When MJ met Ah Meng

The primate was taken to meet the pop icon at Raffles hotel, recalls its resident historian, who has met other famous guests there

Those who want to see an orang utan will have to make a trip to the Singapore Zoo, but Michael Jackson had the special privilege of having an orang utan brought to him.

The King of Pop met the grand dame Ah Meng at the Raffles Singapore's poolside in 1993. Both have since died.

Mr Leslie Danker, 76, the hotel's longest-serving employee, recounts this specially arranged meeting in one of 12 videos uploaded on the hotel's Facebook page recently.

Titled The Raffles Stories, the videos cover interesting aspects of the hotel's past and were launched this month in commemoration of Mr Danker's 44th year of service.

In his time at the hotel, he has met movie stars including Jackie Chan and Elizabeth Taylor, but he counts meeting Jackson as one of his most memorable encounters.

The pop star stayed at the hotel in 1993 when he was here for his Dangerous world tour.

He had reportedly asked to have the zoo all to himself for a day, but the request was turned down.

Mr Danker says the zoo subsequently drove Ah Meng over to meet Jackson at the hotel's poolside. Jackson was accompanied by his actress friend Taylor.

The animal lover was not satisfied with this exclusive meeting. "He still insisted on going to the zoo after that," says Mr Danker.

Jackson's stay was meant to be low profile, but word got out and about 400 fans gathered at the hotel driveway for a glimpse of him when he arrived.

Because of the crowd, he got in via the staff entrance instead.

Inside the hotel, staff lined the corridors to greet him as he was escorted to the presidential suite.

Just before entering his room, he heard the crowd at the driveway. "They were shouting his name," says Mr Danker.

Jackson stopped and waved to his fans from the window.

"The crowd went wild and this 'Jackson wave' was telecast worldwide," he adds.

He describes the pop star as a soft-spoken, pleasant man without airs and who seldom came out of the suite apart from going for rehearsals and his performances.

Mr Danker, who started out as a maintenance supervisor in 1972 and rose through the ranks to become guest relations manager in 1991, has seen a good number of famous people walk into the iconic 129-year-old hotel.

He has interacted with three of the 12 people that the hotel's Personality Suites are named after - actor John Wayne, Pulitzer Prize- winning novelist James Michener and journalist and travel writer Gavin Young.

Of the three, he has the strongest memories of Young, who used to sit at the hotel's Writer's Bar and write, he says. Young died in 2001.

"He dressed simply, was very friendly and always asked for the same room - suite number 223," says Mr Danker.

Young stayed at the hotel frequently for more than 20 years. His last visit was in 1998, three years before he died.

Mr Danker has also met person- alities including former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, former French President Jacques Chirac and Queen Elizabeth II, when they stayed at the Raffles.

He is not starstruck by these meetings as his focus is on doing his job well.

He reads up about the hotel every day on his way to work and has kept a "black book" since the 1980s, in which he writes interesting tidbits about theplace.

He likens his passion for the hotel to being in a relationship. "If you love someone, you'd want to know everything about the person," he says, giving the reason for keeping the black notebook.

He has worked under seven out of the hotel's 11 general managers.

In 2009, he wrote a book, Memoirs Of A Raffles Original, on his experiences with the hotel. It is a "love gift" to his employer, he says.

He was the hotel's guest relations manager from 1991 to 2005.

In 2005, the then general manager, Mr Robert Logan, was so impressed by his interest in sharing the hotel's history to guests that Mr Danker was re-designated as its resident historian. His current namecard still bears this job title.

Mr Danker now works part-time at the hotel. His main responsibilities are conducting history tours and sharing the hotel's history with new colleagues, as a form of orientation.

He says: "Raffles hotel is special to me. I've grown up with it. I joined before I got married and I'm now a grandfather of two and still working here."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 24, 2016, with the headline When MJ met Ah Meng. Subscribe