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Rolf Harris: shamed child abuser once welcomed to Dorset
TODAY he is a convicted child abuser, but for decades Rolf Harris was greeted with affection when he visited Dorset.
And while he might have seemed frail and elderly at Southwark Crown Court, four years ago he told the Daily Echo: “I just turned 80… I feel 35.”
Harris, who is due to be sentenced today, first visited Bournemouth in 1962, appearing in cabaret during a raucous Press Ball at the old Royal Ballrooms.
In 1975, he returned for a 16-week summer season at the Winter Gardens, showcasing his songs and artistic skills. When not performing, he drew crowds as he visited shops, signed records and autographs and played crazy golf.
That September, he told the Echo that he led a solitary life offstage. “I don’t smoke and I don’t drink. I’m not a great night man – I’d much rather go home to bed. At social events I stand around like a lemon wondering what to do with myself,” he said.
He said he found it “harrowing” to be in a theatre audience when the lights went up, all eyes turned on him and “you’ve got to be the nice guy”.
That same month, he visited a relative he discovered was living in Bournemouth’s Three Pines nursing home – 91-year-old Gertie Robson, his mother’s cousin.
Harris was back in the resort in 1985, when he was cast as Buttons in Cinderella at the Pavilion and switched on Bournemouth’s Christmas lights. His charity engagements during the season included meeting children at Talbot Combined School who had raised money for charities by playing Christmas carols.
In 1986, he made an educational film at Dorset Institute’s art college, and in May 1989 – with his TV series Rolf’s Cartoon Time about to win a new generation of fans – he presided over the opening of Poole’s refurbished Dolphin Centre.
His charity work saw him receive a £420 cheque from Poole PHAB (Physically Handicapped and Able Bodied) Club in 1998 as president of PHAB.
Yet another generation came to love Harris through his unlikely emergence as a rock festival favourite – performing six times at Glastonbury and at Dorset’s Camp Bestival in 2010.
Meanwhile, Harris’s career as an artist enjoyed a new lease of life as an artist after painting the Queen in 2005, and in 2010 a selection of his art was displayed at the Whitewall Gallery in Bournemouth’s Westover Road.
Asked by the Echo about the prints he would be showing there, he said he might take one of a little boy trying to feed a starling. The title, ironically enough, was Trust.