Unless you've spent some time in the UK in the last decade - you're probably unaware of just how big a star Rolf Harris is there. For the last four years he's been host of the most popular arts program ever seen on British television - a show which draws eight million viewers every week. An enduring and beloved entertainer, he's been a regular at the Glastonbury rock festival in the last decade, playing to rapturous crows in excess of 70,000. For his next trick he's been invited to paint a portrait of the queen. Not bad going for a 75-year-old former Perth boy. He is, of course, Rolf Harris.
ANDREW DENTON: Rolf, welcome to ENOUGH ROPE.
ROLF HARRIS: Thank you.
ANDREW DENTON: It's good to see you.
ROLF HARRIS: And you, yeah.
ANDREW DENTON: A lot of Australians are familiar with 'Animal Hospital'. But I don't think they're aware of the phenomenon of the last four years of 'Rolf on Art'. Don't be modest - talk us through what's happened.
ROLF HARRIS: Well, let me go back to the beginning of that. Sarah Hargreaves, who's in charge of factual and information, sort of factual and entertainment programs, that 'Animal Hospital' was under, under that banner. She said to me - "Everybody I talk to...remarks on the paintings from way back in the late '60s, early '70s that you used to do. The HUGE paintings. They all remember that more than anything else. Do you ever feel like doing painting on television again?" I said, "Do I? Yeah, point me at it." So she said, "Well, let's work out how we can...what approach we can do." So we decided to try painting in the style of various famous artists. And that's how it started.
ANDREW DENTON: Incredible role call of artists though. We're not just talking anyone here. Amongst the ones you've painted in the style of we're talking Rembrandt, Picasso, Dali, Monet...
ROLF HARRIS: Van Gogh.
ANDREW DENTON: Van Gogh. These are seriously credentialed artists. What is the magic of art, Rolf? 'Cause one of the things you do in this series which has been the most successful art show ever in the history of British broadcasting...
ROLF HARRIS: Yeah.
ANDREW DENTON: ...Is you've tried to inspire people.
ROLF HARRIS: You demystify it - that's the first thing. You say...I mean, the best thing in the Van Gogh self-portrait thing that I did in the style of Van Gogh. I said, (Sighs) "I've gotta get rid of that ear. It's in the wrong place. It's like about half an inch too far over. So if you don't fix it - it's wrong forever." So I got a bit of rag and went... (Blows out) ...Turpentine on the rag took the whole ear off. And everybody went... (Gasps) You know, it's like it seems to be a disaster. But as I say, if you don't fix it that's gonna be wrong and it's gonna plague you forever. So then I just redid it in the right spot, you know?
ANDREW DENTON: Van Gogh's your uncle. Yeah. You were privileged. As you said, you painted in Arles where Van Gogh was in a sanatorium.
ROLF HARRIS: Delft - I've just been to Delft to paint 'The Girl with the Pearl Earring' - a la Vermeer.
ANDREW DENTON: You've been in Rembrandt's studio.
ROLF HARRIS: Yeah.
ANDREW DENTON: In Rodin's. You actually worked with Rodin's materials. With his tools.
ROLF HARRIS: Yeah, yeah.
ANDREW DENTON: That must have been...
ROLF HARRIS: Oh, what do YOU think? It was absolutely thrilling. Thrilling. Especially the Rembrandt one. You know, to go there and to be surrounded by all these etchings in that museum there. And just before we went to do the Rembrandt...the fellow took me in and said, "Now, we've got X-rays of his paintings. And it shows you that he started off by painting the highlights very fiercely in white. All the highlights on the side of the face. And then, after he'd done all that, then he over-painted it in warmer colours, flesh colours to take it back to the right colour. But he had that fierce highlight first." And that gave me the clue as to how to attack the painting that I was doing of myself in the style of Rembrandt. I painted my first self-portrait when I was 15. And I've painted quite a few since. You know, it's a great record to have. You see the wrinkles developing. You see the hair changing colour.
ANDREW DENTON: See this is...you'll pardon me for taking a liberty but I need to liberate my inner Rolf. (Laughs) See, I have...no sense of art.
ROLF HARRIS: None?
ANDREW DENTON: None at all. This is my self-portrait. OK. (Exclaims) Yeah, OK. Now, I think that's pretty expressive.
ROLF HARRIS: It's pretty good and it's very like you.
ANDREW DENTON: Yeah, exactly. I mean, obviously it's got a little more character than I have but...
ROLF HARRIS: You haven't got the heavy-lidded eyes quite right.
ANDREW DENTON: Haven't I? How would I improve this, Rolf?
ROLF HARRIS: Well, you could do it better. Yeah.
ANDREW DENTON: What am I missing?
ROLF HARRIS: Well, anything that I do now is going to be like a really weird one without any time. But you've got the basic shape of the head right.
ANDREW DENTON: Yeah.
ROLF HARRIS: And.... (Hums under his breath) ...Something like that.
ANDREW DENTON: Steady on the hair. Be nice.
ROLF HARRIS: Yeah and then...I'll make you looking really evil, I think.
ANDREW DENTON: So is this a trick of the eye that you're doing or is it from the heart or the hand? Where's it coming from?
ROLF HARRIS: Oh, with the closing down the eyes? I just try and look at the all-over blur. Yep. And then paint the blur, you know? Draw the blur, really.
ANDREW DENTON: 'Cause I know one of your paintings sold for nearly 100,000 pounds recently, so...
ROLF HARRIS: Yeah, it scared the wits out of me, I tell you that.
ANDREW DENTON: What's incredible about this series is a survey has shown that one in 14 people think that you are responsible for Monet's waterlilies.
ROLF HARRIS: Yes, I saw that. I read it and couldn't believe it. It's crazy, isn't it?
ANDREW DENTON: But you've created a monster here. Did you have any idea this series would have such an impact?
ROLF HARRIS: No, but the very first program got over seven million viewers. Which is like six times as many viewers as any program on art had ever got since television started in any country in the world. I'm just trying to get the teeth and the fangs in here. The bottom lip is slightly...
ANDREW DENTON: 'Sensual' - it's the word you're looking for.
ROLF HARRIS: ...Slightly off to one side.
ANDREW DENTON: I was sure you were going to say 'sensual'.
ROLF HARRIS: Sensual. I wasn't but I will if you insist.
ANDREW DENTON: Yeah, would you mind?
ROLF HARRIS: And there's the little sort of a dimply bit there. It's nothing really like you, is it?
ANDREW DENTON: Well, tragically, it is. (Laughs)
ROLF HARRIS: I've got the snarl here.
ANDREW DENTON: Yeah. The snarl? I'm meant to be charming.
ROLF HARRIS: It's no good, that's awful. I could...I could probably go away tonight when you're not there and I could probably from my memory draw a fairly good likeness of you from memory. But trying to do it...
ANDREW DENTON: It was a big ask. I've gotta say that if I could go away tonight and improve myself I'd be really happy so you've got one up on me. I'll take the pen from you, if you like.
ROLF HARRIS: I've gotta get the lid. Keep talking. (Imitates percussive music under his breath) (Snickers) That's it.
ANDREW DENTON: You're a built-in pause. Brilliant.
ROLF HARRIS: Where were we?
ANDREW DENTON: You are fabulously eccentric in your performances. I've gotta ask you this. Of all the things you've done, where did 'Jake the Peg' come from?
ROLF HARRIS: I was doing a charity job in Vancouver in Canada. And I'm hearing laughter like you wouldn't believe from out the front. I'm on the wings waiting to go on. And there's uproarious laughter. And I'm thinking, "Who was that?" I asked them afterwards and they said, "Oh, that's that mad Frank Roosen, you know, the crazy Dutchman." And he'd come along and done his act with the three legs. And it was a song that I think he'd heard when he was a child in school in Holland. And I did some research and the song has been known in circuses for, like, 100 years. So I got his phone number and rang him up and said - "Look, I didn't see the song but I heard the laughter. And is there any chance I could use the song? I mean, I'd love to." And he said, "Yeah, of course." And so I wrote the last little bit.
# Whatever I did they said was false
# They said, 'Quick march!' I did a quick waltz
# And then they shouted at me,
#' Put your best foot forward' 'But which foot?'
# I said 'It's very fine for you
#' You only got a choice of two'
# But me, I'm Jake the Peg
# Deedle eedle eedle um
# With his extra le-e-e-g
# Deedle eedle eedle um. #
ANDREW DENTON: That's a beautiful story about how you found that. And in many ways your career is full of these happy accidents...
ROLF HARRIS: Yeah. Well, Ted Egan is a case in point.
ANDREW DENTON: 'Two Little Boys'. Tell that story.
ROLF HARRIS: Exactly. We were touring - my wife and daughter and myself. And we wanted to see something of the real Aboriginals of Australia rather than the image that you have, you know, from photographs and things. And we were steered in the direction of Ted Egan who was then working for Aboriginal welfare. And in the morning of the first day he said, "I've got a great song for you. This would be perfect for your television show." And he said -
(Sings) # Two little boys had two little toys... #
And I'm smiling and inside I'm thinking - "What am I going to say to this guy? He's such a nice guy.
ANDREW DENTON: Yeah.
ROLF HARRIS: But it's such a namby-pamby dreadful song."
(Sings) # Each had a wooden horse... #
And he's got this lovely lyrical tenor voice like an Irish tenor...
(Sings) # gaily they played... #
I thought, "We'll have to lose that line"...
(Sings) # Each summer's day
# Warriors both of...
(Both sing) # ..,Course
# Boom boom boom
# One little chap.... #
And all the way through I'm thinking, you know? ...
(Sings) # Had a mishap, broke off his horse's head... #
And I'm smiling and thinking - "It's gonna get to the end soon. I'm gonna have to say something... What am I going to say 'cause I hate the song." And then he got to the bit...
(Sings) # Did you think I would leave you dying... #
And honestly the hair on both my arms stood up like that. (Exclaims) And the back of my... It's just done it now as I tell you this again. All the hair on my head went grrrh! Like graunch, like that. And it's like somebody had walked over my grave, you know? It was like... (Sighs) You know, it's like the OTHER little boy has grown up. And he's now repaying the courtesy that the previous kid had said. "Did you think I would leave you crying?" And it's almost the same words. And it's so powerful. I mean, I could get into tears just thinking of that line...
(Sings) # Did you think I would leave you dying
# When there's room on my horse for two?
# Climb up here, Joe
# We'll soon be flying
# Back to the rank so blue
# Can you feel, Joe, I'm all a-tremble
# Perhaps it's the battle's noise
# But I think it's that I remember
(Softly) # When we were two little boys. # (Sighs)
ANDREW DENTON: How extraordinary that that should just come out of the blue. Another thing that springs to mind is the wobble-board itself - which is one of your many trademarks. And that was just sheer chance too, wasn't it?
ROLF HARRIS: Yeah, I was painting a portrait of a very dear friend of mine. No longer with us. But he was a magician that worked with me on a television show. I had a sheet of hard board which had got some paint dropped on it in a lovely pattern. I thought, "I'll cover that with a dark blue. It'll be mysterious and those bits of white paint will show through." And he was due to arrive in about half an hour. And I was thinking, "Lots of turpentine - it will dry quickly." It didn't dry. And I propped this bit of board like that. Right over the oil heater. And the smell of the turpentine with the heat...it was fierce. So I opened the window and the door to get some sort of a gale blowing the smell out. And I came back a couple of seconds, it seemed, later to test the board to see if it was drying. And... (Hisses) Oh! Put a big blister up on my hand. Big huge blister off just touching the surface. So I propped it between the palms of my hands and I...fanned it to cool it off. WOBBLE and that amazing sound and I went... WOBBLE and I started emphasising every second one. (Hums) And I had written 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport' a couple of months previously. And it just fitted perfectly. (Whistles 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport')
ANDREW DENTON: I've got to ask you about 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport', which involves marsupials and bondage. (Wheezes with laughter) Were you on drugs when you wrote that, Rolf?
ROLF HARRIS: No. Well, it's funny. I had heard in '56, I think it was Harry Belafonte's album of calypsos which swept the world and stunned people and gave them a new...music style as it were. And he had a song in that... I can't think of the title but it goes -
(Sings) # Hold him Joe, hold him Joe
# Hold him Joe but don't let him go
# Me donkey want water Hold him Joe
# Me donkey want water... #
And then it goes -
(Sings) # Don't tie me donkey down there
# Let him bray, let him bray
# Everybody, tie me donkey down there
# Let him bray, let him bray... #
And I thought "Oh, what a good song." I was working at the 'Down Under Club' every Thursday night, a club for Australians and New Zealanders in Fulham. And I thought, "That'd be a great song for the audience there." "We can get them on that chorus". But I'll make it Australian. And I'll make it 'kangaroo' instead of 'donkey'. And the tune seemed to be handed to me on a plate from some magic hand up there, you know? (Hums 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport')
(Sings) # Tie me kangaroo down there
# Tie me kangaroo down.
# Repeat it. (Sings)
# Time me kangaroo down there
# Time me kangaroo down. #
And that took about as long as that, you know. That tune came from nowhere.
ANDREW DENTON: I love the thought of this parallel universe that you walk in. Everybody else is walking the streets thinking whatever they're thinking and you're thinking - "How do I get this 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down' thing together?" It's...
ROLF HARRIS: Yeah.
ANDREW DENTON: 'Cause your dad always encouraged you to be different, didn't he? Enjoy difference.
ROLF HARRIS: Yeah, yeah. I remember I came home all excited and I said - "I've been made a prefect, Dad, at Perth Modern School." And he said, "That's good, son." "The headmaster said I have to wear better clothes, you know, look a bit tidier and get my hair cut." And he said, "You didn't agree, did you?" And he sort of stormed out of the house. "You didn't agree with him, did you?" He was really annoyed anyone should say, "Get your hair cut."
ANDREW DENTON: That you should conform?
ROLF HARRIS: He said, "Wear what you like. Be yourself. Do what you want to do." And he was just wonderful, my dad was.
ANDREW DENTON: It's a liberation to be different. Is it also hard sometimes to be different?
ROLF HARRIS: I didn't have many friends at high school, I must say. I was a bit of a weirdy. I was really keen on art. I was about the only good artist in the school at the time and that gives you a very big-headed approach, you know.
ANDREW DENTON: Were you happy to be a bit of a 'weirdy' or did you...?
ROLF HARRIS: Yeah. No, it was good because I had my parents' backing on all my artistic endeavours. My dad's father had been a portrait painter in Wales and he had actively discouraged all the boys in the family - there were nine kids - he'd actively discouraged the boys from pursuing art. "Don't do it, get a real job. Don't...you'll always be broke." Dad's job as the eldest boy was to take everything of value to the pawn shop when they were really broke. And then when they got a few bob, his job was to go back and redeem it.
ANDREW DENTON: You loved your dad very much. . As you say, he imbued you with an enjoyment of who you were and what you were.
ROLF HARRIS: And, you know, he was like a lot of parents at that age, he was like a sheet of cardboard when you tried to give him any sort of a hug. He was hard-pressed to have any physical contact with another man, you know, that sort of feeling. And, uh, and towards the end of his life we got to a situation where I could give him a really good hug and he would hug me back. And I was able to say to him, "I really love you, Dad." You know?
ANDREW DENTON: You got him up on stage once, didn't you, just before he died? The year before he died. What was that like?
ROLF HARRIS: Yeah. Yeah, I didn't know he was even ill then. He didn't know he was ill. It was in... It was in the big Entertainment Centre in Perth... 1979, I think it was. And, ah, I tricked him up on stage 'cause he would never have come, he was so shy. And I said, "I've got some flowers for Mum and she's got a bad ankle, could you come down and get them for her, Dad?" "Yeah." He came down. I said, "While you're here, do you remember that song we used to sing when I was about 15?" And he went, "Oh, no!" And I said, "Well, I've had it orchestrated and the piano and...." Barry Booth on piano. And he went, "Oh, no." I said, "You remember the words."
(Sings) # Commune with nature face to face
# And to our beat then back returning
# Refreshed by nature's holy charm
# We run them in
# We run them in
# We run them in
# We run them in
(Both) # We show them we're the bold gendarmes
# We run them in
# We run them in
# We run them in
# We run them in
(Both) # We show them we're the bold gendarmes. #
ANDREW DENTON: How was he at the end?
ROLF HARRIS: He was thrilled, I think, yeah.
ANDREW DENTON: You were able to take him into your world, if only for that moment.
ROLF HARRIS: Yeah, and, ah... And to show some love and affection for this wonderful man, you know.
ANDREW DENTON: Is he where you got your self-confidence from as well? Because you describe yourself as a show-off, you've always, from the earliest days...
ROLF HARRIS: I used to make a lot of noise to cover shyness. Probably the same as you. Were you that sort of person?
ANDREW DENTON: Sometimes, yeah. Although I don't have anywhere near as many noises as you have. Do you actually have an 'off' switch? Because you are so 'on' in public.
ROLF HARRIS: Yeah, people say to my wife, they say to Alwen, "Is he like this at home, cracking jokes all the time?" She said, "No, of course he isn't. Just very ordinary. Very quiet." Yeah, I like jokes, I like fun, I like lots of noise, and I like songs, and I'm forever singing things and... Beating time, you know, forever thinking of things like a... There's that eefin' and eyfin' thing that I... I was doing a show in New York and the guy from Epic Records said, "Hey, you really like sound effects, don't you, eh?" And I said, "Yeah." Said, "I bet you can't do this one." And he went (Rolf makes eefin' and eyfin' sounds)... And I went, "Oh! I love it!" (Rolf makes eefin' and eyfin' sounds) And he went... You know, the mouth dropped open and he couldn't believe I'd jumped straight into it. And it's apparently from Tennessee and they would go... Playing guitar and singing and, but there would be a couple of guys doing this eefin' and eyfin', they called it.
ANDREW DENTON: Is that what that is? What's incredible here, I mean you're talking about, 'Jake the Peg' came from Holland, 'Two Little Boys' came from the Gove Peninsula...
ROLF HARRIS: But that was written in America in 1901, that song.
ANDREW DENTON: The 'eefa, eyfa' thing came from Tennessee. And you've taken all these things, 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport', inspired by Calypso. All these things from around the world - yet you make them uniquely yours. I mean, I never realised all these roots for it. And another thing which...
ROLF HARRIS: Me either till you asked, really.
ANDREW DENTON: Well, 'Stairway To Heaven' was the other thing that, when you did it people went, "Well, of course Rolf's done 'Stairway To Heaven'." I want to talk about Glastonbury, the festival that you went to after 'Stairway To Heaven' charted here in England. 80,000 people, you were 63 years old.
ROLF HARRIS: It was incredible! When I got down there, I'd never really heard of Glastonbury, I didn't know anything about it. And I got booked because of the success of 'Stairway To Heaven', down to, you know, due to your good self. And we did a university show first in Birmingham University. They had room for 700 people. It was licensed for 700. And I was due on at 11 o'clock. And by 7 o'clock the place had something like 900 people in it. And they were nose to... Buying drinks and drinking like this... And bumping into other people. And by eight o'clock they started shouting, "We want Rolf!" For an hour they did that. So, we're all... (Pounds on heart)... Hearts going like this. And we went out to a most amazing reception. I started to tell a joke and a guy at the back said, "Just sing the fucking songs!" And I went, "Oh!" 'Sun Arise', 'Two Little Boys', 'Stairway To Heaven', they all knew it. We went on till about 11. I kept doing extra songs. "Do the one about the six white boomers!" "Oh, OK." The band never heard of it before, so I did it just on the accordion. "Do this one!", "Do that one!"...
(Sings) # Jimmy Bean'd be a funny lookin' fella
# If he had another face or a different smeller
# But his mouth cruelled him from winning the beauty show
# Oh, it was like a steamboat funnel, or a railway arch
# Or the Blackwell tunnel
# And you can't see Jim
# When he opens his mouth, you know... #
Here's a bit you can get involved in...
# And as poor Jim goes walking about-ta
# And as poor Jim goes walking about
# And as poor Jim goes walking about
# Ta #
Sorry. Same tune...
#You can hear the kids all hollerin' out.
(Both) # You can hear the kids all hollering out-ta. #
You know, all those songs I had at my fingertips.
ANDREW DENTON: And brought the house down.
ROLF HARRIS: And we did them for like two hours - but it's supposed to be an hour show and eventually we finished. We'd finally finished and this guy come up and he's about, I suppose, about five foot and he said, "Can I give you a hug?" And I said, "Yeah, sure". And he gave me this huge bear-hug like that and he said while his mouth was just here, "I've loved you all my life." You know. And he stepped back and his eyes were full of tears, as mine were, you know, as I tell you now I just remember it. And he was so embarrassed he took off, you know, but it's, like...very powerful. Wonderful, you know. Because I've been on television most of these kids' lives ever since the early '50s doing drawings and being honest about the drawings. And, "Here, you see how I draw this." And, you know, telling little stories and look in the camera and knowing how to look straight down the barrel of the lens and know that you're talking to some little kid at home all on his own in a room watching you and...
ANDREW DENTON: So, what was it about that that so moved you, because I can see it still does.
ROLF HARRIS: Well...it was just a mutual feeling, you know. I approach people with, with that feeling of love first of all and, ah, you find that some people can't handle it, can't... They, they're frightened of it and, ah, maybe they never had it in their childhood but I certainly did. And it's nice when it can, can reoccur, you know. And the whole of my act on stage is, is of love, love for everybody there and, you know, it's really nice.
ANDREW DENTON: I mean, you just had tears rolling down your face, it's extraordinary. And your autobiography which came out a few years ago, you didn't spare yourself, you were very, very open about your life.
ROLF HARRIS: Yeah, when I started writing it you realise there are all sorts of things that you've done that you're not very proud of, you know, and you think, well, I'll gloss over those. And then you think, well, maybe I shouldn't, maybe I should tell it as it happens.
ANDREW DENTON: You were very human in it though, which was admirable. One of the things that really struck me was the story about saying farewell to your mum and the difficulty of that moment.
ROLF HARRIS: And old Harry Butler was there, yeah.
ANDREW DENTON: What happened?
ROLF HARRIS: Well, I always used to... When anybody was ill, you know, and anybody wasn't well I used to go in and I'd think it was my job to make jokes and cheer them up and, um...oh, this is painful, this. But anyway I was briefly in the west with Harry, my mum was very ill and I was staying with Harry Butler. And, ah, he sat out in the corridor while I went in to be with mum and I was telling her jokes and, ah, I came out and Harry said, "For Christ sake, just tell her you love her. God." And I went... You know, and he's, he said, "Go on." And so I went in and I said... "I really love you, Mum". And she was absolutely amazed. She said, "Do you really?" And I realised I'd never told before. I'd never told her. And, ah... It was just so lovely to finally thank her for everything she'd done for me in my life, and the confidence she'd had in me. And making sure that I had everything that they could afford.
ANDREW DENTON: Were you shocked that she didn't know you loved her?
ROLF HARRIS: Yeah. I think she always thought that I loved dad better, you know.
ANDREW DENTON: How fantastic that you told her that.
ROLF HARRIS: Yeah. Yeah. I would... I'm very emotional here, but I would urge anybody, everybody to tell their parents how much they mean to them before it's suddenly too late and they're not there, you know. Tell them and try and let them know what you mean, what they mean to you. Oh, gosh, Andrew Denton.
ANDREW DENTON: I'm sorry to dredge up painful things but it's...
ROLF HARRIS: It's lovely actually.
ANDREW DENTON: It really struck me in your autobiography...
ROLF HARRIS: All my life my mother would say, "What happened today at school?" You know, and she was always... And I'd say, "Oh, nothing, Mum, nothing," you know. She wouldn't wait till I was in the room really, but "What did you do today? What happened? How did you get on?" "No, nothing happened, Mum, nothing." Then I'd go out and I'd seek out my Dad and I'd say, "Gee, Dad, at school today we had a wonderful... You know, we did this and we did..." And he would not pester me but he was so receptive to all this stuff and he would be thrilled, but he wouldn't jump on me as I came in the room to find out. And, ah, you look back in retrospect and you wish you hadn't played your hand quite like that. You know, you wish you'd had more compassion than, more realisation for the fact that my mum was living her life through her two boys, my brother Bruce and myself.
ANDREW DENTON: As we're parented so we tend to parent. What were you like as a father when Bindi was growing?
ROLF HARRIS: Well, I regret the fact that I was away a lot of the time touring Australia, doing four months a year doing shows the time she was growing up. We've got back to a wonderful relationship now. She is a painter extraordinaire. Gosh, you should see her painting. We are great mates now, Bindi and I. It's lovely.
ANDREW DENTON: When she was 16, or thereabouts, she gave you a real rocket, didn't she?
ROLF HARRIS: Yeah. We were walking through Maidenhead just near where we live. Somebody came up, "Could you sign this bit of paper for the two kids?" I said, "Yeah, sure." I signed it, talking to the kids and doing this and that and the other. And Bindi said afterwards, "You spend more time with total strangers and give them more of your love and attention than you do with Mum and I." And I went... What a shocking revelation that was and you think, it's bloody true, you know. Yeah, having to address that and think to yourself, "You've got to change, you've got to make a difference here." So, I hope I'm redressing that balance a little bit. It's...
ANDREW DENTON: That's a hard one because also in your autobiography you talked about finding some of Alwen's diary and she talked about feeling her life was so empty that she wanted to kill herself, which again, this was news to you, wasn't it?
ROLF HARRIS: Yeah. When we were in Perth, I spent a year in Perth, it's where I recorded 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport' at TVW studios, 1960, when they first started. It was a wonderful year for me, but an empty desert for my wife, which I didn't find out. You know, I'd set off in the morning to the studios, work all day and I'd get home at seven o'clock at night.
ANDREW DENTON: How many years after this did you find this diary entry?
ROLF HARRIS: Oh, about five years.
ANDREW DENTON: Did it shock you that your wife had been in this state and you hadn't realised?
ROLF HARRIS: I hadn't known at all. Yeah, it absolutely stunned me. It was just on a piece of paper in the middle of a book. "My life is so empty, I feel I should kill myself. I have nothing, nothing to do all day, every day." It was a shock, man.
ANDREW DENTON: Is there a connection between your mother, not having told her that you loved her and Alwen and Bindi that...
ROLF HARRIS: Maybe I should've seen earlier. Yeah.
ANDREW DENTON: There's a difference, as you said, that difference that you were encouraged to also set you apart without realising it?
ROLF HARRIS: Yeah, it's all interlocking really with...with your own sense of your own inadequacy in things where you're so busy doing other things, so busy with a career and a show business personality and a persona and the painting. And craving applause and craving patting on the back and craving approval from everybody, you know. And, you know, I'm conscious of the fact that I do want people to like me. I do want people to like everything I do. And I, and I can't, sort of, say no to people, I always... If somebody said, "Do you think you could..." "Yes", I say before I've heard the end of the sentence.
ANDREW DENTON: You were 70, I think, when your autobiography came out and as you've said, in writing it you've realised that you'd had a very self-centred life with Bindi and Alwen. That's late in life to realise you've got to change. Have you been able to, do you think?
ROLF HARRIS: Probably, um, Alwen would probably say not enough. I'm still fiercely self-centred, that's all me, me, me, me, me, me. But, yeah, I'm trying all the time to redress the balance. It's hard for a leopard to change its spots.
ANDREW DENTON: You talked before about that desire to be wanted, to have approval, the performer's desire. Even now in your career there is still an element of sneer towards Rolf Harris, isn't there, with 'Rolf on Art'? I think when it was announced you were going to do the Queen's portrait one critic said it's like getting a cartoonist to do the life of Proust.
ROLF HARRIS: Yeah.
ANDREW DENTON: Do you, do you take that to heart or are you over it?
ROLF HARRIS: Well, you always, I mean, you should stop reading critics' comments because they hurt, don't they? When they, when they attack you, they hurt. I mean, there's one art critic here who says things like, "Rolf Harris wears such appalling clothes, "whenever he enters a room "you're going to know he's going to be the naffest person there "because of his... the way he dresses." What has that got to do with painting, you know?
ANDREW DENTON: Isn't that the badge of difference though, I mean, you wear that badge proudly?
ROLF HARRIS: Yeah, thank you for that. I never thought of that.
ANDREW DENTON: But it's true, isn't it?
ROLF HARRIS: Yeah.
ANDREW DENTON: Are you somewhere on the other side of cool now? It seems to me that people like Barry Humphries and Germaine Greer they've got their place in the pantheon, but you're somewhere on your own, aren't you? You're a category - 'Rolf'.
ROLF HARRIS: Who knows? Yeah. I've got to go to this audience tonight, I've got to teach them the words of the anthem. It goes like this -
(Sings) # One Rolfie Harris
#There's only one Rolfie Harris
#Get them all singing.
(Sings) # One Rolfie Harris
# There's only... Get off! #
ANDREW DENTON: Rolf, it's been fantastic talking to you.
ROLF HARRIS: Thank you, it has too, yeah.
ANDREW DENTON: All power to you, sir.
ROLF HARRIS: I'll go and dry myself up now...
ANDREW DENTON: Take care. Thank you.
ROLF HARRIS: Thanks again.