Jimmy Savile

He lives like a Spartan, wears his tracksuits to bed and still dry-cleans his mother’s clothes – even though she’s been dead 31 years. But Sir Jimmy Savile insists he’s not an eccentric, writes Nigel Farndale

Park Crescent in London W1 is a smart place to have a flat. But it wasn’t the address that appealed to Sir Jimmy Savile. It was the garage space. He can park his Rolls-Royce here, he tells me.

“I’m just off to buy my 18th this afternoon,” he adds, chewing on an unlit cigar. “Off to Jack Barclay’s showroom. That’s where I always go. Trade in my old one.”

You would never guess this cramped flat was the London residence of a wealthy man. It has woodchip wallpaper. An empty kitchen. A bed. A chair. A Hoover. A framed cover from the Radio Times. And an exercise bike.

“I live in gymnasiums,” he says, pointing at the machine. “I have five places to live and they are all littered with weights and exercise machines like this. No lady would stand for it, which is just as well.”

There has never been a woman — sorry, lady — in Sir Jimmy’s life, other than his mother, who died in 1973. The Duchess, as he called her, lived with him and when she died she carried on living with him, for five days.

He has preserved her room in his Scarborough flat — most of his flats are in his home county of Yorkshire — and he dry-cleans her clothes once a year. Nevertheless, he implies constantly that he has an active sex life: one-night stands only.

Beneath his in-evitable tracksuit, for instance, he is wearing a T-shirt which reads: “For good luck, rub my tummy (ladies only)”.

It is, he says, his “never-fail T-shirt with the ladies”. He has never been in love, he tells me — “Not really.” And has never slept the whole night with a woman.

“I like my freedom too much,” he says. “I enjoy the ladies and they enjoy me. And that’s it.”

With a rattle of gold jewellery, he flops down on the bed, legs apart, his long, white hair resting on the shoulders of his tracksuit top. I ask him if he thinks he dresses appropriately for a 78-year-old.

“I don’t know what a 78-year-old is supposed to dress like. The reason I’ve worn these tracksuits all my life is that you can take your shoes off, climb into bed, go to sleep, wake up in the morning, put your shoes on and you’re dressed. ”

Does he still dye his hair?

“Never have done. I bleach it. Still do. Take the colour out of it. The reason is, I worked for Coca-Cola for nine years and learned about product recognition from them.”

It is a telling comment. Sir Jimmy sees himself as a brand to be marketed. That is partly what the cigars seem to be about as well. They were the subject of a storm in an ashtray the other day when he posed with one — wearing only his boxer shorts — for the Stoke Mandeville charity calendar.

It was reported that his picture was to be dropped from the calendar because a hospital couldn’t be seen to condone smoking. This seemed a bit rum: after all, without Sir Jimmy there would hardly be a Stoke Mandeville.

He has raised about £40 million for various charities over the years, £15 million of which went to founding the spinal centre at the hospital. A compromise was reached: the cigar was airbrushed out. Even so, did he feel hurt at the ingratitude?

“I did it on purpose. I knew they would have to object to it because it is a hospital. And they knew that I knew. It — was — a — bit — of — fun.”

This is how he talks. In staccato sentences, with his eyes scrunched up in mock concentration. His speech is an odd mixture of warm, northern patter (“now then, now then”), pedantry (“fantasy is your word, I prefer dream”) and non sequiturs.

Bearing in mind how health-conscious he is — he ran his 217th marathon a few months ago — you would think Sir Jimmy wouldn’t want to damage his lungs with cigars anyway.

“The cigars don’t make any difference to my lungs. And I’m not going to give them up. Every time I light one it’s like a celebration.”

This is another intriguing comment. He has spent a lifetime celebrating his escape from childhood poverty. He worked down the coal mines until an injury forced him to look elsewhere for work.

He founded the first disco in 1947 and went on to make his fortune managing 52 dance halls. This he consolidated with television work: becoming the first presenter of Top of the Pops in 1964 and then, in the 1970s, the eponymous star of the hugely successful Jim’ll Fix It. Does he know what he is worth?

“Not really. I’ve given most of it away. What do you need in life? A bacon sandwich.” And a Rolls-Royce.

“No, that is different. That is about living the dream. When I worked down the pit I was earning 21 shillings a week. I had a picture of a Rolls-Royce pinned up in my wardrobe and I dreamed about owning one.

“I don’t use the Rolls much. I actually run around in a panel van up in Leeds. I also have a 200mph Ferrari because that’s my game. Knotty ash. Flash.”

Is the flashiness a compensation for his youthful poverty?

“I’m not sure. I wake up in the morning and have a bit of fun, at no one else’s expense. Don’t hurt nobody. Don’t slag nobody off.”

Every single day is a bit of fun? There are no days when he feels down?

“I don’t have down days. I’m very boring, I don’t do drugs, booze or underage sex.” Is he an eccentric?

“That’s not how I see myself. I’ve always thought everyone else was odd. I just have a bit of fun.”

It is the Monday of Christmas week. This interview will appear on Boxing Day. How will Sir Jimmy have spent Christmas Day? With family?

“No, I ain’t got any left. They’ve all pegged it. I was youngest of seven. Actually, I’ve got one sister who is 90.”

Friends then? Does he have any? Close ones, I mean.

“What is a close friend? Last week a couple of old friends from my days down the pit came round for a cup of tea in the morning. That’s close. Today I’ll have this bit of carry-on with you then I’ll go and see my new Rolls-Royce. Then I’ll get on a train back up to Yorkshire. I’m as free as a bird.”

He flaps his arms. It hasn’t been for lack of opportunity, this single life he has led. I mean, he pretty much had groupies in his heyday, didn’t he?

“More in the 1960s than now, because it would be unseemly for me to go to clubs and pursue ladies now, even though, physically and mentally, I’m still up for it. But one has to accept that it is not the done thing.” Does he know how many women he has slept with?

“I wouldn’t have the faintest idea and I wouldn’t even like to work that out.”

He is, he says, never lonely. Also, he claims never to have lost his temper. Yet he can be quite touchy and he is certainly self-aggrandising. He talks himself up and shows off about his wealth but he is also emotionally immature and perhaps even arrested. I ask him to describe himself.

“It’s Monday. I’m healthy. I’ve got a few quid. Nobody looking for me with a gun. I’ve got pleasant prospects. I love Christmas. Spend it on my own because I choose to. Free as a bird.”

He laughs gently. If there is a psychological malaise behind all this bravado it surely has its roots in his materially deprived childhood. I ask him if he thinks he was starved of affection as a child.

“On the contrary, I had plenty. One thing with a big family is that you have to be a survivor. We were a skint house so when food went on the table, if you didn’t cop yours, the other six had it away.

“My dad was a quiet, laid-back, line-of-least-resistance man. He never wanted to argue.” (His father, a bookmaker’s clerk, died when Jimmy was 27.)

“The Duchess had a very strong sense of right and wrong, which she instilled in me.”

I ask if he idealised his mother.

“No, not really. She wasn’t perfect. With the Duch I was not her favourite. I was the only one who didn’t marry, and so she could live with me rather than somewhere else.

“By the time I was in television, I realised my mother was a character. You could never contradict her.

“When I moved to Scarborough she was talking to these two ladies and told them that I had opened the Post Office Tower. I told them I hadn’t; that The Queen had opened it. The Duch said: ‘He did open it. He forgets, you know.’ ”

Has no potential wife been able to live up to the Duch?

“No, the reason I never married was that I would have had to give up the business — because I couldn’t have had a wife at one end of the country and me at the other at a gig surrounded by 800 girls and stay faithful.”

“Girls, women, whatever, females. We’re talking dance halls and discos here.” Surely he must be aware of the rumour about him and underage girls?

“Oh, you get rumours about everything. I tell you where it comes from: if I go on a cruise, say, and there are a dozen teenage girls they all come round to talk to me. Chat, chat, chat. To the casual observer it’s: ‘Oh, look at those young girls with that geezer.’

“They don’t realise that the only reason the girls are talking to me is that I know the people they idolise, which is the pop stars. But if I were to suggest anything to them they would be mortally offended. I’m an ancient punter.”

It is not unheard of for a young, impressionable woman to be attracted to an older man who is rich and famous.

“No, you are moving the goalposts. You were talking about young girls. Young girls are not attracted to power and all that. In fact, it puts them off. The teenagers today are very moral.

“The last thing in the world you would do with a teenage girl is try and tell her a mucky joke. Wouldn’t work. They are highly moral in their own peculiar way. So if I was going out on the pull they would be dreadfully offended, and I wouldn’t dream of it anyway. People get the wrong idea because people have had the wrong idea forever.”

Does he feel hurt by the rumour?

“No. It would be a lot worse if it were true. And as it’s not true I don’t give a shit anyway.”

Sir Jimmy claims to have no introspection. No emotions, come to that. I ask if he has ever cried.

“No. When you’re in what I call the living and dying business — visiting people in hospitals — you have to have a bit of strength.

“There was a couple of 17-year-old girls up at Leeds and they were both terminal and I would joke with them and be outrageous and make them laugh. I would say, ‘OK, tonight, ladies, I’ve decided you can have me. We can pull these beds together.’ And they would say: ‘Chance would be a fine thing.’ They loved it.

“Then I had to go off for a month to do a charity bike ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats and when I went back to see them there was only one there. I asked her where her friend was and she said, almost apologetically, ‘Oh, she died. She didn’t want to. She wanted to wait till you came back.’

“I shut myself in a toilet for two hours, after that. I don’t know whether I cried but there was turmoil inside.”

It’s a tender story, and it shows he is capable of feeling a kind of love. He’s smoked down to the end of his cigar. As he stubs it out he tells me a poignant story which he hasn’t yet had time to polish up into a self-deprecating anecdote. It happened only last night. He went to mass in Spanish Place.

“When they came with the collection plate they walked right past me like I was a penniless mugger or something and I had to laugh to myself. You see, I had a score ready to put in the plate.”