DOZENS of celebrities who shot to fame in the 1960s and 1970s have enlisted the services of a public relations expert amid fears that they could be implicated in the deepening child abuse scandal surrounding Jimmy Savile, it was claimed yesterday.
Max Clifford, who represents a number of high-profile clients, said that a clutch of “huge names” from the world of entertainment are “frightened to death” of becoming embroiled in the controversy that has destroyed the reputation of the former BBC presenter and led to other prominent figures coming under scrutiny.
The celebrities “never asked for anybody’s birth certificate” during an era when they had “young girls throwing themselves at them,” Clifford said.
“All kinds of things went on, and I do mean young girls throwing themselves at them in their dressing rooms at concert halls, at gigs, whatever. They never asked for anybody’s birth certificate and they were young lads … suddenly everyone’s dream was a reality,” he said.
“We are talking about a lot of people that were huge names in the 60s and 70s and a lot of them barely remember what they did last week, genuinely. For them to try and recount what happened in a dressing room in 1965 or 1968 or 1972, genuinely they are frightened to death.”
Clifford’s remarks came as Savile’s closest relatives broke their silence yesterday to express horror at how he could have devoted his life to doing “the most good and most evil at the same time”.
Savile’s family said they had been left in “turmoil” by the succession of victims targeted by the one-time DJ, but conceded that their “own despair and sadness does not compare to that felt” by those who had been abused by him.
In a statement released by Savile’s nephew, Roger Foster, the family of the late television star asked: “How could the person we thought we knew and loved do such a thing? Why would a man who raised so much money for charity, who gave so much of his own time and energy for others, risk it all doing indecent criminal acts? How could anyone live their life doing the ‘most good and most evil’ at the same time?”
The family said their “thoughts” and “prayers” were with those who had suffered abuse, explaining: “We recognise that even our own despair and sadness does not compare to that felt by the victims.” They added their “feelings are in turmoil” as they await the next turn of events.
As Scotland Yard’s investigation continues, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said it has so far received 190 calls directly relating to Savile which have been passed to police. Peter Watt, director of the charity’s helpline, said that the service “has never dealt with so many allegations against one individual,” with calls about him “still coming in thick and fast and show little sign of slowing down”.
The investigation into Savile is now thought to involve around 300 potential victims, with more coming forward every day.
It emerged yesterday that the most senior cleric in the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales has written to Rome to ask if the Vatican could investigate whether the papal honour awarded to Savile for his charitable works could be posthumously removed and its effects nullified. Savile was made a Knight Commander of St Gregory the Great by Pope John Paul II in 1990.
A spokesman for the Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, said the letter was written in response to “the deep distress of all those who have suffered abuse” and “the disquiet at Mr Savile’s name remaining on papal honours lists”.
Peter Kearney, director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, said: “Although it is understood that knighthoods fall when the person dies, the decision by the Archbishop of Westminster to request that the award is posthumously removed and its effects nullified is completely appropriate.”
However, the Vatican’s official spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said while the honour “should certainly not have been bestowed” in light of the scandal, it could not be removed.
He explained: “As there does not exist any permanent official list of persons who have received papal honours in the past, it is not possible to strike anyone off a list that does not exist. The names of recipients of papal honours do not appear in the pontifical year book and the honour expires with the death of the individual.
“The most important thing, therefore, is to reaffirm the church’s condemnation of all forms of sexual abuse, and particularly abuse of minors, as extremely grave crimes. The Holy See is adamant on this point.”