Putting The Pieces Back Together
Just before the first anniversary of Michael's death Mother, Erin, Brent and I received an apology from Kell. He had given some very unflattering interviews about us to various publications and collaborated with Vincent Lovegrove in a book which included some scathing statements about Mother. Now he explained in a letter that he wanted us to come together for a dedication ceremony for a memorial for Michael.
We were torn as we had already invited Kell and Rhett to a private ceremony at the Sydney church where Michael had been baptised. We had gone to great lengths to keep it a secret, arranging with for the pastor of the church to have a simple remembrance and dedication ceremony after which we were to plant a beautiful native Australian tree in Michael's memory. It would be a place we could always go to sit in tranquillity and think of Michael. There would be no plaque to mark the spot, we really needed it to be private, to keep something special for the family and only the closest of friends. The problem was that Kell had already told the press about his memorial site and announced it on the internet. We were not ready to do anything so private in public. He also announced that he had invited Paula, which would mean that it would be impossible to keep the media away. He later mentioned that Paula did not reply to this invitation.
As both services were planned for the same day, even the same time, Rhett called to persuade us to cancel our plans and come to Kell's chosen memorial site at the Northern Suburbs Crematorium. He and Kell had already scattered the ashes from the second urn over Sydney Harbour, but the first urn was still in California and Mother and I had so far not done anything symbolic for Michael and we needed to do something that felt right to us both. Mother, Ross and I eventually went through with our ceremony surrounded only by the elders of the church, and Kell and Rhett had theirs – with the media. Later, some of the guests, notably Michele and Hiraani, who had been to Kell's service came by the Sheraton for a small, private afternoon gathering which Mother and Ross had organized. Hiraani came up to me and told me that she had visited the ‘Michael tree' on her way to the hotel. Sweet, gentle Michele arrived with flowers and encouragement. Referring to the front page of the morning newspaper, where a journalist had exposed my ‘Meg Wells' undercover effort, she said, “Well, with your picture on the front page, your career as a detective is over!” Nonetheless I think I had learned enough about estate litigation over the last twenty-six months to pass the Bar exam.
I think I have learned enough about estate litigation over the last twenty six months to pass the Bar exam. Andrew Paul, the remaining executor flew out from Hong Kong with his attorney for a meeting with us in Sydney in April 1999, joined by Colin Diamond and some other principals who had been looking after Michael's money over the years. It was called a ‘without prejudice meeting' which means from my point of view, we can't discuss anything that was said. This is a shame because you would be amazed at some of the statements made to us. At this juncture we could not see how Michael's will was going to be honoured and there was no independent person to protect Tiger's inheritance. By the time the meeting was adjourned, there were all kinds of promises made and another date set for a second meeting.
Michael had kept a residence in Hong Kong until 1995, when he began to spend more time in London. The monthly rental on the place where he then stored his personal possessions was ridiculous. Why hadn't the family been asked if we'd like to have something personal of his? Colin Diamond had collected everything, which had been taken from his hotel room by the Rose Bay police, and Paula had kept everything from the London home. We assumed that the contents of the villa were still there, but where was the need to continue paying storage fees in Hong Kong when the family had been offering to go through the effects? We had asked that his storage container in Hong Kong be shipped to Sydney but the request was denied. After much arguing back and forth with the executor, it was agreed that Tina and I could go to the lockup in Hong Kong to sort out those personal belongings. Permission was given begrudgingly by Andrew Paul who promised our solicitor, that we would be given all the help we needed. This was something that had to be done. It was already eighteen months since Michael's death.
Ross made my flight and hotel reservations and on May 24 th I left for six days in Hong Kong. I was not looking forward to this task but it had to be done. Tina would be meeting me there, neither of us knowing what to expect, but we would be a comfort to each other as we always have been in any crisis. This was to be a sad and sentimental trip for both of us, but one we would have reconsidered if we could have predicted the nightmare it became.
I had last been in Hong Kong in 1993, when Ross and I stayed at the house Michael shared with Jon Farriss. Music industry awards hung on all four walls of the living room and the shelves were sinking with the weight of others. I had been used to flying in and out of Kai Tak and now we were landing at the huge new airport, connecting to trains and buses going to any area on the mainland and Victoria Island. Moving walkways, shops and restaurants galore evidenced the growing prosperity of Hong Kong. It resembled Disneyland. Driving to the hotel I was astounded at the changes. The amazing new bridge is like a longer version of the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. It was around 9pm and every shop was still open. As my car neared Kowloon it seemed more daytime than night, people were everywhere. It was not the Hong Kong I knew of the past, but the memories were still there…bittersweet memories.
As they came flooding back I could hardly swallow for the lump in my throat. I thought back to the earlier years when I first had come here. These now seemed mostly good, as can be the honeyed and distorted way of memory, thank heavens. Michael was just a little boy then. I thought about how he loved his music, how his life had turned out, how he had followed his dream. But he would never get to see his beautiful daughter growing up, and Tiger Lily would never know her Daddy. At least with his work he had left his mark in this world and there will always be a permanent reminder, a legacy for her to cling to. He had been ready to ‘start all over again' –something he had said to Michele in that last week, when he decided that he ‘couldn't take anymore' , his words to me in June 1997 in his call from Vienna and again to me three days before his death. This was a journey I would have preferred not to be taking, an unnatural one, and one I had never envisaged. Parents expect to leave their children behind - it's not supposed to be the other way around. My driver interrupted my reverie to tell me we had arrived at the hotel. We had decided to stay on the Kowloon side to be closer to the storage company at Shatin, in the New Territories.
I went upstairs to my room, unpacked, showered and waited for Tina to arrive. She was coming from Los Angeles, via Tokyo, and I expected her at the hotel around 11pm. It had been Brent's birthday two days before and also his graduation, so she had driven six hours to visit him in Monterey. He was one of only three students graduating in Global Studies so she was a very proud mother and her weekend had been a full one. She left Monterey and drove another six hours back to Los Angeles to catch her flight to Hong Kong. It was delayed two hours and then again in Tokyo another two hours. I had fallen asleep and woke up with a start when the phone rang with a call from her driver who said that her flight had still not arrived. An exhausted Tina finally reached the hotel around 4am. We talked for a while and then tried to get some sleep as our appointment with Andrew Paul was at 9:30am. Four hours later we prepared ourselves for the ordeal although we were both jet-lagged, Tina more so than I. It was also humid and the job ahead of us was going to be stressful.
We were going to an area where English is rarely spoken. The first two taxi drivers did not know the address, but a third finally agreed to take us and we arrived on time. Andrew Paul was flanked by two minders and handed me Michael's passport as promised. I signed for it gratefully, the only reminder of my son I had received so far. We then walked around the corner to the storage area. I felt numb, not knowing how I would cope with the job ahead. Tina and I had barely spoken on the way there, both of us so full of sadness, but comforted by just being there for each other. Andrew Paul asked the attendants working there to open the enormous crate belonging to Michael. It looked roughly the size of a one car garage. They started pulling out cartons and cases and opened them one at a time, methodically going through each one before allowing us to see what was inside.
Andrew Paul told his two minders and the packers to watch that we did not take anything without his permission. Thus we had to ask him if we wanted a book, a T-shirt or even letters we had written to Michael over the years. There were some family photographs, including one of a tiny Erin. On the back was her little girl handwriting “To Michele and Uncle Michael love from Erin xxx”. Tina had to get clearance to take it. We waited while Andrew Paul consulted his right hand man, a big, unfriendly individual who spoke in Cantonese most of the time.
I was allowed to pack a box of clothes for Rhett, but as the storage area was not air-conditioned it was difficult to find anything worth saving. Almost everything in the boxes appeared to have been laundered and pressed but was mouldy due to the humidity, or battery operated equipment, had been thrown in with the clothing and the acid had leaked. It appeared we were taking far too long just looking at this clothing, and I overheard Andrew Paul say in Cantonese to his overbearing assistant, “Let them have the shit”. He then threw a case at us and told us to take the clothes back to the hotel to sort.
So it went on for a couple of hours in the incredible heat. We were feeling so tired, so humiliated and so sad and angry for Michael to be treated this way. We had an inventory of the items in the crate and I was anxious to see if the paintings and Michael's music awards were there.
They unpacked and photographed some awards, porcelain and bronze artifacts and artwork including a painting by Michael. They said that all of this had to be valued for sale. I objected strongly as I felt that Michael had earned his awards and I am sure that he would not want them to be sold to strangers. He would have wanted his family and his daughter to have them. Of the scores that he had received, only about twenty-four were there and I wondered where the others were. We asked if we could divide these few awards six ways, with eight of them for Tiger and her mother but Andrew Paul would not allow this. He said we could not have ‘anything of value'. But about four weeks after our visit to Hong Kong he decided that the awards were worthless after all! To him they may have been worthless, but not to Michael's family.
Just before they broke for lunch I noticed a large envelope addressed to Michael from his previous financial advisor, Gordon Fisher. Andrew Paul grabbed it and immediately began going through its' contents. Tina walked over and watched him put the papers aside but we weren't allowed to look at them, but she glimpsed enough to see that these were private papers of Michael's and believed we should be privy to them. As we were in an industrial area and had no idea where to eat, Mr Paul kindly called us a cab, giving orders to the driver to take us to a small hotel about two miles away. We had no idea where we were going.
Arriving back at the storage building, Tina asked to see the papers taken by Andrew Paul and he refused. While she was addressing Andrew Paul the larger of the minders stepped between them. Bearing down on Tina, he put his face menacingly into Tina's and told her in so many words that if she knew what was good for her she would back off. She went to make a call to our attorney's office in Sydney. Joanne in turn phoned Andrew Paul's solicitor in Hong Kong and demanded that he make copies and give us the originals. Joanne instructed Tina to stand next to him as he did this. As she did so, she noted that the original pile, which Paul had put aside, had shrunk considerably.
Paul stood his ground and denied anything was missing. He then tapped his watch, telling us that he wanted to leave. The minder was yelling at us, insisting we had insulted the workers by insinuating that something was missing and said to me, “You are going to be very sorry for that”. We suddenly wished that we had brought Rhett or Brent along. When we stuck to our guns and insisted on a search, the papers miraculously appeared from a crate which had been spirited around a corner. Paul said that they must have accidentally been thrown there. It is fortunate that we stood our ground as some of those papers proved to be the key pieces in the jig-saw puzzle that was Michael's finances. When we discovered this, we took it as a sign that Michael was giving us spiritual encouragement.
At about 3:30pm Andrew Paul decided he did not want to open any more cartons. He allowed us to take some old clothes and books, packed in the two battered suitcases. When we walked through the ornate lobby at the Sheraton people stared at us; we must have looked like refugees from a war zone. We were physically and emotionally drained when we got up to our suite and much too tired to eat. We just ordered hot chocolate and sat on our beds leafing our way through Michael's books, finding a few cards and letters we had sent him over the years and a lot of fan mail. There was one letter, which I had to keep, as it was so sweet. It was from a girl in Japan who had sent him a tea bag and invited him to sit down and drink tea with her. She gave directions on making this tea, included a drawing of him drinking and the words 'Let's drink together, yum, isn't that delicious?' Much of the fan mail had not been opened. It was really a sad time for us, but at least we had some private time to look at a few remaining pieces of his life. If only we had been given that time earlier that day.
Arrangements had been made to meet back at the storage building at 9:30am the next morning. We arrived on time but Andrew Paul and his men did not bother to get there until 11am. We were not to touch anything until they showed up and when they did so it was another fraught day, and a short day at that. Paul arrived, checking his watch and telling us that he did not have the time for this. Our nerves were shattered, it was hard enough anyway to ‘feel' Michael in this atmosphere and this approach was heartbreaking.
Soon he called a halt even though there were about twenty cartons in the crate as yet unpacked. According to the packing papers there was an endless list of items, which we had not seen as yet, including a set of Christofle silver, which he claimed was definitely not in the crate. I inquired about Michael's guitars and other musical equipment. He said there were none, conversely adding that it probably belonged to Jon Farriss now as the list had been made up by the insurance company and they had combined both storage units to save money. He said that Jon had taken his things back to Australia recently. Then Paul told the crew to nail up the crate and said he was leaving and that was the end of the inspection. We were astounded and asked about the following day; he said that was impossible as he was leaving on a business trip to London in five days and had no time. We suggested that he leave his deputy in charge but he would have none of that. He had promised us his full co-operation but had treated us with disdain. He checked the few things we had to take back to the hotel, walked us outside to a cab, took my hand and said, “I'm doing my best”. I believe it: this was as good as it got with him. It was clear the people we were dealing with had no heart and no soul.
Paul did not come to the scheduled meeting the following month in Sydney, but sent his lawyer who brought the awards and paintings. They decided that the awards could now be shared among the family. We were to choose which ones we would like to have. Paula had been quoted in magazine articles as having already been given many of Michael's awards from members of INXS. I did not understand how they had them to give to her or how they even had the authority to do so and believe this to be one more of her inventions. INXS have denied that they did so. Still it was hard to believe that with all the awards Michael had won in different countries over the years, there were only twenty-four left.
Ross and I were ushered into a small meeting room and asked to wait. A woman walked in, handed me three awards and asked me to sign for them. I asked where the rest were as there were supposed to be four each and I was collecting Tina's for her. She said we were only getting three between us now as Kell had been in for a private meeting with Andrew Paul's lawyer and they decided between them that this was the way it should be. The lawyer had returned to Hong Kong that morning and the awards had been dispersed, so there was nothing I could do. I called Kell about it and he said the lawyer had requested the meeting and had insisted on sending the rest to London. I don't know who is looking after Tiger's awards, but I hope they will be there for her when she grows up. Why were we being treated like the enemy? Rhett came to our hotel a while later and wept as he showed us his award. He had chosen a beautiful ‘Kick' award which, when Tina and I saw it in Hong Kong, was in perfect condition behind glass. It had photographs and the album cover displayed in a huge frame. By the time it had reached Rhett it had been taken out of its' protective frame, the backing removed and folded many times to fit into a suitcase. Is this what they thought of Michael now?
Kell also told me that the lawyer had wanted to do a deal with him. He would not elaborate on the that meeting, but suffice to say that everything in that crate was shipped to him, the estate paying for the shipping and Kell paying for it to be deposited in his garage. He chose what he wanted and sent the rest up to Rhett. Tina and I were given two books, which we had given Michael, two pieces of pottery and a couple more shirts. Later Kell told us that there was a wardrobe, of Michael's stage clothes in perfect condition, but said that he intends selling them. As Tina says, “We must put it out of our minds as we do not need the hurt and anger” and that is about all we can do.
Perhaps the most callous and almost silencing aspect of Colin Diamond's systematic rummage through and appropriation of Michael's things emerged when Kell inquired at Paddington police station about the ring Michael always wore. He was informed that Diamond had already collected it but was handed a bag. Astonishingly, it contained the leather belt, which our son had used when he took his life.
When Kell told me about the treatment he received at the Paddington police station and the way Michael's belt was presented to him I cried for hours. I cried for Kell, for myself, Tina, Rhett, Tiger Lily and all of his friends who miss him, and I cried for Michael. I was drowning in my tears.
There is no sense in pretending that our family will ever be the Waltons or the Brady Bunch but we have mended some major rifts, which make it possible to communicate at a certain level. Rhett looked healthier than ever when I last saw him. He stands strong in his private war against illegal drugs. He has two beautiful little girls now since Sophia Rose was born in February 1999. He has made some visits to Bali and his latest trek to Tibet was for Michael. He said he had found some inner peace.
Kell's health was not great but he continued to keep Michael's spirit alive on a website devoted to his son's memory.
During the writing of this book Michele and I met in Melbourne where she was producing her first feature film. She never changes, always soft spoken, gentle, and caring of others. We spent our time together taking turns telling gloriously funny, poignant stories about Michael. I am sure he was looking on and enjoying every minute of it. Her film Chopper opened to very encouraging reviews in the latter part of 2000, won honours in the Australian Film Awards and was the fourth highest grossing film of the year.
Writing this book has been a release at times. It also brings out the anger I feel so often when reminded of certain periods in Michael's life, when many people around him pushed him over the limit. He had his faults, but deep down he was a gentle, caring soul, a wonderful son and a man who brought a lot of joy to many people. He will live in his writing and his music. Our prayers were answered when our litigation reached mediation, and I am glad we did not let go until there was some justice. But I wonder if we will ever have clarity for the reason he had to leave us, and his child as he did.
Michael had announced many times he did not want to be a forty-year-old starving rock and roll frontman forced to play small venues to pay the bills. He was proud of his investments had spoken of how he had set his affairs up in an ironclad manor. Two and a half years passed since I had started litigation to ensure all beneficiaries of Michael's will were treated as he intended, especially my granddaughter Tiger Lily. I asked Tina, Rhett and Kell to join me- even though at the time I had not realized it would be such a long, heartbreaking, sad, stormy, and expensive legal journey. Tina responded in a heartbeat and thank God she did. I know I could not have gone this far without her support or the support of my husband Ross. Rhett and Kell declined at first and when they changed their minds, things had proceeded too far. We also asked Paula to join us but received no reply but a telephone call to our London lawyer to enquire what the letter from our Australian lawyer was about. Regardless of statements by certain people, we never fought with Paula over the litigation. What we were trying to do would be to her and Tiger Lily's benefit.
The legal system in Australia is based on that of the United Kingdom. and it can prove to be very expensive. You don't just have a lawyer, you have a barrister who goes to court with you. All their fees can seem astronomical to the layperson. In our case we had to have two barristers as our lawyer was based in one state and the case in another. This meant that each time we apeared in court, we had three legal representatives. And the time in court was only part of it. The barrister in court on a particular day would have to be briefed for several hours in order to represent us. Considering we had 14 defendants the details were more complicated by the day.
The claims we had against the defendants were numerous, their main thrust was that by not including Michael's assets in the estate, they were not administering it as he had wished. After his death key people around Michael also voiced their concerns about his apparently assetless estate, and to those we were truly grateful. If he had no assets why would he have made a will? The will was perfectly straightforward and made provision for his child.
We had to foot the bill ourselves. such a suit as we were filing could not be heard on a contingency basis in Queensland. Amnesty International another beneficiary believed in us and came on board earlier on. By mid-2000 when we approached a court appointed mediation, our costs were close to US$500,000.
Thankfully we were able to settle. We were able to tell the world that 'After mediated negotiation the parties have resolved their differences between them and the mediation will not continue.(We) all agree that is all that is appropriate to say publicly having regard to the memory of the late Michael Hutchence and the interests of his daughter Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily Hutchence' The fact is we were not permitted to divulge what went on in that mediation.
Tina caused a furore when she answered a journalists' question on how she felt. Her response was, "I'm ecstatic" But she was expressing a feeling we all shared which was one of releif at getting our lives back. There has been a lot of speculation in the press as to the value of Michael's estate and who will get what, but this is not based on anything that can be firmly stated. On 22 March 2001 a judge of the Supreme Court of Brisbane sanctioned a compromise. The papers reported that he expressed some discomfort allowing the agreement, saying there was nothing put to the court to show that Tiger Lily would benefit. I was quoted as saying that the settlement was the final act in an 'incredibly frustrating legal battle.'
END CHAPTER SEVENTEEN