Matthew Norman: My sympathy for Gary Glitter

When I was eight, he sat on my bed and sang a bizarre version of 'Hello, Hello, I'm Back Again'


Writing much too early to be considered for the newly founded Journalists' Hall of Fame, a clever man once remarked that he never dined with people he might have to write about lest it dilute the purity of his hatred. So in writing about the man still known, ever more absurdly, as Gary Glitter, I must admit the possibility that a childhood memory of nearly dining with him may play some part in the lack of hatred I feel for him

In this, I appear to be in a tiny minority. The joy with which many newspapers and doubtless their readers greeted Paul Gadd's arrest in Vietnam (in the circs, it feels too flip to use his stage name; "Evil Glitter Faces Death Penalty" sounds like a Chris Morris headline on The Day Today) was ferocious and undisguised, and they seem even more gleeful at the remote prospect of him being executed by firing squad, should he be convicted of having sex with underage girls in the Far East.

Mr Gadd will spend the next four months in prison while Vietnamese police investigate. But the presumption of innocence, seldom a concept to resonate with the editor of The Sun (although she may have warmed to it a little one recent morning in Battersea nick), plays no part in the case of a man who did time in Britain for downloading images of child pornography.

That there is no conceivable mitigation, let alone excuse, for child sexual abuse, be it by direct physical contact or by fuelling and perpetuating this uniquely vile industry, surely goes without saying. Red-top moralists, for all the impression they like to give, have no monopoly on instinctive revulsion towards those who harm and traumatise children.

Whether this universal reflex is reason enough not to distinguish between the severity of various offences is another matter. Even those who genuinely believe in the notion of evil may wonder whether the word deserves to be as glibly applied to a man who hires pubescent prostitutes, as Mr Gadd allegedly did, as to those who rape a six-year-old and enrich themselves by selling the pictures.

The age of the youngest girl Mr Gadd is accused of sleeping with varies from report to report. Some say she was 12, perhaps because it makes a better headline, but if, as others contend, she was 14, the range of heterosexual ages of consent around the world is worth a glance. In Canada it is 14, as it is in, Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Iceland, Italy and China, a country so beloved of The Sun's owner Rupert Murdoch that he infamously binned Chris Patten's critical book.

In Colombia, the Czech Republic, Denmark and France, it is 15. In Spain - not a country we think of as wildly uncivilised - it was raised from 12 to 13 in 1999. That same year, the ex-footballer Graham Rix, whose recent appointment as head coach outraged fans of Hearts, was sentenced to a year for having sex with a girl a few months short of her 16th birthday.

Evidently there is something subjective, if not arbitrary, about this area of morality, and the mores are ever shifting. The ancient Athenians portrayed the relationship between the adult male and the adolescent boy as the most spiritual of all, while it wouldn't be an article about paedophilia without a run out for the cliché that Romeo and Juliet were barely teenagers.

There is an almost infinite chasm, of course, between two young people expressing their love and a 61-year-old convicted paedophile paying £5.50 to an adolescent Vietnamese hooker for a quickie, or enticing her to live with him in a state she reportedly regarded as marriage. Even so, the variety of opinion and law as to when the post-pubescent female is ready to decide for herself suggests more complexity than some allow.

In a sense, none of this is centrally important. If Vietnam declares the age of consent to be 18 and Mr Gadd defied that law, there can be no arguing with the fact of his criminality. The more significant general point, I think, is the venerable one about compassion.

We on the bleeding-heart, woolly liberal centre left can no more understand the livid certainties of the frothing right, as represented by The Sun, than they can appreciate our agonised refusal to despise those who offend against a moral code we fundamentally share. Few issues separate us, in an unidealistic era, more clinically than the approach to paedophilia.

To me, the pictures of an obese and bald Paul Gadd, his wig long jettisoned and so rotund he'd need the entire contents of the Bacofoil to reprise his act, are poignant. To them, they are nauseating. I regard him as a wretchedly self-indulgent slave to sexual urges he should have the strength to sublimate. They look him on as a callous predator. I see him as the victim of a life-ruining curse. They see him as a monster.

As much as anything I remember him in his pomp, both as a member of the wider gang of which he was so proud to call himself leader, and also personally. When I was eight, my best friend's father was Gary Glitter's manager, and I was invited to his house one Friday night for dinner with him, an incredibly thrilling prospect we celebrated by sneaking into the drinks cabinet and setting about the Harvey's Bristol Cream. By the time he arrived, we'd been sick several times and long since sent to bed in disgrace, from where we chanted "We want Gary" until finally he appeared, sitting on the end of the bed, and sedating us with a bizarre, quasi-lullaby version of "Hello Hello, I'm Back Again" ("did you miss me when I was away, did you hang my picture on my wall?").

Very few will miss him if he goes away again, for anything up to 12 years, and the only people likely to be hanging his picture on the wall are the police forces of any other South-east Asian countries he may have visited since fleeing Britain. And if he did seem a very sweet and gentle man to my eight-year-old self, that hasn't the slightest relevance should he be guilty of exploiting and perpetuating the underage sex industry of Vietnam.

For all that, the bloodlust exhibited towards him is so maniacal, the relish at his downfall so brutal and sadistic, that even this grizzled observer of the British press finds himself shocked. The ironic thing is that even The Sun can, when it chooses, be understanding and compassionate. In a break from licking its lips at the prospect of the Glitter firing squad earlier this week, it celebrated the election to that Fleet Street Hall of Fame of a chief reporter incarcerated after killing his wife - an offence with no age of consent even in Spain, Austria or the Czech Republic.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The law is too hard on sexting teenagers

Memphis Barker

Obama must speak out – Americans are worried no one is listening to them

David Usborne
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game