Freddie Starr: Life in the Madhouse

Freddie Starr: Life in the Madhouse

Life in the Madhouse: Once one of Britain’s biggest TV stars, Freddie Starr ended life as a recluse after five marriages to four women, claims he groped a 15-year-old girl and the most famous sandwich in showbiz history

  • Freddie Starr was arguably one of the most iconic faces in British comedy from the 1970s onwards 
  • He established himself as a popular stand-up act and went on to feature in several TV shows during the 1990s
  • He was known for being the subject of an infamous newspaper headline – Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster
  • Work included Freddie Starr’s Variety Madhouse, The Freddie Starr Show and An Audience With Freddie Starr 
  • He later took part in the 2011 series of I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here but dropped out due to ill health

Freddie Starr was born in Liverpool in 1943 and went on to become one of the most famous faces in British comedy. 

He rose to fame after appearances on Opportunity Knocks and the Royal Variety Performance, and a high-profile television career followed – with his profile being boosted in 1986 after he was the subject of the infamous newspaper headline, Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster. 

He established himself as a popular stand-up act, and became arguably the best-known comedian of his age, earning thousands of fans and £2million a year, performing to packed audiences. 

But his later years were marred by allegations of historic sexual assault and a bitter and ultimately unsuccessful defamation lawsuit that cost him a rumoured £1 million. 

‘I don’t know where to turn,’ he told the Mail on Sunday in 2015. ‘Most of my old showbusiness friends have forsaken me. I need help. I have no money left and I’m too ill to work. I don’t see a very pleasant future ahead of me.’ 

Starr had been the lead singer of the Merseybeat group the Midniters during the 1960s and rose to national prominence in the early 1970s after appearing on Opportunity Knocks.

He was known for his eccentric and unpredictable behaviour. During the 1990s, he starred in several TV shows including Freddie Starr (1993-94), The Freddie Starr Show (1996-98) and An Audience with Freddie Starr in 1996.

His comedy show, Freddie Starr’s Variety Madhouse, had only six episodes in one series when it was broadcast in 1979. It starred Russ Abbot, Mike Newman, Toni Palmer, Norman Collier and Bella Emberg. 

Much later in his career he took part in the 2011 series of I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here but dropped out due to ill health.

He rose to fame after appearances on Opportunity Knocks and the Royal Variety Performance, and a high-profile television career followed (pictured in 1973)


Starr had been the lead singer of the Merseybeat group the Midniters during the 1960s and rose to national prominence in the early 1970s after appearing on Opportunity Knocks (pictured right: Freddie Starr with girlfriend Donna Smith outside Maidenhead magistrates court)

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    Freddie Starr took part in the 2011 series of I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here but dropped out due to ill health.


    Freddie Starr was considered a loose cannon by many – due to his controversial routines involving costumes

    Comedian Freddie Starr poses in London with British dance troupe Hot Gossip, 27th March 1981

    Police investigated an allegation of historical sexual abuse against Starr in 2012, which he said left him ‘suicidal’ (pictured: Freddie Starr at home with wife Sandie)

    A meal of fermented egg and a camel toe forced comic Starr to leave after he suffered an allergic reaction and had to be taken to hospital. Medics advised Starr to drop out of the competition in case his illness flared up again.

    Police investigated an allegation of historical sexual abuse against Starr in 2012, which he said left him ‘suicidal’.

    Starr was told in 2014 he would not be prosecuted after spending 18 months on bail. He lost a damages claim against his accuser in the High Court in 2015.

    In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, he revealed he moved to Spain following the ruling, which left him facing a bill unofficially estimated at about £1 million.

    He told the paper: ‘No matter which way I turned there was a f****** revolver pointing at my head so I thought ‘I’m not going to tell anyone, I’m just going to get on a plane and go to Spain, the place I love, and this is where I’m going to die’.

    ‘I didn’t even know how high the legal fees were until after I’d left Britain.’

    He added he had not moved ‘to deliberately get out of paying’ and had planned to emigrate regardless of the outcome. 

    Comedian Freddie Starr photograhed before going on stage at the height of his fame, January 1974

    Starr was accused of shoving his hand up a girl’s skirtwhen she appeared on the BBC show Clunk Click in 1974 at the age of just 15

    The father-of-six married first wife Betty when he was 17. They had a son and divorced after 12 years. He went on to have three more children with his second wife, Sandy. 

    His third wife, Donna, was 27 years younger than him. They had a daughter called Ebony, and were married and divorced twice. He wed his fourth wife Sophie in January 2013.

    ‘Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster’ 

    Lea La Salle, who said Freddie Starr ate her hamster

    On March 13, 1986 The Sun newspaper published a story with the headline ‘Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster’.

    He had been staying in Cheshire with Vince McCaffrey – whose girlfriend Lea La Salle claimed Starr came home from a gig in Manchester and told her to make him a sandwich, the story claimed.

    When she declined, Starr reportedly put her pet hamster Supersonic between two slices of bread and ate it.

    But Starr dismissed the claims in his 2001 autobiography Unwrapped, saying: ‘I have never eaten or even nibbled a live hamster, gerbil, guinea pig, mouse, shrew, vole or any other small mammal’.

    Starr said his life started going wrong in 2009 when he had a heart attack followed by open-heart surgery and a bypass which doctors thought he wouldn’t survive.

    He had been out of hospital just six months when a dozen officers raided his home and took away laptops and other items.

    He had told the Mail on Sunday in 2015: ‘It was like a nightmare. At first I thought it was a prank by one of my friends, but I soon realised this was deadly serious.

    ‘I still can’t believe things got as crazy as they did. I just wish I had not listened to those who told me to sue.’ 

    He was arrested four times during Operation Yewtree – the investigation into historic child abuse, but released without charge.

    In a bid to clear his name, he launched a libel claim against the woman who had pointed the finger at him. 

    When he lost, facing legal bills of nearly £1 million, he fled the country, and later said that he should never have rushed to start a court battle that he could not afford to lose. 

    Starr had sold his house and fled to the Costa del Sol not long after losing his legal action in July against a woman who said that Starr, who saw huge popularity in the 1970s and made a name for himself as a regular on primetime TV, put his hand up her skirt when she appeared on the BBC show Clunk Click in 1974 at the age of just 15. 

    She had also claimed he called her ‘a t**less wonder’. 

    Starr accused her of lying and sought £300,000 for alleged slander and libel in interviews she gave to the BBC and ITV, but a High Court judge accepted the woman’s account and ordered the entertainer to pay a legal bill of £960,000 – including £400,000 for her costs, a ‘win fee’ and VAT.

    The court finding was all the more confusing for Starr, who had been told in May 2014 that he would not face charges under Yewtree because of ‘insufficient evidence’ on most of the claims made against him.

    Speaking exclusively to The Mail on Sunday in 2015 from his apartment in southern Spain, Starr admitted that he never had the money to pay Ms Ward’s costs – or his own. 

    He said he thought it would be a ‘slam dunk’ and he’d walk away with his name and reputation cleared, but it left him a broken man, his life destroyed, hounded by creditors and facing bankruptcy.  


    Pictured left: Comedian Freddie Starr photographed at home with his second wife, Sandy, who he married at the height of his fame. Right: Freddie Starr with his wife Sophie at home in Warwickshire on May 7, 2014

    Freddie Starr and his first wife Betty (centre) in 1961 after their wedding. Also in the picture is Freddie’s mother Hilda (left) brother Andrew, and sister Phylis

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      He had undergone major heart surgery and suffered from dizzy spells, saying he was ‘not long for this world’ when he spoke to the Mail on Sunday in 2015.  

      The £130,000 two-bedroom flat he bought from the £700,000 profit he made after selling his mansion in Studley, Warwickshire, had become a prison, he said, adding that he rarely goes out because he finds it difficult to walk. 

      He insisted that he sued reluctantly and only to clear his name. He said: ‘I never wanted anything from her. I didn’t want money.

      Freddie Starr and Sophie Lea attend the British Comedy Awards at Fountain Studios on December 16, 2011 in London

      ‘I just didn’t want people thinking I was some kind of sick pervert. It’s important because I have an eight-year-old daughter, who I love to bits and I don’t want her to grow up thinking that I would ever have behaved so badly.

      ‘It was not my idea to take [her] to court. The lawyer got in touch with me saying, “We’ll go to court and sort this mess out once and for all”.’ 

      ‘He said it would be a good way to clear my name. But after a while, he said, ‘She’s got nothing. You want nothing. What’s the point?’ I told him to stop, but he said [her] lawyers wanted £100,000 to end it.’

      Starr described the two years he spent under investigation by officers from Yewtree as a ‘living hell’, blaming the police and zealous lawyers for encouraging ‘crazies’ to make wild accusations against celebrities from the Savile era.

      ‘What’s going on with the Yewtree investigation is like the Salem witch hunt,’ he said. ‘A generation of entertainers have been targeted by attention seekers and ambulance-chasing lawyers.’

      He said the allegations had ruined his life. ‘There is no coming back from this,’ he said. ‘I’ve hit rock bottom. I used to earn £2 million a year, but I’ve not worked for five years and all I’ve got to live off is a small private pension. It gives me £1,200 a month. I’m living off that.’

      He claimed that his Spanish bolthole, set in a gated complex, belonged to his ex-wife Donna (they married each other twice) and that he was just a guest, but it was purchased by him and is registered in his name.

      Additional reporting by Gerard Couzens

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