Navi, who claims to be the world’s #1 Michael Jackson impersonator, stars in Lifetime‘s Michael Jackson: Searching for Neverland as his idol. He gets to hold that title because he’s the only one who can say he actually knew Jackson and worked with him before his death in 2009.
Searching for Neverland requires Navi to play the King of Pop at the end of his life. It’s based on Remember The Time: Protecting Michael Jackson in His Final Days by Bill Whitfield, Javon Beard and Tanner Colby. Beard and Whitfield were Jackson’s bodyguards during the last two years of the Thriller singer’s life. Their story focuses on helping Jackson and his children stay out of the paparazzi’s eyes.
Here’s what you need to know about Navi.
1. He Plans on Retiring From Dancing After ‘Searching for Neverland’ Airs
After 28 years of playing his idol on the stage, Navi plans on retiring from the role after Searching for Neverland airs. He told Entertainment Weekly that he feels as though his career has been leading up to the moment where he can make this film to “do something back for Michael” and chance how people view the last few years of Jackson’s life.
“I’m the Michael fan that stood outside the trial at the courthouse in Santa Maria with a sign that said, ‘Smooth, but not a criminal,’” Navi said. “When Michael passed away, I was at the Conrad Murray trial … because I’m a Michael fan and I wear it on my sleeve.”
He continued, “You’d think that would be the best swan song, but for me, it was this opportunity. If these 28 years [of impersonation] were building up to have this one moment, I’ll accept that, and I’m happy to walk away from the Jackson thing now. … I’m happy to be done because I had an opportunity to do something back for Michael.”
The U.K.-based Navi told EW that the he actually turned down the role five times and he turned the producers down. He insisted that he’s an “impersonator,” not an actor. He finally decided to take the part because he wanted to help show the public a different side of the pop star.
2. He Really Did Undergo Plastic Surgery to Look Like Michael Jackson
While Navi never poured acid on his skin to make it permanently lighter (like one MJ fan really did in 2014), he did undergo several plastic surgery procedures to make himself look more like Jackson. At one point, he was reportedly spending £150,000 (around $192,570) a year between 1992 and 2012 on procedures.
In a 2015 interview with Stuff.co.nz, Navi said he stopped doing the procedures because he knew he would never look exactly like Jackson.
“I could have gone thinner with the nose, I could have gone bigger with the jawline,” Navi said in 2015. “I could have been precise but I wouldn’t have been Michael Jackson and I wouldn’t have been able to pull it off like Michael Jackson. Even though he went over the top with it and he knew that himself. I always wanted to be the good-looking version of Michael Jackson.”
“It’s all facial,” Navi told Time Out in 2012 when asked about the operations. “They say the things that look most Michael about me are my eyes and smile. They’re both mine! I’m a perfectionist, so if I’m going to do things I’ll do them properly. It’s the same with clothes, if I don’t have the correct item, I’ll fly over to wherever they have it.”
Navi was born in Trinidad, but moved to the U.K. in the 1980s and has been based there ever since. He toured the world, performing in nearly 60 countries and at private events. Stuff.co.nz reports that he has over 200 MJ costumes.
“I’m not Michael Jackson. I could never be him. I could never replace him,” Navi said.
3. Jackson Used Navi As a Body Double When He Wanted to Escape Crowds
Navi first met his idol in 1992 and worked with Jackson throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s. He claims on his site that Jackson would employ him as a decoy to attract photographers away from the hotel exits the real Jackson would use. He would even use Navi for album launches and other promotional events. When Jackson was planning his ill-fated This Is It London shows, Navi was going to be a body double for the singer. (Jackson died in 2009, during the rehearsals for the shows that would have been his “comeback.”)
Navi also claims on his site that he visited Neverland Ranch in 2005 when he was invited to perform during Jackson’s 45th birthday party.
“I remember I was in Berlin, during the Dangerous tour, doing promotions for it,” Navi told Stuff.co.nz. “You actually don’t believe you’ve just met Michael Jackson because while he’s a real life superhero on the videos and concerts, you just see this guy and he’s not standing very big. He’s just really tiny and kind of quiet, more or less.”
In a 2012 interview with the Cyprus Mail, Navi insisted that he’s not “obsessed” with the singer he’s spent nearly three decades pretending to be.
“I love Jackson – but I love my family, I’m a religious person as well, so, like, ‘obsessed’ I find a strong word. Because ‘obsessed’ means you’re besotted, and everything else comes second. But it is the biggest part of my world,” Navi told the Cyprus Mail. “I mean, I’ve lived this for 25 years, and I’ve traveled the world.”
4. Navi Says He Doesn’t Always Play Michael Jackson 24/7
Navi isn’t always wearing pale make-up to look like Michael Jackson every day of his life. In fact, photos on his Instagram page show off what he looks like without makeup. He also walked the red carpet at an event for SEarching for Neverland without his makeup.
When Time Out asked if he’s always in character, he said no. “That would be a little insane,” Navi said. “Can you imagine me dressed up watching Eastenders?! I like to go to the movies, I go out to the supermarket – normal things.”
He also told the site that he really loves watching television when he’s not pretending to be someone else. “I watch a bit of TV but I don’t have time for anything else. I’ve missed so many things in my life because I can’t cancel shows. Work takes priority.”
Navi told Time Out that he began impersonating Jackson professionally when he was 15 years old and opened for The Drifters. He was balancing his parents’ wishes for him to study construction with playing Jackson on stage.
5. He Wishes That the Jackson Family Would Have Approved of the New Film
The Jackson family estate hasn’t approved of any film recently made about the singer, including Searching for Neverland. The family issued a statement to Billboard, clarifying their position on the Lifetime movie, as well as a Netflix stop-motion film about Jackson’s famous pet monkey Bubbles.
The statement reads:
“To clear up any confusion or misperceptions about unsanctioned Michael Jackson projects currently in the news — including a Lifetime television movie and an animated film script recently purchased by Netflix — the Estate of Michael Jackson does not license or permit the use of any rights it owns, including to Michael’s music, images, video and films, for use in unauthorized works seeking to exploit Michael’s legacy. The Estate itself has numerous projects in development, all of which respect, honor and celebrate Michael’s life and legacy along with his extraordinary artistry that touched fans throughout the world. When the executors are ready to announce them, they will. As Michael said countless times about his own work, the quality goes in before the name goes on.”
In an interview with CBS News, Navi said he wished the family approved of the Lifetime movie. However, he insisted that the film wasn’t made for financial gain.
“Is it important to me? Of course, because I wouldn’t like to hear that someone didn’t support the project,” Navi told CBS News. “But I didn’t do this project from a business point of view. I do this project from my heart, from a Michael Jackson fan’s point of view. So it doesn’t matter which company and businesses and associates, whatever, do or don’t support us. Fans want it told.”
But in his Entertainment Weekly interview, Navi said he was a bit relieved about it “because I feel there are things they might not be happy with.”