Tarnished monster of rock ’n’ roll

All tight black leather trousers, a black leather vest and multiple loops of swinging gold chain, Gary Glitter was rocking on. The 1973 concert at Sydney’s endearingly shabby (even then) Hordern Pavilion was so awful it was almost good, in a stand back and marvel at the spectacle sort of way. And of course the Gary Glitter story turned out to be really, real­ly awful, in a turn-the-page-quickly sort of way.

I was 11 at the time and I think it was the first adult concert I had been to without any adults in tow.

My friends and I adored the sheer adultness of the concert, but we were barely pubescent and wholly ignorant. As far as I remember, Glitter (or Garrreee, as we shouted at the stage) was like a strange morph of Liberace and Axl Rose, with a generous splash of Elvis Presley, except not so talented.

And this could be a fault of my memory, but I have a vision of Glitter, with an upward sweep of black hair and a lot of dramatic arm swinging, hurling long-stemmed red roses at the roaring crowd, and little girls scurrying around to pick them up off the grubby floor to keep as mementos of the big night.

One song seemed to comprise almost totally of the lyrics “Come on”, sung about 100 times in a commanding tone. In yet another thumping tune he told us all he was the “Leader of the Pack” (many times). Mesmerising for an 11-year-old drunk on the excitement, the tweenie screams and the crashing bass beat.

In retrospect this could be, for me, the worst concert of all time. Or at least the event connected with the steepest plunge into infamy by someone I had once paid hard-won pocket money to see.

Some decades later, as an adult journalist based in Asia, I realised that Gary Glitter, aka Paul Francis Gadd, was not so much a little-girls’ entertainer as a man who preyed on little girls.

From fame to infamy, from glam rock Glitter to hounded Gadd, his story was almost biblical in his plunge from grace. Between 1972 and 1995, Glitter had 26 hit singles, three charting at No 1. He recorded seven studio albums. His fans adored him and his glitter shone on.

Then his story began to turn sour. In 1999 he was convicted in Britain for downloading thousands of child porn images. (He also was charged but acquitted of having sex with an under-aged girl in the 1970s. She was 14.)

He took off for Spain, where he lived under an assumed name, and then Cuba, Cambodia and Vietnam. In 2006 a Vietnamese court convicted him of “obscene acts” with Vietnamese girls aged 10 and 11. He was sentenced to three years in prison, and deportation as soon as he was released.

Living in Jakarta in the early 2000s, I was vaguely appalled by Glitter’s depraved cruise through Asia but it all got a bit too real in 2008. By then I was living in Bangkok and Glitter wasn’t too far away — almost a neighbour.

After a heart attack in his Vietnamese prison cell, he was kept in hospital under police guard and fin­ally released later that year. Editors everywhere were interested in his movements, and I was asked to keep an eye on him from my base in Thailand, report anything untoward and, if possible, interview him (not likely, since he hated all journalists with a passion).

Glitter was taken to the airport in Ho Chi Minh City and put on a plane for Bangkok, where he was scheduled to catch another flight to London. But in Bangkok he refused to board the plane to London, saying he was too ill to fly.

By then I was writing a lot about him, probably because editors liked to have the Bangkok dateline on stories coming from Bangkok.

I never actually got anywhere near him, thanks be, and certainly never interviewed him. But it was all nasty and desperate and grimy. I hated writing about him: the criminal child molester who was top of the pops when I was a girl.

Eventually Glitter was warned he either left Bangkok airport or he would be deported. He flew to Hong Kong, where he was also denied entry, and then back to Thailand in an ongoing international saga. A swag of nations declared Glitter was persona non grata.

Back to Britain, with the greatest reluctance, Glitter was shamed, fodder for the tabloids, a “pervert in sequins”. In 2015 he was convicted again, this time for historical sex crimes, including one count of having sex with a girl under the age of 13.

Sentenced to 16 years, he’s still in prison, a 74-year-old with white tufts over his ears. All that glitter rubbed off years ago.