Michael Jackson never lived in the UK. That is, not for months on end, and not counting the many nights he stayed in British hotels while on tour. But Jackson almost did take up residence in Chislehurst, an affluent London suburb close to the O2 Arena where he was to perform his 2009 concerts. Fate decided otherwise, however. After Jackson died, his UK home disappeared from the spotlight. But what would his manor in Kent have looked like?
Foxbury Manor is the name of the estate that Jackson had in mind as his temporary dwelling in Kent. Situated on Kemnal Road, which is partly private, the manor was secluded and secured enough to keep unwanted visitors at bay. Surrounded by fields, woodlands and ancient footpaths, Foxbury was to be Jackson’s perfect country retreat while working in London.
The manor was designed by award-winning architect David Brandon for a local banker named Henry Tiarks. Money was not an issue when builders set out to work between 1875 and 1877. With architectural styles ranging from Elizabethan to Tudor and a dash of Victorian gothic, the manor was to be everything that was fashionable at the time.
It comes as no surprise then, that Henry and his wife Agnes lived a grand Victorian lifestyle with their eleven children, large extended families and many house guests. Twenty servants were employed to keep the house up and running. On top of that, the 57-acre estate included a working farm with stables, woodlands used for hunting and shooting, polo fields, and large gardens with gazebos and private lakes.
But times were changing. When war broke out, the future of Foxbury began to look bleak. Servants became soldiers, the costs of maintenance rose, and German Zeppelins rained bombs on nearby London. Life didn’t get much better after the war. As the German economy went into freefall, the Tiarks lost their money and eventually had to sell the estate.
In 1938, Foxbury Manor was passed to the Church Missionary Society to become a training and retreat centre. Thirty years later, in 1976, it was handed over to the Woolwich Building Society for use as a conference centre. Stately lounges were turned into seminar rooms and the front lawn changed into a car park. The days of Victorian elegance and private residence seemed gone for good.
Upgrading the manor
But times changed again. In 2005, the property was sold to Turkish businessman Osman Ertosun for a reported 6.6 million pounds. Ertosun wished to take up private residence at the manor and restored the grade-II listed building to its former glory. At the same time, the interior of the manor was upgraded and brought into the 21st century.
Following a contemporary design, the original 32 bedrooms were converted into 11 substantial suites. A music room was added, as well as a private cinema in the basement, an indoor spa including a swimming pool and fitness room, a games room with a full-size billiard table, tennis courts, and a putting green. Moreover, the entrance gates became password-controlled and surveilled by state of the art security systems – which is not surprising considering the fact that the estate was by then worth 15 million pounds.
Foxbury’s new chapter
Another chapter was added to Foxbury’s turbulent history when Jackson’s aides set their eyes on the manor in 2008. The property seemed perfect for Jackson’s residence in the UK. Even though the house was not normally available to rent, Ertosun agreed to move out so that Jackson could rent the manor until February 2010 for a reported 1 million pounds.
Some additional changes were made to the manor. An eight-feet fence was set up around the grounds to increase security. Rumors surfaced that Jackson wanted fairground rides and a bowling alley added to the property, but these plans were never confirmed. Nor is there any proof that Jackson was apprehensive about renting the manor due the nearby Chislehurst Caves, which are supposedly haunted.
What did surface, however, was Jackson’s plan to redecorate Foxbury as his own personal abode. With the help of Beverly Hills interior designer Kenneth Bordewick and an unnamed design studio in London, Jackson selected 23 new pieces of furniture that were to be part of his future residence.
The company to handcraft Jackson’s furniture was Colombostile, an exclusive Italian furniture maker located in the town of Meda near Milan. The sofas, chairs and desks that Jackson ordered from the Colombostile catalogues, were given special finishings and coatings that were selected just for him. And, as befitting the King of Pop, the furniture he selected was of regal stature and size.
‘This Is It’ sofa
One of the most striking pieces that Jackson ordered was a fifteen feet long gilt wood sofa, seating nine, upholstered with red velvet and inlaid with onyx stones. “That was to be used onstage for Michael’s This Is It shows”, Bordewick told WENN. “It’s a monstrous piece, very Alice in Wonderland, with swags of silk on the back.”
Another set of furniture that Jackson selected came from Colombostile’s ‘Zar Limited’ collection. It consisted of a handcarved gilt wood, red velvet sofa plus a set of arm chairs, all topped with a crown and decorated with golden double-headed eagle embroidery.
Besides sofas, Jackson also ordered a number of unique bergères or upholstered French armchairs. One chair called ‘Wild Cat’ was to decorate a room that would be reserved for Jackson’s friend Elizabeth Taylor. “The chair was designed with Marabou feathers around the top, thus making it appear like a portrait collar, to silhouette the beauty of Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes”, according to Bordewick.
Another striking bergère was called ‘Shells’. Upholstered in green silk, the chair was encrusted in seashells and had silver leafed front legs. It was meant to decorate the room of Jackson’s daughter who liked the ocean and sea shells. Another room, most likely to be for one of Jackon’s sons, was said to have a Star Wars theme.
Without a doubt, Jackson’s furniture reflected his flamboyant showmanship. The stage was his home and vice versa. At a deeper level, however, his choice of furniture reflected his desire to unwind in a personal space that breathed his own style and level of comfort. Foxbury was to be his home, his private sanctuary, and his safe haven of peace and quiet. If he was to live in yet another golden cage, at least it would be filled with items reflecting the qualities he admired: elegance, beauty, craftsmanship, and child-like innocence.
Yet Jackson’s new home – his dream of Kent – was not to become a reality. Passing away only days before he was to move into the manor, the house remained empty. The furniture that he had set his heart on never found its way to the UK, as it remained the property of Colombostile. “It’s very sad. It was all packed away behind closed doors at the Colombostile factory”, Bordewick remembers.
In the year that followed, Jackson’s furniture went on display in various countries, before being put under the hammer by Julien’s Auction in Las Vegas on June 25, 2010, exactly one year after Jackson’s death. Part of the proceeds went to the charity organizations MusiCares and Joshua’s Heart Foundation, as a final tribute to Jackson who was actively involved in charity work.
After Jackson’s death
What happened to Foxbury Manor? Concert promotor AEG was left with a rental agreement that no longer served its purpose. Whether or not a financial agreement was reached with Ertosun has not been made public. Ertosun signed a legal non-disclosure and is not at liberty to comment on the issue.
As for the residents of Kemnal Road, there were mixed feelings of sadness and relief. “Some people in the larger houses were concerned that fans would mix their house up with Foxbury Manor and climb over walls into their gardens and so on. There were some fears about security. We were told members of his staff would let residents of the road know how it was likely to affect us. But that didn’t materialise before he died”, Tony Allen of the Kemnal Road Residents’ Association told local newspaper Bexley Times in 2009.
It all turned out quite differently than expected. Instead of welcoming the King of Pop in their midst, the Kemnal Road residents returned to their everyday life in a quiet corner of Chislehurst in Kent. Here, Foxbury Manor still lies quietly tucked away behind large trees and dense shrubs, far away from prying eyes and curious glances. Nothing has stirred. Nothing has changed. Michael Jackson never lived in the UK.
© Annemarie Latour
Note: I wish to thank Colombostile for their kind help in providing me with information and photographs for this article.