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
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
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
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
“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
“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
“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.