Sir Cliff Richard is guilty of crimes against music. He had a sweet run in the 1950s and then he should have stopped. His Christmas song Mistletoe and Wine was so torturous that even Costa Coffee refused to play it. And he is responsible for Congratulations: case closed.
So I confess that when police raided Sir Cliff’s home over sexual assault allegations I wasn’t devastated. I joked: who didn’t suspect something dodgy from a man who sang: “I’m gonna lock her up in a trunk” (Living Doll).
Last week Sir Cliff was cleared of the allegations and police announced no charges would be brought against him. Even so, I’ve heard fewer people celebrating Cliff’s innocence than proclaiming Johnny Depp’s. I’m not surprised. In the court of public opinion, celebrities accused of crimes are judged not on the facts, but on our taste. We’re quick to justify the actions of artists we love and to condemn those whose work we don’t rate.
Few of David Bowie’s obituarists chose to remember that he took the virginity of a 14-year-old named Lori Maddox . No one mentions any more that Bill Wyman had sex with Mandy Smith when she was 14. Or that Iggy Pop boasted in his song Look Away that he slept with Sable Starr when she was 13 , the sort of behaviour that helped to create LA’s paedophilically named “baby groupie” scene.
We view these stories differently, at least partly out of snobbery. When you’re enamoured with rock’n’roll — rather than easy listening — who wants to be the killjoy mentioning statutory rape? Still, when grown men sleep with underage girls, that’s what it is. Even if skinny rock gods banging groupies seems glamorous in a way that Max Clifford’s grubby gropes in his office don’t.