By Simon Donohue
It was a quiet day in the Deansgate offices of the Manchester Evening News when I turned to Jimmy Savile’s telephone number in my big black book of contacts and started to dial his number.
He answered in his familiar Leeds accent – energetic, interested, radio presenter pronunciation even though he was on the phone and I was calling totally out of the blue. I explained that I was an MEN feature writer and was wondering if he’d mind me popping across to Leeds to interview him.
I was bored and looking for something interesting to write about. He’d lived in Salford for a while and worked in Manchester clubs during his days before Top of The Pops. I could argue a local angle for the paper and the features editor of the day indulged me.
I hit the road to Leeds with MEN photographer Chris Gleave and we found Savile’s apartment block. The lift took you right to the top and opened directly into his lounge.
We were given the tour – shown his medals from the pope, his cigar collection – and then we sat down to do an interview that would appear in the MEN at a time when there were rumours of an I’m A Celebrity appearance and a return for Jim’ll Fix It… with Savile.
In hindsight, I’m almost ashamed to say that I was deferential, respectful and yes, in awe of his celebrity.
But I was also slightly freaked out by the way he held court like a superstar despite wearing a shabby shell suit and lounging on faded designer furniture.
There was an air of slight menace about him too and I found it hard to work out why he’d agreed to my request for an interview. I put it down to him attempting to keep his fame alive.
It was fun but I can’t say I liked him very much. Chris and I came away not really understanding what we’d experienced.
I asked some tough questions and Savile gave tough answers, clearly well rehearsed in batting away any attempt to peer too closely inside the fug of expensive cigar smoke that enveloped him.
We discussed the ‘women’ in his life and he was defensive – mentioning lawyers at least once. There have been many ‘women’ he said, now move on. I asked whether he’d ever considered marriage and he said he hadn’t. Innocuous at the time but chilling in hindsight, he told me: “I actually don’t like kids”. He was playing with us, amusing himself at the thought that those words would appear in print.
Clearly, I wasn’t his type. But I can’t help wondering whether he thought I might be someone who would put him in touch with someone who was.
It’s an absolute tragedy that he ruined so many lives.
It’s easy to criticise the BBC and opportunities to stop him were missed but the truth is that he got away with what he did because he was Jimmy Savile – a grubby perv who successfully hid in plain sight, shielded by his celebrity.