Tuesday 20 August 2019

The day Savile told me: 'You wouldn't guess how many girlfriends I've had'

Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

IN September 2001, I wrote that "clad in a gob-smacking suit emblazoned with Superman cartoons", Jimmy Savile had "glided in the door of the clinic in Clontarf like true royalty".

Some 13 years on, the man's false sense of entitlement around the Central Remedial Clinic is what remains strongest in my mind.

Clearly, he considered it to be 'his' clinic and the staff to be 'his' staff.

That is my chief memory of our encounter, along with Savile's peculiar demeanour during our interview: his odd rambling speeches and the almost pathetic clinging to what he clearly saw as his glory days – but which has far, far more sinister connotations today.

"You wouldn't guess how many girlfriends I've had," he told me in an outburst in the middle of that interview in which we had been discussing another topic entirely.

They were ‘countless', he claimed.

In my ignorance, I smiled politely, thinking that the man must be delusional.

He was. They were not ‘girlfriends' but victims.

At the age of 74, the former ‘Top of the Pops’ presenter was a shrunken and apparently harmless figure in that ludicrous suit, mountains of gold ‘geeza' jewellery and his trademark string vest which, as usual, revealed far too much chest hair but, for reasons I can't recall, he had changed into a purple polyester shell suit for the pictures that accompanied the interview.

He would reach out to children along our tour of the CRC and try to engage with them but they appeared to be naturally wary of him.

Shambling along in a tour of the facility, it was the unwitting board members who seemed to be bursting with pride over their association with Savile.

The CRC users, and even staff, seemed to keep their distance from him. It may have been awe but quite possibly it was radar.

The man exuded an undeniable and irrepressible creepiness and it now seems incredible that the authorities in institutions and hospitals everywhere did not pick up on that.

Given all we now know, he was almost a cartoon depiction of a classic paedophile who might hang around a playground looking for kicks. The only thing missing from the cliche was the raincoat. But he more than made up for that in the ‘Superman’ suit.

His visit to Dublin – his first in over 21 years he informed me – came four days before the devastating September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers.

Savile smelled heavily of old cigars and I sat with him for over 40 excruciating minutes in the middle of the clinic's canteen, wondering how I could extract myself because it wasn't so much of an interview as an ordeal.

If there was ever charm there, Savile certainly hadn't turned it on that day.

He would plunge into morose silences in between rambling sentences about his great deeds for charity and boasts about his great relationship with Lady Valerie Goulding, the founder of the CRC.

He never made eye-contact but would then burst into little speeches of hideous, toe-curling flirtatiousness which were quite obviously automatic and mindless – his party piece. The patter he believed had stood him in good stead down the decades.

To put it very simply, it was very obvious that he was not a particularly nice guy. He had no warmth and age appeared not to have downsized his considerable ego.

He had raised over £40m for charity in his lifetime, he said, repeating this several times.

Though patently frail, he claimed he was “as fit as he ever was” but admitted that he enjoys staying in bed more often these days.

“I prefer to stop in bed all day, light the cigar and receive the callers. The phone never stops ringing,” he said.

It was a sign of his narcissism that he compared himself with the Pope.

“The Pope and I – we're the same; we never get a day off. We've both learned to live with it at this stage. It's not a job – it's a way of life.”

The relief I felt when I finally managed to dislodge myself was palpable.

I hadn't even wanted an autograph for old time's sakes, when I was one of the children sitting in almost unbearable breathlessness in front of ‘Jim'll Fix It’, dreaming of a trip in a hot-air balloon.

When the sickening details emerged very shortly after his death about Savile's activities, with over 100 victims coming forward, the CRC stated that Savile had never been left alone with children or patients at the clinic.

If he had been, there could be little doubt that this highly dangerous sexual predator would have swooped.

Irish Independent

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