How Les Mckeown overcame teen rape, a tragic accident at 19 and drug addiction which ended his Bay City Rollers career
WHEN Les McKeown strolled out on stage at the height of his career, at the age of 19, a mob of tartan-clad teenagers screamed his name and he seemed to have it all.
But the baby-faced lead singer of the Bay City Rollers – the biggest boyband of their generation – was close to breaking point, struggling with mental health issues in the wake of a tragic accident that left an elderly neighbour dead.
The Edinburgh-born idol – whose tragic death at the age of 65 was announced yesterday – was driving a turbo-charged Ford Mustang supercar when he knocked down Euphemia Clunie, 76, as she crossed the road near their homes in May 1975.
While cleared of causing her death, Les was traumatised, finally breaking down in tears on stage at an Oxford gig and battering a photographer in a violent rage.
The accident, combined with feelings of “guilt and shame” after he was allegedly raped in a hotel room at 17, sent the teenage singer off the rails, leading to a spiral into drink and drugs.
After being sacked by the band over his out-of-control behaviour, Les faced legal wrangles as he attempted to claw back his share of the huge Bay City Rollers cash cow.
His addiction also led to a series of flings behind wife Peko's back, with both men and women.
In later years Les found peace with Peko and son Jubie – also called Richard – becoming teetotal and even reuniting with his bandmates in 2015.
The cause of the star’s death is not known but yesterday the family released a statement expressing their “profound sadness” at the death of “our beloved husband and father.”
The band’s Guitarist Stuart 'Woody' Wood said: "I am upset and shocked to hear this very sad news.
"Les and I had our differences over the years but even though we had disagreements we are sending our heartfelt condolences to Peko and his son Jubie and all the Bay City Rollers Fans. It's a sad day in Bay City Roller history.”
Squeaky clean image hid dark side of sex pest manager
“B-A-Y, B-A,Y, B-A-Y C-I-T-Y, with an R-O-double-L-E-R-S, Bay City Rollers are the best,” was a chant that rang around the playgrounds of high schools and primary schools throughout the mid-seventies.
The Scottish band, who sparked a country-wide trend for tartan and had their names inked on every girl’s schoolbook, scored hit after hit with such songs as Bye, Bye, Baby, Shang-a-lang and Summer Love Sensation.
As the frontman of the biggest teen sensation of the seventies Les, who joined the band at 17, was the Harry Styles of his day – appearing on the cover of teen magazines in the trademark short tartan trousers and open jacket, a glimpse of smooth bar chest below.
But while girls threw themselves at their feet, the young fan base also meant a squeaky clean image had to be kept up.
Girlfriends were banned and the lads fronted an anti-smoking campaign, telling the world they hated girls who smoked.
Teen mags reported that the band only ever drank milk and that Woody, the youngest band member, slept with his teddy because he was afraid of the dark.
But the band’s manager Tam Paton was a sexual predator who was jailed, in 1982, for gross indecency with teenage boys.
In 2007, he was accused of raping one of the band’s guitarists, Pat McGlynn, in a hotel room in 1977, but cleared through lack of evidence.
Two years later, after Paton's death from a heart attack, Les claimed the manager had also raped him while on tour in America, after drugging him.
“I was given Quaaludes, a drug for lowering your inhibitions and making you horny," he said.
“Afterwards I felt really used and abused. I never told anybody about it, not even the other guys in the band, because I was ashamed.”
Original singer Nobby Clarke has also claimed the boys were encouraged to sleep with radio DJ Chris Denning, jailed for child sex abuses in 2016.
Forced back on stage after tragic accident
On the night of May 29, 1976, Les should have been on-stage in Bristol but, after the gig was cancelled, he went out in his blue Mustang near his Edinburgh home.
Euphenia Clunie was hit by his car as she crossed a nearby four-lane road, dying instantly.
“She only lived across the road from me, and I wanted to knock on her family’s door and say, ‘I’m really, really sorry’,’ Les said. “But I wasn’t allowed to do that. I wasn’t allowed to go to her funeral.”
Hordes of hysterical girls attended McKeown’s trial, screaming with delight when he was cleared of causing the pensioner's death. He was found guilty of the lesser charge of driving recklessly and dangerously, fined £150 and banned for a year.
The tour continued and Les later claimed his bandmates ignored his anguish.
“I was 19 years old, I’d just killed someone, and it seemed like everyone around me was pretending it hadn’t happened or it didn’t matter,” McKeown wrote in his autobiography, Shang-A -Lang.
“They didn’t see it from a helpful, human way. It wasn’t like, ‘We’re going to get through this together’, it was more like, ‘We need you on stage tomorrow, you wee c***, so you better stop f***ing crying..”
On the stage in Oxford, he finally “lost the plot”, he told the Guardian. “I burst into tears, couldn’t handle it anymore.”
The tears resulted in frenzied fans trying to climb over the orchestra pit to “mother” him and, when a photographer snapped the scene, Les jumped down and battered him. He was given a two-year suspended sentence for the attack.
The breakdown marked the start of the singer’s spiral into addiction.
“After that I slowly started getting into all different kinds of drugs,” he told the Guardian. “I dabbled in smack. I really went off the edge into my own private hell.”
Affair with Britt Eckland and her daughter
After the band landed a TV show in the States, in 1977, Les was more interested in hanging out with musical heroes like Keith Moon, taking cocaine, and dating famous women.
He was spotted with Jodie Foster, although he said there was never a romantic relationship, and he had a relationship with Bond girl Britt Eckland which ended when he slept with her 16-year-old daughter Victoria.
Rifts began to form in the Rollers and in 1978, he told his bandmates he wasn’t happy with the direction they were taken – only to be fired in response.
“It was horrible. I was f**ed, basically,” he said.
Kicked out of the band at 22, with a £20,000 debt from a prolonged stay in the US, Les spent the next few years in legal wrangles with the band, which meant he was unable to launch a successful solo career in the UK.
Booze binges and gay affairs
Despite a successful career in Japan, Les sunk further into cocaine and alcohol addiction.
Happiness seemed to be on the cards in 1983 when he married his Japanese girlfriend Keiko, known as Peko, and a year later they had a son, Jubie.
But his addictions meant the marriage was rocky with Les becoming verbally abusive to Peko after his booze benders.
“I never raised my fists to my wife or my son, but abuse doesn’t have to be physical,” he admitted on the TV show rehab in 2009, after vowing to kick his drug and drink habit.
“I can’t believe how absolutely abhorrent I’ve been towards people that I love.”
Peko stood by him through a drink driving conviction in 2004 and drug charges in 2006, of which he was cleared – even forgiving him for 12 gay affairs.
“I’ve been a bit of a George Michael, meeting people, often strangers, for sex,” he said.
“Not in public toilets – I’m not big on the unhygienic side of things. These days you’d meet online and figure out a place where to meet – your place or mine.”
Les blamed his encounters on the alleged assault by Paton, as a teenager and his shame that he found the experience “erotic.”
“I tried to drink it away and push that memory into obscurity,” he said.
He added: “Peko’s an incredible woman. There have been times when she’s forgiven me for cheating with other women. I think this has been harder. This gay thing has been really hard for her to confront.
“She has been a big rock holding the family together and I’m really lucky to have her.”
After kicking the booze, Les rebuilt his relationship with Peko and began to build bridges with the surviving Rollers.
Alan Longmuir, Woody and Les finally got back together for a reunion gig in Glasgow, in December 2015, to give Rollers fans the “Christmas present they’ve been waiting for” for almost 40 years.
At the time, Les told fans: “I’m feeling great, I’m feeling fabulous. It’s been hard work on everyone’s part… Slowly but surely we started to gravitate towards each other again.”
After another reunion gig, at T in the Park in 2016, Woody ruled out more collaboration but Les was still hopeful of more gigs, hoping to bring in founder member Eric Faulkner.
“The reunion was really great,” he said.
“The memories are still so fresh. It was such a great time. The reaction we got was unbelievable – it was electric. This is why we want to think about doing it again.”
Sadly Alan passed away in 2018, at the age of 70 and Les’s sudden death this week means all hope of a Rollermania revival is lost.
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