Jackson 'best father' ever, daughter tells the world


June 18, 2010 Updated Jul 8, 2009 at 12:14 AM EDT

Michael Jackson's young daughter, Paris, stepped out of the shadows to pay moving tribute to the late star, saying: "Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine."

The 11-year-old, speaking for the first time in public, fought back tears as she addressed millions of people around the world watching the ceremony, and hit back at all the gossip about their strange family life.

"Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine. And I just wanted to say I love him so much," she told the hushed audience as she broke down in tears.

After tributes from Jackson's brothers, Jermaine and Marlon, Paris said she wanted to talk and struggled only slightly with adjusting the microphone to her height.

"Speak up," her aunt Janet Jackson said softly, as Paris, dressed in a simple black dress with a white waistband and holding a black clutch bag, bade her father a public goodbye.

Paris Katherine and her brothers, Prince Michael, 12, and Prince Michael II, seven, had joined a host of stars on the stage at the end of the long tribute singing along to "We are the World."

It was the first time the world had caught more than just a fleeting glimpse of the three youngsters, as Jackson, 50, always fiercely shielded his children from the public limelight.

His former wife of three years, Debbie Rowe, is the mother of the two eldest children, while the third also known as "Blanket" was born in 2002 to a surrogate whose identity has never been made public.

After being thrust into the spotlight from the age of five, Jackson went to extreme lengths to protect his children such as covering their faces in veils or masks whenever they were in public.

And they had not been seen since his mysterious death on June 25 from an apparent cardiac arrest.

But the three children joined other members of the Jackson clan at the Los Angeles Staples Center ceremony Tuesday, sitting between their grandparents Katherine and Joe Jackson just in front of the 14-karat gold casket bearing the body of their father.

At times Paris dissolved into tears as star after star spoke of Jackson's legacy to the world, while her youngest brother played with a Michael Jackson doll on his lap.

But she stood and applauded as civil rights leader Al Sharpton addressed the children directly and said fiercely: "There weren't nothing strange about your daddy."

"It was strange what your daddy had to deal with, but he dealt with it," Sharpton said, his voice rising in the rich cadence of a sermon.

Later, Sharpton told CNN he had been referring to "the social inequalities he had to deal with. Breaking down certain race and social barriers in the music industry, how he had tried to be one that set a stage of social comfort between the races.

"I thought it was very important that you put in context for his children what he dealt with in history and what he was able to do. One day they will review their father's funeral. And I want them to understand the context in which he lived," he added.

Temporary custody of the children has so far been granted to their grandmother Katherine Jackson, in line with the terms of Jackson's will, which also names pop diva Diana Ross as a back-up guardian.

But Rowe, who signed away her parental rights to her two children in 2001, has vowed to fight for them in what could presage a bitter legal battle, even though they are believed to have had little contact over the years.

"I want my children," Debbie Rowe told NBC television's local network in Los Angeles last week, adding she was willing to submit to any testing, including DNA, to prove she was the biological mother of Prince Michael and Paris.

Her lawyer Eric George later appeared to dial back on his client's comments, saying in a conference call no final decision had been made.

A custody hearing has now been set for Monday.

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