Published: 10:00, 06 April 2019
| Updated: 13:34, 06 April 2019
Sheppey entertainer Ben Bowman has the biggest gig of his career tonight (Saturday) when he makes his West End debut as Michael Jackson at the world famous London Palladium.
The show comes just before the 10th anniversary of the pop star’s death on June 25 and is billed as Britain’s biggest celebration of the King of Pop.
Ben, 32, will also play the O2 Indigo arena on Friday, June 21.
Ben London Palladium trailer
But his performances with live band, light show and dancers could be overshadowed by the furore following the devastating Leaving Neverland C4 documentary which branded Jackson an evil paedophile.
This week Ben refused to discuss the documentary but fellow Islander Jace Carreira, who appears on the BBC TV Saturday night show All Together Now, said: "If I was in Ben's shoes I'd still go ahead with the show.
"We all know Michael was weird but none of us will ever know what really went on behind closed doors."
Ben has certainly come a long way since entertaining fellow pupils at Minster College at lunchtimes and practising his moves while working late shifts at Minster Co-op.
His first public appearance miming to his hero was at Ray Featherstone’s Sheerness County Youth Club followed by a one-off guest spot with JR King’s Juggernaut Roadshow at Sheerness East WMC.
He recalled: “My brother and I grew up with our mother’s vinyl collection and Michael Jackson was part of that.
"I became one of those kids who learned all the dances from the videos."
Ben's first professional gig at the Wyvern Hall, Sittingbourne, in 2005 went down a storm.
He said: "I started straight out of school. I was at Canterbury College studying drama and they told me I could earn £77 a night in the West End.
"But I said I could earn more than that as a Michael Jackson impersonator and quit.
“Initially I thought it was something I could do while working.
"I never imagined I would be a full-time Michael Jackson impersonator. It's not something that comes up at the JobCentre!"
It was a chance meeting in the Ivy Club in the backstreets of Sheerness in 2009 which changed Ben's life.
He said: “Michael had just died and I was in a dodgy place and not sure if I could carry on.”
Step forward James Baker, a sound engineer who had just finished touring with singer Kiki Dee.
Ben, a former barman at Priory Hill Holiday Park, Leysdown, said: “As we talked, we realised we had a lot in common. I took him to one of my gigs and he offered to manage me. We have worked together ever since.”
Much of the new show was put together in secret at Priory over the winter.
It takes Ben two hours to transform into Michael.
He said: "My make-up takes 45 minutes. I used my own hair until it started to get too thin so I had it chopped off and now use a wig.
"I get into costume then warm up my entire body and voice. Then I step out and go for it.
"People ask if I get bored doing the same songs. The set has stayed the same for four and a half years. But every audience is different.
"There are definitely worse jobs in the world.
"The fans are so passionate. I absolutely love that we incite that reaction. It means we are doing something right.
"It’s insane people are drawn into it for two hours but I wouldn’t swap it for anything.”