It is to my continuing frustration that my life and career has so far not resulted in my ending up in the same orbit as broadcaster and all round musical expert Paul Gambaccini. Despite mutual friends, the closest the veteran entertainer and pop charts fan has ever come to knowing of my existence is introducing some of my recorded contributions on a 2008 Radio 2 documentary about the charts which he narrated.
Back in 2013 he had made headlines for all the wrong reasons, arrested as part of the Metropolitan police’s misguided Operation Yewtree, his name leaked to the press and thus forced to spend a year in career and personal purgatory as the police investigated false claims of sexual offences dating from the early 1980s, the torment only ending when it became clear to even the CPS that the allegations were a nonsense and he was free to resume his life with little in the way of an apology.
Like many other names put into the same position, his catharsis has been to write a book Love, Paul Gambaccini and it is this compelling read – a diary of his year of hell – which I recently devoured in the space of 48 hours.
The book is an absorbing account of how he deals with each stage of the struggle: his initial arrest, the media scrum outside his front door, the publicity fall-out and above all the continuing and all-pervading anger he feels at being subject to what he and everyone who knows him well knows to be a colossal and painful injustice.
Along the way we meet celebrity friends, institutions such as the Labour Party who turn their backs on him for fear of toxicity (an issue Gambaccini is particularly scathing about) and others who have been through similar battles such as Jimmy Tarbuck, Jim Davidson, politician Nigel Evans and Oxford Union president Ben Sullivan.
Not that the book doesn’t contain some entertaining moments, his regular tracking of his moods via the most played songs in his iTunes collection for a start, as well as the fun fact that his apartment block is virtually round the corner from where I work with his daily footsteps and lunchtime hangouts ones that could at times almost match my own.
Despite the final attempt by the CPS to smear him, announcing to the world the exact nature of the allegations he faced as part of their public statement that he will not be charged for them (and thus giving the “no smoke without fire” conspiracists all the information they need), Gambaccini emerges from his year in limbo with his reputation intact, free to resume his career but now crucially a man who is now a passionate and eloquent campaigner against the injustice of extended police bail and the sheer impossibility of defending oneself against accusations of misdemeanours three decades ago and in an era where old fashioned principles such as innocent until proven guilty fall silently by the wayside.
Only those who have yet to encounter it still labour under the misapprehension that our justice system is engaged in pursuit of the truth. It isn’t, its only desire is for a “result” of some kind, and only the truly naive believe that they need nothing more than their innocence to save them from a judicial miscarriage. Sadly this can lead to the kind of Kafka-esque nightmare to which Gambaccini and his family were subjected, auditioning Barristers, selling heirlooms to fund legal fees and entertaining thoughts of emigrating to start anew back home in American after having contemplated the very real possibility that he would end up serving a prison sentence for crimes that never took place – just like others before him.
You may end this book having some small degree of sympathy for the police, bound by procedure which leaves no room for common sense and who had little choice but to investigate the allegations, even though they’d quickly concluded that Gambaccini’s first accuser’s story had little or no merit. But you’ll also share the author’s contempt for a system that can leave the accused in legal limbo for months or even years whilst the bureaucratic wheels slowly turn, and gasp in horror at Liz Kershaw’s revelation that the police told her they don’t need actual physical evidence of a crime where historical sex offences are concerned “just people who agree”. Two wrongs never make a right, but three lies can combine to be seen as the truth in modern Britain.
Gambaccini ends the book with the pointed question: “what are you doing to do about it?” but the sad truth is that few people will do anything about it, not until they or someone they know is plunged into the pit of false accusations. But you can make an excellent start at least by reading Love, Paul Gambaccini. It is well worth the time.