Gary Glitter performing at Lea Valley Park in the 1990s
The recent trial of Gary Glitter saw witness after witness recount cases of abuse by the former glam rocker—enough to convince a jury that he is guilty of offenses including the attempted rape of an eight-year-old girl. And this is just the latest in a string of cases related to child abuse that Glitter has faced. Sufficient, you would think, to repulse even the most diehard fan, and to shake off any affection felt for Glitter. But a band of hardcore fans is determined to stand by Glitter. They have taken to the web to show their support, kept fan clubs active, and supported him from the public gallery at his trial.
“I stick by him, because he has given me a great deal of pleasure in my life,” says John, a benefits caseworker from Newport, Wales. “I would not let him look after my children, but then again, I would not let anyone I didn’t know very well look after my children. I stick by him because I feel that his life is deliberately being made a hell by the hypocritical media and by the hang-’em-and-flog-’em brigade. And I don’t think that’s fair.”
John’s response is typical of Glitter fans I spoke to, many of who accept that the former musician is at the very least guilty of some of the allegations thrown at him over the years. Indeed, in 1999, Glitter himself admitted downloading images of child sex abuse. But many followers see this, as one fan put it, as simply “a silly mistake” that has meant he has been unfairly hounded ever since.
“I think the media have always treated Gary with ridicule even before the computer business. There has been a witch hunt against him and the press will not be happy until they have finished him off,” says a fan who would like to be known only as Julia.
“They have constantly bullied him… made sure he will never work again, while others in favor have escaped unscathed. No one likes a bully. I stick by Gary as I have great affection for him and I would stick by anyone who I felt was genuine in the same way.”
Most of his remaining fans have been into Glitter since his early days, when he strutted his stuff on TV and drew in a fanatical fan base. For many people, this formed an emotional connection that they have been unable to cast off despite the revelations that dogged Glitter as he fell from stardom. Mick Connor, a healthcare housekeeper from Hertfordshire, is one such case. He discovered Glitter in the summer of 1973 shortly after he had been shipped off to boarding school 100 miles from home.
“I was very lonely and upset,” he says. “Then I saw Gary singing on Top of the Pops and went to a shop in Cheltenham and brought my first record. Gary and glam rock really brightened up my then unhappy days at boarding school… I will always be grateful to him for that.”
However, some fans have found it harder to reconcile their love of the music with the revelations that have emerged about the man behind Gary Glitter. One male fan who wishes to remain anonymous tells me of his extreme disappointment when Glitter first admitted to possessing child sex abuse images.
“I was devastated, angry, and felt so let down. I thought it was bad enough when I found out he wore a wig. But this—it ripped me apart as a fan. I had the piss taken out of me constantly by my friends and family. I threw his autobiography in the bin, and all my Gary Glitter records went in the loft. That was it—he was removed from my memory, or so I thought,” he says.
But once online video streaming took off in the early 2000s, he once again found himself drawn to the music of Gary Glitter. He ended up establishing a YouTube channel dedicated to the former glam rocker, and feels that appreciation of the music should be separated from the crimes of the man.
“It’s not your fault if you like certain songs. Mine just happen to be Gary Glitter’s music, and boy do I get stick for it. But I just think ‘sod ’em.’ Who the hell do they think they are? Yeah, I get a hard time, but that’s the way it is, it comes with the gig so to speak,” he says.
Of course, Gary Glitter is just the on-stage alias adopted by Paul Gadd and this helps some fans justify their continued adulation of their icon, while distancing themselves from his crimes. “With his recent conviction I feel that if he did actually commit the crimes, he needs to pay as anyone else would. But as Paul Gadd not as Gary Glitter. People need to separate the man from the music,” says Nigel, a 54-year-old teacher from Norfolk.
But while many fans accept that Glitter is guilty of some crimes, and feel able to forgive him due to his apparent contrition, most are unwilling to accept that he ever went beyond looking at images of abuse and acted out any of his fantasies. This is despite numerous allegations in the UK, his latest conviction, and a conviction in Vietnam in 2006.
“I do not believe the current allegations. Over the years I have spent some time with Gary and I have never experienced any inkling of the allegations I read about. He is a genuine man. He has been most welcoming and adores his fans,” says Julia.
Some fans still cling to the fantasy that he could return to the stage. “I thought about doing a charity gig and getting Gary to do it, but I think it would be a logistical nightmare because you wouldn’t be able to tell who was a genuine fan and who’s just there to cause trouble. I would love to see it happen, it’s a nice thought and something that people like me would absolutely love to see,” says John Hughes, 50, from Bristol, who performs with a glam rock tribute act called Fab 208.
Whatever they think of his guilt or otherwise, there’s no doubt that many fans suffer for their adulation. Antipathy from family, friends and particularly the online community is commonplace when they reveal their love of Glitter.
“Being a fan is not easy, you are faced with hostility all the time. I keep it to myself mostly and just let all the negative comments from friends, colleagues and family go over my head. I get great comfort from belonging to certain groups on social media whereby we have a common interest, however after the latest conviction these sites have had an influx of new comers and I fear that most will not be genuine fans—again another form of sabotage,” says Julia.
Others are less accommodating when it comes to criticism. Klavs, from Denmark, has been a fan since 1972. “I’m 6 foot 4 and a former bouncer, so people don’t give me much shit, but my friends kindly tell me when our leader is in the ‘papers again,” he says. But even he doesn’t wear his support on his sleeve now. “I’ve got some t-shirts but I don’t wear them very often any more,” he adds.
There are, of course, numerous examples of other prominent rock stars who have been accused of sexually abusing children. And many fans are quick to jump on this to justify their admiration of Glitter. “Jimmy Page had a 14-year-old girlfriend, and no one said a word,” says Tim Potter, a Glitter fan from Australia. “Bill Wyman from the [Rolling] Stones had sex with Mandy Smith when she was very young [14 according to Smith]… so it is hypocrisy at its worse.”
It seems like an odd defense. But even those who accept that Glitter is guilty of the crimes for which he stood trial most recently, seem to cling to more than just the music of the disgraced rocker. Transfixed by the icon burnt so indelibly into their youthful consciousness, fan after fan I speak to declares that Glitter remains “always the leader.”