The moment Edward Heath sat down in the first class seat next to me on the flight from Scotland to London, shook my hand and said ‘Jonathan, it is a pleasure to meet you’ I determined to flirt with him in order to find out whether the rumours that he was gay were true.
I was in my thirties and famous. An undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge, I had been lucky, in 1965, to write and sing Everyone’s Gone To The Moon, which sold just under 5 million copies. That same month in that same year Heath had been elected leader of the Conservative Party.
I’ve been fortunate, in my life, to have met many famous people. None, incidentally, as charismatic as Heath’s rival and enemy Margaret Thatcher, but that’s another story.
Rumours about Heath’s sexuality had been rife for decades. He was a bachelor in an era when all bachelors were assumed to be gay. And remember this was a time when to be gay was to be a criminal, frequently leading to jail and even death. As a teenager I’d been horrified to watch the film Victim starring the wonderful (gay) actor Dirk Bogarde and to realise that gay or bisexual males, as I was, were doing something totally illegal. Could someone as high and mighty as Prime Minister have actually been homosexual?
Everyone said Heath was gay. Private Eye had put out a hilarious parody of the 1967 Keith West hit Grocer Jack called Grocer Heath, Grocer Heath, Cover Up Those Awful Teeth and we’d all sniggered. Those were the days.
My career as a singer lasted longer than most of my Sixties contemporaries. Into the late 70s I was still having hits like Una Paloma Blanca and sold over 40 million records, although my other work, producing and naming bands like Genesis and 10cc, went on much longer. This included I Get Knocked Down But I Get Up Again which I adopted as my unofficial theme tune when, in 2000, I was arrested and convicted — I believe wrongly — on sex abuse charges.
That was when I became aware of the sex abuse allegations industry. I could not believe that one could be accused, arrested, charged and eventually convicted for crimes, when there was no evidence that they had ever taken place. I was, incidentally, acquitted of charges at a second trial, though my conviction in the first trial has not yet been overturned. I remain hopeful that one day it will be — and the investigative journalist Bob Woffinden, who is writing a book about miscarriages of justice, including a chapter about my case, believes it should be.
The sex abuse allegations industry has exploded. Whether genuine misunderstandings and adapted memories over the passage of time or a desire for sympathy and attention, cash reward, delusions or simple exaggerations, it is far preferable if the celebrity is dead or incapacitated. But the strange ‘you will be believed’ mantra seems extraordinary coming from the police and CPS. Surely their job is neither to believe nor disbelieve but to examine for the truth, not just to aim for a conviction?
I tried to give evidence, when I appeared at the Leveson Inquiry on January 25th 2012, about this relationship between police and media – how both feed off the other when it comes to tackling sex abuse stories – but I was told it was not on the agenda. I actually think the majority of decent police officers hate the amount of time and money wasted on false allegations. Dixon of Dock Green would have dismissed obvious chancers. These days he’d be accused of covering up. It has become conventional wisdom that ‘claims must be investigated’. Not necessarily. The vast majority are clearly misunderstandings, inspired by drink or drug use or simply never going to be able to be proved.
But returning to the plane, Edward Heath was, by then, an ex Prime Minister. He must have had security officers further back on the flight but I didn’t notice them. I do have a habit of talking to people, whoever and wherever they may be. We chatted for twenty minutes. I knew he had a flat in the Albany, a chic block near Piccadilly in London. I hoped for an invitation to tea. He seemed charming, with a good sense of humour, and was clearly not in the slightest bit interested in me sexually. Then he said ‘Jonathan, if you don’t mind, I’d like to have a little nap’.
I examined him as he dozed. His skin was perfect, pink and without blemish – strange considering that, in later life, it gathered all the weather beaten stains of the winds on the ocean waves. His hair was pure white and designer tidy. He slept with his fingers together, making a steeple that never slipped for a second. I decided he was an alien, constructed by other world Central Casting. He didn’t look like a human being.
He woke ten minutes before landing at Heathrow. We spoke further. He could not have been nicer. Of course, I may not have been ‘his type’ – I was hardly an athletic sailor. But we queens can spot the signs. I knew hundreds of gay men and women, still do. Heath was, quite clearly, non sexual. Whether he had been in the past – who can tell? But there was not the slightest indication of it in the man I sat next to on the plane. And I got no invitation of any kind whatsoever.
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