Five years ago this week, veteran BBC radio presenter Paul Gambaccini was woken in his luxury London apartment by a team of eight officers from the Metropolitan Police.
It was 4.38am. They arrested him on accusations of sexually abusing two underage boys in the late 1970s and early 1980s and confiscated sacks of his possessions, including computers, cameras, phones, Paul’s UK and U.S. passports and 38 years of diaries.
After dressing carefully in his wedding suit and smoothing down his silver hair, Paul accompanied them to the police station, where he was questioned for six hours before eventually being released on bail.
Paul, now 69, was the 15th man arrested under Operation Yewtree, Scotland Yard’s inquiry into sexual abuse claims launched in 2012 after the Jimmy Savile scandal.
Over the next year, his bail was renewed a further six times as both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) dithered, dawdled and handled his case so incompetently that it would be funny if it wasn’t true.
But Paul’s life was turned inside-out. Work dried up, his income stopped, friends melted away and his anger levels rocketed.
And then, a year later, the CPS dropped the case on the basis of ‘insufficient evidence’ and, just in case anyone had forgotten, reiterated not only the alleged crime, but the incorrect ages of the ‘victims’.
‘It feels as if the Metropolitan Police has become like a third-rate Stasi,’ says Paul.
We are chatting because, this week, he was awarded substantial damages, plus costs and an unreserved apology from the CPS over the misleading statement it put out after he was cleared.
‘Those weasel words, “insufficient evidence”,’ says Paul today, banging a bottle of water on the table in barely controlled fury. ‘There was no evidence.’
During all that time, the Met seemingly failed to undertake even the most elementary checks regarding either Paul’s accusers or his alleged crime.
One accuser had described Paul to police as looking like a ‘light-skinned Asian’.
Nobody even bothered to check the accusers were underage during the alleged offence. They were not.
Or to verify one accuser’s statements that, on several occasions, ending in 1981, he ran into Paul’s flatmate, Limahl, lead singer of pop group Kajagoogoo.
‘Firstly, he didn’t live there, Kajagoogoo didn’t make a record until 1983 and Limahl (his stage name) hadn’t even been invented by then,’ says Paul.
‘He was just a bloke called Chris. These were elementary errors that could have been checked in ten minutes with a quick flick on Google.’
The settlement is a final blow to Alison Saunders, who this week stepped down as Director of Public Prosecutions after a shockingly bad five years at the CPS.
‘Her role in my life was entirely negative,’ says Paul.
New York-born Paul came to Britain as a 21-year-old Rhodes scholar at Oxford University. He loved it so much that he stayed.
‘No one loves a country as much as someone who’s chosen to live in it.’
He embraced it all — the education, theatre, music and health service, but, most of all, the BBC (‘the world’s greatest broadcasting organisation,’ he says), where he is known by his listeners as the Professor of Pop and is the only DJ to have been a regular presenter on Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4.
Paul is a patently good, kind, meticulously ordered man with utterly beautiful skin.
The top-floor flat he shares with his husband Christopher Sherwood, an advertising executive, is all gleaming parquet floors, enormous, very clean windows, beautifully framed pictures and shelves lined with thousands of books, records and CDs, all arranged just so.
‘My career’s been built on facts and routine. I’m organised, always on time and I’ve been living like this since I was first on college radio in 1966.’
When he was released, his calm, ordered life unravelled.
‘I remember sitting on my bed and thinking: “The world has gone mad. The police are spending a fortune trying to prove nothing.” I was told they had 20 people on my case.’
He barely slept, lost a stone and couldn’t leave his flat for a week because of the crowds outside. Charities and institutions he had supported for decades cut him off and so-called friends evaporated.
He wasn’t even allowed unsupervised contact with his nephews, nieces or godchildren, as they were under 16.
‘Your life experiences the reversal of the big bang. You’re reduced to your core, which is not necessarily a bad thing,’ he says.
‘All these organisations I’d supported just ghosted me.’
Including his beloved Labour Party. Just a year before his arrest, he’d hosted a fundraiser party for Ed Miliband in his flat, attended by Chuka Umunna, David Tennant and Ben Elton.
‘Miliband gave his speech from that spot over there,’ he says.
He did not hear from Miliband or the Labour Party after his arrest. Not even a text to see if he was OK — and not a peep since.
The BBC was worse. Just three months earlier, to celebrate Paul’s 40th anniversary there, they’d broadcast a Radio 4 series, The Gambaccini Years, featuring old friends such as Elton John.
But the minute he was named in the Press, they stopped his pay.
‘They had me on a technicality because I was employed by an independent production company,’ he explains.
‘They never bothered to ask me what this was about. I was a 40-year veteran with not a single character complaint, but they chose to side with a serial drug abuser and serial false accuser.
‘A meth head against their own presenter. Not that they will know that until they read this.’
They edited him out of recorded forthcoming programmes, rescinded all invitations, took him off air and froze him out.
Naturally, the BBC was twitchy in the wake of the Savile scandal, but Paul was notoriously strait-laced.
One of the allegations against him was that he had lured his victims with drink and drugs.
But he says: ‘I’ve never been intoxicated in this country. I’m a teetotaller. I’ve never taken drugs. I’ve never even had a cigarette in this country.’
Ten months into his bail period, the BBC live-screened helicopters circling above the Yewtree police raid on Sir Cliff Richard’s Sunningdale home in August 2014.
‘Had they spoken to me even once, they would never have embarked on the Cliff coverage,’ says Paul.
‘That was a very expensive conversation not to have.’
In July 2018, the BBC was ordered to pay Sir Cliff £210,000 damages for breach of his privacy.
Paul and Sir Cliff had been friends for 40 years, but Yewtree brought them much closer.
‘I said: “One thing we must never do is attack our false accusers. We don’t know them. They are distressed individuals. The blame goes on the police, not people who are unwell.”’
They were on the same tack. Cliff had already been praying for his accusers.
‘A lot of people say: “Oh, come on! He can’t be that Christian!” Well, he is. He’s been genuinely religious all his life, so it was hard for him to understand why now, in old age, he’d been presented with this challenge,’ says Paul.
‘He’s been an ambassador for this country for half a century and now it turns against him.’
He and Cliff joined forces with other falsely accused, high-profile individuals from several police operations.
‘It was one of the most unlikely social groups I’ve ever been part of,’ says Paul. ‘We weren’t getting any help from the police and CPS, so we had to learn from each other.’
They emailed, spoke on the phone, met for meals — in restaurants and in Paul’s dining room.
All the time, the group were exchanging information — details, inconsistencies, incompetencies and allegations — taken seriously by the police, even though it was clearly risible.
The more he learned, the more obsessed Paul became.
He spent thousands of hours researching, reading endless case reports, documents and files.
‘In the sixth month of my bail, one of my best friends said: “I’m beginning to worry about you because you’re applying your ability to remember music trivia to the details of these cases.” And it was true!’
To keep sane, he set himself do-able tasks — tricky word puzzles, passages of Proust, games of Scrabble, piano practice and trips to the gym.
He even wrote a book about his ordeal, called Love, Paul Gambaccini.
‘You learn what sustains you,’ he says.
But nothing could stop the boiling rages — not plate-smashing explosions, but internal eruptions where he felt his neck clench and his blood vessels bulge.
‘I was too angry to cry,’ he says. ‘Anger management is the big challenge.’
Paul chose not to see a therapist — ‘if you analyse yourself, it’s cheaper’ — and, instead, read philosophy and focused on the kindness of the true friends who had stuck to him like glue.
Two moved in to keep him company when he first came home — to keep an eye on him when Chris was at work.
‘Elton John put himself on the line publicly and was a real hero,’ he says. ‘And Stephen Fry. Wow! So kind.’
But it was husband Chris who was his real saviour.
‘He saved my life. I don’t want to imagine what it would have been like not having a loving spouse through all of this,’ he says. ‘He is without fear and completely loving.’
They met eight years ago on Facebook — ‘I just bless the day I ticked his friendship request’ — and have been married for six.
Crisp, plump scatter-cushions on the cream sofas are decorated with their wedding anniversary and initials. The apartment is festooned with happy photos of the couple.
Many of Paul’s other relationships, however, are broken. The charities that froze him out, the Labour Party of which he is no longer a member.
Most of all, the BBC.
‘There was no greater defender of the BBC than me,’ he says. ‘But they never tried to make it up to me after I was cleared.’
Instead, he says, after reinstating him 13 months later, they ensured that what is jokingly called a ‘Gambaccini clause’ is now written into all BBC contracts — stipulating that if you are arrested, you can be suspended without pay during the case.
Today, Paul still hosts two radio shows — Saturday lunchtime Pick Of The Pops on Radio 2 and Radio 4’s Counterpoint. But the love has gone.
‘I have no relationship with the BBC,’ he says, firmly. ‘None. I go into the building each week to do the programmes, but I have not met the current Director-General or head of radio.
‘My relationship is now solely with my listeners — and thank you, all 2.32 million of you.’
His respect for Britain has faded, too. The institutions, at least.
‘I thought Britain was more humane than the U.S. The country with the longest rule of democracy — innocent until proven guilty and all that.
‘Now I realise that the police don’t tell the truth all at once. They only tell the truth when they absolutely have to.’
He credits journalists — and, in particular, the Daily Mail’s Richard Littlejohn (‘the first person to figure out that Yewtree was the emperor’s new clothes’) with saving him and others.
In March 2015, he gave evidence at the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee that helped bring about a 28-day limit on use of police bail.
But, for a long time, he couldn’t face launching a legal action, however outrageously he’d been treated.
It was Sir Richard Henriques’s report into police handling of the Yewtree cases and the other non-recent sexual offence allegations against persons of public importance that snapped him into action in 2016.
The report contained an entire chapter on Paul’s case — confidential, but made available to him — that revealed the appalling process of the police investigation.
‘I had no idea they had been so sneaky. So “non”-honest. Sir Richard told me my case was a comedy of errors and it was,’ he says.
‘Suddenly, all the dots connected with other cases. Oh my God . . . I can’t tell you what was in it, but the minute I read it, that was it.’
Paul launched actions against the CPS and the Met at the same time, seeking apology and damages.
This week’s settlement is likely to impact future wording used by the CPS in other cases where they drop actions — hopefully replacing the stain of ‘insufficient evidence’ with ‘no evidence’.
Meanwhile, he is likely to have a long wait for resolution from the Met. ‘I learnt the accuracy of the saying: “There are two time zones — GMT and Met police time”.’
The last letter from their lawyers last December — apologising for the delay in replying to his solicitors’ letter of July — referred to the wrong case.
‘These guys make the Keystone Cops look like the SAS,’ he says.
‘We can’t afford to have a second division police force. We need to invest in it and recruit from universities. It just isn’t good enough. The people of this country deserve better.’
Five years on, Paul’s calm and ordered life is, as he puts it, ‘utterly changed’.
He is still palpably angry — who wouldn’t be? He channels his fury into helping others who find themselves on the receiving end of police incompetence.
‘We have become magnets for the falsely accused. One man was accused of abusing his niece before she was even born!’ he says.
‘We just want to give them hope. That’s the reason I agreed to this interview.’
Paul Gambaccini is a quiet, private and gentle, but remarkable, man.
He might have lost faith in his adopted British police, broadcasting and justice systems, but his love for humanity is unshakeable and, every day, he counts his blessings to be alive, to be healthy, to be happy, in love and to have 2.32 million loyal fans.