As unusual as it might have looked from the outside, Paris Jackson's childhood—and the values that came with it—felt normal to her, though in hindsight she's realized that she didn't have your average upbringing.
"It was difficult, a blessing, a privilege to be able to experience so much at a young age," Michael Jackson's only daughter explained to Naomi Campbell in a recent chat on the supermodel's No Filter With Naomi series. "And my dad was really good about making sure we were cultured, making sure we were educated, and not just showing us, like, the glitz and glam, like hotel-hopping five-star places. But it was also like, we saw everything. We saw third-world countries and we saw, like, every part of the spectrum."
And when Naomi suggested that Paris was too famous to have to go through a casting call for a modeling job at this point ("They know who you are," the supermodel said), Paris thought that was sweet but quickly added, "I'm also a full believer that I should earn everything...I go to auditions, I work hard, I study scripts, I do my thing and it's—even growing up it was about earning stuff. If we wanted five toys from FAO Schwartz or Toys R' Us, we had to read five books It's about earning it, not just being entitled to certain things or thinking, 'Oh, I got this.' It's like, working for it, working hard for it. It's an accomplishment."
But that being said, "they" do know who she is, as do so many others.
Michael Jackson died in 2009, when Paris was 11, but her life then and now as the child of one of the most famous (and endlessly scrutinized) entertainers on the planet also gave her and older brother Prince Jackson a heightened awareness of just how often what the public thinks it knows doesn't necessarily match up with what's really happening behind closed doors.
The premiere of the 2019 documentary Leaving Neverland, in which two grown men who knew him as kids gave detailed accounts of being groomed and molested by the pop music titan, pushed his legacy to the brink. Hs estate sued HBO for $100 million over the two-part doc, alleging the network violated a 1992 non-disparagement clause it had with Michael; so far the lawsuit has been allowed to proceed to arbitration, an appellate court determining in December that the complaint might be "frivolous" but that's up for an arbitrator to decide.
Incidentally, the allegations then and in years prior have also tended to being out his staunchest defenders time and again, including countless fans who never met Michael Jackson but would swear that they knew him anyway.
Meanwhile, Prince and Paris (and presumably their younger brother Bigi, who was 7 when their dad died) are aware of these stories. But as protectors of his legacy, as well as the only keepers of the memories of the relatively short time they had with their dad, the siblings have never wavered in their view of who was out to get whom.
"I knew afterward there was gonna be plenty of s--t-talking, plenty of people questioning him and how he raised us," Paris told Rolling Stone in 2017, recalling what motivated her to speak out at 11 years old about how wonderful her dad was during the star-studded memorial held for him at Staples Center in Los Angeles in 2009. "That was the first time I ever publicly defended him, and it definitely won't be the last."
Prince told the magazine that his sister, in that moment, proved she had "more strength than any of us."
Paris explained, "Nobody but my brothers and I experienced him reading A Light in the Attic to us at night before we went to bed. Nobody experienced him being a father to them. And if they did, the entire perception of him would be completely and forever changed."
She said that their father didn't try to hide from them the pain caused by the unsavory things people said about him.
"He did not bulls--t us," Paris said. "You try to give kids the best childhood possible. But you also have to prepare them for the s--tty world."
Paris acknowledged in an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2012 that Jackson "had his doubts" that his own kids could have a so-called normal life. "He told us that when he was younger, he didn't really have a childhood. Like, he would be stuck in the studio, singing while all the other kids were out playing. And he wanted us to have that. So a lot of times, we'd go to Chuck E. Cheese. Chuck E. Cheese and Toys R' Us were our favorite places to go."
But while she and Prince know they have a role to play when it comes to their dad's enduring memory, they're also determined to do their own thing, apart from the famous Jackson fold.
"They're still close with certain members of the Jackson family, not everyone, but a lot of the cousins—T.J. [Jackson] especially," a source told E! News last year, weeks before the coronavirus pandemic put a stop to performing, traveling, event-planning and other pursuits the now 23-year-old Paris, who's celebrating her birthday April 3, and 24-year-old Prince regularly enjoy.
After Michael died, his three kids went to live with their grandmother Katherine Jackson, but T.J., one of three sons belonging to Michael's brother Tito Jackson, was named their co-guardian in 2012. Prince and Paris' now 19-year-old brother—born Prince Michael Jackson II and formerly known as Blanket before he started going by Bigi in 2015—remained under T.J.'s care as a minor.
"The siblings are close," the source said, and Prince and Bigi "are especially tight."
In May 2019 the brothers reviewed Avengers: Endgame online with cousin Taj Jackson and pal James Sutherland. Not only was Bigi's encyclopedic knowledge of comic book lore on full display, it was the most anyone outside his private world had ever heard the teen talk.
The brothers explored Tokyo together with T.J. and his wife and kids toward the end of 2018 and, in December 2019, an even bigger group that also included Prince's longtime girlfriend, went to Rome, making stops at the Coliseum and the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, among countless other places.
While he's kept her name out of his captions to protect her privacy, Prince happily marked four years as half of a couple on March 23, writing on Instagram, "Wow can't believe it's been 4 years con mi amor... I've grown and learned so much with you and so lucky to be able to go on all our adventures together. It's so cool to see all the places we've been together and all the crazy stuff we do usually revolving around food...I love you baby happy 4 years."
Aside from the famous faces who occasionally pop up, Prince's Insta-life resembles normalcy: he spends time with his girlfriend, hangs out with his siblings and extended family, goes pretty much everywhere via motorcycle (he and a buddy did a socially distanced, outdoor review of Soul in February, sitting on their bikes with the actual ocean as backdrop), and dotes on his beloved dog, OG. (Kenya, the chocolate lab he'd had since Michael brought him home for the kids 14 years ago, passed away in October.)
The Loyola Marymount University graduate has dabbled in on-camera work, including a stint as a correspondent for Entertainment Tonight, but, our source said, he "really enjoys directing and being behind the scenes."
Philanthropy running in the Jackson family, Prince co-founded the Heal Los Angeles Foundation, inspired by his father's Heal the World Foundation, to help at-risk youth by improving access to educational opportunities and enriching extra-curricular activities. At the onset of the pandemic, the group started handing out meals to people in need at Gospel Mission Baptist Church in Los Angeles, then started delivering meals to hospitals, and they still have an ongoing meal pickup program at the church on Wednesdays in partnership with Fresh N Lean. They've also held virtual cooking classes for families and it's a charity you can donate to through Amazon Smile.
"We've got some hopefully really active programs [coming up]," Prince said in an Instagram Live update in February. "You know, this pandemic has been just tough on a lot of people—I know personally it's starting to affect me now, [after] a year, I'm just read for it to be over. But we're hoping to bring back that social aspect in a safe and responsible way for the youth and the children of the Los Angeles area, so any amount helps and we really do appreciate it."
Dressed as Christmas Vacation-mode Clark Griswold, Prince told ET at the foundation's "Thriller Night" costume benefit in October 2019, "I feel like the world is my oyster. I have so many opportunities," Prince, "I feel like my time is best devoted to the non-profit right now because that's where my passion lies and that's where I feel I will get the most out of my life."
"I still have a creative bug and figuring out how I'm fitting into the entertainment industry," he continued. "I really have a few projects that I'm working on, but I want to make sure they are solidified before I talk about them. But definitely excited to see what the future holds for me. It's somewhere in the entertainment, with the philanthropic side of it, for sure."
The event was held at the Hayvenhurst House, the Jackson family mansion in Encino, Calif., where Michael once lived. Paris later moved into her dad's private studio on the sprawling property.
Also that month Prince spoke at the Intergen Family Initiative event, part of the 2019 Family Office Association L.A. National Summit, a motivational program designed to get the younger people of the world involved in finding solutions to society's most pressing problems.
Asked about some of the life lessons his dad imparted, Prince explained, "A lot of people expect his fatherhood or words of wisdom to be different from their own parents, because he was such an icon and such an image that so many of us know and love; but to me, he was my father first and foremost...I tried to think about the words that really resonated within my own life and what I kind of live my life by, and the first one that came up was compassion.
"My father came from very humble beginnings in Gary, Indiana, a very large family in a very small house, so he understood what it was like to struggle, as well as what it was like to be prosperous," Prince continued. "And he wanted us to always remember to never forget to have compassion for the less fortunate because we could never truly understand where they were coming from."
Education, formal or otherwise, was key, the pop music scion concluded, because "just as long as you continue to have that desire to learn, you will be able to better yourself and to continuously better yourself, because you never finish that journey of education."
Prince continues to press the importance of practicing compassion in daily life, noting in an Instagram Live session March 24 that clicking "like" on happier posts will eventually result in happier posts populating your feed.
Certainly not terrible advice in this day and age.
And the day before, after posting about his and his girlfriend's anniversary, he shared a video of OG in the backyard (Prince isn't shy about giving virtual tours of his house) and passed the positivity onto his fans, writing: "I look back on my life in different specific scenarios or as a whole and I'm truly appreciative of how blessed I've been and how I continue to be blessed either through protection from negative outcomes or pushing me to be better. Today is 4 years with my gf and I'm blessed to have that relationship. I saw my family this week and I'm blessed to have their love and guidance.
"I came home today from OG's walk and saw these peacocks around my house and I just saw it as another sign that I am truly blessed and I don't want to take it for granted. I hope everyone is doing well staying safe and healthy. How are you blessed and who blesses you? With so much negativity out there let's start circulating positivity so tag the people you're blessed to have in your life. Love you all."
In November 2019, he and Paris—who called her brother her hero in her birthday wishes for him in February—joined the Motown 60th anniversary celebration at the Waldorf Astoria in Beverly Hills.
Prince sang his model sister's praises on Instagram, writing, "I don't always dress up...but when I do it's with my gorgeous sister @parisjackson. Stay classy my friends." The Alexander McQueen-clad siblings also did a behind-the-scenes video for Vogue together, Paris having quickly become a sought-after presence on the fashion circuit after wading into public life a few years ago.
"I think of my childhood when I hear the word Motown," Paris said. "I grew up listening to that, so it makes me think of family."
Paris started pursuing her own music career as half of the singer-songwriter duo The Soundflowers, with a source telling E! News that performing is "when she truly shines and is in a good place." After beginning 2019 with a stint in treatment to work on her mental health, there were rumors that she was having a hard time in the wake of the Leaving Neverland premiere.
To which she replied on Twitter: "There's no meltdown, no 'losing s--t,' or being demanding of anyone. Please don't believe what you read."
The other half of The Soundflowers was her then-boyfriend, Gabriel Glenn. Pre-pandemic, the pair got in touch with their untamed side at a wolf sanctuary in the California desert for a photo spread in New Zealand's Remix magazine (the "Conscious Issue," featuring Paris on the cover) and then took their show on the road to Paris (as in, the City of Light). While she was on that side of the Atlantic, Paris walked in Jean-Paul Gaultier's farewell couture show, along with a who's-who of high fashion including Gigi and Bella Hadid, Karlie Kloss and Irina Shayk.
Asked what compelled her to participate, Paris told British Vogue's "Miss Vogue," "Of course it was a no-brainer. I was, and am, absolutely honored."
And not one to trade on her name or otherwise assume she has a leg up on the competition, she gave it her all during rehearsals for the show.
"I was very nervous during the casting, but once I had the final look on it felt pretty natural," Paris recalled. "I had been doing a few walks for Jean Paul when he said, 'I'll see you tomorrow.' I almost screamed out of excitement, as that was his way of letting me know I got it. The whole experience is one I'll never forget."
She was also nervous right until showtime, "but once I stepped out there, all the anxiety faded away," the singer added. "The rush I got afterwards was similar to the one I get when I get off stage after performing with my band."
Paris is already a veteran of two Met Galas, and her friendship circle includes Cara Delevingne and fellow L.A.-area natives Kendall Jenner and Sara Foster. Paris was among the revelers at Sara's celeb-studded birthday party at San Vicente Bungalows in West Hollywood in February 2020, as were Kate Hudson, Courteney Cox and Demi Moore, and the singer-songwriter donned a feather-trimmed Versace gown to frolic with the rest of young Hollywood at the Vanity Fair Oscar party.
Paris also remains very close to godfather Macaulay Culkin, who was only 17 when she was born but has remained a supportive presence throughout her life, also being rather familiar with the pitfalls of fame at a young age.
Just days ago, Paris showed off some new art on her wall—a hand mirror hung upside down with a frame around it—that she noted was inspired by the decor in Culkin's New York City loft, "but with a little bit of west coast spice."
They got matching spoon tattoos on their inner forearms in 2017 after Culkin turned her onto stealing the occasional spoon from restaurants.
"It's harmless," he assured Esquire in its March 2020 issue. "It's a harmless thing. It's not like you're ruining something, like stealing a chess piece, where the board would be incomplete."
Culkin used the flatware heists as a metaphor in some advice he gave to Paris, telling her when the going got tough, "Don't forget to be silly, don't forget to take something away from this whole experience, and don't forget to stick something up your sleeve."
The spoon is Culkin's only tattoo, but Paris has many, several to honor her dad—as does Prince, who in 2017 unveiled one of Michael mid-dance move, dressed in a suit and signature fedora and sporting wings, encircling his right calf.
Last year, Paris opened an unprecedented window into her private life, appearing in the Facebook Watch series Unfiltered: Paris Jackson & Gabriel Glenn, which, despite its title, mainly focused on Paris' search for answers as to why things are the way they are (for instance, she consults an Akashic reader, as well as an astrologer). The August 4 episode then revealed the unraveling of her romantic relationship with Gabriel, whom she called "one of her many soulmates."
However, she explained, "I don't think soulmates are specifically just romantic partners. In one life Gabe was probably my daughter. And in another life he was probably my grandpa, and then in another life he was probably my worst enemy."
While the pandemic helped delay any pressing decisions about the fate of their band, Gabriel recalled on the show, "I think we said when we first got together, even if we didn't work out as a couple, we always would want to be in a band together. Our music was one thing we wanted to hold on to no matter what."
Paris said she wanted to grow and become a better musician, "but I can't do this without Gabe. Gabe showed me love does exist, not just in the movies, and it's not as pretty as it looks in the movies. It can get ugly and it can be more beautiful than described in the movies and it is possible. He makes me not feel as alone. He's had an impact on me and my life and my heart in ways that I cannot even describe. I can't see my life without him."
Paris has continued making music nonetheless, cranking out her solo debut album during quarantine in between sharing snippets of inspiration and photos of her dog and cat, the bundles of fur never far from her side in her warmly decorated enclave.
The pandemic has "given me a lot of time to let my creativity kind of, just, do its thing," she told Campbell on No Filter With Naomi. "Especially toward the end of this lockdown, figuring out a smooth transition into working again with the film and fashion industry...figuring out how to maneuver that in a safe way." (Which she did, shooting the already-eyebrow-raising movie Habit and posing for a new sustainable fashion campaign for Stella McCartney, who dressed the model in plant-based garments made from a leather-reminiscent fabric containing mycelium, which comes from mushrooms.)
As for the new album, Wilted, which came out Nov. 13, "It kind of just happened...The songs kind of just all came out," Paris said. So she went to a studio to lay the tracks down "and thanks to lockdown, my heroes"—Andy Hull and Robert McDowell of Manchester Orchestra—"were actually available to record with me. Normally they're on tour or working on their own stuff."
Paris explained that, while she loves fashion, she was advised that getting into modeling would be a way to quickly grow her platform so that she could reach more people on issues that are important to her, be it climate change or the war in Syria.
Once the world opens up again, she'd love to walk more runways, Paris said. But asked if she planned on doing more acting or singing as well, she replied, "I just want to always go with the flow. I love them both for very different reasons. There's definitely part of me that feels a little more alive when I'm acting, but music will always be number one."
Not being able to perform live shows with an audience—or even go to concerts and feel the energy of a crowd—this past year has admittedly been the hardest part of the pandemic, she said.
Music, after all, is in her blood, too. "I feel like every part of my childhood will always influence who I am today, whether it's experiences or all of the music we listened to," Paris said.
And that's certainly another thing she and Prince have in common. The siblings "are close and bond over music," a source told E! News. "There's always the possibility they will collaborate, with her in front of the camera and him behind it."
The Soundflowers played a Thanksgiving benefit show for Healing LA back in November 2019, and Prince would proudly sport their merch to spread the word.
Last year on his Feb. 13 birthday, Paris wrote on Instagram: "this guy. right here. greatest big brother and role model a girl could ever hope for. you already know all the things that i want to say to you, so this instagram thing is just for s--ts and gigs. thanks for being my twin and my bestie, i love you for always til the sun is swallowed by darkness and even after. happy birthday."
At the "Thriller Night" party in October 2019, Prince called his bond with his siblings a "very raw, unfiltered relationship," since truly no one else can identify with what their earliest years were like as Michael Jackson's kids, and they "100 percent understand you."
"And especially," he told Access Hollywood, "you know, when there's a lot of people who may not have the best intentions for you, it's very easy to get caught up in a lot of fake personalities, so I think it's only made us stronger as siblings to have that bond, to have that very real relationship and raw relationship with each other, that we know it's always love."
(Originally published Feb. 13, 2020, at 3 a.m. PT)