Family friend and fellow singer Vince Hill said his stomach turned when he heard the news. “While everyone is innocent until proven guilty I hope he’ll be okay because a possible prison sentence would hit him hard,” Mr Hill said.
“This just isn’t the Rolf I know. But whatever happens to him – and everyone is innocent until proven guilty – I’ll always be his friend. He knows that.”
Another friend, Australian performer Maria Venuti, said the Harris she knew was talented, gorgeous and charming.
“But I’m in a real bind here,” she told Fairfax Radio. “If he is guilty then you wouldn’t want to be standing up for this sort of behaviour.”
The entertainer faces six counts of indecently assaulting a 15-year-old girl in 1980 and 1981, and three charges of indecent assault on a girl aged 14 in 1986. He is also charged with four counts of making indecent images of a child in the first half of 2012.
Downloading or printing indecent images from the internet can amount to “making” the image in Britain. Harris’s neighbours in Berkshire, west of London, where he’s lived for 50 years, are continuing to support the Australian.
One told AAP: “It’s awful, the poor chap. When you are in your 80s, I hope the sins you committed in your youth don’t come back to haunt you,” she said.
Another added: “We don’t believe it.”
A third described Thursday’s news as sad, stating: “The only thing I’ll say is he’s a very good neighbour.”
The entertainer himself has refused to comment on the allegations since he was first named in the press in April. He maintained his silence after being charged on Thursday. Harris’s agent did not return calls or emails.
The story is front page news in Britain where the entertainer has been a family favourite over the past 60 years. Pictures of Harris, 83, were splashed across the front pages of Friday’s tabloids while fans of the artist and singer took to Twitter to express their shock at the news.
Harris was charged when he visited a police station on Thursday to answer bail. He’s due to appear at a London court on September 23.
Some of the charges Harris faces carry a possible 10-year jail term. “We have determined there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and that a prosecution is in the public interest,” London’s chief prosecutor Alison Saunders said in a statement.
Harris was first questioned over allegations of sexual assault in November 2012. He was arrested in March 2013 by officers from Operation Yewtree which was established following the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal. At the beginning of August he was re-arrested following further allegations.
A police file of evidence was then passed to prosecutors just over a fortnight ago. So far 14 people have been arrested under Operation Yewtree. Of those, four – including Harris – have been charged.
Police say the Australian isn’t linked to the late BBC presenter Savile other than that he “was in the public spotlight at around that time”. Harris is married to Welsh sculptress and jeweller Alwen Hughes. They have one middle-aged daughter, Bindi.
Main image: Rolf Harris performs at Glastonbury festival in 2010 (Getty)