Rolf Harris’s didgeridoo: why former entertainer and convicted paedophile was obsessed with the instrument

Convicted paedophile Rolf Harris, who died this month, had a strange obsession with didgeridoos

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Australian paedophile Rolf Harris died this month of neck cancer and old age, his family have confirmed. The former entertainer died on 10 May, but his death was not made public until today (23 May) after his funeral had been held.

Harris had a successful entertainment career which began in the 1950s - he hosted a number of popular children's TV shows including Cartoon Time and Animal Hospital, and also released 30 studio albums.

He became known for his unusual music style and his love of the didgeridoo, an instrument from his native Australia. The disgraced star became obsessed with the instrument and used them as a crutch through his time in jail for his grim crimes.

During his prison sentence, Harris was stripped of the many honours he had received over his careers, including an OBE, MBE and CBE, and Bafta Fellowship. After his release from jail, he returned to his beloved didgeridoo, playing it for those who had remained close to him throughout his conviction for child sex abuse.

Disgraced entertainer Rolf Harris played hand carved didgeridoos in prisonDisgraced entertainer Rolf Harris played hand carved didgeridoos in prison
Disgraced entertainer Rolf Harris played hand carved didgeridoos in prison

What is a didgeridoo?

Didgeridoos are wind instruments - they are long and pipe-shaped and are played by blowing into the top of the instrument and using the circular breathing technique to produce a droning sound. 

They were first developed around 1,000 years ago by Aboriginal people in Australia but their use has become widespread, though they are still mostly associated with traditional Australian music. 

The instruments vary in cost from around £80 to more than £1,500 depending on the size and quality - they are typically between three and 10 feet long.

When did Rolf Harris start playing the didgeridoo

Harris played a range of unusual instruments during his career, and is credited with creating the wobble board. He has also played the Jaw Harp, stylophone, accordion, and vuvuzela. It’s unclear when he first picked up the didgeridoo but he has played the instrument since at least the 1980s.

Harris played the didgeridoo on two of Kate Bush’s albums - The Dreaming and Aerial. The didgeridoo and wobble board also both featured on his cover of Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven.

The didgeridoo is a traditional Aboriginal Australian woodwind instrumentThe didgeridoo is a traditional Aboriginal Australian woodwind instrument
The didgeridoo is a traditional Aboriginal Australian woodwind instrument

Did Rolf Harris play the didgeridoo in prison?

Harris was jailed for five years and nine months in 2014 for historic abuse of four young women and girls. He served his sentence at Bullingdon Prison, Oxfordshire, and later Stafford Prison and played the didgeridoo during that time, reportedly as a form of therapy.

It was reported that Harri carved his own 10 foot long didgeridoo in an art class at Bullingdon and joined the prison choir there. He was able to take it with him when he was moved to Stafford, a prison exclusively for sex offenders, after he had been intimidated and spat at by his fellow inmates. 

However, prison staff grew tired of his musical endeavours and confiscated two didgeridoos from him. This didn’t stop the disgraced entertainer however as he began fashioning makeshift didgeridoos from toilet rolls and matches.

A source told the Evening Standard that guards repeatedly confiscated the handmade instruments but Harris continued to stockpile the materials to make more.

Harris was not repentant in prison - in fact, in a letter to a friend, leaked to the Mail on Sunday, he penned a disgusting song calling a woman he had been jailed for abusing ‘a slimy little woodworm’. The lyrics also included the line: ‘perhaps you think you’re pretty still, some perfumed sultry wench’.

Harris continued to play the instrument following his release from prison - ahead of his 88th birthday he invited around 70 friends and family members to his home where he played the didgeridoo and performed his old hits.

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