I’m in the spinal unit of Stoke Mandeville Hospital. St Patrick’s is a Surgical Ward. I am last on the theatre list, booked in for a cystoscopy. My throat is dry and I’m angry. Haven’t had a drink or anything to eat since 6 o’clock this morning. So I’m chilling out in bed, trying to forget how thirsty I am when Jimmy Savile and his secretary comes waltzing into the ward. He is dressed in a silver-coloured tracksuit. A heavy gold bracelet hangs from his wrist. His fingers are adorned with fabulous ring. He is incredibly charismatic — every inch a celebrity. With his striking blonde hair and self-assured mannerisms, he is a compelling character, a person who commands attention.
The nurses smile as he walks by. “Hi guys,” he says as he steps into the six bed unit where I am. The man in the first bed says hello Jimmy. He asks what’s going on and the man tells him he has just had an operation. Jimmy engages him in a brief conversation, then moves on. The guy in the next bed has visitors. His wife and daughter are sitting on chairs by his bedside. Jimmy bows to the visitors, takes the woman’s hand and kisses it. It’s theatrical gesture, done I assume to make the person feel special. Perhaps he gets a thrill from kissing the backs of females hands? She smiles but there is a look of unease on her face, as if she doesn’t know whether to be embarrassed or delighted. The daughter asks Jimmy for his autograph. He signs a card by the bed. She seems ecstatic, overwhelmed by his presence. He ruffles her hair and tells her she is welcome. The man glows with approval, clearly enjoying the attention lavished on his wife and child. Jimmy moves down the ward, stopping at each bed and talking to the patients. Most of his conversation is small talk or clichéd.
Finally he reaches the end of the ward. I’m in the last bed by the windows. “What’s going on here?” he asks. I tell him nothing much, then add: “I’m NIL by mouth, waiting to be wheeled down to the theatre.” He asked me what’s wrong. I tell him it’s a routine procedure. Mr Nuseibeh’s going to inspect my bladder. “He might cut the sphincter muscle to help me pee more easily,” I say. Jimmy tells me about his back, how he damaged it working in the mines. It has never been right since. He then explains how the injury inspired him to build the spinal unit. I tell him the new hospital is a whole lot better than the old Nissen huts. “Look, I’ve even got panoramic views of the hospital grounds,” I say nodding my head in the direction of the wall to wall windows. He laughs and then pats me on the shoulder and says he hopes everything goes okay.
Then he is gone. Jimmy is gone but the legacy of his life lives on. The once respected and revered man is now reviled. His name is as toxic as an isotope of plutonium. It seems ironic that in a building he funded, the very bricks of which would not have been laid without his tireless fund-making, every single trace of him has been obliterated: his photograph shaking hands with Prince Charles at the opening of the spinal unit, Diana standing alongside; the ornate brass plaque bearing his name; even the neon lights glowing ‘Jimmy’s’ above the canteen are all gone. All that’s left are the screw holes in the walls, marking the spot where they used to be. He has been expunged, as if he had never existed. Gone, disappeared. The infamous Jimmy Savile — gone forever but not forgotten.