LESLEY-ANN JONES: Why ARE Rolling Stones fans celebrating the return of Bill Wyman when he should be ostracised for abusing an under-age girl?
The private Mayfair members’ club Tramp was brimming with beautiful people. The music, their chatter and laughter were deafening. But as we made our way to our table across the tiny dancefloor that night, the entire room seemed to fall silent.
Every pair of eyes in the place turned to look at us. Not because among our number was a Rolling Stone. He was a regular, and part of the furniture there. It was our gorgeous blonde friend who took their breath away.
I was a presenter on a prime-time Channel 4 Saturday night music show at the time, and accustomed to socialising with DJs and rock stars. Many of them I still count as friends. Bill Wyman is no longer one of them.
I’d got to know Bill through John Entwistle, the bassist with The Who. He, his girlfriend Maxene Harlow and I were close chums. Also part of our group was Russ Kane, who went on to become a household name as Capital Radio’s Flying Eye and the sidekick of Chris Tarrant on the station’s Breakfast Show. Another pal worked as Bill’s PA.
Bill Wyman and Mandy Smith at Sticky Fingers, Bill’s new restaurant in Kensington, 9th May 1989
Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones with Mandy Smith at the opening of Vila Regina, 1986
It was 1984 and though the Stones had peaked creatively during the 1970s and early 1980s, they were still hugely popular. But the best they could manage that year was the compilation album Rewind. Worse, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had fallen out.
With time on his hands, Wyman was up for a party. He would gather his gang at London’s celebrity haunts — Joe Allen, Langan’s and Le Caprice — where we’d chat and drink the champagne he’d always insist on buying, despite our best efforts to pay our way. He never said much, but seemed to enjoy the banter of our lively bunch. He was 47 — most of us were at least a quarter of a century his junior.
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In my 20s, I got on like a house on fire with the gorgeous young blonde. Over time, I grew very fond of her. Her name was Mandy Smith. Often accompanied by her older sister, Nicola, only 16 at the time but I presumed she was in her early 20s and, occasionally, by her mother, Patsy, then 37, she was the liveliest of us all.
It was Mandy who chose the restaurants we ate in, the clubs we went to. She was the life and soul. We all adored her.
It didn’t occur to me at the time, but I have to ask now: was that glamorous, exuberant, mixed-age circle of friends fabricated by Bill for a reason?
Only years later could I admit to myself that it must have been. It now seems obvious to me that we were used to conceal his ‘affair’ with Mandy. To disguise, in other words, the relationship between a 48-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl.
The routine was always the same: a male friend of ours would drive to Mandy’s home in North London to pick her up and bring her into town for our nights out. Russ — who has recently given me permission to name him in this context — would walk Mandy into venues, while Bill would walk me. This was all designed to suggest that Bill was not ‘with’ Mandy. But we all knew he was. At the end of the evening, we would jump in the limo or peel off in taxis to go home, leaving Bill and Mandy behind.
News that Wyman has reunited with the Rolling Stones after a 30-year absence brought it all back to me. When I heard that he had been welcomed back into the fold, I didn’t sleep for days.
The release next week of the Stones’ latest album, Hackney Diamonds, is a hugely significant music industry event. Wyman’s bass guitar contribution, at the age of 86, on the track Live By The Sword — his first collaboration with his former bandmates since he quit the group in 1993 — is being hailed as a brilliant return from exile.
Yet my skin crawls to hear him so feted. Why is the nation celebrating the return of rock’s prodigal son when we should be ostracising him for his abuse of an under-age girl?
But that’s not how it was, insist many of my music business friends. How was it then? What would they call it?
Back then, in 1984, I had no idea that Mandy was so young. We all thought she was about 19 or 20.
Lesley-Ann Jones pictured right of Wyman (centre) at The Prince Of Wales Theatre, London, May 29 1984
Left to right: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts
Ronnie Wood, Sir Mick Jagger and Keith Richards attend the launch event for The Rolling Stones’ new album ‘Hackney Diamonds’
I was with Bill the night he first met her. We went together as friends to the Daily Mirror Rock and Pop Awards at the Lyceum on the Strand in February 1984. We shared a table with Ultravox’s Midge Ure and BBC Radio 1 presenter Andy Peebles.
Wyman was there to accept an award commemorating the life and career of his friend the great blues musician Alexis Korner, who had died the previous month.
But his eye was repeatedly drawn to two blondes on the dancefloor — Mandy and her sister Nicola. At that point, Mandy was just 13.
The argument that it’s ‘all too long ago’ and that Mandy was her own worst enemy for being a ‘wild child’ doesn’t wash. Multiple crimes against Mandy were committed. Her abuser should stand trial. Shouldn’t he?
Perhaps rock stars are the last great untouchables. Then again, perhaps their moment has come.
For what happened to Mandy is not just a crime, but a deeply wicked one. To rob a child of her innocence is an act of extraordinarily cynical exploitation.
In my defence, it took time to compute what was happening. I knew, for example, that Mandy had moved out of her mother’s council flat in North London and into Bill’s apartment on the King’s Road in Chelsea.
But I was unaware, because I did not know that she was still a schoolgirl, that he had removed her from her state school and enrolled her at a private establishment, only walking distance from his home.
We might never have known her real age had Bill not thrown a party at Thierry’s, a restaurant just below his flat, for her birthday. The clan gathered for it, including Mandy’s mum and sister. There was a single candle on her gigantic cake. Russ couldn’t help himself: ‘Go on, then, Mand,’ he asked, ‘how old are you today?’
‘Fifteen,’ she said.
By then, she and Wyman had been dating for two years. How did we react? With shock. We were dazed. And we were frightened.
Most of us feared we must have done something wrong, simply because we knew about it. We scarpered. The friendship group disintegrated. As Russ says now, ‘you didn’t see us for dust’.
We knew it was wrong, but we didn’t do anything about it. We didn’t dare. We never even discussed it, we simply went our separate ways. I know now that even if we had told someone, or reported Bill to the police, nothing would have come of it. They wouldn’t have listened to us. Mandy certainly didn’t. She seemed blissfully happy on the day of her wedding to Bill in 1989.
I have worried about her ever since. I think I always will.
British law is clear: if an individual over the age of 18 engages in sexual activity with a person under 16, he or she may be charged with a criminal offence which could result in a 14-year custodial sentence.
I knew what was going on. I didn’t know how young Mandy was until that party — and the rest of the world did not find out for many years after that.
But, even when it was out there, nothing changed. Mandy never pressed charges. She did not go to the police. Nor did her mother Patsy or her estranged father.
Without a formal complaint, neither the police nor the Crown Prosecution Service did anything.
I have long believed it was because they couldn’t. I now know that the police can advance an investigation if the victim declines to press charges. They do not need her consent.
Bill married Mandy when she was 18. No wedding ring could negate his crime. He insisted in his autobiography that she was ‘a woman’ when they met. Maybe to look at, but not emotionally or mentally, or in terms of her ability to say ‘no’, or understand what grooming was.
The minute he discovered her age, which must have been early on, he should have ended the relationship, controlled himself, got legal advice, and run a mile, if not moved to another country. None of which happened.
Mandy and Lesley-Ann pictured together in 1985
English rock band The Rolling Stones, UK, 4th May 1964. From left to right, they are Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts
Wyman dropped out of public view after the scandal in which he married girlfriend Ms Smith, who was 18, in 1989
In fact, in 2013, years after the marriage ended, Bill revealed to the media he had taken matters into his own hands and gone ‘to the police and the public prosecutor, and said, ‘Do you want to talk to me? Do you want to meet up with me, or anything like that?’ and I got a message back: “No”.’
In interviews since, he has described the whole thing as emotional and special, but also a ‘midlife crisis’.
I was enraged when I read that. He got away with it. How? Because Mandy never went to the police.
‘The older the abuser, the more serious the punishment is likely to be,’ said a High Court judge I once asked about it. ‘This is because age gaps in relationships can cause power imbalances, which may lead to abusive behaviour.’
People had defended him, I said, on the grounds that Mandy’s mother gave her permission to have sex with Bill.
‘Irrelevant,’ he retorted. ‘It is not up to your parents to decide if you can break the law. Regardless of whether they are happy for their child to become sexually active, it is still illegal for anyone to have any kind of sexual contact with a person under the age of 16.’
There is no limitation period in the UK for sexual offences. Does Bill lie there in bed at night awaiting the knock at the door?
Survivors of childhood abuse often suppress traumatic memories. They are sometimes unable to discuss what happened to them for years afterwards. They may not even realise until middle age or later that they’ve been subjected to grooming, emotional or sexual manipulation.
Only much later did I understand that Mandy displayed all the classic guilt of the abuse victim. She had been in love with him and not a ‘little sex temptress’, she said years later.
After her disastrous two-year marriage to Bill, she tied the knot with Belgian-born former Birmingham City and Spurs defender Pat Van Den Hauwe in 1993 when she was 23. They, too, separated after two years.
She was later engaged to a model called Ian Mosby with whom she had a son, Max but, by 2005, she was living in Manchester, and had found faith, working with abuse victims through the Roman Catholic church.
She is now 53. She stopped talking about Bill Wyman years ago. In 2010, in an interview with the Mail, Smith called for the age of consent in the United Kingdom to be raised from 16 to 18, saying ‘People will find that odd coming from me. But I think I do know what I’m talking about here. You are still a child — even at 16. You can never get that part of your life, your childhood, back. I never could.’
Theirs was an immoral and illegal relationship. It was accepted, and blind eyes were turned. The perpetrator was an A-list rock star — arguably still is.
Millions of Stones fans around the world continue to insist that he did nothing wrong, because he has never been prosecuted.
As those fans, along with a gleeful music industry, hail the triumphant return of the Stones — and of Wyman — could it at last be time for him to face the music?
The Stone Age: The Explosive Truth About The Rolling Stones by Lesley-Ann Jones (John Blake/Bonnier Books) is out in paperback now.
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