Wayne Galley is a former brawler from East Reservoir who fought, sang and charmed his way from the mean streets of 1950s Melbourne to wartime Vietnam, then Nashville and finally Neverland. He spoke to Chris Johnston about life with Jacko.
The situation, says Wayne Galley, was sheer chaos. He had seen some crazy things in his time but this was out of control.
Michael Jackson had turned himself in to the police in the US last month to face the latest child molestation charges levelled against him. (Jackson has since been charged with nine counts of molesting a young boy.)
Galley, from Melbourne, is Jackson's bodyguard. The two are, by nature, inseparable. Suddenly, Galley found himself in the eye of the storm.
Jackson met police in California. He was charged and bailed at $US3 million ($A4 million), then he flew home to Nevada. But driving back to Neverland, Jackson’s outlandish home near Las Vegas, the bizarre star was besieged in scenes that reminded Galley of being in Vietnam, at war, 30 years before.
"Mate, there were eight choppers above us all the time. TV cameras hangin' out of 'em. There were paparazzi swerving in front of us. . . it was crazy, it was like the O. J. Simpson chase. TV were broadcasting the whole thing live. Everyone's running out of their houses and blocking the streets. Thousands of people. Amazing stuff."
Galley's life has always been this extreme. His story has the makings of a blockbuster: the boy from the mean streets of 1950s Melbourne who transcends his environment through music to work with those as at risk as he once was. And then, that journey complete, to move to Las Vegas and start a new career in "executive protection". First appointment: Michael Jackson's personal bodyguard.
"It's a funny job, mate," he says. "I find it pretty amusing, which is the best way to look at it."
Wayne Galley, 50, was raised a battler and a brawler in East Reservoir. He was one of six kids in a three-bedroom Housing Commission house. His three brothers are still in the northern suburbs: Allen and Lyle own a company which makes soft drink vending machines and Robert is a maintenance man at a Preston community centre.
"(Jackson) has young people visiting him, yes. But kids that stay the night? I don't know anything about that.
The family kept horses at South Morang and Thomastown. When he was 12, and an Age delivery boy, Galley ran away from home and lied about his age to ride rodeo and fight throughout Victoria in Jimmy Sharman's boxing troupe. Two years later he returned home and was thrown out of Kingsbury Technical School in Preston for breaking a teacher's jaw.
"I learnt early on how to defend myself," he says. "Reservoir was sorta like how they describe The Bronx. I had a lot of friends who never made it."
One night, when he was 16, Galley went to a dance at the Reservoir Community Hall. Two blokes jumped him and broke his nose with a metal rubbish can. He dragged one of his attackers outside and set to him.
"He and I had a major fight. People stood back and watched. This bloke was killed the next night in a fight outside the Southern Cross in the city. His name was Rodney Berry. He was just another kid that got lost in Reservoir. He was a well-known fighter and a very rough guy."
Life was tough at home, too. Galley's late father Walter was an alcoholic gambler who worked at a local factory. His mother, Majorie, now 78, still lives in the same Reservoir house. "It was pretty wild round here," she says. "Plenty of brawls, plenty of ratbags around."
But, she says, her son was a brawler with the voice of an angel.
"The teachers at Reservoir East Primary School told me he had a lovely voice," she recalls. "I said 'yeah, he screams a lot.' But they said 'come to the Christmas concert' so I did and yes, he had a beautiful soprano voice, just lovely."
Galley was accepted into the Australian Boys' Choir after his first audition. His father would drive him from Reservoir to Toorak — "with all the rich kids", says Galley — to sing. Their Ford Prefect often broke down on Punt Road. But it couldn't last, says his mother, because "we didn't have the money, we couldn't keep it up".
He kept singing, however — and stopped fighting — and went on to front bands and perform solo in Melbourne's nascent rock scene.
About this time he changed his name to Wayne (his middle name) from Bernard, or Bernie. He became friends with Bon Scott from AC/DC and Glenn Shorrock from the Little River Band and supported Duane Eddy on an Australian tour.
In 1971 Galley went to Vietnam as the singer in an Australian band called Alpha Omega. On the way there, in Manila, he was trapped in a hotel fire. "I was hanging over the side of the building holding on to a ladder while people crawled down in the dark and the smoke."
In Vietnam the band went from base to base to entertain US and Australian troops. In the end he was one of the last Australians to leave the country at the end of the war. And when he did, he converted to Christianity and then Mormonism on account of what he had seen.
Eventually, after working as a singer on a cruise ship, Galley secured record deals in the US and Japan, and in 1984 had a number one hit in Japan. Melbourne musician Alfredo Malabello had a long working partnership with Galley. In the late 80s they formed a duo called World One which secured a Japanese record deal, toured the world for three months and recorded an album in Nashville, Tennessee.
"Wayne is a great communicator," says Malabello. "He'll talk to anyone — a hobo, a Hell's Angel, the President, anyone. They'll all say he's a great guy.
"But," says Malabello, "he's a man of many faces. He's street fighter, a romantic fool, an infiltrator, a terminator and an impersonator."
In 1989, Galley moved to Nashville — the spiritual home of country music songwriting — where he wanted to further his musical career. By this time he had three children from his first wife, Angela, and had married again.
Daughter Jessica, now 26 and living in Perth, says people don't believe the stories she tells about her father. "It's normal to me," she says, "but people say 'does he make these things up?'"
In Nashville, Galley performed regularly at a place called the Bluebird Cafe, and also tried his luck at songwriters' nights. But it didn't go as well as he had dreamed, and he felt it was time for something new.
He'd been a musician for 30 years, more or less. In a twist of fate he was offered a job in the adolescent unit of a Nashville psychiatric hospital. "I've always had an interest in trying to help young people," Galley says.
His job involved dealing with troubled young people who had been in Nashville's street gangs. The Dallas police force then selected five promising counsellors — Galley included — for training in "gang de-escalation and verbal de-escalation" skills, which he uses now in his role as a bodyguard.
He held the job for five years, then moved to California to work for a private detective agency that specialised in transporting gang members to and from various appointments with the authorities. He would fly to Houston, for example, to find and detain a drug-addicted gang member who was terrorising his family.
"I had to go and find these people and bring them back to where they were supposed to be or to some kind of facility," he says. There would often be weapons involved. "It was a real adrenaline rush — like riding a bull."
Then, earlier this year, he was offered a job with the company that provides security for Michael Jackson. Galley now lives in Las Vegas with his third wife.
For the record, he believes Jackson is a "good bloke" who is innocent of the child molestation charges levelled against him.
"He has young people visiting him, yes," says Galley. "But kids that stay the night? I don't know anything about that. I would comment on it if I thought it would give you some information that made sense. All I know is that I've stood outside his bedroom door many times and no kids have ever gone in there except his own."
When Jackson is out in public, Galley holds his boss' baby boy, nicknamed "Blanket", making sure the scarf which obscures his face always stays in place.
"Weird? At first I thought it was weird, yes," he says, "but then I realised these kids will have a better chance of a normal life without their faces in the media. They don't mind the scarves. They're beautiful kids. I'm really impressed with them."
He also does advance security checks on any location Jackson visits, guards hotels, and scans crowds for "problem" fans.
"The overzealous ones," he says, "that happens all the time. People scream, they run. It's Beatlemania everywhere we go. But the stalkers are a bigger problem. They are fans who have one goal and that it is to get to Michael. We have to recognise them and profile exactly who is who and make a quick judgement on the situation."
Galley, the one-time boxing troupe fighter and brawler from Reservoir, says his key strategy in immobilising a troublesome advancing fan is to step on their foot. Simple, but effective.
"Like I say, mate, it’s a funny job."
'It's a funny job, mate' - The Age