Savile myth in ruinsComment on this story
At Jimmy Savile's funeral, a year ago on Friday, the priest delivering the homily was emphatic: the DJ and television host “can face eternal life with confidence.”
Hundreds of people packed a cathedral for Savile's funeral Mass, thousands paid their respects at his coffin, and people from Prince Charles to the Bee Gees sent condolences. He was a cultural fixture, even an icon, and his BBC television shows had been part of childhood for two generations of Britons.
But a year on, Savile's reputation is in ruins. Police have branded him one of Britain's worst sex offenders, accused of assaulting underage girls over half a century. Like those who feted and praised him on that November day, millions are wondering: How could he have duped so many for so long?
“His life story was an epic of giving - giving of time, giving of talent, giving of treasure,” Monsignor Kieran Heskin told hundreds of mourners at the funeral. “Sir Jimmy Savile can face eternal life with confidence.”
Savile's death, like his life, was full of self-spun mythology. He cast himself as a colourful entertainer who worked tirelessly for charity - and he choreographed his exit as carefully as an Egyptian pharaoh, leaving instructions for an elaborate three-day commemoration in his home city of Leeds, in northern England.
Thousands of people turned out to pay tribute at the Queen's Hotel, where the entertainer's coffin sat surrounded by flowers, photos and the last cigar he ever smoked. Inside lay Savile, dressed in a tracksuit and clutching a string of rosary beads.
Others lined the street as Savile was carried into St Anne's Cathedral by Royal Marine pallbearers for a richly ceremonial requiem Mass. Later he was buried in a golden coffin, in a tree-shaded cemetery - and on a 45-degree angle so he could overlook the sea.
“He had gold, jewellery and diamonds, but wealth meant nothing to him,” Alistair Hall, a cardiologist at one of the hospitals Savile supported, said in his eulogy. Savile, he said, “was as he appeared - a caring man.”
Savile cultivated the persona of an eccentric, curmudgeonly but generous uncle. He wore brightly coloured tracksuits and chunky gold chains and drove a Rolls-Royce. On the long-running TV show “Jim'll Fix It” he made children's wishes come true. Off-screen, he ran marathons for charity and frequently visited schools and hospitals.
What now seems clear - what so many missed - is that both roles brought him into contact with potential victims: star-struck teenagers, vulnerable patients, inmates of a secure psychiatric hospital.
Cary Cooper, a professor of psychology at England's Lancaster University, said that probably nobody will ever know whether Savile used his charity work deliberately to meet victims, or simply to burnish his saintly image. “Either way,” Cooper said, “it protected him more, being seen as a philanthropic individual. It served his purpose.”
At the funeral, Hall said Saville's charitable legacy would live on. Last month the trustees of two charities that bear his name announced that they were closing down.
When Savile died, Prince Charles' office said the heir to the throne and his wife “were saddened to hear of Jimmy Savile's death.”
The late DJ boasted of his ties to powerful people, including Prince Charles, the late Princess Diana and former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whom he visited at her country retreat.
His connections may have helped shield him from criticism. Several young people accused Savile of abuse while he was alive, and he was questioned by police, but no charges were laid - and no newspaper ever printed the allegations.
Now, police are investigating claims of abuse from some 300
people who have come forward since the scandal exploded when allegations about Savile were broadcast in a TV documentary in early October. And police are facing investigation themselves for their failure to act sooner.
Charles' Clarence House office says the prince's relationship with Savile was solely a result of their shared charity work.
“If there's a heaven, he'll be laughing now if he's got time,” fellow DJ Tony Prince said at the funeral. “Because if there is a heaven, he'll be introducing Elvis on the clouds.”
Younger DJs mentored by Savile were out in force at the memorial, and remembered the flamboyant star fondly. One, Dave Eager, wore a bright yellow sweat shirt saying “Jimmy's Eager Helper.”
“Everyone who knew Jimmy knows it was a life-changing experience,” he said.
Last month, Eager told The Sun newspaper that he was “completely and utterly gobsmacked” by the allegations against Savile, and felt guilty about failing to stop the abuse.
“You feel traumatised and sorry for the people abused by Jimmy but equally you think, 'Why the bloody hell didn't we see something?'“ he said.
Savile's carefully crafted myth didn't outlive him by long, and he has not rested in peace. His family has had the star's gravestone destroyed in response to public outrage. This week his nephew backed calls to exhume and cremate Savile's body out of respect to other bereaved families.
Of all the words spoken at the funeral a year ago, one comment now sounds prophetic. “None of us really knew the real Jimmy,” fellow DJ Mike Read said. “Maybe he didn't even know himself.” -