Lost Prophet: the decline and fall of Ian Watkins
At the time of Ian Watkins’ arrest last year, we wrote about the ‘seedy underbelly of the carnival’, and the idea that the music industry is still one riddled with exploitation, sexism and a bubbling undercurrent of misogyny. Fast-forward 12 months and the obvious dangers of social media and increased artist-fan engagement have been brought into very sharp focus.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve learned that a small number of celebrities use their fame both as a mechanism to facilitate their abuse but also as a shield, their public persona and professional authority keeping enquiring minds at bay. Watkins proves that such behaviour didn’t stop in the 1970s, or when the culture was ‘different’, but that there are still those prepared to use their position to pull the naive and the gullible into their web. The heady fragrance of fame is still intoxicating to some, but the box full of videotapes of Watkins' 'conquests' a reminder that such fleeting encounters can linger long afterwards.
Watkins’ guilty pleas spared the jury the trauma of the awful details of the case but will also hopefully prevent him from being martyred by many of those who initially argued his innocence. But in the month we learn the 79 year-old Charles Manson has a girlfriend/'wife' more than 50 years his junior, the depressing truth is that Watkins will get letters and fan mail while behind bars, drawn from the same small pool of obsessives that allowed themselves to be exploited by him in the first place.
As more details emerge about the case, and with questions being asked about who knew what - and when - an Independent Police Complaints Commission will investigate whether South Wales Police took earlier complaints against Watkins seriously. As far back as August 2008, his lostprophets bandmates staged an intervention with Watkins. Publicly, we were told this related to the extent of the previously straight-edge singer’s drug use, but within a few short months, an allegation had been lodged with the police relating to supposed child abuse. Watkins told Kerrang in 2010 that his - in the magazine’s terms - ‘Jim Morrisson-style quest for enlightenment’ was not just limited to “... substances. I mean everything. Just opening up to being like ‘come what may’ is so liberating.”
For the next four years, rumours about Watkins persisted. Gossip from internet message boards and social media made explicit, and now prescient, claims about aspects of his lifestyle, but do not seem to have spread much further than the kinds of quasi-groupie sites discussed in our last article. That said, ten months before his arrest, a poster on the Kerrang website made a blunt accusation of child rape, while intimating Watkins used threats and blackmail to manipulate those he ensnared. In a grim twist of fate, one victim actually reached out via another internet site to someone who would turn out to be one of Watkins' co-accused, asking for help for those he had 'destroyed'.***
As Watkins’ decline escalated, he became more reckless, drunk on his own perceived invulnerability. He signed up for sex sites, posting images of himself that made no attempt at anonymity, while one now infamous site profile made it clear Watkins' predispositions had strayed far from those of a rock star in search of a good time. When news of his behaviour did leak into the public sphere, as with 2010's gay sex tape, it was damned as a fake by lostprophets' management.
This grim electronic paper trail shines a light on those around Watkins, his management and the wider music industry. It beggars belief that such gossip was left undiscussed by those in his inner circle. Watkins has been proven to be a manipulator, but he was also careless. A few minutes with a search engine is all anyone with a functioning moral compass would need in order to throw up some difficult questions. We've been asked to believe that no-one ever asked those questions, that issues that were reasonably common knowledge within lostprophets fandom never reached his management, record label or friends.
Last time round, we raised the possibility that Watkins was indispensible to lostprophets. Their subsequent demise proves as much, even though the brand itself became so tainted there was no possible chance they could have continued as a functioning band. The Watkins case is the most shocking to hit British rock music in a very long time; any hint of a cover-up would take an already grim story into dark, uncharted waters.
*** This exchange appears to have been removed since Watkins' arrest as a result of a website overhaul.