Michael Jackson the “King of Pop” is still very much alive in Brunei Darussalam … well, at least in memory.

The “King of Pop” lives on through one Bruneian fan’s large collection of memorabilia that is on display at the upper floor of Citis Square, a shopping mall in Berakas, just 2 kilometres from Brunei International Airport. That’s just a 4-minute car ride away!

(Photo: Lance Thoo/Neue)

MJ Memorabilia On Display

Mohamad Mairul Shah Rizal, 35, told Neue: “It has taken me over 27 years to collect all of these Michael Jackson memorabilia.”

Interestingly, the father of two (and soon to be three) is often referred to as “Mairul MJ” among his friends and colleagues.

And after dropping by his gallery last Sunday afternoon, I could see why he was given that nickname!

“To be honest, at first I felt uncomfortable being called ‘Mairul MJ’. But I have gotten used to it and I don’t mind it so much now,” he said. “Come to think of it … having those two letters – ‘M’ & ‘J’ – associated to my name is an honour, as it will help people remember Michael Jackson, as well as his legacy and music.”

Met The King Of Pop … Twice!

Confession time: The closest that I’ve ever seen Michael Jackson performing live was at Jerudong Park during the “Royal Concert” on July 16, 1996 to mark the 50th birthday celebration of His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam. I was absolutely nowhere near the stage! I could only see him performing live thanks to one of the many projection screens that were set up around the area.

I shared this story with Mairul while touring his gallery at Citis Square last Sunday afternoon.

But little did I know that I was, in fact, talking to someone who had personally met the Michael Jackson!

Mohamad Mairul Shah Rizal, 35, is often referred to as “Mairul MJ” among his friends and colleagues. (Photo: Lance Thoo/Neue)

It turns out Mairul, who was about 11 years old at the time, was one of the lucky winners of a competition for a meet and greet with Michael Jackson. (I can’t help but feel somewhat jealous!)

Michael Jackson would later that year return to Brunei on New Year’s Eve as part of the ‘HIStory World Tour’. This was Michael Jackson’s fifth and final solo concert tour, with 82 concerts attended by 4.5 million fans. The tour spanned the globe with stops in 52 cities in 35 countries.

And guess what? Mairul, who was now 12 years old at the time, got to meet Michael Jackson again prior to this concert! According to him, he and the four other winners were again invited by the organiser of the past competition of the meet and greet. (Ok! Now I’m super jealous!)

Greatest Concert That Never Happened

Fast forward to the year 2009 – some 13 years since he last saw Michael Jackson face-to-face in Brunei – Mairul, who’s 25 years old at the time, had bought 2 tickets to see the “King of Pop perform live as part of the “This Is It” concert residency that was scheduled to take place at the O2 Arena in London between 2009 and 2010.

The 2 tickets, which Mairul had paid for £171.50 at the time, was for a January 12, 2010 show.

Sadly, none of the planned “This Is It” concerts ever took place, as Michael Jackson passed away on June 25, 2009.

Gallery Opens 10 Years After MJ’s Passing

As far as I’m concerned, Mairul has got to be one of Brunei’s most dedicated fans.

I would like to point out that: Mairul has NEVER ONCE told me that he is … but I’m giving him that title nonetheless.

Why, you ask?

Well, because he took on a great financial risk when he decided to open “The World Of Michael Jackson Collections” gallery on June 28, 2019 in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death.

Ticket prices were modest – $7 for adults, $3 for children under the age of 12 and free for infants.

“This gallery, which features Michael Jackson collections that I’ve been collecting since I was 7 years old, is a tribute to a truly amazing human being,” Mairul told Neue.

“I truly believe that if there was never a Michael Jackson, there would be no Usher, no Bruno Mars, no Justin Timberlake, no Justin Bieber, no BTS. Most of the artistes you see today were one way or another inspired by Michael Jackson,” he said, adding that even though the “King of Pop” has left the world, his legacy will live on throughout the ages.

Another Bruneian fan, Matt Phab, meanwhile, told Neue: “Michael Jackson is still relevant in 2019 because of the impact he brought into the world of pop music.

“There’s no denying that some of today’s popular music would not have seen the light of day had it not been for Michael Jackson’s influence. His iconic dance moves have also inspired many of today’s dancers.

“Not to be forgotten also is his life’s dedication to promote love and peace around the world, through charities.”

Can Mairul’s Gallery Be Saved?

Mairul’s intentions were good and pure. All he wanted to do was share his love for Michael Jackson with both new as well as long-time fans of the “King of Pop”.

Sadly, he admits that response from travel agents has been “very poor”.

“I wonder why local travel agencies couldn’t help me promote my gallery to say, Korean tourists,” he said. “I believe there is no MJ gallery in Korea even though there are MJ fans all over Korea.”

Last Tuesday (August 27), Mairul made a shocking announcement on Instagram about his decision to close the gallery for good.

When asked what he had planned after closing down the gallery, Mairul told Neue: “I’ll go back to my normal life but I will still continue to collect Michael Jackson memorabilia like I always do. I do believe that Allah the Almighty has better plans for me. He knows what is best for me.”

“I have put in a lot of hard work, sweat and tears to make this crazy idea possible in Brunei. I must say that all the locals who visited my gallery have been very supportive. But the gallery needs more support to ensure its survival,” he said.

Gallery Now Only Open From Fridays to Sundays

Despite having made a public announcement on social media about his decision to close the gallery, Mairul informed Neue that “due to an agreement between him and the landlord”, he will have to keep the gallery open for the next 3 months.

To keep operating costs down, he has no choice but to close his gallery from Mondays to Thursdays, and will only open the gallery from Fridays to Sundays.

We here at Neue really do wish him all the best.

When asked if he had any last words he wanted to share before I wrapped up this interview, he said: “All I wanted to do was to show people out there that an ordinary local Bruneian like me could run an extraordinary business gallery in Brunei and perhaps in Borneo.

“All I wanted was to give tourists another reason to visit our beautiful country and for long-time Michael Jackson fans, an opportunity for them to take their sons, daughters or any other family member a nice walk down memory lane as they share stories about Michael Jackson. All I wanted was to see people smiling recalling the good ol’ days.

“I truly wanted this to be Brunei’s next tourist spot. I truly do need the support and assistance from both government and non-government agencies for this to work.”

So Brunei, will you answer Mairul’s plea for help?

I certainly will by encouraging all my family and friends to visit the gallery. You can do so too by sharing this story.

To get in touch with Mairul, contact him at +6737171324 or via Instagram @the_world_of_michael_jackson.

Regardless of whatever happens in the next few months, as a personal ‘Thank You’ to everyone out there, the management of “Da C-Blinkz Enterprise” will be giving “Mystery MJ Prizes” to some lucky winners.

All you have to do is tag a friend in the social media post for this story on @whatsneue.

The winners will be randomly selected and contacted by the management of “Da C-Blinkz Enterprise” at a later date.