Navi, no.1 MJ impersonator reveals price of keeping his idol alive

Updated: 21 Jun 2010
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Navi, the number one MJ impersonator


SEEING DOUBLE: Navi meets his hero at Michael's 44th birthday party in 2002


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MEETING Navi is like seeing a ghost. Onstage, the 37-year-old Londoner moves like the King of Pop - get up close and the resemblance is uncanny, spooky even.

Not that it comes for free. In 22 years as a professional Michael Jackson impersonator, Navi has invested a fortune on his act - and his look. The right clothes (all of his outfits are handmade to measure), the meticulous make-up and the hair styling all contribute to an annual budget reaching into the hundreds of thousands of pounds.

As for those features of Michael that make-up alone won't replicate, Navi is coy about how much plastic surgery he's had, but admits to "several" operations between 1991 and 2009 that, at a conservative guess, would add up to a sum in the tens of thousands.

But the results speak for themselves. And Navi considers every penny well spent.

"For me it has always been all about Michael," he says. "I was always a fan, but when I was 15 I started to work as a lookalike - my first job was opening Virgin Megastores and then it just got bigger and bigger."

Bigger means about as big as it gets: from 1992 Navi had the endorsement of Jackson himself, working as his official decoy and promotional stand-in. Their relationship even extended to Navi being the opening act at Michael's 45th birthday party in LA and doing promo work for last year's planned This Is It concerts.

"I met Michael several times," Navi says. "He heard about me when I was doing promotions for his tours in the '90s. I got a call saying that he wanted to meet me. For a kid who had been a lifelong fan it was just incredible. I was so nervous I could barely speak - and every time I met him after that it was like the first time again - it was that exciting. Surreal.

"He even invited me to Neverland. The place was amazing: like Disneyland meets Charlie And The Chocolate Factory meets The Wizard Of Oz. The only place I couldn't go was his house: Michael wanted to keep that part totally private.

"He asked me to do work for him from 1992 right up to 2009 - it meant turning up to places, getting photographed, creating a stir. I worked on the launch of the Thriller 25th anniversary edition, as well as with Sony on a Michael Jackson video game project. To be good enough to be personally requested by Michael was a real honour."


But having the most famous face in the world has its disadvantages and, over the years, Michael's decoy has often been mistaken for the real thing. While working in Thailand he had to be locked in a bar for nearly an hour until he could be rescued by the police: a crowd of over 2,000 people, convinced he was the King of Pop, had laid siege to the place. "Fans were grabbing at me," he remembers. "It was partly exhilarating, partly terrifying - and it made me realise what Michael had to go through every day."

Navi also got to see Michael in more private moments. On one occasion, while working as a decoy, the pair of them were holed up in Michael's hotel suite as thousands of fans screamed outside for a glimpse of their idol. "We were peering out of the window together," he says, "watching this huge crowd, trying to work out a route where I could get out one way so he could escape another. It was kind of funny and scary at the same time."

Despite the many negative stories that emerged about Michael, Navi has always remained fiercely loyal. He was even inside the California courthouse in 2005 when Michael was cleared of child molestation charges.

He refuses to believe that his idol could have been capable of those crimes. "Obviously I'm biased, but if Michael wasn't a beautiful, genuine person then I wouldn't impersonate him," he insists. "When I first met him he was so humble, ¿I almost thought it must be an act. He told me I was an amazing dancer - when I said: 'No Michael, I'm just copying you, you're the amazing dancer,' he was like: 'Really? Do you think so?'

"It's not that he was insecure - simply that he was a humble guy. At the This Is It rehearsals he was going through moves with his dancers and even when things weren't working he never once lost his temper. I found myself thinking: 'How does this guy remain so cool all the time?'"

Maintaining Michael's look has had its price, however. As well as the operations, before each show Navi will spend up to an hour and a half in make-up. What hasn't been surgically altered will be painstakingly adjusted until the look is eerily close to that of Michael himself.

"You can't just roll out of bed and do this," he says. "I had to draw the line and find a classic image that I was going to stick to. But after 22 years of practice, painting the same picture over and over again, you get to something pretty close to perfect. The way I sum it up is that I've got the most famous face on the planet and it's not mine."

All of Navi's outfits are handmade - a single jacket can cost hundreds of pounds. A typical show can feature up to seven different Michael looks, each requiring a new jacket every time.


Navi's most prized possession, however, is a fedora hat given to him by Michael himself. "That isn't going to feature in any show," he says. "I don't want to risk it."

And it's not just the face and clothes that require constant investment. Add on dancers, choreography, music and travel, and Navi allocates a budget of around £150,000 a year just to keep performing.

He offsets these costs with a punishing work schedule - bookings range from two-or-three song sets to concert-length live-band performances, and he charges between £800 and £7,000 per show. But he insists money is not the motivation. "I'm doing this simply because I love it," he says.

His career has taken him to 57 countries around the world, performing for celebrities from Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Prince to Simon Cowell and Girls Aloud - as well as to royalty in Bahrain and Thailand.

"I'm unbelievably busy," he says. "I work seven days a week. Last year I did 300 shows. Recently I was flown to Dubai to perform for just 20 minutes.

"In the first 10 days after Michael's death I had 200 enquiries from 42 different countries. We would fly in, do the gig and fly out again.

"But that's all about Michael, not me. You can take effectively just a shadow of Michael Jackson to any country in the world and still everyone goes crazy. It's a great honour to do what I do. I want to make sure that the legend continues."

For the moment, Navi has no plans to retire - though he admits he's unlikely to keep dancing as long as Michael himself managed. "I'm not sure I'll still be able to do it when I'm 50," he laughs. "And I would like to settle down sometime and live a more normal life. Luckily my girlfriend is a huge Michael Jackson fan too - she has to be.

"I don't think the public appetite for Michael Jackson is ever going to die down. He'll be around forever. He'll always be the King of Pop."




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