Not all that glitters…

ROCK STAR Gary Glitter is facing trial in Vietnam on charges of committing obscene acts with two under-age girls.

The trial of the one time chart-topping pop icon is just the latest in a string of public humiliations that started when he was found guilty of possessing images of child pornography on his computer and served two months behind bars.

Glitter has always had his fair share of ups and downs. But, until then, they had been ‘respectable’ ones (for a pop star) – drinking problems, driving bans and bankruptcy – as his career nosedived in the early 80s. Following his release from prison in 2000, Glitter made a monumental miscalculation. He held a hastily arranged press conference and photo call in London’s Regent’s Park, pretending that it was “business as usual”. Emerging from a Mercedes, wearing a black jacket and trademark wig, Glitter declared that he “deeply regretted” what he had done but that he had served his time and was ready to move on. He seemed to think that a few fleeting words of remorse would be enough to rehabilitate him. He was mistaken. People might have forgiven him if he had gone on a killing spree, but the Great British Public would never have forgiven Glitter for the kind of crime he had committed.

Gangsters are forgiven

Permit me this brief digression: a startling anomaly is revealed in our treatment of violent gangsters. We lap up their autobiographies and fête them on chat shows, based on a (frequently fictitious) romanticised ‘Krayish’ mythology that they only picked on each other. Hence, the ghosted memoirs of gangsters always sell well. We are interested because we like to read about people whose lives are ruled by brawn. But when we peel away the surface and discover more about their childhoods – frequently marred by abuse, poverty and violence – it’s sad.

Reading The Guv’nor, the autobiography of legendary fighter Lenny McLean, one anecdote leapt off the page. McLean, who bragged he was “the hardest man in Britain” and judged everyone by their capacity to instil fear or violence, admitted to being deferential when he met Lord Longford, the famous penal reform campaigner. “Even I know you shouldn’t be rude to a Lord,” McLean noted, seemingly unaware how ridiculously subservient that seemed. That’s when you realise that the British class system (and the sense of false respect it imposes) was indeed the undoing of so many and you forgive Michael Caine for bleating on about it for the umpteenth time.

Image and reality

Glitter’s crimes, by contrast, were of a completely different nature to those perpetrated by gangsters. In the end, he had no choice but to leave Britain. First he headed to Cuba, then to Cambodia and Vietnam, all ideal destinations to escape the prying gaze of the western media. When he was arrested, he was trying to board a flight to Thailand.

Glitter’s signature song I’m the Leader of the Gang was one of the biggest hits of 1973. I once met him when he opened a shopping centre in Kingston and I experienced a slight frisson at meeting an idol. When we admire people in the public eye – actors or singers – we tend to superimpose onto them all kinds of characteristics. We are surprised when they fail to match up to expectations.

It’s a tangible disappointment when a film star fails to illuminate a chat show, when we find that the likes of Robert de Niro or Warren Beatty may not be so scintillating when they are just being themselves. But the disappointment is even greater when a charismatic figure from one’s childhood sinks into the gutter. It’s a sad fact that one of our last images of Gary Glitter, the rock legend who had sold 18 million records by 1975, could be a secret film of him performing drunkenly in a seedy Vietnamese bar. It’s been a long way down.