A petition has been launched to remove the name of former BBC Radio 1 presenter John Peel from one of the main Glastonbury Festival tents. Peel, dubbed “the most important man in music for about a dozen years”, died when I was 13 – which is the same age as a child he talked about abusing.
In 1989, Peel told The Sunday Correspondent: "Girls used to queue up outside. By and large not usually for shagging. Oral sex they were particularly keen on, I remember. One of my, er, regular customers, as it were, turned out to be 13, though she looked older." In the same interview, he described a 21-year-old as an “extraordinary older woman”.
I actually feel sick writing this. Not because I’m some sort of cotton wool-wrapped millennial snowflake, but because it’s objectively disgusting. It’s abuse. And what’s worse is that it was rewarded. Someone who openly spoke about assaulting children has been honoured, over and over again, in their lifetime and in the years after their death, because they had a good career in broadcasting – and that cancels everything else out, apparently.
See also the thoughtful feature in The Herald, published in 2004, where Peel recounts memories from his time in America in his mid-20s, when Beatlemania was exploding: “There were, he admits, an awful lot of those girls who were under age.”
Peel’s first marriage, in 1965, was to a child. Shirley Anne Milburn was 15 when they tied the knot in Texas, while he was 25. In the 1970s, he hosted “Schoolgirl of the Year” competitions on his Radio 1 show.
In 2012, a whole section of the BBC’s New Broadcasting House headquarters became known as “the John Peel Wing”, and in 2014 the corporation unveiled a plaque honouring him, even after a woman had come forward to allege that she’d had an affair with Peel aged 15 – and subsequently needed a “traumatic” abortion. This information came to light in the aftermath of the revelations about Jimmy Savile’s widespread abuse of children and vulnerable people.
John Peel’s name absolutely should come off the prestigious Glastonbury stage. There are so many people who have made valuable contributions to British music – and who we could celebrate in the place of a bloke who said of young women: “All they wanted me to do was abuse them, sexually, which, of course, I was only too happy to do.”
He made this comment to The Guardian, in 1975, which you can say was another time, things were different then. But that’s no defence. And deep down, we all know that.
Why do we, as a society, have such a seemingly insatiable desire to overlook male abusers? Why does it take so long – as it did in the case of Savile – for the truth to be accepted?
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In the aftermath of #MeToo, survivors of sexual violence are still having to fight tooth and nail to be afforded the basic dignity of being listened to and believed – and that’s before meaningful action is taken or any moves are made towards getting justice.
Our seat of law-making and government, Westminster, is awash with sleaze and sexual abuse allegations. This kind of behaviour is widespread, and its impact is poisonous. For survivors, experiencing this sort of violent intrusion can infect every single aspect of your life, colour your future relationships and destroy any sense of personal safety.
But maybe the worst bit for victims is seeing abusers – your own, or someone else’s – continuing to be accepted, lauded, championed and promoted. It sends a clear message that your bodily autonomy, your personhood, your mental health – none of that matters. Their career and achievements will always be more valuable than you as a human being.
Peel is often described as one of the UK’s enduring national treasures. We need to get some better heroes. Surely we’re not so strapped for people to celebrate that we’re left clinging to the memory of a man who boasted about engaging in sexual activity with kids?
Glastonbury needs to change the name of the John Peel Stage. And we should all take the time to examine why he was honoured in this way in the first place.