I met Jimmy Savile in his penthouse flat on the sixth floor of an art deco-style block in Leeds. It overlooked Roundhay Park, where Peter Sutcliffe murdered Irene Richardson, but I do not know what Savile thought about that, because I did not ask, although I knew that they had met in Broadmoor. What did they talk about? “Everyone asks,” he said happily, but he wouldn’t tell. The flat was bright white, with blue carpets, and very clean. He had Cadbury Roses in his kitchen and no books.
I was there because he was a “national treasure”. He had been famous for so long that people thought he was interesting. That is how celebrity journalism works: it digests itself. He was dressed as a teenage boy, which made him look pitiful rather than sinister, because he did not know – or pretended not to know – how stupid he looked in a scarlet tracksuit, with a diamond-encrusted Rolex and a gold medallion. He was dressed as Jimmy Savile. It was a disguise.
He told me his creation myth, which I knew, because he repeated it from interview to interview as if reciting the catechism: the boy who climbed out of a colliery, saw a Rolls-Royce and thought, “That’s mine.” I tried to get more and I failed. Most journalists made fools of themselves with Savile. I had heard the rumours but what do you say to a man you are interviewing to celebrate the end of Top of the Pops? “Are you a pervert?”
I knew he had a secret, because he spoke about himself as if he were an elaborate, thrilling object and he talked nonsense. But I got the secret wrong. I assumed he was gay but I didn’t ask him about that. I thought that it would be rude and, if it were true, he wouldn’t tell me. Instead, I tried on his shoes: pointed pixie shoes. The Child Catcher’s shoes.
He spoke in patter, in a kind of spoken wallpaper. He exuded false modesty. He delivered a sequence of homilies. “I can afford to walk out there and it’s marvellous! Smiles! Laughs! Thank you very much indeed . . .Those who bring smiles to other people have got plenty of smiles for themselves.” They were designed to make him impenetrable. They worked. Then he told me he had “60 million friends” – that is, none. I didn’t ask him what his idea of friendship was or who his best friend was. I let it float away. He name-dropped Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II. Cigar smoke weaved in the air.
He exposed, briefly, a shard of misogyny. He mocked married women, called marriage a prison, got excited, gave a mock scream. He seemed tired and I was bored – it’s boring interviewing a construct who you know is manipulating you – so I left. “I’m a one-man band,” he told me. This may be the only truthful thing he said. “Nobody, I don’t need nobody.”
This article appears in the 09 Dec 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The clash of empires