Even by the standards of someone twice her age, there was a quiet assurance about 13-year-old Paris Jackson’s triumphant first solo appearance before the cameras of a U.S. chat show this week.
Gone was the frightened and sobbing child who was reluctantly pushed into the spotlight by her aunties and uncles at her father Michael’s televised memorial service a little over two years ago.
In her place was a young woman, sleekly coiffed by the team of stylists and make-up artists who now travel with her, and with the sort of poise you would scarcely expect of a young teenager.
But then, Paris, who had been wheeled out by the controlling Jackson clan to appear on the sofa of TV chat show hostess Ellen DeGeneres, is hardly your average teenager.
For starters, in preparation for her primetime appearance this week, Paris had been trained rigorously for weeks by the Hollywood actors’ agency that has been newly engaged by her grandmother and legal guardian Katherine Jackson to guide the youngster’s nascent acting career.
Meanwhile, the family are in negotiation with top model agency boss and talent-spotter Michael Flutie, who launched the careers of Cindy Crawford, Milla Jovovich and Stephanie Seymour, to oversee Paris’s planned transition from schoolgirl to catwalk star.
I think she’s stunning,’ Mr Flutie said this week. ‘I said I would represent her because that’s how beautiful I think she is.’
He is not alone in spotting the rich pickings on offer for those helping to shape the careers of the King of Pop’s children.
Paris is already set to make her acting debut in a film version of the children’s fantasy book Lundon’s Bridge And The Three Keys, which is due for release in 2013.
Nor is she the only one of Jackson’s three children who is being pushed — prematurely, some argue — into the white heat of the media gaze from which their father had so desperately sought to protect them.
Michael’s long-time friend Brian Oxman — who also happens to be the Jackson family’s lawyer — told me this week of his concerns that the singer might not have approved of his beloved children being paraded so publicly.
‘Michael’s way of bringing them up was that he wanted them to have a childhood,’ he explained.
‘He wanted them to experience being innocent young people growing up.
‘Since he felt his childhood had been stolen from him, he didn’t want that to happen to his kids,’ he added.
‘It’s hard to say if Michael would be happy about what’s happening. He just wanted his children to be the masters of their lives.’
Yet the push to make the youngsters stars in their own right appears relentless. And it is Katherine and her estranged husband Joe who, together, are the driving force.
Many believe history could be repeating itself here. They remember how Michael’s father Joe would to drive him mercilessly to perform, bullying him emotionally and physically.
‘If you didn’t do it the right way, he would tear you up,’ Michael said, adding, on the Oprah Winfrey Show, that he was so afraid of his father, he was sometimes sick when he saw Joe.
To coincide with her interview with TV chatshow host Miss DeGeneres, Paris and her brothers Prince, 14, and nine-year-old Prince Michael II — known as Blanket — posed together for a major article on them this week in People magazine.
The American celebrity magazine calls the children ‘The Jackson Three’ — a play on words said to have been dreamt up by Joe, their grandfather, who managed the Jackson Five group in which a young Michael found fame with his elder brothers.
Joe had long been estranged from his most famous son and was publicly accused by Michael of being a controlling and violent bully.
Yet this is the man behind Michael’s children’s appearance before the cameras on the U.S. version of The X Factor two weeks ago.
Sources in the States say the publicity drive being coordinated by 83-year-old Joe and Katherine, 81, is all leading up to an announcement that the children have been signed up to appear in their own reality TV show which will give fly-on-the-wall cameras access to their California home.
And this attempt to turn Jackson’s children into highly bankable stars has understandably led to calls that they are being exploited.
Michael’s official fan club has raised its concerns and one influential website, set up to protect the dead singer’s legacy, has already called for an end to what it calls ‘the exploitation of his children for the financial gain of the Jackson family’.
The Michael Jackson Accountability Network website has published an open letter to the clan warning them to call a halt to the series of controversial money-making schemes they have embarked on since Jackson’s death in June 2009 at the age of 50.
The claims of exploitation have now led to a bitter split within the Jackson family, with some of Michael’s eight surviving siblings turning on each other and their parents in the unseemly scramble for cash.
The bad blood came to head two months ago when brothers Jermaine and Randy and sister Janet publicly criticised a star-studded tribute concert held at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium which was organised by their parents.
While their siblings Marlon, Tito, Jackie and La Toya all agreed to appear on the bill, the event became mired in controversy with claims that although some funds would go to charity, and £64,000 to Michael’s children, the promoters could not confirm how much the good causes would actually receive.
Some family members were also angry that the event coincided with the trial of Jackson’s physician Dr Conrad Murray, who was jailed last month for four years for administering a fatal dose of the surgical anaesthetic propofol to the star.
The show also fell foul of the official executors of the singer’s estate, who have had a running battle with Michael’s parents over a series of stunts the Jacksons have dreamt up to cash in on their late son’s fame.
Indeed, the Cardiff event — at which Michael’s children were once again on public display — is said to have taken place in Britain only to get around U.S. intellectual property law.
Even so, the singer’s full name and picture were noticeably absent from the official concert promotion material.
Jackson’s children have been served up for public consumption by their grandparents on any number of occasions.
Earlier this year, when their grandmother was promoting a coffee table book she has written about Michael, Oprah Winfrey was granted access to the compound where they live with her in Los Angeles.
About the same time, the children appeared on the TV show Good Morning America to talk about the death of their father.
Both interviews led Michael’s brother Randy and his sister Janet to criticise their parents for exploiting the children for personal gain.
And the point is Joe and Katherine are rather keen on personal gain. They are currently fighting a lawsuit issued by Michael’s executors, who accuse them of trying to flog unauthorised tacky Jacko memorabilia, including a crystal-encrusted leather belt signed by Jackson’s children.
Earlier this year Joe, who lives for the most part in Las Vegas, was even said to have offered fans the chance to have their pictures taken with Prince, Paris and Blanket in exchange for cash.
Joe, who was left out of his son’s will, has launched a series of court actions to try to win damages over Michael’s death, including actions against Dr Murray, the concert promoters AEG Live, who were bankrolling Michael’s planned 50‑date London tour when he died, and the pharmacy which supplied the drug that killed him.
Meanwhile, Katherine, who along with Michael’s children stands to inherit the singer’s fortune, complains that the £50,000 his executors grant her each month to care for his children is not enough.
Family lawyers are also furious that the estimated £500 million earned by Jackson since his death — including a posthumous £166 million album deal signed with Sony and the £194 million earned by This Is It, the film of Jackson’s rehearsals for his proposed UK shows — has not yet filtered through to his heirs.
But John Branca and John McClain, the entertainment lawyers appointed as executors of the estate, say it could take years to unravel the troubled star’s financial affairs and pay off more than £300 million of debts Jackson had when he died.
Even so, the children and Katherine — who was declared bankrupt in 1999 — are hardly living in penury.
Since March they have been staying at a rented £16,000-a-month estate, complete with its own golf course, in the upmarket LA neighbourhood of Calabasas.
They have moved into the house on a gated community, where neighbours include Britney Spears and Kim Kardashian, while the family home in nearby Encino is being refurbished, with the bill being paid by the executors.
This week Paris said on the TV chat show that she felt ‘stupid’ in the masks and veil her father made her and her siblings wear to protect their identity.
Yet she insisted she and her brothers have a regular childhood.
As her grandmother Katherine has said: ‘They have their friends over. They ride their bikes.’
In reality, it is anything but normal.
Each morning, a slow-moving cavalcade of vehicles transports Paris and Prince to the private school they attend on the edge of California’s Santa Monica mountains.
Several bulky bodyguards, sporting Secret Service-style ear-pieces and lapel microphones jump out of the vehicles to usher them into school.
Throughout the day, armed close protection minders shadow the children as they attend lessons at £21,000-a-year Buckley School. The bodyguards eat lunch in the school cafeteria and swim in its indoor pool.
Ever since Paris and Prince enrolled at the school in September 2010, the presence of the hulking security men has been causing complaints from other parents who say they terrify their children.
For his part, Blanket, who is said to be very withdrawn and shy and is the only one of the singer’s children who looks even vaguely like him, is still taught by private teachers in the kitchen of the family’s seven-bedroom house, where he has his own constant bodyguards.
The children are occasionally visited by former nurse Debbie Rowe, Jackson’s former wife and the mother of the two elder children, both of whom are said to have been fathered by a sperm donor. (While Michael Jackson was alive, she was not involved with the children; he paid her off so that he could bring them up himself, with the help of an army of nannies. But when he died, grandmother Katherine agreed that Debbie could have supervised visits.)
The identity of Blanket’s mother and father has never been revealed — Jackson adopted him soon after he was born, and there has been endless speculation as to whether he fathered the child as a sperm donor.
The Jackson family insist that the security presence is very necessary, given that the children, who will inherit their father’s fortune when they reach 30, are at constant risk of kidnap.
The King of Pop’s children are, to put it crudely, very valuable commodities indeed.
Lawyers are expecting to set a trial date on January 31 for the children’s own separate lawsuit against promoters AEG Live.
The Jackson family’s lawyer Brian Oxman told me if they win, the damages could eventually reach up to $1 billion.
He says AEG employed Dr Conrad Murray — a claim it denies — and that this astronomical sum is based on what Jackson could have earned had he lived.
‘The children are the youngest plaintiffs for the largest amount of money in our memory,’ Mr Oxman said.
‘I don’t think there is anywhere that could rival the size of this legal claim.’
Is it any surprise, then, that the children Jackson tried so assiduously to protect have had to grow up so quickly?