‘How do you feel?’ texted my sister Samantha, on the day Gary Glitter walked free.Though words rarely fail me, I didn’t have a clue how to respond.
‘It repulses me’, Sam said.
‘Maybe it’s to do with having just become a mother. The thought of someone ever doing something like that to either of my kids just appals me, I don’t know what I’d do. It did bring it all back. When I met him, I was only a child myself’.
How did I feel? Shocked, dazed, not a little confused, nauseous with revulsion but still curious all the same - like everyone else, I suppose - to learn what would become of this despised individual, at the time 64, and where in the world he might pitch up. It had been 20 years since my last encounter with the ex-con paedophile who was once my close friend, and if I said that it didn’t affect me I’d be lying. The episode of my life during which I hung out with Gary, and the realisation that he had a sick hidden agenda, not to mention a nature more depraved than anything I could have imagined – that he is sexually attracted to children - has haunted me for more than a decade and caused me endless sleepless nights. Whenever I remember how close I came to jeopardising the safety, health and sanity of my dear little sister, I am filled with self-loathing and disgust. While she assures me that the experience of having known him had not had lasting impact on her earlier life – as she says, she was only a child, who miraculously escaped becoming his victim – there is no doubt in my mind that finding out years later what kind of man we had found ourselves drawn to and become so unwittingly involved with, and what danger I had so innocently exposed her to, has damaged our good faith in the human race.
With the front pages splashed with his gaunt, defiant pictures all week as he emerged from captivity, Sam and I could hardly avoid being affected. Reading the daily updates on his resistance of efforts to bring him home to Britain, watching him wander South East Asia seeking a country to let him in, I was transported back to what I once believed were more innocent times, when Gary and ‘The Gang’ and I got together in Brighton for regular ‘Lost Weekends’…
We first met in the early Eighties when I interviewed him on television for Channel 4. My then 13 year old sister, who often came with me on studio days, stood watching from behind camera, out on the floor. I introduced her to Gary before filming commenced, and she told him she liked his bracelet. He insisted it was made of real rubies, but it looked like boiled sweets strung together on elastic, like the fake bling in Christmas crackers. He wouldn’t give it to her, but found her a red rose, which he presented to her ceremoniously. She blushed furiously, as she always did when any celebrity spoke to her, but I could tell that she was secretly pleased. She was in awe of him, but enjoying his attention – my contact with a wide range of figures in the public eye was one of the reasons she liked to come to work with me. Different world, glamorous lifestyle – it was all so unlike her normal day-to-day routine, and she’d be the first to say she was star-struck.
Gary was up-beat and animated in studio that day, hilariously self-deprecating and brimming with saucy anecdotes. His was one of the most memorable interviews of the series. We carried on over Champagne in the dressing room, and later rendezvous’d with a gang of my friends in a wine bar off Oxford Street. We hit it off, as ‘showbiz folk’ do. We’d meet for drinks and dinner, and before long were New Best Friends. We shared a wicked sense of humour and made each other laugh.
There was never any romance: apart from the fact that I believed him to be a closet queen – he’d hinted at misbehaviour with Elton John - Gary had a long-term girlfriend, Allison Brown, whom he said he had met through her Glitter-fan parents. Gary tended to come out without his leggy blonde ‘Sight for Sore Eyes’. Only later would it become apparent why.
Fancying himself as a nautical man, he loved the seaside and adored Brighton. I assumed his love of it to be linked to its gay community - he would disappear for hours on end. He was fond of the summer jazz scene, the buskers, its cosy pubs and bars, and he loved to poke about in antiques shops in The Lanes. Gary collected porcelain, which was somewhat at odds with his rocker image. His favourite was Satsuma ware, an old Japanese pottery, famous for its gilding and enamel work.
He owned a boat, a 22-foot sloop, and played the Skipper Glitter role to the hilt. Yanking on his waterproofs, he’d proudly pace the teak in his deck shoes with the wind blasting his bouffant wig – he was completely bald underneath. He lapped up life on the ocean wave, he said, because it was ‘the perfect antidote’ to his ‘shipwreck of an existence’.
Little did he know how disastrous that shipwreck would become. When we met, his career had hit the doldrums after years of Top Ten hits: Rock and Roll Parts I and II, Do You Wanna Touch Me, I’m The Leader Of The Gang, and so on. But Punk had elbowed Glam aside. Hell-bent on a comeback, it was perhaps the reason he made a beeline for me, one of the kind who could help put him back in the spotlight.
It never occurred to me that there was anything sinister about his interest in my sister. I thought he was just being lovely, avuncular, cuddly Gaz, who loved young people because ‘they bring out the kid in me’. I knew that Paul Gadd, his real name, had been illegitimate and had grown up in an orphanage. Elvis Presley changed his life, he said. But he could never cut it as a straight pop performer. He eventually found fame with an act, look and name which ridiculed rock, and the good times rolled. He was later declared bankrupt, lost his driving licence for a decade, was an alcoholic and a junkie, before embarking on a health and fitness campaign, jogging ten miles a day, turning vegetarian, dropping the cocaine and drinking only occasionally. When I knew him he had clear skin, rock-hard biceps, and real teeth.
I’ll be honest, I adored him for the fuss he made of my sister. Then a painfully shy homebody, very young for her years, she would blush beetroot every time she saw him. He’d envelope her in vigorous bear-hugs, sit next to her at dinner, pour her water, order her food. He’d call to arrange a jaunt, and it would be ‘So what’s Sammy doing this weekend?’ Sometimes he would write me reminders to fetch her along. It makes me shudder when I think of it. Thank God I never left them alone.
We lost touch in the end, when Gary and Allison split up. She exposed him as having taken advantage of her when she was only 14, after worming his way into her life through her Mum and Dad at their pub in the West Country. Settled, pregnant, and having moved on, I dismissed it.
It was only when the police arrived at my home in 1997, ten years on, that I was forced to face the truth. I’d married the previous year, and was nursing my new baby in bed when my husband came to tell me that police were on the doorstep, demanding to question me. They had an article I’d written about Gary’s relationship with Allison. When she sold her story, the sordid truth emerged. Also, a computer repair technician had found 4,000 child porn images on Gary’s PC, and had reported him. Although charges were brought for sex with a minor, the case was dismissed when it was revealed that Allison stood to make a total of £35,000 from a newspaper if a Guilty verdict were returned. They got him on the child porn, however, and Gary went down.
His abuse of Asian children which led to his 2006 year imprisonment in Vietnam, I still find impossible to comprehend. How could I not have been aware of his predilections? It has shattered my confidence in new friendships and has left me, now a divorcee, very wary of meeting men, in particular of them discovering I’m a mother of three.
As for Sam, her childhood shyness rendered her a withdrawn young adult, who maintained only a few trusted friendships. Lacking the confidence to leave home and study for a degree at 18, her 20s were by her own admission a reclusive wilderness. At 30 she plucked up courage to go to college, graduated with honours, and landed the ideal job in a primary school. Now in her early 40s, she and her partner have adorable twin boys.
None of this, of course, was down to having met Glitter. It was just the way my Sam turned out. The impact of having known him hit home only years later, when he began to dominate headlines as a sex offender. By then, realising how close she had come to being one of his victims, she found the courage to look back.
‘I did start to feel uncomfortable when I thought about what he might have done to me, given half the chance’, she said this week.‘I used to think he was lovely and outrageous, always so kind to me, always over the top and playing practical jokes. He’d walk in a room or a restaurant and all heads in the place would turn, everyone knew he was there. He was just so different from me. Now, I just think of him as a very sad, sick man. And I hope I never run into him again.’
As for Glitter: Jacqui Smith and the Home Office were always out of order for trying to purloin him as their puppet, to promote their controversial stance on sex tourism. His passport was renewed, he had the right to return here, nothing in the world could stop him coming home … Nothing, that is, except the loathing and contempt that many of us felt, and still feel, for the man who, in common with most paedophiles – the very essence of their illness – protests until he's blue in the face that he did nothing wrong.