Rolf Harris says he is "touchy-feely" person but denies indecent assault

The Northern Echo: Rolf Harris in the dock at Southwark Crown Court. Illustration: Elizabeth Cook/PA Rolf Harris in the dock at Southwark Crown Court. Illustration: Elizabeth Cook/PA

Veteran entertainer Rolf Harris has admitted he is a "touchy-feely" person but denied indecently assaulting a friend of his daughter while on holiday.

The 84-year-old told Southwark Crown Court that he did hug the girl on the trip, but said he would hug most people.

Giving evidence for the first time during his indecent assault trial, the star - wearing a pin-striped suit and turquoise and purple tie - told jurors: "I'm a very touchy-feely sort of person."

During questioning by his defence barrister, Sonia Woodley QC, Harris was asked: "(The alleged victim) has said that you hugged her and she found that creepy. Have you hugged (the alleged victim?).

Harris replied: "Yes, I have. I'm a very touchy-feely sort of person."

Ms Woodley asked: "In any sexual way or not?"

"No," said Harris.

The artist was then questioned about a particular incident which is alleged to have happened when the girl, who was friends with his daughter Bindi, travelled with them to Hawaii.

Ms Woodley said: "She says that when she came out of the shower you were there and you indecently assaulted her. Did you do that?"

The TV star replied: "No, it didn't happen."

Harris, from Bray in Berkshire, faces 12 counts of indecent assault on four alleged victims between 1968 and 1986, all of which he denies.

Seven of the counts relate to his daughter's friend, who claims he carried out a string of assaults on her over a number of years, starting with the foreign trip.

Asked by Ms Woodley about the woman's claims that he "tickled" her as he walked past her, he said: "I have no recollection of that", and of claims that he touched her intimately, the artist said: "No, it never happened."

He described the woman as "shy", but said: "I think she gradually got to be at ease with my presence."

Asked by his barrister if it was difficult for him to recall events from 40 years ago - the period covering some of the allegations - Harris said: "I must say it's been very difficult."

Earlier, Harris outlined his rise to stardom, telling jurors that his first interview for the BBC was a "disaster" as well as describing how he invented his well-known "wobble-board".

He said he moved from Australia to London at the age of 21 to pursue a career as an artist because he did not want to be a "weekend painter".

He earned money by performing in the evenings while trying different painting courses, the court heard.

The star said he was inspired to try to carve a career in television after seeing an entertainer telling stories and doing drawings on TV and thinking he could do better.

He wrote to the BBC to ask for an audition, but it was a disaster, he said.

"It was a disaster because my selling ability was my ability to do drawings quickly and tell the story while doing the drawings, except that in a panicked situation I did all my drawings the night before in my little room in Earl's Court."

He said the person he auditioned for was directing a secretary while he was performing, and then gave what he thought was a dismissive thanks at the end.

But the BBC did offer Harris a slot on a show, marking the start of his TV career, the court heard.

Harris initially stood while giving evidence, but later chose to sit down in the witness box.

He outlined his various career successes, including the television programme Whirligig and hits Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport and Jake The Peg, which he sang to the court.

At times the entertainer was cut short by Ms Woodley, prompting him to say: "I'm sorry I'm waxing a bit too lyrical on all these answers, I'm sorry."

Describing how he came up with the idea for his famous "wobble board", Harris said he was trying to dry a piece of hardboard that he had painted and covered in turpentine, using an oil heater.

"I had no idea how much heat was coming out of this blessed thing - it was red hot," he said. "I tested it with my finger and it was like 'Argh', and a big blister came up on my finger.

"I thought it was going to catch light. I had it between my open arms and I shook it," he said, describing the noise it made when he did so.

"It seemed to have a rhythm so being a musician and an entertainer I started accenting the off-beat.

"It was just a wonderful sound, a loud sound. That became the wobble-board."

Jurors heard that Harris was made an MBE, then an OBE, and finally a CBE, and has also received a Bafta Fellowship, as well as being commissioned to paint the Queen's portrait.

The entertainer told the court that he married wife Alwen - who watched from the public gallery with other family members - in 1958.

He said previous health issues included a stroke and heart problems, and he had been diagnosed with diabetes.

Asked about his drinking habits, Harris said he drank in a "perfunctory way" and would share a beer with his wife with a curry.

Harris told the court that his alleged victim became jealous when his daughter Bindi struck up a friendship with another girl, saying: "I think she felt shut out of the relationship, she felt excluded from it and started to become jealous of it."

He described an incident when the girl was 18 when she became "flirtatious" as he took a cup of tea to her in bed when she stayed at the Harris home in Bray.

He said: "I put the tea down on the bedside table and she grabbed my elbow and seemed to indicate that she wanted me to sit on the bed which I did.

"She slid over a little bit and then shook the duvet off her foot to reveal that her legs were bare, she had no pyjama pants on.

"And it seemed to me that she was being very flirtatious with me.

"As you can imagine it was a very flattering feeling for this young lady to suddenly be showing an interest in me.

"It was very flirtatious and she seemed to be suddenly interested in me in a completely different way."

Harris said he touched the outside of the girl's leg, describing how his "heart was thumping".

"I didn't know what to do, I got up and left the room," he told the court. "I left her there with the cup of tea and went out."

The 84-year-old said the girl shaking the duvet off seemed to be an "invitation".

Describing the encounter, he said: "I find it very hard to discuss this. It's highly embarrassing."

Asked why, he said: "A married man, a much younger girl, I shouldn't have been doing it."

Harris described the girl as "flirtatious and coquettish" and said there was "sexual chemistry" between them.

Describing another similar encounter, he said there was "whispered speech" between them, which developed into a sexual encounter.

Asked if the girl was a "willing participant", he said: "Yes she was, definitely."

The court heard there were several further encounters between Harris and his alleged victim, all of which he claimed she was a willing participant in, and some that she herself had instigated, including an occasion when they were on a walk, and another time when he gave her a lift.

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