Portrait of a predator

This article about a brush with Rolf Harris caught my attention because I have been told (although I have no direct knowledge myself) that this description of Harris’s behavior more closely fits that of an affable, well-known science fiction figure than most people would be inclined to believe.

Until I met Harris personally, I was a massive fan. I’d seen him doing Two Little Boys at his first Glastonbury and, like most of the audience, had shed a tear for my lost childhood. So when the chance came to interview him around the time he was doing Animal Hospital, I could scarcely wait to meet my hero.

That “Jekyll & Hyde” personality that was mentioned in the court case: this was exactly the impression I got. Before the interview, I’d seen him on camera being sweet as pie. But once the camera was off, he was cold and prickly and remote.

He didn’t want to talk about his time compering the Beatles (for 16 nights in 1963, after befriending George Martin who produced his early records), nor about playing didgeridoo on Kate Bush’s The Dreaming, nor about any of the other things he had done in his extraordinary career. There was no joy, no enthusiasm, no warmth, just an empty husk with a familiar beard.

But I’m sure I said nice things about him when I wrote up the interview all the same. It’s how these bastards get away with it. 

I’ve spent a fair amount of time around a sociopath for more than two decades, which may be why I have a reasonably developed sense for spotting them in much the same way that some straight individuals have high-functioning gaydar. There is something about the false effect they broadcast for general consumption that I pick up on as not being quite normal.

What I notice most often is that predators are always watching people, always scanning, and always testing people’s reactions to their every word and action. They are hyperaware, which state is often mistaken for intense personal interest by normal people. They perform, and often the performances are entirely convincing to those who can’t see the artificiality of the movements. And they react very, very badly to being watched themselves; one of my red flags is when someone overreacts to discovering that I am dispassionately watching them.

It’s important to understand that predators come on a spectrum. Most are not criminally inclined. But criminal or not, they all exhibit certain similar patterns of behavior. Anyone who wears a physical mask is going to show signs of it, and those who wear false emotional and psychological masks do as well.

Now, it’s entirely possible that a Jekyll & Hyde personality is merely an ambitious suck-up who has no time for his lessers because he is too occupied with trying to find another posterior to smooch. But any time you encounter a false effect of the sort described in the case of Harris, there is a reasonable chance you’re dealing with a predator.

One simple test is to allow them to catch you staring at them. If they overreact, or worse, if they go cold and expressionless, you’ll have a pretty good idea you’ve identified one.