This is Ian Watkins. Until he was arrested almost a year ago on charges related to the sexual abuse of minors, Ian Watkins sang for a band called Lostprophets. The British rockers weren't particularly well-known in the U.S., but they had an enormous fan-base elsewhere; they sold more than 3.5 million albums over the course of their career, selling out stadiums all over the world.
But on December 19th, 2012 -- 13 years and five albums into being one of the most famous rock frontmen in the U.K. -- Ian got arrested, put in prison and has been awaiting trial ever since. On Tuesday, instead of finally starting that trial, Ian instead pleaded guilty to the attempted rape of a one-year-old infant, as well as a string of other truly horrific child sex offenses.
That's right folks: this man tried to rape a baby.
And guess what? I have been friends with him for 17 years.
Of course, we haven't communicated since he's been in prison and I cannot imagine a situation where I would ever talk to him again. Not just because he is a sick, self-entitled, abusive individual. Not just because he exploited his position and used it to abuse a number of vulnerable young women, girls and children. Not just because he has destroyed the careers of his (innocent, hard-working) bandmates, annihilated Lostprophets' musical legacy, and tarnished the good names of everyone involved. And not just because of the unbelievable heartache he has caused his poor family.
No. While each of those individually are good enough reasons to steer clear of Ian Watkins for the rest of my life, the final reason I would never talk to him again is that even thinking about him right now causes me to feel shame. Shame that I never noticed anything different about him. Shame that, even after his arrest, I stayed on the fence, unable to believe he could be a part of such heinous acts. Shame that I cannot, even after hearing all the disgraceful details of this man's seedy side-life, reconcile the guy I was friends with since we were teens with the man currently residing in a South Wales prison. I simply cannot connect the dots.
Over the last 24 hours, I've been hearing that that's how it is for almost all of Ian's (ex-)friends right now. How did the bright, funny, charismatic, talented individual we loved and thought we knew turn into such a terrifying monster? When did it happen? Was he evil all along and just hiding it exceptionally well? Can we place the blame on the drug problem he developed over the last few years? Was it fame that corrupted him? There's not one of us who isn't asking ourselves these questions right now. Sadly, none of us seems to have any answers.
On Tuesday -- after learning of the disgusting, unfeeling, premeditated and predatory behavior this man has been indulging in for years now -- I posed a question on Facebook in a fit of despondency: "How did we miss this?" And a mutual friend of mine and Ian's commented: "Why would anyone have seen it? Who expects the hot, successful, young musician with the famous girlfriends? If I had a kid, 18 months ago I'd have thought nothing of handing them to Ian when I left the room... We were raised to fear the local creepy old man that lived alone -- not the cute guy on the skateboard."
This is an important point. Did Ian get away with this for longer because of his fame and good looks? His career undoubtedly gave him access to victims and allowed him to do this over a longer period of time, but how many other attractive, fun dudes out there are secret pedophiles but never get caught because they don't fit our idea of what a pedophile looks like?
Ian has had a string of girlfriends since I've known him. Some were models, some were TV presenters; all were very attractive. None of them lasted a particularly long time, but hey, why settle down with one woman when you have your pick of so many? As his bandmates all married, settled down, and started families, Ian went in the opposite direction and moved into party-town.
While he was an energetic, focused, and hyper-talented force when I first met him, in more recent years, as the partying increased, Ian's spark and energy undoubtedly dimmed. He looked tired, less healthy. His behavior was erratic and began to cause problems within the band. It became common knowledge that he had transformed from a clean-living straight-edger into a full-on drug abuser. And along with the drugs came the next-level sexual escapades -- some of which were publicly exposed in 2010, when explicit photos of him engaged in group sex were leaked. Extremely graphic photos of Ian were also found on a user-contributed porn site.
Still, none of us saw this coming. Because a kinky sex life plus a drug problem does not a child-abuser make. People -- some who have never met Ian, some who have -- have been all over social media since the day he was arrested, claiming they always knew there was something "off" about him; that he was always a creep; that they never trusted him.
But here's the thing: it's easy to say you knew something all along, after the fact. It's so easy to say there was always something strange about Ian when he's already in prison. And it's really damn easy to say you could've predicted this when you never knew or cared about him. It's much easier to live with what has happened if you can convince yourself that you recognized evil the second that you saw it. Because the truth -- that very few of us did see it -- is far more frightening to accept.
According to a number of British news outlets, a lover of Ian's named Joanne Nikita Majic reported him to police four years ago after discovering his unhealthy interest in children. Similarly sordid accusations of a similar nature appeared on a website called WhosDatedWho.com for three years before he was arrested. I didn't see these until he was already in prison. And when I finally did, the comments looked more like the ramblings of obsessive fans than anything worth taking seriously. Who wants to believe that a longtime friend could do such a thing? Surely these people were just out for fame-by-association.
If Tuesday -- the day that Ian finally admitted in a court of law that he was guilty of pedophilia -- taught me anything, it's that the devil is more adept at hiding in plain sight than I ever imagined. People on the outside will look at this case and wonder how those around Ian could have failed to see what he was up to. Well, rest assured: the people who were around Ian are wondering exactly the same thing. And we're mourning too, because that friend we thought we had doesn't exist anymore -- and we can't be sure that he ever really did.
Of course, nothing that any of us are feeling right now will ever compare to what the true victims in this case -- the children that Ian abused -- have been subjected to. But to caricature Ian as an obvious villain at this point is to do everyone in this case a major disservice, including the teens and young women he took advantage of. If he had been obvious -- if he hadn't been so charming -- he wouldn't have been able to do this at all.
Nothing can be gained from over-simplifying him as a human being. Because pedophiles aren't one-dimensional cartoons, as much as we want them to be. They're brothers, friends, uncles, and cousins. They go to bars, birthday parties, and nice restaurants. They take their mothers to the theater. Their friends are happy to see them. And in this case, they've been adored by hundreds of thousands of people for over a decade.
Geographical issues mean that Ian and I hadn't spent time in person together for two or three years before he was arrested. We did communicate online and keep in touch. It doesn't matter much: everyone who ever cared about Ian, everyone who ever loved Lostprophets, and anyone who's ever been moved by this man's lyrics is reeling right now, trying to come to terms with the horrors he committed right under our noses. To act like these perversions were easy to spot -- to act like Tuesday's outcome was predictable -- merely plays into the factors that made it so easy for him to get away with this for so long in the first place.