Australian entertainer Rolf Harris arrives at Southwark Crown Court with daughter Bindi on Tuesday. Photo: AP
London: Rolf Harris was a “tactile” man who would enfold friends, neighbours, men and women in big bear hugs – but not in a sexual way, two witnesses have told a court.
One said he would remark on her “lovely curves” but she thought it was meant in a warm and friendly way.
Another described what she called a “Rolfism”: when she was a teenage girl he would jokingly ask “when are you going to marry me?” – which she found embarrassing, but not inappropriate.
Both were witnesses for the defence.
Harris has pleaded not guilty to 12 charges of indecently assaulting four girls between 1968 and 1986.
Jo Charles, who said she had known the Harris family since she was a young girl, described Harris as a “lovely, gentle and kind” man – “a real softy”.
“He is very very tactile,” she said. “He is a great hugger, he would give big bear hugs.”
The hugs were not sexual, she said. He would greet her by saying “aren’t you lovely, it’s good to see you sort of thing”, she said.
He would also make comments like “aren’t you a curvy girl, you have got such lovely curves”.
Ms Charles said the hugs were “lovely, it was affectionate, absolutely genuinely affectionate”.
He would also throw his arms around men to welcome them, she said.
And the “curvy” comment she took as meant “in a friendly warm way”.
She said he was a “very very unusual”, eccentric man.
On cross-examination she said she had not seen the “sexual side” of Harris, and the revelation of his affair with his daughter’s 18-year-old friend was “very sad”, but she didn’t think it was different to a normal affair.
“That gives us an idea of your perspective,” prosecutor Sasha Wass, QC, said.
Physiotherapist Anne-Marie Ashford Eve said her family had lived on the same street as the Harris family since the 1980s when she was young.
She said Harris was “totally lovely”.
She saw two sides to him – the larger-than-life TV persona and the quieter, gentler artist at home.
“He would envelop you in a hug – he would envelop my father in a hug which he found surprising; they were at two ends of the tactile spectrum,” she said.
But he never touched her inappropriately and she never saw him touch anyone else inappropriately, she said.
Asked if his affection ever made anyone uncomfortable, she said “only a ‘Rolfism’”.
She said this "Rolfism" was that when he saw her he would say “when are you going to marry me?”
“It used to drive me nuts when I was a kid,” she said. “It was just Rolf being Rolf. I was an easily embarrassed teenager.”
The trial at Southwark Crown Court before Justice Sweeney continues.