VINCE HILL says he is struggling to believe that his old friend Rolf Harris is a paedophile.
The evergreen singer, who lives in Shiplake, was speaking after the Australian entertainer was convicted of 12 counts of indecent assault on four girls in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties.
Harris, 84, of Bray, Berkshire, was convicted on Monday at Southwark Crown Court following a six-week trial.
One of his victims was a childhood friend of his daughter and another an autograph hunter aged seven or eight.
An emotional Mr Hill, 80, said Harris would “always be his friend”.
He has known him for 50 years and appeared as a guest on The Rolf Harris Show in the Sixties.
Mr Hill said: “I can’t believe it but I have to. In all the 50 years I’ve known him, and this doesn’t come just from me but other people in the business, there was never a whisper of any scandal at all. It’s unbelievable really.
“It’s just such a hard blow to take. You never expect anything like that after 50 years.”
Mr Hill said he was “utterly surprised” at the guilty verdicts, adding: “When the news came through on all 12 counts Annie, my wife, burst into tears and so did I.
“We absolutely broke up, we’re in bits about it.
“He will always be Rolf to me no matter what has happened. I’ll always be his friend and we’ll always be friends of the family.” The singer said he sympathised with the victims but he would support the entertainer’s family as best he could, adding: “They are still lovely people as far as I’m concerned.
“As far as Rolf and ourselves and the family are concerned, I’ll always be his mate.”
Prosecutors said Harris was a “Jekyll and Hyde” character who took advantage of his fame but Mr Hill said he had never seen anything to make him suspicious.
“I think of the good times we used to have when Rolf would come over and we would get on the piano and everybody would be singing,” said Mr Hill.
He said Harris “loved” Indian food and recalled when the pair went for a meal together at the Spice Merchant in Thames Side, Henley.
Sometimes, he would make his friend a curry at home or they would order a takeaway.
Mr Hill recalled how Harris had visited folk musician Ted Egan during a tour of Arnhem Land in Australia in the Sixties and Egan sang him Two Little Boys, which he then recorded. Back in Britain, Harris visited Mr Hill at his then home in Roehampton with a reel-to-reel tape recorder to get a second opinion.
The singer said: “As soon as he played it I said, ‘record it’. It was a smash and the rest is history, as they say.”
The song went to number one in 1969 and spent six weeks at the top of the charts.
Harris will be sentenced on Friday. Mr Hill said: “I’m just hoping he’ll get a suspended sentence or something like that. Whatever happens, his career is over now.
“I shudder to think how Rolf will cope with prison. I will hopefully speak to him some time this week.”