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Cut out the paedophile hysteria, says Irons

Richard Brooks, The Sunday Times, February 27, 2005

THE ACTOR Jeremy Irons, who starred in the film Lolita, has spoken out about how “hysteria” over paedophilia is damaging relations between adults and children.
Irons, who has two sons with his wife Sinead Cusack, suggests that society, while protecting children, should not become so rigidly obsessed with paedophilia that it prevents adults demonstrating affection to children.

“It’s very difficult because children under 16 are immensely attractive, any father will tell you,” Irons said. “We have to accept that, understand it for what it is and not become hysterical about it.”

The actor made the remarks when asked what it was like playing Humbert Humbert, the college lecturer who falls for an underage girl in Lolita. Interviewed by Jeremy Vine for a programme to be broadcast on BBC1 on Monday week, Irons said:

“Strangely enough, Humbert Humbert is not a paedophile . . . because he knew he was doing wrong. That’s his tragedy in a way.”

He went on to describe the difficulties of judging the line between natural affection and paedophilia with reference to his family.

“I remember when my son was 12 he was like a god,” he said. “He just went through that sort of golden time for about 18 months. Parental love is sexual. Boys will flirt outrageously with their mothers.”

Irons’s remarks were deemed “very odd” by Esther Rantzen, chairman of Childline, the charity for abused youngsters.

“Immensely attractive is not the best thing to say about children under 16,” said Rantzen. “Appealing or charming are more appropriate.”

The dilemma voiced by the actor, who shot to fame in the ITV drama Brideshead Revisited before films such as The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Damage, arises from more than his experience of appearing in films addressing controversial topics.

He illustrated his point by describing what happened when he presented prizes at a fête near where he lives in the Oxfordshire countryside.

“I had done my little speech and a girl from the local school wanted to show me around the art exhibits.

“I was very happy to go. I had my arm on the shoulder of the girl as we walked around. But the teacher was there and looked at me and said: ‘Don’t do that.’ I said: ‘What?’ He whispered to me. I then said: ‘I’m sorry.’

“But I suddenly felt like a criminal. And I thought ‘What are we doing to this new generation? We can’t smack them or hug them. What strange people are we going to bring up’.”

The need to protect children, he said, should be balanced against demonstrative instincts.

“We’re animals. We should hug our young. We should hold our young,” he said. “We shouldn’t suddenly, when our daughter becomes 12, stop her sitting on our lap, stop hugging her. What’s she going to think about affection, about human nature if that happens in her upbringing?”

However, as Rantzen makes clear, it partly depends on who is involved.

“For example, it’s okay for me as a mother to have a daughter on my lap even if she is older. That’s all right in a mother/daughter relationship,” she said.


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