On warm nights in this seaside resort, the elderly British foreigner would sing in his backyard — sometimes for friends, sometimes for himself, but always very loudly.
Once, Paul Francis Gadd, known widely by his stage name Gary Glitter, sang to millions as he pranced and strutted in his metallic jumpsuits as one of the shining stars during Britain’s glam rock era in the 1970s. His pulsing “Rock and Roll (Parts 1 & 2),” with its booming single-word chorus of “Hey,” became a sports-crowd anthem that is played endlessly in stadiums and arenas.
But Glitter, 61, has fallen a long way since his days as a larger than life pop icon, dogged by rumors of his predilection for very young girls since his conviction in London in 1999 for possessing child pornography.
And now he is sitting in a Vietnamese prison as local authorities pursue allegations he had sex with underaged girls, including a 12-year-old.
Glitter was stopped by immigration police at the airport November 19 as he tried to board a flight for Bangkok. Police had begun a manhunt for him a week earlier after he fled his ocean-view villa in the coastal resort city of Vung Tau
On Thursday, police officials said they had gathered enough evidence of a possible crime to keep him under detention for another four months while they proceed with a criminal investigation.
It is a big drop from his long-ago perch atop the charts.
“He was absolutely huge. He was one of the figureheads of the glam rock movement in Britain in the 70s. He was incredibly popular with young audiences,” said Andrew Male, deputy editor of London-based Mojo music magazine.
With his bouffant black wigs, sequined lamé jumpsuits, and silver platform heels, Glitter dominated the early to mid-70s with hits like “Leader of the Gang” and “Do You Wanna Touch Me,” later covered by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. At the height of his fame, he sold some 18 million albums.
Living off glory days
But Glitter’s musical career slowly faded as he became an unfashionable has-been by the 1990s. He lived off his past glory, and did occasional variety-show performances and quiz shows.
“He had become something of a tragic figure even before these stories hit the headlines,” said Male. Glitter’s problems with the law began, Male recounted, when the rocker took his computer in for repair. “The images found there ... that was the point when it was exposed and everyone was aware of it.”
Glitter was convicted in 1999 of possessing thousands of images of child pornography and served half of a four-month sentence before he left England.
In December 2002, he was expelled from Cambodia, hounded out by child advocates and then-Minister for Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua, who argued that his conviction in Britain was enough to bar him permanently.
“With these types of convictions and charges, we were deeply concerned that Cambodian children would be put at risk around this man,” said Naly Pilorge, director of LICADHO, a Cambodian organization that works on human rights and child trafficking issues. “Obviously, Vietnam has the same concerns.”
Glitter has shown up in Vietnam three times since Oct. 2003, according to police, most recently in April.
He rented a terra cotta tiled villa, with a swimming pool and an ocean view, in Vung Tau, a sleepy seaside resort popular with Vietnamese as a weekend getaway from Ho Chi Minh City.
Few foreigners reside here, so Glitter, bald and burly, was quickly noticed. Neighbors said he was often seen bringing up to five or six girls in their mid-teens to his home. Laughter and loud talking at the pool could be heard over the high walls surrounding his villa, they said.
Vietnam does not have the reputation of Cambodia as a haven for sex tourism, but recent surveys by the government and the U.N. Children’s Fund indicate that child prostitution, including child sex tourism, is on the rise, said Le Hong Loan, head of UNICEF Vietnam’s child protection section.
“I think the case of Gary Glitter is a historic case for Vietnam so it can be more vigilant about the situation of sex tourism,” Loan said. “Many people are unaware of the problem but because of (Glitter) and the media, more and more people are talking about it.”
For the ex-rocker who sought to stay anonymous in Southeast Asia, notoriety proved his undoing.
“I hate the name Gary Glitter,” he reportedly said after being caught at Tan Son Nhat airport by an immigration officer who had remembered articles about the former singer. “It is too famous. Because of it, I draw so much attention.”