In early 2008, MTV News received a pitch from a writer named Rebecca White, who said she was good friends with Debbie Rowe, the mother of [artist id="1102"]Michael Jackson[/artist]'s first two children (Michael Joseph Jr., a.k.a. Prince Michael, and Paris and his wife for more than three years. White said she had been invited to Rowe's horse ranch near Palmdale, California, and that Rowe was interested in doing an on-camera interview.
Obviously, we were interested in making it happen.
So, on April 6, we sent White and a crew to Rowe's ranch. To be honest, we didn't know what we'd find when we got there. Since divorcing from Jackson in 1999, Rowe had retreated to the dusty hills, having granted custody of the children to Jackson (a decision she has said she may contest in the wake of Michael's death, since Michael's mother was recently appointed their temporary guardian) and returned to her first passion: raising and training horses.
So when White sat down with Rowe, she was (rather understandably) reluctant to speak about her marriage to Jackson and her relationship with their two children. When pressed about either subject, she changed the topic or — in a couple of instances — declined to answer the question.
Instead, Rowe spent the majority of the interview reminiscing about the time before she became an unwilling popular-culture figure — back when she was Debbie Rowe, dermatologist's assistant. She spoke about her lonely childhood and her early love of animals, and about her strained relationship with her mother. She spoke about working with Arnold Klein, the dermatologist who has been rumored to be the biological father of Prince and Paris (a charge he has essentially denied). And she also spoke briefly about the first time she met Michael Jackson.
She talked at length about her horses, about raising them and caring for them and finding solace in them. When read in full, the interview is a rather fascinating glimpse at a woman who could never truly escape the media, no matter how hard she tried.
So, in the interest of giving you a rarely seen glimpse behind the curtain, we're presenting the interview in its entirety. It's Debbie Rowe, as you've never heard her before: on her own terms and in her own words.
MTV: Tell me about your life before "Debbie Rowe" and after "Debbie Rowe."
Debbie Rowe: I've always been Debbie Rowe. It started in Washington. My dad was in the service. We lived in Alaska and Nebraska and Riverside and Los Angeles, and then I moved to the Valley when I was 18 — "OHMIGOD!" — and lived there until I was ...
MTV: Were you a Valley girl?
Rowe: [Only] because I lived there.
MTV: Did you do the "likes" and "you know"?
Rowe: No, never did that.
MTV: Did you have high hair?
Rowe: No. You can look at my high school picture, it's the same hair. It's sad, I'm not one for change. I'm good with routine. I'm consistent, which is what I am doing with riding. I told my trainers I want consistent cadence, and then I think I can do Rookie of the Year. That's the big goal. I'm going to be 50 at the end of this year. When the Futurity happens in November, I will be 50 still and I want to be Rookie of the Year if I can, for reining.
MTV: Alright, 18 years old.
Rowe: Went to Valley College, decided I didn't want to do that.
MTV: What was your family like? You were always moving?
Rowe: We moved every two and a half years because my dad was with the Air Force.
MTV: Brothers and sisters?
Rowe: Older sister, younger brother, older half sister.
MTV: All lived in the same house?
Rowe: No. Didn't know I had a half sister until I was 12 or 13. So that was interesting.
MTV: What does your mom do?
Rowe: Am I supposed to be nice?
MTV: You're supposed to be truthful.
Rowe: She was breathing. Let's just leave it at that. Like I said, I [had] 11 dogs, 32 horses, a Go Away sign above my bed — I have no issues.
MTV: Now with Michael Jackson and the tabloids. We'll get to that.
Rowe: No we won't. I came out here to get away from everything, to do the horses.
MTV: And you want to leave that in the past?
Rowe: It is the past. So I just let it go.
MTV: Do you regret anything?
Rowe: No. If you regret anything in your life, then you haven't learned any lessons. Not that I had to learn any lessons from anything, but, no, there isn't anything that I would do differently. Maybe [there were] a couple of horses I would [have] bought when I had the chance, but no.
MTV: Could you talk to us about meeting him?
Rowe: I don't want to.
MTV: First impression?
Rowe: Well, I had his poster on my walls as a child. We're not going there ... move on, honey.
MTV: Cut to moving up to Palmdale.
Rowe: Cortile, beautiful, windy Cortile. Moved here because I had five horses and was driving all day to different trainers to work them out.
MTV: And you were still living in Beverly Hills?
Rowe: Yep, and I decided I need my horses here. And Carmen, who is my people, she had a daughter that lived up here and said let's move up here, and fortunately I had some friends that bought my house so I could move up here. This house came on the market, I saw it, and the way it was set up was perfect for the horses I had. And Christine and Steve were all over it, and they said OK, and they hadn't even put their house up for sale.
MTV: Was moving up here the way to get away, to be with the horses, to start a new chapter?
Rowe: I don't think I have segments in my life, it runs all together. I think everybody does. You do different things at different ages, but everybody goes through the exact same thing whether you ... if I were 16, "Daddy, I want a pony." Everybody goes through the same things at different points of their lives, and it's my time to be up here. And I like being by myself.
MTV: Do you get bothered up here?
Rowe: No. I do miss the social part of working, but that's about it.
MTV: But I mean, I would think, with the horses, you're up first thing in the morning and you do it all yourself.
Rowe: I have two people that help me, and when the vet's here, the vet's here, and when the shoer's here, the shoer's here. ... And I am starting to take one of the horses here to Fort Tejon to ride three times a week, so it's going to be a lot busier. But it's all a means to an end.
MTV: What's the end?
Rowe: Rookie of the Year. And to have a horse that I have bred that does something, be it my very first thoroughbred which, yay, it's a boy ... not that boys are better than girls, but you see more of them on the track in a winning situation, or as a reiner or a cow horse.
MTV: What would be your proudest moment?
Rowe: I think it depends on what ... I think everything. I'm proud of everything I do. I don't mean to be prideful. I'm not prideful. I'm not arrogant.
MTV: No, you're not arrogant at all.
Rowe: Good, thanks. But I don't think there's anything I'm not proud of. I'm happy with pretty much everything I've done.
MTV: And the new babies ...
Rowe: Yes, two on the ground, three to go. Breeding four more this week.
MTV: Prepping these guys to be something great? This is a business you're running. ...
Rowe: Yep. I have all foundation-based mares, which means their bloodlines go back. They're solid. I'm introducing new bloodlines and hoping that I get that right ... baby that not only is pretty but ... Pretty is as pretty does, any way you look at it. But hopefully just pretty will do.
MTV: If you could be remembered for one thing, or there's something that someone might think about you, what would it be, Debbie Rowe? Horses?
Rowe: Yeah. I was Debbie Rowe, Dr. Klein's nurse, for 20-some-odd years.
MTV: Do you still talk to him?
MTV: Is he still in business?
Rowe: Yeah. Still there. Sharp as a tack. Amazing. You're nobody unless you're a patient with him. I've always felt that way with him, and I've always told him that. I said, "Unless someone has a file in your office ... they haven't gotten there yet." Then again you have to try and get an appointment there with him.
MTV: Could you get an appointment with him?
Rowe: Probably not. [She laughs.] That's OK.
MTV: You don't need it.
Rowe: Not yet.
MTV: In one word, your life, definitely "normal."
Rowe: Thank you.
MTV: There's not much about you that you hide. I would go away from here saying that you're real.
Rowe: Thanks. I don't know that I even want to be remembered. I mean, I do and I don't. I don't know ... let's see ... Rookie of the Year. Right now that's all I want to do. I want to focus on that. I want to lose the weight. I want to not have my horse tremble when I bring the saddle towards him. I want to do the work and be an accomplished horsewoman.
MTV: You mentioned to me that you thought it was not going to be such a big deal, the choices that were made.
Rowe: It's not my big deal. This is a big deal. These are two very big deals. [She gestures toward the horses.]
MTV: The other stuff not so much.
Rowe: To some people, for whatever reason, but not to me.
MTV: Was it tough on you? Was it harder than ...
Rowe: Are you going back to those things? Oh my God ...
MTV: I'm talking about you! I've seen it happen to people. I've been through it a little bit. It's a little bit more eye-opening. ... The people around you tend to change. The people that you thought you could trust tend not to be so trustworthy.
Rowe: Ya think?
MTV: I would go and do exactly what you did — be like, "I'm good on my own. ..." Was that the toughest part?
Rowe: I still clean house emotionally probably every six months to see what's up. There's less to clean up now than there was. I'm still very naive about stuff. Obviously, you are here. Let's see how this comes back to bite me in the ass. I want to think that ... I truly want to think that people are good. So far, I'm having ... I'm still looking. So I don't know.
MTV: Do you think people think things of you before they know you?
Rowe: Everybody does.
MTV: They read and then they think — it's a backwards way about things.
Rowe: Yeah. But it's kind of cool when [someone says], "Oh, I didn't know that was you." That means I haven't changed. People who have known me for a long time say I haven't changed. This is back to where I was.
MTV: People who know you the best, would they say that you're constant?
Rowe: Yeah. Throughout the whole thing, I've been pretty constant.
MTV: Have you ever wanted to shut the doors?
Rowe: I did that for years.
MTV: Really? You don't seem like the type to back down from ...
Rowe: It's intimidating. It's scary if it's something you didn't bargain for and something you don't want. I don't understand people who want that kind of attention. I don't get it.
MTV: And sometimes they ask for it. I can think of a couple people out there in the spotlight that really want that attention and go for it, and that was something really new to you.
MTV: Didn't want it.
Rowe: No. Still don't want it. Except ... I guess I'm using you. I am using you to further my horsemanship.
MTV: That's OK.
Rowe: Do you feel used? [She turns to the camera.] Do you feel used?
MTV: Yes, but I like it.
Rowe: It's a good use. You just want a ride. You just want a ride. My horse is over there getting fat. Matika, you don't need it. It's like, "Have another Ho-Ho!" Jeez!
MTV: Well, I don't want to beat a dead horse. ...
Rowe: Shhh! There are no dead horses!
MTV: Is there such a thing as a glue factory?
Rowe: I think there is. People actually eat horse meat. They just closed ... I don't know all the details. I could be wrong. My understanding is they just closed the last horse-meat factory in California. And now there's a huge thing to export horses to Arizona, places like that. I have some friends from Belgium who told me they eat horse meat. It was like, "Dude." You have a floppy string and it's doing this [She waves her arms.]. I told you not to wear the hoodie.
MTV: I like the hoodie, Mom!
Rowe: Just wrap it around your ta-ta and call it a day. I'm bleeding. Where am I bleeding from? Blood, anyone?
[Someone off camera says, "From inside one of your index fingers, we think."]
Rowe: You're right. You know what? I have been washing horses and I'm allergic to water. Tourniquet! Please, a tourniquet! Ambulance? Little attention here? Little help? Better now. What about you, Rebecca White?
MTV: It's not about me. It's about you, Debbie Rowe.
Rowe: No, it's about the horses. It's about Painted Desert Ranch. It's about Rookie of the Year. It's about the trainers.
MTV: Can we come back after Rookie of the Year?
Rowe: You need to come back before Rookie of the Year. It's a process. You haven't seen anything very cool until you've seen someone practically Velcroed to a saddle.
MTV: What does it take to become Rookie of the Year?
Rowe: Lots of riding. Lots of trainers telling you things repeatedly, daily. Like within a 60-minute period, repeatedly.
MTV: You're up for it?
MTV: It there a particular horse you have in mind?
Rowe: His name is the Rock in Hollywood. He is a 10-year-old black buckskin. ... He's a Hollywood Dunnit. He's right now in Burbank. We're bringing him up here so I can do more riding. Then I'll be looking for another horse. He's a little too old. He's my school horse. I'm just learning how to do reining. It's difficult. It's coordinating, and I'm not ... I took ballet, I think, just to learn to fall gracefully.
MTV: Have you ever gotten hurt?
Rowe: My pride. Getting dumped and you feel stupid. No, you can get hurt, but ... I don't do everything by the book. I'm sure I open myself up to getting hurt a lot more because I treat my babies like dogs.
MTV: They are your babies.
Rowe: I literally treat the baby horses like they're golden retrievers, and then when they're off their moms ... no discipline. "What happened? You were so sweet. Then you grew up."
MTV: Just like any kid, right?
Rowe: I'm gonna assume.
MTV: I won't go there. You just might smack me. I'm not going to go into the stuff you don't want to talk about. I think we've done the horses. Anything else you want to talk about?
Rowe: Well, no. I don't know. This is like a test. This is like being in school and it's a test. Like a pop quiz.
MTV: Name the president of the United States.
Rowe: Now? Bush. I saw that on the news today. I'm good. [She laughs.]
MTV: Who are you going to vote for?
Rowe: I don't vote for federal. I only vote local.
Rowe: I know it's stupid and people would fight me on this, but I don't think my vote in the grand scheme of things makes a huge difference. And I'm more concerned with what affects me here than later on. That's why I elect the local people, so they do what I supposedly want.
MTV: Do the locals leave you alone?
Rowe: Yeah. There are great people up here. Really great people up here.
MTV: They don't care?
Rowe: No. Everyone's got their own life up here, so it's cool. It's very cool.
MTV: Is it true that one of your dogs almost killed a paparazzo?
Rowe: [She nods.] Trespassing.
MTV: Word to the wise.
Rowe: Word to the wise: I have dogs. Ask Yasmine [from MTV News, who was bitten by one of the dogs]. She met one. Her calf met one. Her calf is now mooing. This will be good in court.
MTV: All right, boys.
[Debbie interacts with the guys off-camera.]
MTV: Pop culture. Let's go there. What's your favorite TV show?
Rowe: It was "Grey's Anatomy." Then the writers went on strike. Kinda dwindled. "Men in Trees" is pretty good. Now they're changing that story line. "Dancing With the Stars"!
MTV: Who's your favorite?
Rowe: No one this year. Kristi Yamaguchi is going to win, hands down. She's the athlete, she's the dancer on ice.
MTV: "American Idol" fan?
Rowe: Uncle Bob comes up. We watch it in New York time so we can go out and have dinner. We are by the TV at 5:00 so Uncle Bob can watch "American Idol." He says, "I don't care. I just want to see who gets kicked off." Why are we sitting here for 90 minutes? It's Tuesday. If we don't care until tomorrow and it's Tuesday, why are we on the couch?
MTV: Because they can get you on the couch.
Rowe: Having a glass of wine, the dogs and "American Idol."
MTV: Is that your perfect night?
MTV: What's your perfect night?
Rowe: Perfect night is not staying up to wait for a baby to come. A perfect night is going to bed by 8:00, watching an hour of the news, checking the TiVo to see if there's anything I missed that's worth watching. If I'm not really tired, I'll read. Because I have to wear glasses now. I am over 40. Once you hit 40, you have to wear glasses.
MTV: You're hitting 50 this year.
Rowe: Fifty, the big 5-0. So I'll have to wear two pairs of glasses. And then getting up at 5:30.
MTV: Do you listen to music?
Rowe: Yes, I listen to everything except rap or heavy metal.
MTV: What's on your iPod?
Rowe: Right now I'm listening to "The Narrows" by Michael Connelly. It's endless. No offense, Mr. Connelly, but this book is just endless.
MTV: Books on tape?
Rowe: Yes, unabridged. When I drive to Arizona, I can get through a book. Usually there and back.
MTV: Favorite movie?
Rowe: I just got — and it's in the truck — I just got "Sweeney Todd." I'm looking forward to seeing that. I don't go to the movies. I'm one of those people that, unless someone says, "You have to see this on a huge screen because it's going to lose something at home." Then you might be able to talk me into going. The last movie I saw was the remake of "The Omen." Oh no, worse than that! I went to Oklahoma City for the Futurity and Travis Percy was with me. And Travis was exhausted. The Percys live up here. They're wonderful people. I met them through my vet. One of my horses had to have surgery. It was an emergency. They came at 10:30 at night, not even knowing me, with a huge trailer. And they said, "Let's go to Moorpark," which is about 90 miles from here. So Travis, he's a cowboy. Nicest, nicest kid. The whole family is wonderful. So I said, "Travis, I'm going to Futurity and I don't want to go alone. Do you want to go with me?" Talk about an accent. He is so cute. He's about as tall as you. They have property there. Amazing family. So Travis and I go, and it was the movie with Vince Vaughn where he's like Santa's brother ["Fred Claus"]. Not only do I pay for the movie, and there are only two other people other than us in this huge movie theater in Oklahoma City. I'm tired. This is the last movie I want to see. I don't even think I'd watch this when it came on Starz. Travis is asleep right after the credits, and I'm like, 'I'm being courteous. Travis wanted to see this. I'm dying. I'm watching it.' Finally I look over and I go, 'Dude! Get up. We're leaving. If you're going to sleep, I'm going back to the hotel.'
MTV: Did you watch the movie?
Rowe: No! We left. Pretty predictable.
MTV: What's your favorite movie then?
Rowe: That I could watch over and over again? It's about a seven-minute film of Mercedes at the classic.
MTV: Horse show?
Rowe: Horse show. That's my most recent favorite. But probably my most favorite of all time — it scares me even now. You're too young. Steven Spielberg's first film out of film school: "Duel" with Dennis Weaver. O-M-G. That movie will scare you because it's possible and it's terrifying. This guy — you never see his face — he drives a diesel and stalks this guy. You've never seen it? You have to!
MTV: Who's your favorite actor? Or actress?
Rowe: Actor, actress, alive or dead?
Rowe: I like the black-and-white movies. I like the Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, even though he was color, too. Barbara Stanwyck is probably my favorite actress because she reminds me of my grandmother. They looked exactly the same.
MTV: Does your family live in the area?
Rowe: My dad lives in France, near the Basque area. He's remarried to a lovely English woman, Magda, who, we've told my dad that if he ever gets divorced, we'll keep Magda and he can find a new family. We're moving on. We're all becoming English. My mother is in Los Angeles. We don't have a relationship. My sister is in Prescott, Arizona, in a beautiful area. When I was there she said, "Let's go look at property for you." So we went looking. Where she is, it's limited — you can only have so many horses per acre. I would want to live next door to her. We were always friends growing up.
MTV: Are you still close?
Rowe: Yeah, I adore her. I try to go out there every three weeks. Pack up a horse and, "I'm coming out!" The last show we went to, we got there at 2:00 in the afternoon. My horse didn't go till 8:30 at night. She stayed there the whole time. And my friend Casey has a place out there. The thought of moving horses — I just put these stalls up last year, so I'm just now getting comfortable here, so the thought of just taking everything there ... I can't do it. And Carmen wouldn't come. I'd have to get Carmen's whole family to go. Pack up the whole clan!
MTV: Let's back up. "Celebrity Apprentice," fan?
Rowe: That is my favorite show, reality-wise.
Rowe: I don't have the business gene. I just think it's amazing they have so little time to make something happen, and business just runs so fast, I don't know how these people keep up. I truly don't.
MTV: Do you not have the business mind or do you not have the cutthroat business sense?
Rowe: Both. Horses, this is the most expensive hobby next to sailing, so no I have none.
MTV: How much does a day in a life up here cost, just to keep running?
Rowe: The horses and stuff?
Rowe: It's seasonal, because we have the breeding season and the babies. That happens, there's two big shows the beginning of the year in Arizona that we go to. Then we start having babies, then breed back within eight days what we call a full heat, so depending on the stallion, I'm still at the lower end, I pay anywhere between $2,000 and $3,000 for a breeding fee.
MTV: For one?
Rowe: For one. Because I don't know that some of the horses that are for $7,000, $10,000 are necessarily worth that. However, you go to the thoroughbred and it's 40, 50, $60,000 and that was just too scary for me. I thought about doing that and I got scared, so that's why I only have the one thoroughbred, and that horse was a gift from my vet. He got her, she ran on the track, she placed second twice, I believe, and then she didn't — she was fourth or fifth or something, and she had a metabolic issue where she couldn't race, she tied up. So he sold her, his wife wanted her so he had to buy her back, then he was going to get rid of her again, so I said why don't you just let me have her. I said you can't just discard an animal. Just because she's not gonna race does not mean she's not gonna produce well. Well, he's from Oklahoma. ... "I don't have the time to wait for that." [But] I do. Let me have her and she will always be your horse and she is his horse, and this baby that was born, if he decides that he wants to race this horse, that's his baby.
MTV: So on a typical day, what are we talking, or a week, a month?
Rowe: A month, on my place, or are we talking everything?
Rowe: I have horses that are in Temecula, I have horses that are in Tejon, I have horses that are in Bakersfield.
MTV: Everything, the whole ball of wax in a month.
Rowe: Probably close to 25, $30,000 a month.
MTV: So you keep this up every day, just yourself, and you turn around ...
Rowe: No, I have two people and I have Carmen. If it wasn't for my trainers, if it wasn't for my vet, especially my vet. My vet has pointed me in the right direction. I mean, it was a lot more before I met Michael Sanders. And I met him because his card was on the refrigerator when I moved in and I had a sick horse, and I said call that vet that's on the refrigerator. He is probably one of the smartest people — and I know smart people, I love smart people — and that's ... I miss that part of L.A. Not that the people up here aren't intelligent, they are, but there aren't a lot of academic people up here, so I miss that part of L.A. But Michael Sanders is brilliant, I went to the Barrett Auction, which is the big thoroughbred auction. Alex Trebek was liquidating his barn and he had paint thoroughbreds — I had never seen a paint thoroughbred before — but I went with Dr. Sanders. I call him Dr. Sanders ... everybody calls him Mike, it's like no, you went to school, you're Dr. Sanders. A baby would walk out and he says, Tell me what's wrong with that baby." It's for sale, why does there have to be something wrong? "No, tell me what's wrong with that baby, look at those legs." He wants you to know what he knows.
MTV: So you learn from him, you're still learning from him every day?
Rowe: Every day, yeah, every day.
MTV: So you could do "Celebrity Apprentice," you've got the business sense, the ...
Rowe: No, I don't. I'm on a allowance, and they say please don't go over this. Like Oscar's horse needed a pretty halter.
MTV: Do you go over your allowance a lot?
Rowe: Yes, I do, but I'm getting better. The thing is that with the horse business, especially with breeding, you don't sell the babies right away, you don't see a profit even if you do. Now there are a ton of places that do turn a huge profit, but they've got stallions standing and whatever. If I broke even, I would be happy. I'm not doing it for the money.
MTV: Do you ever get nervous?
Rowe: Scared every ... all the time.
MTV: Are you financially safe up here?
Rowe: I think so. I hope so. If I'm not, I'm pretty screwed at this point if I'm not. In which case, Mr. Trump, can I answer phones? "Donald Trump's office, how can I help you?"
MTV: What about "American Idol"?
Rowe: Like I said, Uncle Bob's favorite show.
MTV: OK, who's your pick?
Rowe: I think the Australian guy.
MTV: Michael Johns.
Rowe: Yes. I think he has a good stage presence. Anybody that can do, in my opinion, cover tunes, cover songs, is a huge advantage. Because if you write your own music, those are your own interpretations, but to interpret someone else is difficult, I think.
MTV: Do you think he's an entertainer?
Rowe: I don't know that they allow them to entertain, because from what I've seen and when the camera's pulled back, you see the little X's on the floor. So they're only allowed to go from here to there, so I think they're really restricted. But the ones that have gone on, like Carrie Underwood, I think she is very talented. I don't know that she is, she's country music so I don't know how much of a performance it is. I guess we have to define what [is] performance versus entertaining, because there are so many different ... they're different things. I mean, you go to the Stones. Even if you hate the Rolling Stones, you have to go see them. If you hate the Grateful Dead, when Jerry Garcia was still alive, you had to go see them. Just for the experience of the people, cuz it's not just going to the concert and seeing them. I don't like concerts — I love Fleetwood Mac, but I would never go see them in concert.
MTV: Did you ever see Michael in concert?
MTV: How many times?
Rowe: Lots of times.
MTV: Did you go on tour, did you see that life?
Rowe: Yes, and it was amazing. Could I do it, no.
MTV: Is it scary, is it suffocating?
Rowe: I think it depends if you choose it or not. If you choose it, it's not, because it comes with the territory. From the outside looking in, it's overwhelming and you wonder how people can deal with it but it's nothing I want to do.
MTV: Yeah, you have to be thick-skinned for that.
Rowe: Yeah, you have to be thick-skinned for anything you do, which is why I'm scared to actually ... saying out loud that I want to do something, because I'm harder on myself than anyone else is. Because I do know what I can do and what I'm capable of doing and I'm afraid of disappointing myself. I'm not afraid of disappointing anybody else, just myself.
MTV: When Michael's onstage, there's just thousands of people screaming at him, did you ever ...
Rowe: That, I think, with anybody who's been in that situation it's, I can understand where you can get the rush, even in a studio situation. Like "American Idol," where they don't have, they've gotta have like maybe 50 people in that studio the way they've got it set up. It might be bigger, I don't know. But the soundstage is not huge, huge, huge. And you figure the stage takes up half of it, but even for them to play to an intim