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5 notorious celebrity sex abuse scandals 

Rolf Harris arriving for the 2012 Pride of Britain Awards
Image: Rolf Harris arriving for the 2012 Pride of Britain Awards at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London | Featureflash Photo Agency /

From beloved national treasures to powerful celebrity magnates, these men enjoyed soaring success in their careers – until the truth of their dark sides triggered immense media fallouts.

1. Jimmy Savile

The Jimmy Savile scandal was two-pronged. There was the horror of the crimes themselves: the prolific abuse of women and children that had gone on for decades. And then there was the secondary scandal, with many outraged at how the truth had been handled by the media.

Following his death in 2011, journalists at BBC’s Newsnight programme prepared to air an episode delving into Savile’s crimes, featuring interviews with victims. But the programme was withdrawn before broadcast, with the BBC instead going on to air fond tributes to Savile. This decision was so controversial that it prompted an official inquiry the following year after other media outlets finally outed Savile as a paedophile and sex offender. The inquiry condemned ‘the level of chaos and confusion’ at the BBC, saying that responsible leadership had been in ‘short supply’.

Even more damning was the Dame Janet Smith Review Report, which was published in 2016 and revealed that Savile had committed assaults and rapes at ‘virtually every one of the BBC premises at which he worked’, and that complaints had been brushed under the carpet. The fallout from Savile was a turning point for the whole British entertainment industry, leading to other abusers being exposed.

2. Rolf Harris

The arrest of Rolf Harris in 2013 on suspicion of sex crimes shocked the nation. Unlike Savile, whose bizarre, brazenly lascivious persona had long aroused suspicions, Harris was the very picture of the wholesome family entertainer: the cartoon-sketching, animal-cuddling, song-and-dance man who once painted a portrait of the Queen.

Such was the level of public affection that Harris was given a standing ovation when he gave a live concert after his initial arrest and release on bail. But any goodwill was finally extinguished when he was jailed for multiple child sex offences as part of Operation Yewtree, the wide-ranging police investigation triggered by the Savile scandal.

The jarring contrast between his public persona and the sordid details of his crimes was a source of horrified fascination – who could have imagined Rolf Harris writing a letter to the father of a victim, protesting that ‘there was no rape, no physical forcing, brutality or beating’?

Harris’ imprisonment was also widely regarded as a vindication of the post-Savile investigations, which some had come to see as a ‘witch hunt’ after Coronation Street stars Bill Roache and Michael Le Vell, and comedian Freddie Starr, were cleared of sex crime accusations.

3. Max Clifford

There was a dark irony to the downfall of Max Clifford. The PR kingpin who’d made his name and fortune as a celebrity fixer, orchestrating countless tabloid scoops and ‘kiss and tell’ scandals over the decades, was himself engulfed in the worst kind of scandal, implicating him in numerous charges of indecent assault.

His jailing in 2014 was a dreadful denouement to a glittering career which had seen Clifford represent global icons like Marlon Brando and Muhammad Ali. The conviction was a stark indictment of toxic celebrity culture as a whole – Clifford had weaponised his lofty status, promising one girl that he’d make her the British version of Jodie Foster if she submitted to his advances.

In the words of the judge, his offences took place in a time when ‘sexual misbehaviour was more likely to be tolerated or overlooked’. It’s thanks, in part, to convictions like Clifford’s that the shameless impunity of those days is no longer so openly tolerated.

4. Fred Talbot

When, in 2012, the home of Fred Talbot was raided by police investigating historical child sex abuse allegations, it was arguably one of the least expected scandals to rock the post-Savile landscape. Talbot wasn’t some rock star, TV icon or media mogul who’d had unfettered access to adoring young fans. He was just that wacky weatherman from This Morning, known for physically leaping around a giant map of the British Isles.

However, he was eventually convicted of offences stemming back to his days as a schoolteacher, with one lurid account of instigating an ‘orgy’ of boys on a canal barge being splashed across the media.

But, while Talbot was less high-profile than other media figures convicted of such crimes, the scandal did highlight the grim similarity in MO shared by celebrity sex offenders. Namely, the tendency to use a showbiz persona as a kind of shield, with Talbot being described in his trial as someone whose ‘extrovert personality’ and ‘boundless energy’ helped him gain the trust of victims.

5. Harvey Weinstein

The downfall of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein has been perhaps the most seismic scandal of modern times. As with Jimmy Savile, it wasn’t simply that a man of immense renown had been guilty of so many sex crimes, but that many had known about it, to the point where Weinstein jokes had long been made on shows like 30 Rock and Family Guy.

And, as with Savile, the exposure of the truth led to an industry-wide reckoning on systematic, institutionalised abuse of vulnerable women and girls. This reckoning was known as the ‘Weinstein effect’ and, more famously, the #MeToo movement. As a direct consequence of the Weinstein scandal, victims felt empowered to speak up about casual, everyday mistreatment they’d suffered.