Glitter: The Popstar Paedophile review – a most sickening nostalgia trip

<span>‘We are no closer to ridding ourselves of these terrible predators’ … Paul Gadd in Glitter: The Popstar Paedophile.</span><span>Photograph: ITV</span>
‘We are no closer to ridding ourselves of these terrible predators’ … Paul Gadd in Glitter: The Popstar Paedophile.Photograph: ITV

Do you remember – it feels so long ago now – the days when it was a shock to find out that a rich, famous, charismatic man had been using his riches, fame and charisma to rape and abuse women and children and cover it up for years and years?

Glitter: The Popstar Paedophile is the bleakest of nostalgia trips, taking us back to those quaint times, before the public Jimmy Savile revelations, before the R Kelly revelations, before the Rolf Harris revelations, before Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein … I could, unfortunately, go on but I think the point is made.

This 90-minute film tells the story with whose main beats we are now grotesquely familiar. We see the fame, this time via plenty of Top of the Pops footage of the glam-rock star Gary Glitter – real name, the name under which he would eventually be prosecuted, Paul Gadd – the high-energy interviews on the likes of Saturday Scene with Sally James, the more stately stuff with Terry Wogan and other chatshow presenters, and even an episode of This Is Your Life that was devoted to him. And, as with most of the documentaries about British celebrity paedophiles and/or abusers, there is a stomach-churning interview with Savile himself from what looks like the late 1980s, by which time they were both well practised in their depravities and giving new meaning to the phrase “hiding in plain sight”. See also Glitter’s 1980 hit What Your Mama Don’t See (Your Mama Don’t Know) replete with lines like “You insist you’re not to be kissed / ’Cause your mama’s not far away … One more glance, I might take a chance / I’m a desperate kind of man.”

We hear, mainly via the prosecuting counsels, from and about the women who would eventually see him convicted of various sex offences. Woman A suffered an attempted rape by 31-year-old Glitter/Gadd in 1975 when she was eight years old. Two other girls, around the age of 12, were raped by him after concerts, their mamas ushered elsewhere by members of the star’s entourage. There is an incident recounted by music journalist Garry Johnson about two men who were hired to work security for a Glitter gig around 1990 who discovered in one of the boxes they were carrying from his van huge numbers of Polaroid photos of children. They confronted him. He cried and offered them money. They refused it and walked off the job, setting fire to his wig on the way. The bathos of the last act should not obscure the fact that this seems to have been the closest his victims got to justice for the next 25 years.

The film assembles its evidence meticulously, relentlessly and unsensationally, including not just the facts that would end up in court but moments that tell us almost more than the lawyers can. There is the fleeting look of absolute terror in Glitter’s eyes when Paula Yates interviews him on the infamous On the Bed segment of The Big Breakfast and asks of his girlfriends: “Are they very young?” Glitter’s relief when she appears to mean women in their early 20s is palpable.

Despite a 1993 story in the News of the World about him having sex with a 14-year-old (attention focused on the photo she had of him without his wig, completely bald) and the rumours that had been swirling for years, it wasn’t until child sexual abuse images were found on a laptop he took in for repair in 1997 that any charges were filed against him. Woman A added her complaint to the charge sheet but the judge reckoned too much time had passed and dropped her case. Woman B, from the News of the World story, was destroyed on cross-examination, and by the judge’s recommendation that the jury should bear in mind that there are 14-year-olds “who look like girls” and 14-year-olds who “look like sophisticated ladies” and consider which category woman B fell into. Gadd was cleared of offences against her, but the public gallery reeled in shock when he pleaded guilty to all the child abuse image charges.

The film slightly rushes the years he then spent in south-east Asia, free to exploit vulnerable children in poorer countries, and the legal systems that effectively function as an international ring of enablers for paedophiles and other abusers. But it does its job in reilluminating the horrors of the past, which are also the horrors of the present and no doubt the horrors of the future too. We have a little more knowledge, a little more awareness, a little more wisdom. Perhaps we are a little more protective. But, as Glitter et al’s long freedom (and usually nugatory sentences if ever caught) show, these terrible, terrible predators are ever in our midst, and we are no closer to ridding ourselves of them.

• Glitter: The Popstar Paedophile aired on ITV1 and is on ITVX now.

• The NSPCC offers support to children on 0800 1111, and adults concerned about a child on 0808 800 5000. The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (Napac) offers support for adult survivors on 0808 801 0331.

• Information and support for anyone affected by rape or sexual abuse issues is available from the following organisations. In the UK, Rape Crisis offers support on 0808 500 2222 in England and Wales, 0808 801 0302 in Scotland, or 0800 0246 991 in Northern Ireland. In the US, Rainn offers support on 800-656-4673. In Australia, support is available at 1800Respect (1800 737 732). Other international helplines can be found at