‘I always knew there was something wrong with him.’
This was the prevailing sentiment in Channel 4’s documentary, The Real Gary Glitter. In retrospect the warning signs were all there, and the producers took every opportunity to make use of hit songs such as ‘Do You Want To Touch Me?’ and ‘Remember Me this Way’ – incorporated alongside a sinister close-up of Glitter’s eyes – to convey the message that here was a convicted paedophile, and why didn’t any of us twig earlier?
However, Glitter was undeniably one of the biggest-selling pop artists of the mid-seventies. That his enormous success gave him access to millions of adoring young fans is a bitter irony lost on no-one. Anyone seeking to employ the excuse that rock stars habitually enjoy the company of ‘young girls’ could scarcely maintain their argument in the face of shocking testimony from a former friend of Glitter’s daughter, who struggled to describe a sexual violation by the Glam rocker that allegedly took place in his home when she was just eight years of age.
Any attempt to mount a defence of Glitter’s proclivities in light of his confession – and conviction – in 1999 regarding the downloading of pornographic images would be pointless, and yet childhood friends, fans and business managers alike tried vainly to reassert the appeal he once possessed (‘He’s a star’, maintained one, despite the interviewer’s tepid reminder of Glitter’s now inescapable reputation as a pervert). The documentary-makers remained resolute in their insistence that any reminder of Glitter’s chart success only serves to accentuate the heinous nature of his crimes (attempts to lay hands on a Greatest Hits compilation are now probably punishable by imprisonment, although Another Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas still – inexplicably – crops up on those Christmas compilation CDs presumably aimed at an audience similar to that preyed upon by Glitter for so long).
That Glitter’s actions have destroyed his reputation beyond repair is irrefutable, but this is the point the programme makers seemed obsessed with hammering home. Admittedly, cursory examination was made of Glitter’s (real name Paul Gadd) unhappy childhood – the care homes, the inability to mix, the need to stand out – but no real effort was made to understand his motivations. Such a discussion might have made for a more meaningful programme, but there was enough here to encourage a suitably appalled interest. Glitter Band members described their former Leader’s pathological desire for acceptance and adulation, but maintained that once these had been achieved he became increasingly aloof, egocentric and difficult to work with. Criticism was even made of Glitter’s now-famous hairpiece as a vital component of his persona; ironic in light of the dubious coifs sported by a couple of the interviewees.
One truly sinister aspect of Glitter’s character that emerged was his power to manipulate. In the early 1980s anyone admitting a liking for such hits as Leader of the Gang and I Love You Love Me Love subjected themselves to immediate ridicule, yet it was this very failing that Glitter chose to focus upon in the self-deflationary campus gigs that provided him with a major comeback just a few years later – culminating in the sell-out Wembley shows that erased those bankruptcy debts and made him the acceptable face of pantomime rock in the 1990s. In one fell swoop he had become every parents’ reassuring favourite; a regular on chat shows such as Wogan and Richard and Judy, knowingly knocking his chart career and even dismissing the much-publicised alcohol and drug habits as a form of ‘self-rape’. By the time he took his computer to PC World for repairs in 1997 Glitter seemed unassailable. One of the programme’s most disturbing moments came when his former victim described her impotent horror at seeing him participate in a Jim’ll Fix It publicity stunt for a star-struck pubescent.
Despite descending into the occasional manipulative display (playing Glitter’s hits backward was never going to reveal a clarion call of under-age lust), The Real Gary Glitter made clear the revulsion now felt by Glitter’s audience and associates regarding his terrorisation of young devotees (it was difficult not to feel some sympathy for the former business manager who claimed that after four decades in the business he could now count his friends on the fingers of one hand). Whatever the merits of his music (and it is interesting to note that much of the acclaim for the Glitter sound has in retrospect been awarded to his co-writer and producer, the late Mike Leander), Gary Glitter single-handedly succeeded in destroying his legend in a manner that no Fleet Street publication – or, for that matter, television documentary – could ever hope to equal.