One of the victims abused by Rolf Harris was a young girl hoping to get his autograph.
She was eight years old.
Following his death at the age of 93, experts have compared the disgraced entertainer to Jimmy Savile, a prolific sex offender whose stardom also allowed him to hide in plain sight.
Harris died on 10 May, but details have only now been confirmed almost two weeks later. The family of the former broadcaster said in a statement that he had already been laid to rest.
A family favourite for several decades, Harris was convicted of a string of indecent assaults in 2014.
He had been among a dozen celebrities arrested during Operation Yewtree, one of a series of police investigations into historical sex abuse allegations against high-profile figures – including BBC presenter Savile.
Harris’s death has sparked conversations once again about abuse of fame and power.
‘They were able to hide in plain sight’
Jim Gamble, chief executive of the INEQE Safeguarding Group and former chief executive of the CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command), said Harris’s conviction had helped raise awareness about child protection and those abusing positions of power.
“People like Rolf Harris, people like Jimmy Savile, they were able to hide in plain sight, they made people believe they were ‘too good’ ever to do anything that would hurt a child,” he told Sky News.
“Or they made people fear them, the consequence of challenging them.
“That wall was taken down [following their convictions] and what happened was that many, many survivors who’ve carried their burden of pain for decades, felt able to come forward – because Operation Yewtree was a pivot and a change in the police approach, so people being treated with dignity and respect.”
Read more: Rolf Harris’s greatest fear was not being loved – his depraved crimes ensure he won’t be
Harris’s victims also included two girls in their early teens, and a friend of his daughter.
They will all carry “a lifetime of pain”, Mr Gamble said. “So I find it difficult to have any sympathy with him. Of course I feel for his family and the burden that they have to bear because of his awful legacy.
“But my heart goes out to those survivors who are carrying a burden of pain that’s got nothing to do with anything they did – and everything to do with a predator who used his celebrity, his position of influence, to engage with them and ultimately abuse them.”
Narcissism and an ‘air of invincibility’
Like Savile, Harris created a “squeaky-clean household name” for himself as a children’s entertainer, forensic psychiatrist Dr Sohom Das told Sky News.
“Because of that, it’s really hard for anybody to speak out against them because [victims] often assume they’re in isolation.
And both of them, they have friends in high places, they are very enmeshed in the entertainment world; they know commissioners, producers, all the high-powered people in the media.
They carry this kind of air invincibility around them, which makes it again a lot harder for victims to speak out because they don’t think they’ll be believed.”
They are also charming. “They need an element of charm just to get to the positions they were in the media, because it’s so competitive.
But they probably had practice in interacting with people more than your average person, because they’d meet and greet so many people.
This is relevant because I think it makes them quite adept at grooming – the process of building trust and an emotional connection with future potential victims.”
Abusers such as Harris are narcissists, said Dr Das. “[They] break or push more boundaries, and they get away with it.
“So they get away with sexual assault and as it happens, increasingly they become more confident and they feel that they’re untouchable.”
As the culture around misogyny has shifted, hopefully victims feel more able to speak out now, Dr Das added. “I think because of the #MeToo movement and because misogyny is being challenged a lot more openly, and I guess because society in general is becoming more woke; rightly so, I think people are more believed and more capable of calling out misogyny and sexism and sexual assault when they see it.”
Entertainment journalist Caroline Frost described Harris’s exploitation of his privilege as “a double crime”.
She continued: “It is using the very tools by which they are loved and admired, and people want to come close to them and they are abusing that power.”
Harris died of neck cancer and “frailty of old age” at his home in Bray, Berkshire, according to his death certificate, which also suggested he would be cremated.
Frost said Harris had been lucky to have “enduring loyalty” from his family, who laid him to rest away from the spotlight before his death was confirmed publicly.
“They stood by him throughout his trial, they were with him at the end, and they have made sure to to put him to rest… away from the cameras, away from scrutiny… you could see why they would want to to conduct those proceedings away from all of that.”
In August 2022, ITV announced details of a documentary featuring the testimonies of Harris’s victims and police involved in his case.
The first episode of Rolf Harris: Hiding In Plain Sight, aired last week.