over intones: "Here's a boy who looks like Michael getting gifts from him."
Back in Norway, Omer has become a local celebrity thanks to his Jackson connection. In 2001, Jackson dedicated his "Invincible" album to one of Omer's friends, an Afro-Norwegian boy named Benjamin Hermansen who was killed by neo-Nazis. Bhatti has also picked up a following as something of a Michael Jackson imitator, doing moonwalk-like steps to public acclaim. Bhatti also made news when he announced that Jackson had agreed to let him record some of his songs with a local rapper named Jae-R in Norway. Bhatti subsequently signed a record deal to perform under the stage name O-Bee.
But more recently the relationship has put Omer in negative headlines. Last November, he and two male friends made the newspapers in Norway, when the parents of one of the pals complained that she had not heard from her son in some time. This was the same time as the Nov. 18 police raid on Neverland, where the boys turned up. Evidently the police did not ask who the three young men were as they barreled through the singer's ranch with search warrants.
Last winter, Omer surfaced again when tabloid photographers shot pictures of him with Jackson in Colorado during the singer's self-proclaimed "detox" vacation. Bhatti was cited by Norwegian newspapers as Jackson's only non-family visitor on the trip.
Last month, when I made queries about Bhatti and his status at Neverland and with Jackson, several insiders insisted Jackson had told them recently that Omer was his biological son. (Calls to Jackson's brother Randy, his manager, have not been returned.)
Among those who confirmed they had heard the story of Omer being Jackson's son are former Jackson employees Marc Schaffel and Stuart Backerman. Their take on Omer will be included in a forthcoming book.
The question remains, then, why has Michael Jackson said that Omer Bhatti is his son? Here's one explanation: "Michael wants to have more children than his father," says a friend. "He's very competitive with him."
But how would he get away with it? According to the same friend: "Omer is very beautiful. He looks like a child Michael could have had with a Norwegian woman. But trust me. Omer is not his."
Lots of reports last week that actor Robert Downey, Jr. is releasing a CD. Of course, you read that Downey was working on an album in this space on October 14, 2003. That's a year ago, in case you're counting... Butch Walker's new CD, "Letters," is eligible for Grammy nominations. I hope someone tells the voters. "Mixtape," the first single, is such a no-brainer hit — lush melody, unforgettable hook — that of course it will probably be overlooked. Hey folks, this is music for adults. Ironically, Walker wrote Avril Lavigne's latest hit, "My Happy Ending," and produced three of the tracks on her current album. But let's not hold that against him! I listened to Butch, the new Paul Weller, the Libertines, the Delays, Julia Fordham's "That's Life" and Elvis Costello's "Delivery Man" all weekend, and I am the better for it. Check him out...