Harris: Glittering career that ended in disgrace

WHEN news of Rolf Harris’s arrest broke, a collective gasp swept across the world.

This was not just a famous face; this was one of the best-loved celebrities of past and present — a true family favourite.

Born in 1930, Harris grew up in Perth suburb Bassendean and went on to carve himself a 60-year career that saw him achieve success as an artist, musician and TV personality, with a list of honours to match.

As a teenager and young adult, he became a champion swimmer, and in 1946 was the Australian Junior 110 yards Backstroke Champion.

Struck by a mysterious illness that left him paralysed for several weeks, Harris said it was this that prompted him to take the leap and travel to England to pursue a career in art.

That was in 1952, and after a few failed attempts at art school, Harris managed to get himself a slot on a BBC show.

Also a keen musician, he started by entertaining at the Down Under club, a haven for expat Australians and New Zealanders, playing his piano accordion. His song ‘Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport’, became a hit in Australia, the UK, and the United States in the 1960s.

Over the succeeding years, Harris’s musical career was to grow and grow, and he became well-known for his use of instruments, from the didgeridoo to his famous wobble-board.

The entertainer released comedic song ‘Jake the Peg’ in the 1960s, but his biggest hit was in 1969 with ‘Two Little Boys’, originally written in 1902. It became the Christmas No 1 in the UK and remained at the top of the charts for six weeks.

He performed at Glastonbury for the first time in 1993, going on to appear a number of times, including a spot on its world-famous Pyramid Stage in 2010.

His artwork was also exhibited in many places, and in 2005 he painted a portrait of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth to mark her 80th birthday and earned an MBE, OBE, CBE, and Bafta fellowship

The boy from Bassendean’s celebrity came to extend far beyond art and music, as he became a TV personality and all-round household name.

His catchphrases were known worldwide, from “Can you tell what it is yet?” accompanying his painting stints. Harris appeared on This is Your Life on two occasions, and in 1989 featured in a child abuse prevention video called Kids Can Say No.

In November 2011, he appeared in an episode of Piers Morgan’s Life Stories, where he described what he called the darkest periods of his life, revealing that he had suffered deeply from depression and describing his regret over missing key events in daughter Bindi’s life.

It was this less jovial side of Rolf Harris that his daughter alluded to when she described him during her evidence.

“Dad didn’t really take much notice of me or anybody at home,” she told jurors. “When he’s at home, he is very much switched off, very quiet, quite often working, making something.”

But in 2012, the career he spent years building was thrown into disarray as he became one of the names linked to Operation Yewtree, the police investigation into sex abuse by Jimmy Saville and other entertainers.

He denied anything unlawful, with friends and family insisting there was nothing sinister about the “cuddly” star’s behaviour around women.

But the 84-year-old was forced to admit he had a “darker side” as he confessed to not one, but two affairs — one with one of his daughter’s friends — and admitted to finding the girl attractive when she was just 13.

With the details of his private life laid bare, it is clear that no matter what the outcome of his trial was, the nation’s view of Rolf Harris would never have been quite the same again.

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