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Opinion - Julie Burchill

April 02, 2005

On under-age sex

You've got the cutest little babyface

“Everything looks worse in black and white,” sang Paul Simon in Kodachrome but, clever though he undoubtedly is, he got it just as wrong in that instance as the time he claimed to be “a rock”. When it was clearly obvious even to the most casual onlooker that no way did he have BRIGHTON stamped all the way through him. Pop stars!

On the contrary, just as distance lends enchantment, so monochrome cleanses the camera’s lens and lends the benediction of nostalgia. This might be an appropriate time to consider that this is true even of that lowest of sexual and social crimes, paedophilia; we can chuckle knowingly, affectionately even, at those old snapshots of Jerry Lee Lewis with his 13-year-old cousin-bride, or stepping up a decade, Jimmy Page with his LA girlfriend, the 14-year-old “supergroupie” Lori Maddox. But then we turn to our own front pages and recoil with disgust from the allegations against Michael Jackson and the crimes of Jonathan King.

Don’t get me wrong here — I’m no creepy liberal arguing for an open season for chicken-hunters; I’m not writing for the London listings magazine who disgracefully ran a headline many years back reading PAEDOPHILIA — THE DIFFICULT ONE. I’m not arguing a case for less disgust at and disgrace for paedos, but for more. All I’m objecting to is the fact that homosexual kiddy-fiddlers seem to draw an inordinate amount of the flak. Look at the Rolling Stones; foetid and fêted, blighted and beknighted, they started out singing “I can see that you’re 15 years old/ No I don’t want your ID” and ended up with “The Quiet One” repeatedly inflicting his gnarled old tool on a mere 13-year-old and never even smelling the inside of a prison cell for it. Where’s the justice in that? In fact the only justice Bill Wyman has faced is that of natural selection; the Lord has seen fit to bless him with many daughters since he was divorced from Mandy Smith.

Nobody could call me narrow-minded, but I do believe that the total absolution of Bill Wyman — you couldn’t even call it rehabilitation, which would imply that he had to beg and suffer a bit — is a great marker of the increasing hypocrisy of our society over the past 20 years, just when it seemed that hypocrisy was set to be left behind with the bustle and the antimacassar. A while back, whenever he had yet another worthless waxing or tour to tout — though thankfully he seems to have gone a bit quiet of late, hopefully as a prelude to a lingering death — you couldn’t open a magazine without seeing Old Bill coming the family man with his wife and three daughters.

You’d never have guessed from the anodyne, pally interviews which accompanied these pieces that in the Eighties, Wyman was regularly having sex with a 13-year-old child, and taking it so lightly that, according to a book by the diarist Richard Compton Miller, when asked the age of his girlfriend by Michael Caine, answered “with characteristic dry wit”: “About as old as your suit, Michael!”

Wyman was never charged with statutory rape — I would love someone from the Crown Prosecution Service to tell me why — despite the fact that the child victim of his perverted desires, Mandy Smith, lived with ruined health for many years after her nightmarish experience. At one point she weighed just five stone, and dedicated her autobiography It’s All Over Now to “every woman and girl who has suffered abuse — sexual, emotional and psychological — at the hands of a man”. Doesn’t sound as if she enjoyed it much, does it?

To listen to Jonathan King, the youngsters he honoured with his favours were gagging for it. Of course, I’ve got my work cut out pleading for justice for the other side when the other side are represented by that alleged boy-lover Michael Jackson and the convicted lad-molester King. What a pair of freaks! You’ve got to ask yourself who’s the more deluded; Jackson for believing that he really looks like a young Liz Taylor, or King for believing that boys really slept with him because, and I quote: “I was famous, I was extremely handsome, I was stunningly talented and that makes me very attractive.” Now that’s a Magic Mirror par excellence.

Of course I’d prefer to be defending gorgeous, civilised gayers like Julian Clary and them two sweeties who do the houses up on the telly — not that I’m suggesting any impropriety there. Looking at King, every liberal instinct in one’s body rebels, and one ponders whether it might not be a good idea to petition Parliament to have the homosexual age of consent raised to 40. But this is one of the occasions where instinct must be silenced, and logic must be served. And that logic makes me ask just why are we getting so het up about King serving “only” half his seven-year sentence for sex with boys between the ages of 14 and 16, and why is he to be closely monitored by a “public protection panel” and banned from having anyone under the age of 18 in his house, when Bill Wyman is so totally accepted as an all-round regular guy? I bet his daughters’ friends aren’t barred by law from his house, even though the child he had sex with was a year younger than the youngest of King’s victims.

The only explanation I can think of is that when it comes to under-age sex, a society’s real feelings about homosexuality emerge — and they often surprise even the most liberal of us. We’re fine with homosexuals when we can kid ourselves they’re just there to help us do up our naff houses and help straight men become more attractive to their girlfriends; but let them have actual sex and all hell breaks loose.

It is a fact that more girls than boys are damaged by or regret their early sexual experiences and that girls suffer physically from increased cancer of the cervix the younger they first do it, whereas I am not aware that men suffer anything.

A boy of 15 is often so over-heated that he would have sex with mud, given half a chance; girls of the same age can be found throughout Agony-Land piteously begging the sob-sisters for ways to “get off” full sex (as though it was games lesson, bless them!) without losing that precious status symbol, The Boyfriend.

Ironically, girls often idolise pop stars as a way of feeling a “safe” desire for a love object who will court them from a distance rather than stick his tongue down their throat, his hand up their crop-top and then leave their once-good name hanging lewdly in the ether in selected changing rooms and nightclub toilets.

Girls “love” pop singers because they leave you with your personal space intact — because for all the shelling out of hard cash and momentary losing of control, they ultimately leave the buyer in charge. And that feels a lot like freedom.

To be betrayed by the person who promised you the space to become yourself — that’s the real crime. And that Jonathan King is such a Grade A, first-class grotesque is really neither here nor there. If we think it OK for Bill Wyman to do to girl-children what King did to boy-children and stay free, then we are the true grotesques here.

julie.burchill@thetimes.co.uk

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